Ukraine: Kiev blockades itself into a corner

ukraineAs the Kiev junta remains obdurate in its refusal to implement the Minsk Accords of February 2015 to which it was a signatory along with the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk, Ukraine spirals deeper into self-inflicted economic and social chaos. At Minsk all parties agreed to ceasefire arrangements, local elections and negotiations around some form of an autonomous status for Donetsk and Lugansk, yet still the Kiev army and fascist militias trample the ceasefire underfoot and Poroshenko continues to put a political block on implementation. With the war in the east in stalemate and the Minsk process on hold, a political vacuum has opened up in Ukraine. This has created a situation where Poroshenko, outbid in ultra-nationalist tub-thumping by a gang of fascist hoodlums, effectively has let that gang set the economic agenda for the whole country. The consequences of that act of folly will be far-reaching.

When in late January ultra-nationalists blocked railway lines leading to the Donbass, denouncing as treasonous all commerce with the enemy, the junta condemned their actions, pointing out what a suicidal direction this was for the Ukraine to take. As Proletarian noted in February, “The war veterans who are carrying out the rail blockade, supported by the ultra nationalist Self-Reliance Party, say they object to the junta paying ‘blood money’ to the ‘pro-Russian separatists’ by buying coal from the Donbass ‘terrorists’. Whilst these Russophobic sentiments are entirely in line with the junta’s own propaganda, the practical consequences of the blockade amount to a disastrous own goal for a Ukraine which even before this latest twist was being saved from bankruptcy only by periodic cash payments from the IMF. Prime minister Groysman accused the blockaders of carrying out ‘sabotage against our nation’, pointing out that, without cheap coal from the Donbass to fuel Ukraine’s power stations and steel plants, the country could lose $3.5 billion and 75,000 jobs.”

Yet despite its own sober appreciation of the economic damage the blockade would likely cause, the junta failed to take any effective action to bring these criminal actions to an end. Confronted by this economic aggression, the people’s republics of the Donbass gave the junta until 1 March to get its house in order and end the transport blockade. When the deadline came around with the blockade intact, the Donbass authorities took steps to limit the damage to their own economy. They expropriated forty or so businesses on their territory, bringing them under ‘external administration’ to ensure their continued operation. As products can no longer be exported to Ukraine, new trade partners will soon enough be found in the east. Whether Ukraine will so readily find a home for its surplus exports in the European Union is not so certain.

On 15 March Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council decided to cut all road and rail links with the Donbass. Thus the blockade, which had only a few weeks earlier been described by the prime minister as “sabotage against our nation”, became official state policy.

The IMF response was swift. A board of directors meeting on 20 March that had been expected to conclude the third review of the Ukrainian anti-crisis programme, smoothing the way for the next loan tranche of one billion US dollars, postponed discussion of this agenda item until such time as it had seen a full breakdown of the likely economic losses occasioned by the blockade decision. The Ukraine finance minister’s back-of-a-fag-packet calculation that losses will amount to just 2% of GDP lacks credibility. According to an article in Bloomberg, data showed industrial output contracted 4.6% on a year earlier, confounding earlier estimates of 2.2% growth. Analysts predict a 20% drop in metals production in 2017. Power cuts will further hit industry as generators are starved of coal (Volodymyr Verbyany, ‘Eastern Trade Blockade Crushes Ukraine’s Industrial Revival’, Bloomberg, 22 March 2017). By imposing a war and a blockade upon those whom it still officially regards as fellow citizens, Ukraine is indeed sabotaging its own existence as a nation, the very crime of which it falsely accuses Russia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov hit the nail on the head when he accused the junta of “decisively and consistently driving away its own regions” and “undermining its own territorial integrity” (Stepan Kravchenko, ‘Russia Says Ukraine Rejecting Its Own Regions With Blockade’, Bloomberg, 17 March 2017).

Let the Ukrainian masses hold their government to account for having divided the country, wrecked its economy and persisted in a criminal war of national oppression, all to serve puppet masters who care nothing for Ukraine other than as a tool of imperialist policy, to be discarded if and when donor fatigue sets in. And let them stand in solidarity with those who, throughout these cruel years, have stood firm in their resistance to the fascist junta imposed upon them by the West.

Down with the fascist Kiev junta!

Victory to the anti-fascist resistance of the Donbass!