Since this article was written, the tide of violence has surged ever higher, culminating in the fascist coup the world is now witnessing. As we go to press the fascist coup engineered by the West in the Ukraine is now in full cry, with the ousted President Yanukovych the object of a manhunt, the governing party’s MPs terrorised out of parliament, a quisling “president” and puppet “government” issuing illegal decrees and ethnic Russians and others living in fear of sectarian pogroms. In the Crimea armed militia are now protecting parliament from the threat of assault, as the legislators discuss holding a referendum over extending the region’s semi-autonomous status. In Sevastopol a public meeting estimated at 25,000 strong rallied against fascism, uniting many different political tendencies, whilst volunteers were detailed to guard the city’s Lenin monument from provocateurs.
Correctly judging this fascist revolt to have been steered all along by the West as a destabilising provocation on its border, Russia is making it clear that it will shoulder responsibility for the welfare of ethnic Russians in the Ukraine and has heightened its military vigilance in the border areas.
Towards the coup
The three month-long demonstrations against Ukraine’s elected government, blatantly supported by both the US and the EU, have now spilt over into what Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov had long since identified as “the path to a coup d’etat”. After a series of concessions to mob rule essayed by the government in an attempt to end the violence, culminating in the offer of an amnesty even for those demonstrably engaged in bloody riot and the occupation of key public buildings, the violence boiled over on Tuesday 18 February as pro-West rioters bayed for blood outside the parliament building in Kiev, deeming that lawmakers were too slow to bow to their demands.
That first day’s death toll was reportedly 26, with at least another 600 wounded. Ten of the dead were police shot by snipers; over half of the wounded were the police officers subjected to sniper attack. These figures conclusively gave the lie to the pretty picture painted in the West of “peaceful protesters up against injustice”. In the western city of Lviv, rioters hijacked police cars, and seized police weapons. In Ternopil the police station was burned down, whilst in Ivano-Frankivsk the building housing the regional administration headquarters were seized. One woman was reportedly shot dead in the course of an attempt to storm another building belonging to the security services in Khmelnytsky.
In short, it was clear from the outset that this is not a question of protest, but of a bloody coup attempt egged on by the West, with a view to destabilising and undermining Ukraine’s close neighbour, Russia. As of Thursday 20 February, with an attempted truce lying in tatters and gunfire heard across Kiev, the estimated death toll had climbed to 35, with the conflict showing no sign of abating. Protesters – or more properly, insurrectionists – reportedly pushed security forces off Independence Square, capturing a dozen buildings.
Whilst the EU shares a common goal with the US, both eager to see Ukraine roped into the imperialist camp, there are some indications that differences over how best to skin the cat could add to the destabilising splits already opening up in the West. Angela Merkel had already come out in a rash over the news that US spies are tapping her phone. The fresh evidence of US contempt for its European “allies” furnished by Victoria Nuland can only be rubbing salt in the wound. When Nuland, the USA’s top diplomat charged with oversight of European policy, got on the phone to Washington’s ambassador in Kiev to discuss how best to steer the political crisis in the Ukraine, she apparently forgot that the same technology which allowed Uncle Sam to earwig on Merkel’s private calls also allows others to eavesdrop on her.
The precise bone of contention between the US and its European “allies” is unclear: it appears from the transcript that Merkel and co. wanted to include the Udar party’s Vitali Klitschko as deputy prime minister in a coalition government, whilst Nuland preferred to reserve the leadership role for the leader of Julia Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party, Arseniy Yatsenyuk (as “the guy who’s got the economic experience, the governing experience”) whilst keeping Klitschko and Tyahnybok (leader of the outright fascist Svoboda party) in the wings. Nuland oozes satisfaction that the UN appears to be tucking in behind these US plans. Welcoming what she sees as a propitious choice of UN envoy to Kiev, she runs off at the mouth in full Valley Girl spate: “That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU”.
She could not have spelt out with greater crudity (or accuracy) the bedrock imperialist attitude to conducting diplomatic relations, with friend or foe alike. The UN is treated as a venal tool of US policy, whilst the “friendly” imperialists of the EU are at best seen as useful idiots, at worst deadly rivals. Whatever the precise policy difference which divides these two monopoly capitalist brigands (either way, it’s the same Ukrainian cat they want to skin), what emerges most clearly from this candid snippet is, first, the breathtaking impudence with which both the US and the EU arrogate to themselves the right to micromanage the domestic affairs of another sovereign country, and, second, the extraordinary degree of venom informing the relationship between fellow imperialists in the US and the EU. And whilst the White House tried to distract attention by raising a ballyhoo against Russia as the supposed source of the damning leak, the real context within which so much dirty laundry is now being aired on a regular basis is precisely the sharpening contradictions being forced to the surface within the imperialist camp itself.
Yanukovych vacillates, fascism rears its head
President Victor Yanukovych’s decision to decline for the moment the EU’s forceful invitation to conclude a bilateral trade deal with the EU, a deal which would have required Kiev to submit to neo-liberal economic “reforms” dictated by the IMF and would have had the knock-on effect of flooding the Russian market with cheap Western imports, was a brave assertion of Ukraine’s right to decide for itself what constituted its own best interests.
Such has been the ferocity of the backlash from a reactionary minority however, egged on in the most shameless way by imperialism, that the country’s leadership has subsequently vacillated and taken more than one step backwards. This was a mistake.
Once it became clear that the protests which spread out from the Maidan square were increasingly violent and fascistic, with public buildings coming under occupation, a statue of Lenin destroyed and replaced by the flag of the wartime Ukraine nationalist collaborators, and squads of thugs wearing camouflage suits and crash helmets swinging long-handled hammers as they roamed the street in gangs, a law was promulgated aimed at preventing legitimate political protest from spilling over into chaos and intimidation by the far right. Yet in January, this law was repealed. As domestic terror at home combined with international bullying to create an intolerable climate of fear, Yanukovych, now an ailing man, decided to fire the prime minister, Nikolai Azarov, and pull the rug out from under his own government. Far from ending the disruption, however, these conciliatory moves were interpreted by the West as giving carte blanche for yet more impudent meddling in Ukraine’s political affairs.
Not content with the prospect of seeing Yanukovych’s government liquidate itself in favour of a coalition government including some opposition representatives, the opposition “democrats” (democratically beaten in the 2012 election) spurned any such compromise, impudently demanding a government formed exclusively from within the incestuous confines of the opposition cabal, and a shotgun presidential election (not constitutionally due till February 2015).
The demonstrators do not speak for the masses
Contrary to the image that is portrayed in our media, the Maidan-niks do not represent the vast mass of the Ukrainian people. Many Ukrainians, especially but not solely from the industrial east of the country, indignantly reject this short-sighted love affair with the EU and NATO pursued by Kiev’s urban elite and some in the rural west of the country. Signally lacking from Western coverage of street protests in the Ukraine have been the lively demonstrations against the EU’s bullying tactics. Yet footage showing a sea of red flags borne aloft over large and well-organised demonstrations in major Ukrainian cities like Odessa, Xercon and Zaparozje is readily accessible on the internet did the BBC but choose to screen it. (See comrades on the march in Odessa on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cg_qsUG1cDs&feature=youtu.be, for example.)
That the pro-EU, pro-NATO street demonstrators cannot claim to speak for the majority becomes clear from a recent Washington Post article. (“Who are the protesters in Ukraine?” Keith Darden and Lucan Way, February 12) The journalists report that “The anti-Russian forms of Ukrainian nationalism expressed on the Maidan are certainly not representative of the general view of Ukrainians. Electoral support for these views and for the political parties who espouse them has always been limited. Their presence and influence in the protest movement far outstrip their role in Ukrainian politics and their support barely extends geographically beyond a few Western provinces.”
Fascism creeps back out from under a rock
The Washington Post article ably describes how fascism has emerged as the bedrock of the protests. “The right-wing groups have been particularly active among the organization of the protest movement on the ground, particularly as the number of protesters has dwindled over time and revealed a resilient right-wing core. Svoboda’s deputies control the opposition-occupied Kiev city administration building, its flag is widely visible and a portrait of Bandera hangs in the central hall.” Thus it is that ” nationalist activists from Svoboda and these other groups have provided the opposition with its most ‘fearsome demonstrators’ who according to the New York Times ‘ “led some of the more provocative efforts to occupy buildings and block government offices.’ “
And lest any remain in ignorance of the true genealogy of Ukrainian fascism, the natural home of Ukrainian bourgeois nationalism, the Washington Post should set them straight. “Svoboda, which captured 38 seats and 10 percent of the vote in the last parliamentary elections, until 2004 called itself the Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine and employed neo-Nazi and SS symbols. While the party changed its name and symbols in 2004, Svoboda’s leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, continued to argue that the opposition should fight the ‘Muscovite-Jewish mafia running Ukraine’ and praised the Ukrainian Insurgency Army (UPA) in World War II for fighting ‘against the Moskali [Muscovites], Germans, Zhydy [Jews] and other scum, who wanted to take away our Ukrainian state.’ The party does not hide its glorification of the interwar fascist movement, the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). In December they held a torchlight rally on the Maidan to honour the OUN leader, Stepan Bandera, and they regularly fly the red and black flag of the OUN, which has been banned as a racist symbol at soccer matches by FIFA.”
Symptomatic of the climate of fear and intimidation being whipped up by the fascists is the fatal shooting in February of a district court judge, Alexandr Lobodenko, who had in January sentenced two men to house arrest for the attempted seizure of City Hall in the town of Kremenchug.
With so many Russian lives sacrificed in the Great Patriotic War in the fight to bury fascism, let nobody underestimate the seriousness with which Moscow now regards the provocation being stoked up on its border. In a post on Global Research on 13 February (“Russia’s ‘Save Ukraine’ Memorandum: Prevent the Ukraine from ‘Going Fascist'”), it is reported that a memorandum titled “Save Ukraine” has been published by the Izborsk Club, an advisory body close to Vladimir Putin, warning that a “Nazi creeping coup” in Ukraine could pose a strategic threat to the Russian Federation, undergoing a transformation “from a non-aligned, neutral and non-nuclear state into a new ‘hot spot’ for Europe and the entire world, and into a hotbed of instability and chaos on Russia’s borders.”
Neither the Ukrainian masses nor Russia herself can be expected to stand idly by if the West continues to stoke up this provocation.