Ukraine: Imperialism pours oil on the fire

Statements made on one day by ‘President’ Poroshenko about making a ‘real’ cease-fire are contradicted the next by the leader of the Rada, Turchinov, who demands that the so-called ‘anti-terrorist’ operation must continue “until the end“. A prisoner exchange agreed one moment is sabotaged the next. In short, the fascist junta in Kiev, riven with internal schisms and barely in control of its own forces, still plunges on from one provocation after another, with the encouragement of a West that is nerving itself up to confront the real focus of its ire, Russia herself.

After the resistance forces fought the combined force of the regular Ukraine army and its fascist outriders to a humiliating stalemate in September, the junta was driven to engage in Moscow-brokered talks in Minsk, resulting in the declaration of a ceasefire and an agreement to move towards some form of autonomy. The reality, however, was that Kiev breached that ceasefire from day one.

Incapable of launching a decisive offensive against the people’s militias, the junta contented itself with inflicting collective punishment on the civilian population of the south and east, killing on average over 90 a week since the ceasefire – this, be it understood, on top of the thousand plus already slain in the earlier period of full combat. Kiev looked upon the ceasefire as an opportunity to replenish its weapons and personnel, assisted in this by the West. Having for so long spun the yarn that it was only supplying ‘non-lethal’ aid to the junta, Washington has now brazenly announced it is supplying a wide arsenal of distinctly ‘lethal’ weapons, all the way up from sniper rifles and machine guns to anti-tank and air defence systems.

So far from honouring its Minsk pledge to move towards some form of autonomy for the south and east, the junta has now cut off all public services to Donetsk and Lugansk, including electricity, fuel, medical supplies, banking and transport, and has suspended the salaries and pensions of health workers, teachers and local government workers. Whilst refusing to accept the right of the People’s republics to govern themselves, the dog-in-the-manger Kiev junta is at the same time washing its hands of any responsibility for safeguarding the welfare of millions of people whom they officially regard as citizens of Ukraine. Such a policy, taken in conjunction with the endless bombardment of the civilian population, has correctly been denounced as “genocidal” by the Donetsk People’s Republic.

Meanwhile in the rest of ‘free’, ‘democratic’ Ukraine, anybody who doesn’t wholeheartedly subscribe to the neo-liberal shock therapy inflicted on the country (pensions slashed, fuel subsidies cut, austerity all round) is liable to be set upon by roaming fascist gangs, beaten up and shoved into dustbins in a street version of ‘lustration’. ‘Lustration’ or ‘purifying’ was a cant term made fashionable in the period after the collapse of the Soviet Union, to give a euphemistic name to the state-sponsored hounding of anyone thought to be sympathetic to communism. A ‘lustration’law is now in effect in Ukraine, aiming to sack anybody associated with the previous government. The fascist mobs are merely exercising at street level the official policy of the junta, which casually talks about ‘subhumans’and ‘cleansing’.

The real target: Russia

Any doubts that the genocidal attempt to turn Lugansk and Donetsk into another Gaza is at the behest of the West should be dispelled by the continued ramping up of sanctions and the collective display of impotent rage displayed against Russia by the heads of state in the recent G20 summit in Australia. It was the West which fomented the Maidan protests and the West which conspired to engineer the subsequent putsch. And it is the West now which is revealing the primary target of its wrath: Russia. As Putin said in his recent state of the union address, ” I am certain that if all this had not taken place… they would have come up with another reason to contain Russia’s growing capabilities, to influence it or, even better, use it for their own goals .”

There is no doubt that Russia’s economy is being hit by sanctions, whose real purpose has not just been to change Russia’s policy over Ukraine but to change the elected Russian government itself. Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, spelt it out: ” As for the concept behind the use of coercive measures, the West is making clear it does not want to force Russia to change policy but wants to secure regime change… Now public figures in Western countries say there is a need to impose sanctions that will destroy the economy and cause public protests. ” This echoed earlier warnings by the President that Moscow must be on guard against a West-inspired ‘colour revolution’ in Russia itself. (23 November, Reuters)

Aside from some petulant asset freezes and travel bans slapped on some prominent presidential loyalists, the real potential damage comes from the attacks on banking, defence and energy sectors. The games being played with oil prices, with Saudi Arabia turning the taps on full to depress the price of oil, are also putting pressure on the Russian economy. The rouble has lost nearly 30% of its value against the dollar since January 2014.

But this economic aggression does not come cost free, either in the short or the long term. German industrialists are already feeling the pinch of losing export sales to Russia, France will be obliged to mothball much of its ship-building capacity, and once the City of London gets too picky about whose capital it is servicing, it risks losing customers long term, and not just ‘oligarchs’ either.

South Stream cancellation jolts EU complacency

However the stakes are much higher than this, as could be seen by the jolt Europe received early in December when Russia calmly announced that it had changed its mind about building a gas pipeline from Russia that would bypass Ukraine. This volte face took the EU by complete surprise. For a long time, it was left to Russia to make the case for South Stream, a $40bn project to pipe natural gas to central and southern Europe under the Black Sea.

In truth, Europe had good reason to favour a route that bypassed Ukraine, which under various governments had abused its position as transit link for economic and political advantage. Yet the EU made its cooperation with the project dependent on Russia accepting that, whilst Gazprom supplied the gas, it could not own or control the pipe itself. The EU, a club of monopoly capitalists, gambled that by insisting on ‘anti-monopoly’ precondition, it could realise its long-cherished dream of opening up Russia’s state-owned energy monopolies to imperialist investment and privatisation, thereby affording a much-needed avenue of investment for the footloose capital generated by the crisis of overproduction.

Now it seems that Brussels has managed to kill the goose that was to lay the golden eggs. Such is the greed and conceit of imperialism, so entrenched is its deep-seated belief that Russia’s proper role was to act as a tame supplier of energy to the West and market for EU exports, that the decision to drop South Stream struck like a bolt from the blue. The startling decision of Russia to call the EU’s bluff, drop South Stream and instead sign an interim plan with Ankara to run a pipeline of similar capacity via Turkey stunned the EU and drew an anguished response from the countries standing to benefit from the original project. Notes Alexander Mercouris (‘The Importance of the Cancellation of South Stream’, posted on http://vineyardsaker.blogspot,fr/), ” All the south eastern European economies are in bad shape. For these countries South Stream was a vital investment and infrastructure project, securing their energy future. Moreover the transit fees that it promised would have been a major foreign currency earner .”

Many European companies stand to lose out if the cancellation holds. Gazprom (in effect, Russia – the company is state-owned) owns 50% of South Stream Transport. The other half is owned by Italians (ENI), French (EDF) and Germans (Wintershall). Another Italian company, Saipem stands to lose construction fees to the tune of $3billion.

Weaker transit countries of south-east Europe will be specially hard hit. Hungary strongly favoured South Stream, not least in the hope of avoiding the endless power-cuts caused by Kiev playing political games with the supply. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban had no doubt as to where the blame lay for this outcome, telling a radio audience that “The EU has worked ceaselessly to undermine this program.” Serbia hoped the pipeline would be a rich source of transit fees and give its construction industry a boost. And Bulgaria must now regret having put obstacles in the way of agreement over the pipeline, now that it has lost what could have proved a welcome boost to its flagging economy. A good conduct star from the EU is of little consolation.

Turkey ponders its future

Moscow’s turn to Ankara, long taken for granted as imperialism’s loyal servant, raises huge geopolitical questions. Not only would a boost to the Turkish economy be most welcome at this juncture, there are wider considerations about where Turkey’s national interest lies in a turbulent world. After risking unpopularity at home by allowing Washington’s favourite jihadis to congregate on the Turkish side of the Syrian border, and then enduring a public dressing down by Washington for continuing to do so after the jihadis had become the official bad guys, it would be understandable if Erdogan, ever the opportunist, should start to consider some major realignments, such as would be to Turkey’s better advantage in a world where developing countries are pushing forward, Anglo-American hegemony is fraying and the EU is in acute and worsening crisis.

Because this is not just about South Stream. Moscow has recently agreed a deal to barter Iranian oil for Russian manufactured goods, and has also undertaken to invest in Iran’s much-maligned nuclear industry. Yet more significant are the two major agreements Moscow has clinched to supply natural gas to China.

Holding NATO together and preserving Washington’s dominance over the ‘free world’ will become progressively more difficult as European and Anglo-American interests increasingly diverge. Washington’s hopes of persuading its NATO ‘partners’, including Turkey, that they should subordinate their own national interests to a US-directed re-run of the Cold War, with Russia and China billed as the chief villains, will sooner or later prove unsustainable. The Turkish pipeline deal with Russia, if it holds, could prove to be a milestone in the decay of US global pretensions.

Two kinds of internationalism

Meanwhile the imperialist provocation in Ukraine rumbles on. The Kiev junta has now demonstrated its ‘nationalism’ by parachuting into its new cabinet an American, a Lithuanian and a Georgian. Back in the 1990s US citizen Natalie Jaresko was to be found running the economics section in the US embassy in Kiev. She is now to run the Ukrainian finance ministry. Between 2009 and 2012 Aleksandr Kvitashvili, a Georgian citizen, ran Georgia’s health service. Lo and behold, he is to be Ukraine’s new health minister. And Lithuanian Aivaras Abromavicius, partner at the $3.6bn East Capital asset management group, is to be in charge of Ukraine’s economy.

In the spirit of true bourgeois internationalism, all three have been fast-tracked into Ukrainian citizenship. Furthermore, Poroshenko has now decreed that citizenship will be granted to foreigners fighting on Kiev’s side in the east of the country. Meanwhile the real ‘Ukrainian citizens’ of Donetsk and Lugansk are systematically starved and bombarded.

A nobler kind of internationalism is to be witnessed amongst those who have joined the international resistance against the Kiev junta and its imperialist backers. Firstly, it should be noted that to be a Ukrainian is not to be a fascist, as witness these words by a courageous resistance fighter. Indicating a bravery medal, he told the interviewer, ” I was awarded this one for the defence of Slavyansk. I’m Ukrainian and I served in the Ukrainian special forces, but as a communist I couldn’t accept that Nazi-backed coup. That’s why I’m part of the Novorossiyan Armed Forces. ” (see article posted on on 7 December, ‘We have a once in a lifetime chance to build a socialist state in Europe’.)

The ranks of the resistance are also swelled by many for whom the fight against fascism is a question of proletarian internationalist duty. Foremost among these, naturally, are the individual Russians who have left their homes, jobs and families to join the struggle. But others too have rallied to the cause. Some Spanish comrades were recently interviewed and explained their reasons for volunteering. ” There are many reasons why we have joined the struggle: to help build a socialist state in Europe, to help defend the people of Donbass from the Kiev army. This is a fight against fascism and we are in debt to those who joined the International Brigades in Spain in 1936 to fight against the coup.

Asked about the influence of communism in the resistance, they explained that ” Communists have a prominent presence in the resistance. There are two units formed exclusively of communists: one in the Vostok Battalion and another one here, in the Prizrak Brigade. There are communists in other units too. There is great Soviet nostalgia within the volunteers fighting in the Militia. Everything has deteriorated here since the collapse of the Soviet Union, everybody here can see it. We could not say exactly how many communists are in the resistance, but it is the predominant ideology in the Militia .” (ibid)

Solidarity in the UK?

Even in the politically backward trade union movement in Britain, there are voices raised in solidarity with the anti-fascist resistance. The Rail and Maritime Transport union’s resolution to the TUC conference this year, calling for support to the resistance, was passed in spite of opposition from Matt Wrack of the Fire Brigades Union, who wanted to include a clause denouncing Russia. Now that support for the resistance is official TUC policy, let the TUC organise a pro-active campaign of non-cooperation with the imperialist war effort.

The FBU’s backward position found other champions at the annual conference of the Labour Representation Committee. This body is a pale imitation of the original LRC which helped to found the Labour party (hoping that thereby organised labour could secure representation in parliament). A century on, and with Labour long since exposed to the nth degree as a willing tool of imperialism, this reheated LRC is still busting a gut trying to drag workers back behind Labour as the “mass party of the working class“.

The LRC leadership supports something calling itself the ‘Ukraine Solidarity Campaign’, which pretends to offer solidarity with “Ukrainian socialists and trade unionists” but then goes on to oppose the resistance struggle in Donetsk and Lugansk and the so-called ” Russian invasion“. As against this, two resolutions, one of which came from the New Communist Party, called for support for Solidarity with Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine (SARU), identified the Kiev junta as a fascist tool of NATO against Russia and supported the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk.

Shamefully, these resolutions were voted down, revealing that the LRC, so far from serving as an instrument for putting Labour ‘back’ on the socialist path, is in fact even more backward than the TUC, which at least pays lip service to supporting the resistance.

In its own report of the LRC conference, the mummies of the clinically-dead NCP lament that ” the narrative propagated by the western media on the situation in Ukraine is misleading even left-wing social democrats and there is much work to do to combat imperialist lies ” (emphasis added). The point surely is that it is precisely these “left-wing social democrats“, the McDonnells and Corbyns, who play such a vital role in ornamenting imperialist lies with their own phony “left” rhetoric. Rather than wasting time trying to “regain” the LRC, in the hope that it can in turn “regain” the Labour party, communists are urging workers to break with Labour (‘Old’ and ‘New’ alike) and set their feet on the revolutionary road.

Victory to the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics!

Hands off Russia!