Apr 28, 2014
Every day another police station or government building is occupied in cities in eastern Ukraine. There are barricades, armed militia troops, tents set up downtown, and ordinary people to support the movement and confrontations with the special forces.
It seems similar to events three months ago, when now-deposed President Yanukovich’s opponents camped out in Maidan square in Kiev. But today’s confrontations are against the government arising from the Maidan movement, and today they denounce Ukrainian nationalism and its submission to the West. Neither the West’s leaders nor their media show any sympathy for this unrest.
The government in Kiev treats the pro-Russian activists as separatists, even as terrorists. These activists scorn the Kiev government and demand a referendum on autonomy for the regions of the east. Even the National Guard recruited from the anti-Russian far right can’t stamp out this movement.
In fact, the Kiev government saw that it couldn’t count on the National Guard to turn its guns on its eastern neighbors. The eastern Ukraine is the most industrialized part of the country, where a third of its exports come from, accounting for over half its national wealth.
Pushed hard, the temporary Ukrainian president finally said he was no longer against a referendum on the future of the regions. His maneuver to undercut the eastern pro-Russians and the power of Moscow behind them, probably backfired. A referendum is likely to show that a majority of people living in these regions mistrust the central power, and even consider it illegitimate.
The presidential election scheduled for May 25th to replace Yanukovich, who was driven out by street protests, seems like it won’t go the way Kiev wants. What approval will any future head of state obtain in this election?
The “separatist” demands for a lot of power going to the regions establishes a federalism that will weaken the central state. The authority of those who hope to take over the central state will come out very weakened.
With the forced departure of Yanukovich, Putin’s Russia lost what power it still had over the Ukrainian government. But Russia has obtained a type of consolation prize, the more or less resigned acceptance by the Western powers of its takeover of Crimea, favored by the big majority of the people there. Further, the Ukrainian state apparatus has been destabilized, as events in Maidan square showed. The new pro-Western authorities are weak and are opposed inside their own territory. A good third of the Ukraine, the richest part, could secede.
Finally, Ukraine is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. Putin seems to think he will gain from Ukraine’s problems, as he pushes into areas where the imperialist powers have had a lot of influence.
No matter what their representatives mouth to the media, the U.S., the European Union and Russia negotiate behind the scenes. All sides speak about keeping Ukraine together, while Putin talks about defending the Russian-speaking minorities.
But today, the masses of the Ukraine are caught in the grip of opposing nationalisms, called on to choose a side, neither of which is theirs.
Meanwhile, the current Ukrainian government is working on another attack against the standard of living of the workers. It wants to freeze the pay and pensions of public workers while inflation is taking off. It proposes to take an ax to social expenditures, reducing public services, doubling energy bills, and increasing taxes.
The godfathers of the West have forced on Ukraine attacks on public as well as private workers, on retirees, the unemployed and the poor. It’s clear why a part of the population, in particular the Russian-speaking, see Russia as some kind of protection, and even want to be attached to it, all the more so because the standard of living there is clearly higher than in Ukraine.
But the oligarchs’ hated domination of the country has not gone away with the change of government. Russia is also pillaged by its oligarchs and its ruling caste, a pillaging that Putin’s authoritarian regime protects.
The continually worsening situation in Ukraine may cause the working class to react. But will workers come forward for their own interests, despite the propaganda from the different nationalists? We certainly hope so. If not, the population risks finding itself torn between its diverse components, against the background of a dramatic aggravation of the economic and social situation.
The great powers don’t give gifts. They have nothing to offer Ukraine and its workers other than enormous sacrifices for the benefit of the Western European and U.S. bankers and capitalists.