The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

The Ukrainian Oligarchs, Their Regime, and the West

Apr 11, 2022

This article is from the March 2nd issue, #2796 of Lutte Ouvrière (Workers Struggle), the paper of the revolutionary workers group of that name active in France.

For a long time, Ukraine has been considered to have one of the most corrupt regimes in the world, though the press here stopped talking about it once the Western powers began to openly advance their pawns against Russia.

They don’t want to discuss the fact that the Ukrainian head of state, Volodymyr Zelensky, an actor and entertainment entrepreneur, came to the presidency in 2019 with the support of Igor Kolomoisky, one of the main oligarchs in the country.

He got his start in politics under one of the godfathers of local politics, a mafioso, according to the justice departments of several countries. Unlike many Ukrainian politicians, he hasn’t had 30 years in the spotlight to discredit himself. That’s good for propaganda, because in this confrontation with Putin, the U.S., France and Germany can cast him as a David to the Russian Goliath, a “fighter for freedom.”

Between Contradictions and Opposing Poles

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, those in power in Ukraine have had to navigate between contradictory pressures. Lines were cut with the rest of the Soviet Union, Russia first of all. But the Ukrainian economy was a heritage of the Soviet economy, which had functioned as a whole for 70 years; it could not move beyond its Russian suppliers and markets. Even if Ukrainian politicians and business people had to swear by the search for capitalist profits now, that didn’t really change anything.

The so-called oligarchs, that is, those who laid their hands on businesses through privatizations, of whom only the luckiest were able to become big business people, have sought to protect and maintain their business with their Russian counterparts. They did this despite the many abrupt changes to the head of Ukraine in recent years.

The big political convulsions that have struck the country in recent years—the Orange Revolution in 2004 and the Maidan events in 2014—have only weakened the Ukrainian state. Out in the provinces the local authorities are totally in the hands of the oligarchs, who sometimes maintain their own paramilitary groups. They only recognize the formal authority of Kiev. As for the central government, even the politicians who have made the biggest overtures to the West have never ceased to play a double game. For example, in 2004 prime minister Julia Timoshenko had made a fortune on the gas trade with Russia. In 2014, Poroshenko, a businessman with many interests in Russia, was brought to power in a kind of coup d’état backed by the United States. These oligarchs wanted to cultivate Moscow while making political overtures to the West at the same time. But without much success: calls for Ukraine to join the European Union, still unfulfilled, go back at least to 2004.

Over the past 30 years, through the presidencies of Kravchuk, Koutchma, Yushchenko, Yanukovitch, Poroshenko and now Zelensky, the balance between these two poles within Ukrainian politics at its summit have fluctuated. Most recently, it has been to the detriment of Moscow, with the West providing arms and military advisors as well as increasing “financial aid,” tying Kiev more closely to the West. In fact, Ukraine continually finds itself on the brink of bankruptcy. That comes from the dissipation and corruption of the state apparatus and the pillage of local resources by local bureaucrats, oligarchs and Western trusts. The aggravation of the world crisis helps to strangle the country and plunges the population deeper into poverty.

Militarization and Nationalist Poison

Putin’s war has pushed masses of Ukrainians to flee the country. But millions of others had already left their country over the years in order to find a living abroad, first of all in Poland. Of course, Western media forgets this. They much prefer to show the little refugee girls in the Kiev metro, whose Russian mother asks them in Russian to sing the national anthem in Ukrainian, or other people who evoke Ukrainian patriotism.

Those in power in Kiev want to use Putin’s invasion as an opportunity. They have decreed a general mobilization of the population. Those who resist can be arrested in the street or at home. The government has also organized a million men and women in “territorial defense groups.” That they carry no weight against Putin’s tanks matters little to Zelensky or Biden. Their existence, and their death, will help maintain a “sacred union” on a nationalist basis between the poor and the rich, between workers and those who exploit them, what the oppressors call “the people,” behind those who give the marching orders.