Jan 20, 2020
The impeachment proceedings against President Trump have thrown a spotlight on U.S. military aid to Ukraine, which has been engulfed in a civil war with forces backed by Russia for the last five years. Both Democrats and Republicans claim that this war is meant to stop “Russian aggression.” But the war is being encouraged by U.S. imperialism. In its effort to expand its influence and reach into the heart of the former Soviet Union, the U.S. has been using Ukraine as a proxy, a pawn against Russia.
Ukraine was created after the former Soviet Union broke apart in 1991. Before that, Ukraine and Russia were part of the same country. And they had very deep ties. Russians and Ukrainians had a shared history that goes back centuries. This shared history includes the Russian Revolution of 1917, when the working class throughout that vast territory took power and built the first workers’ state. Their populations are also joined in millions of other ways, including through intermarriage. Their economies were also joined. Ukraine is rich in natural resources, including gas and coal. Its agriculture is so vast, it is often referred to as the bread basket of Europe. But all this functioned as a part of a whole economy that was tied to Russia.
When the former Soviet Union went to pieces in 1991, the middle classes of Ukraine had huge illusions that independence would open Ukraine up to what they saw as the prosperity and plenty of the West, especially of the U.S. But breaking the ties with the rest of the Soviet Union, especially Russia, led to disorganized production and to a sharp decline. This decline was made much worse by the plundering of the economy and the government by bureaucrats-turned-business people and oligarchs. On top of that, Ukraine was subject to the capitalist economic crises that hit the working population in the rest of Eastern Europe especially hard. Living standards for the vast majority of the population began to plunge.
In the midst of this decline, U.S. officials and their allies held out the promise of aid and investment. But these were usually just payoffs to friendly flunkies and oligarchs—in order to impose supposed “reforms,” that is, attacks on the working population for the benefit of the rich. U.S. officials helped draft Ukraine’s privatization laws. U.S. officials forced Ukraine to cut social spending, increase gas prices and push through highly unpopular taxes.
Ukraine shares a long common border with Russia. There is also a large Russian minority inside the country, especially in the heavily industrial eastern part of the republic, as well as in the Crimean Peninsula, the home of the Russian naval fleet on the Black Sea. So, the U.S. tried to tilt the balance in its favor by funneling endless amounts of cash to support politicians friendly to the U.S. who oppose Russia. The U.S. government bankrolled non-government organizations (NGO’s) and media channels to whip up Ukrainian nationalist sentiments against Russian people. U.S. authorities also provided weapons and military training to openly racist, fascist and neo-Nazi parties and their militias.
In 2013–14, in the midst of this anti-Russian hysteria, U.S. officials began to fast-track Ukraine into NATO. The U.S. had formed NATO after World War II as a military alliance to oppose the old Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union ceased to exist, the U.S. began to use NATO to oppose Russia, the biggest of the republics that had emerged from the old Soviet Union. The U.S. expanded NATO into the countries that border on Russia, including Poland, Romania, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. This enabled the U.S. military to position heavily armed U.S. troops under the cover of NATO right near the border of Russia.
In 2014, Russia responded to these moves by the U.S. and its allies by occupying Odessa. Of course, Putin didn’t do this in order to protect the Russian minority, but to safeguard Odessa as a Russian military base and to pose as the champion of the Russian people, thus boosting Russian ultra-nationalism and chauvinism.
Putin then organized the secession of Donbass, a heavily industrial province, from the rest of Ukraine. This provoked a big civil war, in which the Ukrainian people, along with the Russian minority, are merely cannon fodder for both sides. Over the last five years, 13,000 people have been killed, including both civilians and military troops. And there have been hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Thus, U.S. intervention in Ukraine has been nothing short of disaster. It has helped turn this highly-educated, resource-rich country—once home to the most advanced Soviet industry—into the poorest country in Europe. It’s a place where many can barely afford to buy food, and where the extreme-right wing and neo-Nazis are growing in influence and power.