Ukraine: Kiev paints itself into a corner
With Kiev’s continuing failure to break the military stalemate on the eastern front by a renewed offensive, compounded by its failure to paper over the significance of its default on eurobond debt, and now with the added pressure from Germany and France for Ukraine to fulfil its obligations under the Russian-brokered Minsk peace process, Poroshenko is in danger of painting himself into a corner from which his patrons in Washington and London may find it hard to extricate him.
Up until the Paris meeting, the People’s Republics had planned to run local elections, Donetsk on 18 October and Lugansk on 1 November. The junta huffed and puffed a good deal over this, happy to find some excuse for its continuing failure to implement the Minsk agreements to which it is a signatory.
The unilateral decision of the Donbass republics to postpone their elections until 2016 has neatly deprived Poroshenko of his last-ditch pretext for stalling over implementation of the Minsk agreements, and brought one centimetre closer the possibility of a just peace. The obvious bias displayed by the UN in its announced intention to send observers to the 25 October elections run by the junta but to withhold them from those to be run by the people’s republics (are they really so short of observers?) was a telling reflection on the supposed neutrality of that institution. (The UN’s ‘impartiality’ has been on further display with the subsequent elevation of Ukraine to the Security Council.)
However, France and Germany, worried about the impact of sanctions on their economies and the impact of war on the stability of Europe, have shown themselves to be increasingly eager to settle the crisis in the Ukraine through negotiation. This was reflected at the recent meeting of heads of state in Paris of the so-called Normandy Four (Russia, Germany, France and the Ukraine – with the notable absence of the US or UK), where it became clear that Berlin and Paris are less tolerant of Kiev’s foot-dragging than are Washington and London, especially in light of the flexibility shown by the Donbass negotiators.
Once the People’s Republics had agreed to postpone their elections, Poroshenko was left with no further excuse to block diplomatic progress.
In announcing the postponement, the people’s republics made it clear that this magnanimous gesture must now be linked to “Kiev’s complete implementation of Minsk 2’s political points”. In particular Kiev must now “assign the Donbass a special status, prevent the prosecution and punishment of participants of the events on the territories of the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, and introduce amendments to the constitution, giving it a new version, one that takes us into consideration.” (‘Further progress in Ukraine as Donbass agrees to postpone elections’, Russia Behind the Headlines, 8 October 2015)
Whilst Poroshenko tried to put a brave face on this turn of events, his own foreign minister, Pavel Klimkin, let the cat out of the bag, spluttering that the postponement was “a dirty game”, adding bizarrely that “nature does not have a special status for the Donbass”. It is Kiev, however, backed up by Washington and London, which has truly been playing a “dirty game“, stonewalling on negotiations as the toll of human misery continues to mount throughout the whole of the Ukraine. It is now up to Kiev to deliver on its so-far empty promises on amnesty and self-government.
From partisan militias to unified command
Whilst Poroshenko’s bungling, splits in the imperialist camp and the steadfast support of Russia have all helped, it is primarily by their own heroic defence of the Donbass against the neo-Nazis in Kiev that the people’s republics, having twice fought the junta’s forces to a standstill and now holding firm all along the front line, have been able to approach the negotiating table from such a position of strength. Both Minsk 1 and Minsk 2 arrived in the aftermath of catastrophic military failures for the junta. And the republics’ forces, which began as spontaneous defensive militias, have over many months of combat experience developed into a formidable modern army.
An article posted 25 September on the Slavyangrad website, entitled ‘On the reorganisation of the army of the DPR’, discusses the progress towards unified central command.
“At the start of the war people volunteered at random-people would just come to the tents at the Donetsk OGA [Regional State Administration] or the Lugansk SBU and enrolled in the Militia. Then, when the various units crystallised and they began advertising themselves, people could already choose where to sign up-with the ‘Strelkovtsi’, with the Cossacks, with Mozgovoy in Prizrak, with San Sanych in the RRT [Rapid Response Team, such as Batman’s Militia unit], with Kalmius, etc.
“The next step was the actual reorganisation of the DPR’s MoD, after which military conscription offices started to function more or less, and there commenced a definite system in staff recruitment. After the Army Corps and the Republican Guard were established, the structures continued growing stronger and more centralised. In fact we are now coming to the end of the process whereby the military structure of the republic went from simple unarmed militias and irregular semi-guerrilla units all the way to a complete regular army of the industrial period.”
One volunteer explains: ” In no case am I diminishing the merits of the people who rose up to protect our young republic from the first day, but the fact remains that before the creation of the first Army Corps we did not have an army, but a bunch of semi-partisan detachments.” He goes on to note that an army began to be formed out of the militia, and that it became only a matter of time whether all armed groups would be merged into it or would be disarmed.
This experience is in some respects comparable with the development of anti-fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War. In July 1936, it had been the workers themselves, without effective organisation, with hardly any ammunition and relying on their own courage and initiative, who had decisively rebuffed the fascist forces closing in on Madrid. This outburst of revolutionary energy successfully drove back the fascist threat, and revealed the huge untapped revolutionary creativity of the toiling masses.
However, the people of Madrid also learned by this experience how much more effective their efforts would be when properly organised and disciplined. Understanding that it was the Communists who were prepared and ready to organise militarily, in a professional manner, the cream of Madrid’s workers rallied to join the Fifth Regiment. As in the Red Army, every unit had its own political commissar, tasked to promote a new kind of discipline, one that was conscious and voluntary rather than imposed, and therefore all the more effective. So successful did this model prove that it came to be adopted throughout the People’s Army.
Ukraine in default
As Kiev finds itself on the diplomatic back foot at Paris and the resistance forces of the Donbass continue to mount resolute guard on the eastern front, the Ukraine economy staggers from crisis to crisis. Virtually unreported in the West, on 6 October Ukraine was officially registered as in default, having failed to make a payment scheduled for 23 September on its $500 million worth of eurobond obligations. Commentators have been at pains to downplay the implications of this ‘technical’ default, pointing to the 20% ‘haircut’ on eurobond repayments accepted by some investors, bowing to pressure or inducements. Also US asset manager Franklin Templeton leads a group of foreign bondholders who collectively hold over $7 billion worth of bonds; debt repayments on these have now been postponed till 2019. This remarkably easy-going approach to Ukraine’s effective bankruptcy suggests that considerations more political than economic are shaping policy. Ukraine has been chosen as a launchpad for NATO aggression pointing eastwards, and that launchpad cannot be permitted to fail, even if it means the IMF bending its own rules to keep the credit-lines flowing.
Other eurobond holders are jibbing at these terms, however. A group of investors represented by lawyers Shearman and Sterling, which owns a quarter or more of the $500 million eurobond issue on which Ukraine has just partially defaulted, is still rankling at the free ride the IMF is recommending for the Ukraine, and have threatened to block the deal on a number of occasions.
Meanwhile Russia, the second-largest holder of Ukraine bonds ($3 billion), has taken no part in the protracted debt-restructuring talks and declines to suffer the same regime of ‘haircuts’ endured by other stakeholders. After all, it has been the gratuitous sabotage of the Ukraine’s close economic ties with her Russian neighbour that got her into the current mess, and it is perhaps enough that Russian gas continues to keep Ukraine heated through the winter, regardless of her bad record on paying the gas bill. Russia has no interest in seeing a neighbour bankrupted, but neither can it be expected to beggar its own exchequer by endlessly propping up a junta which insists on regarding Russia as its sworn enemy.
Whilst the IMF plays fast and loose with the economic survival of the Ukraine and the welfare of its people, the political survival of the junta, supposedly the offspring of a ‘popular revolt’ in the Maidan but in reality the result of a violent putsch engineered by US imperialism, can only be achieved by ever more open and brutal suppression of all forms of dissent.
All communist insignia, all reference to the Soviet period, all criticism of the Maidan are now forbidden. Every paper critical of the government line is closed down, with editors and journalists frequently beaten up, arrested or murdered.
And this permanent campaign of domestic terror is directed from the highest ruling circles. Anton Gerashchenko, a member of the Rada and long-time advisor to Ukraine’s interior minister, is an eager user of a website dedicated to fingering journalists, activists, critics of the junta and anyone expressing sympathy for the Donbass resistance. The site, cynically calling itself Mirotvorec (Peacekeeper), also posts cryptic messages congratulating ‘patriots’ for carrying out ‘successful missions’.
The nature of such ‘missions’ may be guessed by the fact that, just two days after Oleg Kalashnikov (a politician) and Oles Buzina (a journalist) had been denounced on the website, both were found dead. Oleg Kalashnikov had previously been televised being physically attacked by the interior minister in person during a TV show.
Gerashchenko champions the website on the grounds that “the defence of national sovereignty” is everyone’s business, so “Everyone who reports a name to the website is doing the right thing” (RT, ‘Personal details of murdered journalist & ex-MP found posted on Ukrainian “enemies of state” database’, 17 April 2015). In the same spirit, this high-ranking government adviser has now attracted the attention of Russian prosecutors by calling on Islamic State to butcher Russian pilots in Syria. He proposes a special page on the website dedicated to “Putin’s crimes in Syria and Middle East” (RT, ‘Top Ukraine official backs idea “to help ISIS take revenge on Russian soldiers in Syria” ‘, 7 October 2015). The prosecutors are accordingly charging him in absentia with terrorism, a charge which could be applied with no less justice to the whole government collectively.
It is solely the support given to the junta by Anglo-American imperialism that prolongs its miserable life, along with Islamic State, Israel and all the other proxy fascist forces upon which Washington and London rely to do their dirty work. The real threat to Ukraine’s ‘national sovereignty’ comes from the junta itself, by prostituting itself so fecklessly to the IMF and NATO. If any just peace is to be won, it will be thanks to the steadfast resistance of the people of the Donbass, supported by Russia.
Victory to the Donbass resistance!
Down with US imperialism and its faithful servants in Kiev!