With more than 25 killed and hundreds wounded on Wednesday, February 19, 2014, the violence in Kiev and other cities of Ukraine seems to be unravelling into a bloody civil war. While this mayhem has been raging in Ukraine, the western imperialist media had a field day with a well rehearsed script just like during the Arab revolutions, twisting and distorting the issues according to their vested interests and objectives, and almost completely turning a blind eye to neo-fascists’ involvement in the Euromaidan vigilantes with their far right slogans, incidents of torture, lynchings and beatings of the homeless. This is a story we have heard in one form or another again and again, particularly during Ukraine’s western-backed Orange Revolution a decade ago, but it bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality.
In normal times, there is a tendency amongst ordinary people to accept reports at face value without making an effort for deeper understanding or analysis of what is really happening with all its complexities. In a recent article in The Independent, Patrick Cockburn wrote, “A difference in the struggle between protesters and the government in Ukraine compared to those in Turkey and Thailand is that in Kiev they can expect backing from the United States and the European Union as can the government from Russia. The opposition has received an overwhelmingly good press from western television and newspapers, portraying the struggle as one between ordinary Ukrainians and a repressive government. The television-friendly version of the protests has little time for complicated stuff about the role of outside powers or the competition between oligarchs and the ruling family. Understandably it is the phrase ‘F*** the EU’ in the leaked phone call between Victoria Nuland the top US diplomat for Europe and Geoff Pyatt, US Ambassador to Ukraine, that has attracted attention...these senior US officials saw themselves as determining who should form a future Ukrainian government.”
The new turn of events in Ukraine came on January 16, after the Rada (the Ukrainian parliament) introduced anti-protest laws aimed at criminalising protesters, which were supported by President Viktor Yanukovich and his Party of Regions, as well as by the Communist Party of Ukraine. They were passed without any debate. The demand for Ukraine to join the EU is in fact a distorted reflection of a desire for change amongst the masses — a desire to escape the desperate conditions faced by the masses over the last 25-year rule of the oligarchs, ex-bureaucrats and criminals running the country with devastating effects like mass factory closures, sale of public utilities to the EU, the US and Russia. It is anger at this grotesque corruption and inequality, Ukraine’s economic stagnation and poverty that has brought many ordinary Ukrainians to join the protests. As in Russia, Ukraine was destroyed by neoliberal shock therapy and mass privatisation of the post-Soviet years. More than half the country’s national income was lost in five years and it has yet to recover. Since the 1990s, the west has been trying to exploit the historic fault between the largely Russian-speaking east and south (where the Communist party still commands significant support), and traditionally nationalist western Ukraine.
The hypocrisy of the European bourgeoisie is typical. They were trying to reach a deal with Yanukovich and his premier Azarov, offering loans for austerity, as part of a German-led drive to open up Ukraine for western companies. It was Viktor Yanukovich’s rejection of the EU option and acceptance of Putin’s offer of a $ 15 billion bailout that triggered the protests. Within Russia, this generous offer from Putin will lead to attacks on healthcare, education, workers’ rights, further privatisation and dismantling all that remains of the social gains of the Soviet era. However, are EU leaders really prepared to break with the Kremlin and with Gazprom? Germany’s dependence on Russian raw materials is vital for its economy. European capitalists want Russian gas and oil, access to the Ukrainian market and workers for exploitation, while the Russian elite has its own designs on Ukraine.
In Ukraine, imperialist interference is part of a much bigger game. The Obama administration has stated quite categorically that its strategic interests are centred elsewhere in the world, and it has made Bush’s planned Eastern European missile defence system less of a priority. At the same time, Putin is aiming to play a bigger role, taking advantage of the decline in US influence and the divisions that have emerged within the West European powers.
Yanukovich is a representative of the eastern oligarchs, the owners of the coalmines in the Donbass region. He is looking for the best offer; the problem now is that the EU has very little to offer. When “pro-western” leaders took office after 2004, the economic policy they implemented was not very different from that of Yanukovich. There are no principles involved here, only different interests. That is why a compromise between Yanukovich and the more ‘reasonable’ opposition leaders is still a possibility, which would leave the extreme reactionary right-wingers freezing on the streets. However, it would remain a fragile deal, as Ukraine would still be a battleground between the proxies of different powers vying for their vested interests.
Is Ukraine on the road to Balkanisation? The idea of a breakup between the east and west of the country is hyped. The balkanisation of Ukraine would be a criminal, reactionary move that will devastate the living standards of the masses. Ukrainian workers are in a state of permanent poverty and destitution, with the only escape being emigration to another country. Wages are in free fall and the industrial crisis is spreading to the eastern regions. Agriculture has practically been destroyed in the provinces of Galicia and Volhynia. Industry in the east is dependent on Russian markets and would be crushed by EU competition. A deal with the EU would further destroy the internal market of the country, with German and Polish goods flooding into it, while a Customs Union with Russia would promote Russian goods. The masses have already experienced the disastrous effects of close economic ties with Russia. A Ukraine inside the European Union would equally be a nightmare for the masses, as the current situation in Romania, Poland and all the other countries of the former Soviet bloc clearly demonstrates.
On the other hand, Ukrainian Communist Party leaders, who have collaborated in the crimes of Yanukovich over the years, have done an immense disservice to the working class by identifying communism as a political force that has no alternative to pose to the present regime and simply backs one wing of the mafia elite. The working class will learn through experience that it must pose itself the task of emerging as an independent political force and struggle against the capitalist regimes devastating Ukraine and plunging its people into destitution.
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