Ukraine update

ukraineFor the two months that elapsed between the inauguration of comedian-turned president Zelensky in May and the parliamentary elections in July it could be argued that his failure to match campaign promises with political practice could be ascribed to the continued dominance of Poroshenko’s placemen in the Rada, Ukraine’s parliament. Zelensky’s Servant of the People party claimed that the Rada’s stubborn resistance to the new broom’s reform agenda ‘spat in the face’ of ordinary Ukrainians. And it is the case that within that two month period, the Rada made haste to block Zelensky’s bill on electoral reform and did some loud thinking about a law stripping the presidency of some of its powers. Zelensky’s party cried foul, complaining that obstruction from the Rada meant that voters were unable to judge the incoming president by his deeds (Maxim Edwards, ‘Welcome to Ukraine’s post post Maidan era’, Foreign Policy, 24 July 2019).

However, come 21 July and the results of the parliamentary elections, the balance of power in the Rada shifted decisively in Zelensky’s favour. His party won over 42% of the vote, securing an unassailable 240 seat parliamentary majority. Now, surely, his hands were untied to make good on his campaign promises of a peaceful solution to the Donbass crisis and a drive against corruption.

A few days after the Rada elections took place, the public was finally given the chance to judge their new president by his deeds. But those who yearned for an end to the war and had believed that Zelensky would provide a welcome change from Poroshenko’s unremitting diet of ultra-nationalism and Russophobia were sorely disappointed. Instead they were treated to the sight of Kiev indulging in a provocative act of piracy on the high seas, detaining the Russian-flagged tanker Nika Spirit on trumped up charges and temporarily kidnapping its 15-strong crew. This unprovoked act of aggression against a commercial vessel going peacably about its business, seized whilst heading for Izmail on the Danube for refurbishment, was clearly a cack-handed attempt by Kiev to influence the legal proceedings currently in progress concerning three Ukrainian vessels which illegally entered Russian territorial waters in the Kerch Strait last November, in consequence of which 24 sailors remain in Russian custody. It was clear that the purpose of the November stunt was to draw Russia into a military conflict. Russia declined the challenge, preferring to let the law take its course.

In fact Zelensky already gave the public a sample of how he plans to go about reducing tensions with Russia before the parliamentary elections. When the Ukrainian broadcaster NewsOne planned a joint TV show with Russia’s Rossiya 1, with the idea of providing an apolitical forum within which ordinary Ukrainians and Russians could engage without a political agenda, Zelensky at once denounced this as a "dangerous PR stunt" which would invite protesters to "trash and burn" NewsOne‘s headquarters. Right on cue, several dozen neo-fascists attacked the TV station, setting off flares and hurling smoke bombs. NewsOne scrapped the show after receiving "unambiguous death threats". A few days later a related TV station, Channel 112, was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. With weasel words, Zelensky complained that the planned NewsOne show would "divide us again", neatly blaming the victims for the violence of the fascists (‘Zelensky has ultimatum for Donbass, but is he in a position to talk?’, RT, 9 July 2019).

Meanwhile the Ukrainian army, reinforced by fascist paramilitaries, continues to shell villages in Donbass and Lugansk, not neglecting also to pay its respects to its Nazi-collaborating forbears, recently providing a guard of honour at the reburial in Lvov of the remains of soldiers serving in the 14th Waffen SS division. And workers throughout Ukraine are offered this relentless diet of national chauvinism and Russophobia in the hope that, under its influence, they will go on tolerating yet more years of IMF-driven austerity. The World Bank says Ukraine is one of the poorest countries in Europe and Central Asia. Ukrainian workers are poorer even than workers in Bangladesh and the Cameroons, earning on average less than $300 a month, over half of which goes on food. And, according to the World Food Programme, over a million Ukrainians are facing acute food insecurity.

But whilst the many starve, the few drive their Bentleys to the bank. It seems that British luxury car maker Bentley Motors, desperate to find new markets for its products as the crisis of overproduction bears down on its sales, is opening up shop in Kiev in what it describes as its "biggest exclusive dealership in Europe". An enormous showroom near Kiev airport now offers the discerning customer the complete Bentley range, including the Bentayga, Flying Spur, Mulsanne and the Continental (‘Bentley opens it biggest showroom in Ukraine, one of the poorest countries in Europe’, RT, 15 July 2029). People are getting rich in Ukraine, but it’s sure as hell it’s not the working class.