Australasian Spartacist No. 225
Backed by Canberra
U.S. Rulers Fuel East Ukraine Slaughter
Down With Imperialist Sanctions Against Russia! For the Right of Self-Rule in Donetsk, Luhansk!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 1061 (6 February), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S. The Australian government has enthusiastically backed U.S. imperialist machinations and provocations in Ukraine. Last year Australia imposed sanctions on Russia in line with those adopted by the European Union. When Petro Poroshenko made the first ever visit to Australia by a Ukrainian president in December he was feted by prime minister Tony Abbott and ALP Opposition leader Bill Shorten. Abbott declared “I want to assure him [Poroshenko] that as a free country, Australia feels deep solidarity with the free country of Ukraine and wishes to do whatever we can to support Ukraine.”
Following threats by U.S. president Barack Obama to further escalate military aid to Ukraine in the form of “lethal weapons,” the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia brokered a deal in mid-February to halt the civil war in eastern Ukraine. Regardless of the deal, fighting has thus far continued with the Kiev forces’ humiliating defeat and subsequent retreat on 18 February from Debaltseve, a strategic rail junction linking the insurgent-controlled cities of Donetsk and Luhansk.
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FEBRUARY 3—Since the start of the year, there has been a dramatic increase in fighting between the Ukrainian government and forces of the breakaway People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk that are backed by Russia. The civil war in eastern Ukraine, in which over 5,300 people have been killed and 1.5 million displaced, is the direct result of U.S. imperialist machinations. In building up a client state on Russia’s border, Washington aims to spike the influence of Moscow, a potential rival, in countries of the former Soviet Union.
To that end, the Pentagon has also launched Operation Atlantic Resolve under which it has strengthened its air, ground and naval presence in East Europe and conducted a series of expanded military exercises in Poland and the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Washington plans to send an additional 100 armored vehicles and 3,000 troops to Europe as well as advisers to train the fascist-infested Ukrainian National Guard. U.S. Navy ships regularly patrol the Black Sea with the Ukrainian navy.
Every few days, another report emerges of dozens killed in artillery or rocket barrages that have damaged homes, schools and hospitals in numerous cities and towns across the Donbass (Donets basin). Last October, Human Rights Watch and the New York Times, both pro-imperialist mouthpieces, reported that the Ukrainian army had fired cluster munitions at civilian targets. These weapons are designed to kill indiscriminately over a wide area and children often pick up unexploded bomblets. In the rebel-held territory, the Kiev government has ceased the payment of pensions and cut off virtually all banking services. The population of the Donbass has been saved from starvation only by a series of humanitarian aid convoys from Russia that have delivered some 15,000 tons of food, medicine and building materials. Across Ukraine, economic dislocation caused by the war has brought greater hardship to working people, the poor and the elderly.
The recent upsurge in fighting was effectively instigated by the U.S. government. In December, President Barack Obama signed the Ukraine Freedom Support Act authorizing an additional $350 million in military aid to Ukraine over the next three years and further economic sanctions against Russia. The sanctions aim not only to force Russia to back down in regard to Ukraine but also to head off Russian support to separatists in Georgia and Moldova (as well as to the Syrian government). The legislation, which sailed unopposed through a Congress known for its partisan deadlock, also bolsters attempts to undermine the Vladimir Putin regime in Moscow in the guise of “support for Russian democracy.” Some $30 million per year was allocated for increased broadcasts by Cold War relics like the Voice of America and the mobilization of the CIA-linked U.S. Agency for International Development and National Endowment for Democracy.
Thus encouraged by its masters in Washington, Kiev launched an offensive against Donetsk on January 18. After repulsing the government forces, the Donbass militias launched a counteroffensive, capturing the Donetsk city airport, advancing on Mariupol and threatening to encircle thousands of Ukrainian troops in Debaltseve, a strategic town on the railroad connecting Donetsk and Luhansk. With the latest battlefield defeats for Kiev, the White House and NATO generals are now mooting the supply of additional arms to Ukraine. Down with the imperialist sanctions! No U.S. military aid to Ukraine!
We presently have a military side with the insurgents against the imperialist-backed Kiev government. At the same time, we give no political support to the Great Russian chauvinist rebel leaders of Donetsk and Luhansk, nor to Putin’s capitalist regime. We are implacable opponents of not only Ukrainian but also Russian nationalism. On this score, we support independence for Chechnya and defended the Chechen people against the brutal Russian military campaigns waged by Putin and his predecessor Boris Yeltsin.
Kiev Government, Made in USA
Last February, Ukraine’s corrupt president, Viktor Yanukovich, was toppled by a fascist-spearheaded coup arising out of the Maidan protests engineered by Washington with the able assistance of the European Union (EU) imperialists. The post-coup government, which included fascists of the Svoboda party, quickly moved to ban the official use of the Russian language. (The proposed ban was tabled to accommodate imperialist discomfort with this too-frank expression of reactionary nationalism.) That and other moves by the Kiev government sparked justified fears among Russian-speaking people, who launched protests throughout the country.
With the overwhelming support of the ethnic Russian majority in Crimea, historically part of Russia, Putin moved to reclaim the peninsula and secure the longstanding base of Russia’s Black Sea fleet. In the ethnically mixed but predominantly Russian-speaking provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, militants took up arms in the face of government and fascist attacks. The Ukrainian government’s first two attempts to mount military offensives in eastern Ukraine last spring directly followed visits to Kiev by CIA chief John Brennan and Vice President Joe Biden. At the time, Obama pontificated: “The Ukrainian government has the right and responsibility to uphold law and order within its territory.”
The leaders of the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics held a referendum last May that resulted in an overwhelming vote in favor of self-rule, which could mean autonomy within a federated Ukraine or independence or unification with Russia. After the vote, we wrote: “We defend the democratic right of the population in these areas to conduct the referendum and act on the vote for self-rule” (“U.S. Imperialism Behind Bloody Repression in Ukraine,” WV No. 1046, 16 May 2014). This position is an expression of our support for the democratic right of national self-determination, i.e., the right of peoples to amalgamate or to separate. As Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin underlined, the recognition of the right of self-determination is essential to combating national antagonisms and creating conditions where working people of different nations are able to see that the real enemy is their respective capitalist exploiters, not each other.
The imperialists blather on about “Russian aggression” to mask their own predatory appetites. A compliant U.S. capitalist media has done its part, parroting claims that the Russian army is engaged in combat in Ukraine while all but disappearing the presence of American mercenaries and neo-Nazis from West Europe fighting alongside the Ukrainian army. In truth, Putin has been quite restrained in the face of repeated provocations by the Kiev government and its imperialist patrons. There is little indication that Moscow has annexationist appetites toward the eastern Ukrainian provinces.
Those in Kiev pressing the military conflict are desperate for whatever imperialist assistance they can get. The Ukrainian army recently launched its fourth conscription drive since last March, and has plans for two more drafts, which will sweep up mainly working-class and poor people. There have been numerous protests against conscription, mostly led by women furious that their sons and husbands are being made cannon fodder. Many potential conscripts are hiding in forests and fleeing the country to avoid the draft. Ukraine’s Defense Ministry announced at the end of January that nearly 7,500 people are facing criminal charges for draft evasion.
The real shock troops of the Ukrainian army are fascist-dominated volunteer units accused of carrying out rape, kidnapping and murder across the Donbass. Among these are the Aidar and Azov battalions, the latter of which sports insignia based on the Black Sun and the Wolf’s Hook (Wolfsangel) emblems of the Nazi SS. When the Kiev government announced a “rebranding” of the Aidar battalion at the end of January, the fascists attempted to storm the Ministry of Defense in protest. These scum, politically represented by the Right Sector and Svoboda, trace their lineage back to the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) of Stepan Bandera that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. The UPA is notorious for its mass murders of Jews, Communists, Soviet soldiers and Poles. In a salute to the fascists, Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko established a national holiday, the Day of Ukraine’s Defenders, on October 14—the anniversary of the UPA’s founding.
Imperialist Sanctions and Unintended Consequences
In cutting off access to international capital, the imperialist sanctions have compounded the damage done by the collapse in oil prices to the Russian economy, which is heavily dependent on oil and natural gas exports. Oil is fetching less than half the price it did a year ago due in no small part to increased production in the U.S. and continuing high production in Saudi Arabia. The value of the ruble against the dollar plummeted by 46 percent last year and another 17 percent in January, while inflation has soared to 13 percent. With the costs of food and medicine in particular skyrocketing, working people and retirees are scrambling to get by.
Differences are growing, especially in the EU, over continuing the sanctions. At the beginning of the year, French president François Hollande expressed a desire to ease sanctions if some basis for compromise could be found. In echoing this sentiment, German Social Democrat Sigmar Gabriel, vice chancellor in Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat-led government, expressed concern that some want the sanctions to “cripple” Russia.
Such statements reflect the worries of sections of Europe’s capitalist rulers that the more effective the sanctions are, the more they could threaten their own beleaguered economies. Several countries in the EU, notably its dominant power Germany, have extensive trade links with Russia and rely on fossil fuel imports from that country. Furthermore, the continued fall in the value of the ruble raises the prospect that Russia could default on its debts, which would be yet another blow to Europe’s struggling banks.
The recent election victory of the petty-bourgeois Syriza party in Greece also briefly raised the prospect of a speed bump for the EU sanctions regimen. Elected on promises to roll back the grinding EU-enforced austerity that has impoverished Greece and driven unemployment to over 25 percent (around 50 percent among youth), Syriza had also expressed opposition to sanctions against Russia. But just three days after its formation, the capitalist government led by Syriza joined the rest of the EU in unanimously agreeing to extend the existing sanctions for another six months and to prepare a list of other individual Russians to target.
Syriza’s denunciation of the austerity diktats (and sanctions on Russia) is shown to be so much hot air by its support to the imperialist EU. Originally established as an economic battering ram against the Soviet Union, the EU remains the vehicle by which the European capitalists jointly exploit the European workers. Its weaker states like Greece are lorded over by its more powerful imperialist members, who also gain competitive advantage from the EU trade bloc at the expense of their imperialist rivals, the U.S. and Japan. In the Greek elections, our comrades of the Trotskyist Group of Greece called for “no vote to Syriza” and gave critical support to the Communist Party, which stood in opposition to the EU and all pro-EU parties, including Syriza. Down with the EU! For a Socialist United States of Europe!
Russia is not now imperialist, although it has the potential to become so (however remote that prospect appears today). A regional power, Russia has significant military might, especially its nuclear arsenal, making it harder for the U.S. to push around. But Moscow does not play a role in the carve-up of the world on a global scale. The efforts of the existing imperialists, led by the U.S., to keep Russia out of their club have stymied its imperialist ambitions. Washington’s increased bellicosity toward Russia comes in the context of its so-called pivot to Asia, strengthening ties with India and other maneuvers aimed at containing the Chinese deformed workers state. Such moves reflect the overriding concern of the U.S. imperialists to effect a counterrevolution in China, where capitalism was overthrown following the 1949 Revolution, in order to reopen that country to untrammeled imperialist exploitation.
However, the attempts to isolate Russia have served to push it into China’s arms, an illustration of the U.S. rulers’ difficulties in pursuing their strategic interests around the world. Russia’s fossil fuels and high-grade military technology could both fill needs in China, which in turn has massive foreign exchange reserves. Russia’s vast land mass also provides a major route for China’s project of a New Silk Road for trade with Europe that avoids the threat of U.S. naval disruption of shipping lanes.
In contrast to Merkel’s Atlanticism, a wing of the German bourgeoisie favors an economic and political alliance with Russia (shades of Otto von Bismarck) as a counterweight to U.S. global hegemony. Meanwhile, trade between Germany and China has increased dramatically in recent years. The prospect of an Eurasian alliance was addressed by the rad-lib journalist Pepe Escobar in a December 16 article titled “Go West, Young Han” on tomdispatch.com: “One day, Germany may lead parts of Europe away from NATO’s ‘logic,’ since German business leaders and industrialists have an eye on their potentially lucrative commercial future in a new Eurasia. Strange as it might seem amid today’s war of words over Ukraine, the endgame could still prove to involve a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing alliance.”
Much of the reformist left in the U.S. and internationally went along with its own capitalist rulers in supporting the coup in Ukraine last year. Typical was the International Socialist Organization, which hailed the reactionary demonstrations in the Maidan as an “action from below.” Other groups, like the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), of which Socialist Alternative is the U.S. section, have gone to greater pains to strike a neutral posture between the imperialists and the Russian-backed rebels, but in fact also give left cover for the imperialists.
In a January 21 article titled “Facing a Turbulent 2015” on the CWI website (socialistworld.net), Rob Jones retails the imperialist lie that Russia is responsible for the fighting in Ukraine. Writing that “Russia, in words, claims to want a settlement but continues to support the rebels” while all but disappearing the role of the U.S. and EU, Jones draws an equal sign between supposed “Russian imperialism” and the real imperialists of NATO. The CWI, like all reformists, has always been at peace with imperialism, which found its greatest expression when it lined up on the side of counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. CWI members in Moscow were literally standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the barricades with Boris Yeltsin’s capitalist-restorationist forces when he grabbed power in August 1991.
At every level, what is going on in Ukraine is the product of the capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state and ravaged the economies and peoples of the former Soviet republics. The Ukrainian economy, which had been integrated into an all-Union economic division of labor, was dealt a severe blow as living standards plummeted. We in the International Communist League fought politically tooth and nail to defend the Soviet Union against capitalist counterrevolution. Despite its degeneration under the misrule of the Stalinist bureaucracy that had usurped political power in 1923-24, the USSR embodied the social gains of the 1917 October Revolution led by Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
The seizure of power by the proletariat in Russia was a beacon pointing the way to a future free of exploitation and oppression. All that the imperialist system offers for the masses is greater poverty and misery, with increasing conflicts among nations and peoples who hope to better their prospects at others’ cost. It is necessary to build revolutionary workers parties internationally, sections of a reforged Fourth International, to make the working class conscious of the need to combat the depredations of its own bourgeoisie. Such parties will lead the proletariat in fierce struggle against all manifestations of national and religious bigotry and great power chauvinism in the fight to overturn capitalist rule through international socialist revolution.