Ukraine: imperialism opens Pandora’s box

If the West ever believed that cultivating a fascist provocation on the borders of the Russian Federation would somehow compensate for the failure of its proxy war against Syria, the events currently unfolding in the Ukraine are teaching a very different lesson.

The wars of national oppression waged by the West against such countries as Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and (via proxies) Syria in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union stand like so many milestones on the road to a much greater conflict, as crisis-stricken imperialism nerves itself up to direct its reckless aggression against Russia and China. The fascist coup in Kiev, brazenly engineered by imperialism, was in essence the first blow in that yet-to-be declared war.

The aim was to draw the whole of the Ukraine into the NATO/EU camp, pressing it into service as a Trojan Horse on the Russian border. If President Yanukovych refused to sign a trade agreement with the EU such that this subordination to the West could be secured by “peaceful” means, then the same objective must be achieved by coercion.

Contrary to Washington’s plan, the immediate effect of the illegal regime change in Kiev was to spark a referendum in the Crimea, precipitating its return to Russia and thereby reversing the arbitrary estrangement effected by Khrushchevite revisionism in 1954.

Initially the other industrialised regions of the east with a strong Russian proletarian demographic sought only a strengthening of regional autonomy and respect for Russian language rights, and Vladimir Putin continues to make it clear that Russia has no wish to annex parts of the Ukraine.

But imperialism is making it abundantly plain that, if it cannot secure the allegiance of Ukraine as a whole to the NATO banners, then it would sooner see the country disintegrate than permit it to develop in peace as an independent state enjoying relations of equality with all its neighbours. Washington did not hesitate to encourage quisling “president” Turchynov to mobilise the full violence of the hijacked Ukrainian state to suppress the anti-fascist resistance mounting in the eastern regions.

If forced into a straight choice between submitting meekly to the Kiev jackboot or demanding federation with Russia, there are many in the east who would readily opt for the latter – unless the constitutional reforms spoken of in the recent Geneva agreement can translate into genuine protection for the language and history of every region of the country. What real likelihood of that being achievable with the participation of the regime currently in place in Kiev must be in grave doubt however.

After all, it will be remembered how the solemn 21 February agreement between Yanukovych and the opposition, duly witnessed by Russia and the EU and including detailed plans for reform and a new election by December, was at once cast aside and trampled beneath the fascist coup. Unilateral plans for presidential elections on 25 May were instead called by the Kiev Rada – that is to say, by the parliamentary rump that remained after pro-government MPs had fled in fear of their lives.

Growing resistance

In ten cities across the south and east of Ukraine, the local population have responded by occupying regional administrative offices, surrounding security bases, organising defence militia, repudiating the gauleiters imposed by the pogromist Kiev regime and acclaiming in their stead their own emerging resistance leaders.

As must be expected, this anti-fascist resistance against an illegitimate coup regime is grotesquely misrepresented in the distorting mirror of the imperialist media as “Russian gunmen assaulting government forces”, hoping that its audience will be sufficiently bamboozled to forget (a) that the illegally ousted president Yanukovych and his Party of the Regions were elected by a substantial majority, (b) that the opposition parties which stirred up the Maidan protests had been roundly defeated at the same elections, and (c) that the fascist rats which then broke out of the political sewers to infest the streets represented a yet smaller fraction of Ukrainian opinion.

With his back covered by this barrage of lying propaganda form the West, the quisling Turchynov (or “acting president” as the BBC prefers) has felt sufficiently emboldened to issue wild threats of an”anti-terrorist” crackdown on those agitating for greater autonomy.

However, these repressive efforts have only strengthened the resolve of the regions to get out from under the shadow of the jackboot and, if necessary, seek protection through outright federation with Russia. In ten eastern cities the resistance has occupied key administrative centres.

On Saturday 12 April puppet Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, bragging of his “zero-tolerance policy towards armed terrorists”, sent troops into one such city, Slavyansk in the Donetsk region, where anti-coup protesters had liberated several administrative buildings. This hit a snag, as the troops refused to attack the protesters, suggesting a welcome degree of disaffection. (Other indications of wavering in the ranks have surfaced more recently, casting doubt over the willingness of the Ukrainian security forces to act blindly as shock troops for fascist coup-mongers. Perhaps in an effort to combat this, Kiev has begun to reorganise the armed forces so as to integrate the outright fascist paramilitary forces of the Right Sector.)

The following day casualties were reported on both sides as gunfire broke out at a resistance checkpoint erected the previous night. Helicopters landed at a disused airfield on the outskirts and disgorged troops in black uniforms who then headed into town. According to Avakov one of his stormtroopers was killed and five others injured. The fatality was a member of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) and one of the injured was the commander of the SBU’s Anti-Terrorist Centre. When one of the resistance checkpoints was demolished by stormtroopers, the defenders fell back and put up another barricade at a bridge. The resistance reported one death and two injuries on their side.

Eyewitness reports suggest that the efforts of the SBU were supplemented by thugs from the fascist Right Sector who shot and injured three people as they were ferrying food and medical supplies to the protesters. This conforms with the previous day’s statement by the Right Sector’s fuehrer, Dmitry Yarosh boasting that he was mobilising his outfit “to take decisive steps to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity”.

For all their brutality, it is clear that the Kiev forces are not having it all their own way, with the latest reports suggesting that Slavyansk police station remains under anti-fascist control. A local resident summed up the mood of defiance: “The people are rising up, fortifying the barricades. People do not recognize the government currently sitting in Kiev.”

Turchynov responded to the weekend’s setbacks by issuing an ultimatum for all the protesters to vacate occupied buildings by 9 a.m. Monday or face full military assault. Interestingly the deadline came and went without the promised assault. Perhaps the “president” was getting a restraining whisper in his ear from Washington, aghast at the flat-footed, Keystone Cops character of the assault so far.

After all, Interfax reported that CIA director John Brennan had swanned in to Kiev incognito on the Saturday for a “series of secret meetings” with the puppets, with the implication that Brennan was behind the decision to use force against Slavyansk. Given that the outcome of this decision was to expose the amateurishness of Kiev’s strategy, the unreliability of the troops, the resilience of the resistance and the steadfastness of Moscow’s support, the alternative plan – the resort to diplomacy – may suddenly have seemed more attractive.

Be that as it may, Slavyansk remains in the eye of the storm at time of writing. In a murderous attack on an anti-fascist checkpoint there on 20 April, believed to be the work of Right Sector fascists, three unarmed local residents were shot dead and several more injured. Two of the fascists were also killed and the remainder put to flight when self-defence militia arrived on the scene.

Geneva agreement

The agreement hammered out at Geneva on 17 April between Russia, the EU and the US (with the Kiev parrots squawking atop Uncle Sam’s shoulder to make it all properly “quadrilateral”) requires that the crisis must be resolved by the Ukrainians themselves. This would entail the disarming of illegal armed groups, the release of all illegally occupied buildings, an amnesty for protesters other than anyone who has committed a capital crime and transparent constitutional reform.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov took pains to explain the comprehensive nature of the agreement, stressing the importance of avoiding a narrow, one-sided interpretation of the document (of the kind which Kerry and Obama at once furnished sterling examples) . Noting that the issue of illegal armed groups and seized buildings concerns all regions of Ukraine, Lavrov said pointedly “It is impossible to solve the problem of illegally seized buildings in one region of Ukraine when the illegally seized buildings are not freed in another.”

Similar sentiments were expressed somewhat more bluntly by the leader of the Donetsk People’s Republic Denis Pushilin, who is quoted in the Telegraph as saying “We absolutely agree that all buildings should be vacated – including the buildings taken by Yatsenyuk and Turchynov. If they leave their buildings, we shall do the same too. Our position is absolutely neutral: if everybody will do it, we will do it as well.” (Ukraine crisis: Pro-Russian separatists snub Geneva deal, David Blair, Telegraph, 18 April)

The BBC on 18 April cited another Donetsk protester as saying that they would not leave unless the coup-supporters on Maidan Square packed up their camp, and a statement from the protest movement pointed out that “we cannot accept the values of the Kiev junta, we have our heroic past going back to World War Two, we are the Russian bear which is waking up”, adding “Don’t worry, everything will stay peaceful and orderly. The only problem is if the Kiev junta want war.” The protesters explained that they would not yet request assistance from Russia, but “we will have a referendum before 11 May, about Donbass independence – after that we will ask for help”.

A rocky future with the West?

Meanwhile, the Kiev regime is winning no new friends either in the west of the country as it presses on with slashing pensions and fuel subsidies in line with IMF strictures, the stick which follows the carrot of the promised EU loan (which itself will become another heavy burden come pay-back time). Inciting hatred against Russians and Jews won’t fill empty bellies. And if Ukraine persists in its refusal to pay its Russian gas bill and gets cut off, it will take more than fanning the flames of bourgeois nationalism to keep homes warm.

Of course, there would still remain the option of illegally siphoning off some of the transit gas en route for Europe – which is doubtless one of the reasons Berlin is much less keen than Washington to put the sanctions boot into the Russian Federation.

Indeed as the Ukraine crisis rumbles on, nervous splits are multiplying amongst Western “allies”, both between the EU and the US and within the EU itself. According to the Financial Times of 18 April, ” EU governments have received confidential calculations from Brussels weighing up the effect that sanctions would have on each country’s gross domestic product as well as on individual sectors… the countries have until Tuesday to study the report and respond with their own assessments of their vulnerability in the case of a showdown with Russia. This will lead to final verdicts on whether each country is at ‘low’, ‘medium’ or ‘high'” risk. The European Commission’s risk assessments could lay the ground for a possible emergency meeting of national leaders in Brussels to discuss whether the 28-member bloc is able to launch broad sanctions against Moscow.” The article goes on to say that “Europe is deeply split over whether to take strong action”, with Germany and the UK “cautious”, Italy wanting to delay a decision and Cyprus worried about the stability of its banking system if Russian deposits were pulled out. ( Financial Times, “Four-way talks end with agreement on calming Ukraine tensions”)

Splits within the imperialist camp help to concentrate the mind on what is really driving the Ukraine crisis (and every other major social crisis besetting the world): the rampaging crisis of overproduction. This is a crisis which originates, not in the Crimea, Moscow or Beijing, but in the stricken metropolitan centres of monopoly capitalism. It would be a cruel irony of history if, in the course of waging an economic war against Russia, imperialism thereby hastened the death of the US greenback as the sheet anchor currency of the financial world, further compromising US hegemony and giving a boost to the BRICS nations.

Putin’s economic adviser, Sergei Glazyev, announced in March that if the West were serious about imposing sanctions, Russia would establish its own financial system independent of the US dollar. Glazyev helpfully explained, “We have wonderful economic and trade relations with our Southern and Eastern partners. We will find a way not just to eliminate our dependence on the US but also profit from these sanctions…. .If sanctions are applied against Russia’s state structures we will have to move into other currencies and create our own settlement system. We will be forced to recognize the impossibility of repayment of the loans that the US banks gave to Russian state structures. Indeed, sanctions are a double-edged weapon, and if the US chooses to freeze our assets, then our equities and liabilities in dollars will also be frozen…” (Quoted by Umberto Pascali, “The Ukraine Crisis and Vladimir Putin: A New Financial System Free from Wall Street and the City of London?”, Global Research, 22 March). In case anybody missed the point, it was spelt out again by official Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov in an interview with the BBC. “Sanctions against Russia could be the final trigger that will force many countries to create a new independent financial system based on the real economy. The world is changing rapidly. How many civilizations grew and died in the course of history? Who will be able to resist the pressure of dying systems and indicate to the people the road toward the future?” (Ibid)