Before the coup which installed the Kiev junta in 2014, Ukraine’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) stood at $183bn. This has now halved to $93bn. Since Russia responded to hostile trade sanctions by stopping the import of consumer goods from Ukraine, Ukraine has lost $15bn a year (‘Ukraine is Europe’s poorest nation’, RT, 11 December 2017). The country’s membership of a free trade zone with the EU has opened Ukraine’s domestic economy to penetration by foreign monopoly capital whilst imposing severely restricted quotas on the country’s agricultural exports to Europe. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) sends its inspectors in to check on the junta’s progress in the imposition of austerity, the demanded quid pro quo for keeping the economy alive with periodic infusions of loans. And all the while the war of national oppression against the people’s republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in the eastern Donbass region continues to fester, taking a daily toll of lives from the incessant low-intensity shelling, and also demoralising the war-weary general population at home. Disaffected veterans have had a significant presence at recent anti-Poroshenko demonstrations.
The Minsk Accords, signed by both parties to the conflict, laid out a road map leading via ceasefire and local elections to a negotiated form of autonomy for the Donbass. Yet whilst the People’s Republics have repeatedly made clear that they stand ready to implement the Accords, the Kiev junta has consistently obstructed implementation.
Saakashvili: a barometer of social chaos
A measure of the level of social chaos now prevailing in Ukraine is the hogging of the political limelight by Mikheil Saakashvili, who has seized the leadership of the incoherent ‘Maidan 2’ protest movement, hoping to seize the presidency from Poroshenko. This former Georgian president and one-time golden boy of the West and ‘hero’ of Georgia’s ‘Rose Revolution’ in 2003, now wanted in his native Georgia on embezzlement charges, was at first welcomed as an ally by Poroshenko, who fast-tracked his Ukrainian citizenship and made him governor of Odessa. The two oligarchs soon fell out: Poroshenko stripped him of his citizenship and kicked him out of Ukraine. And that was that, until Saakashvili, flanked by a mob of his supporters, forced his way back across the border from Poland, and has spent the last few weeks touring the country whipping up support for a populist anti-corruption campaign, with some apparent success. When the police raided his home, he clambered onto the roof and threatened to jump. Brought down from the roof by police and bundled into a police van, he was then dragged bodily out of the vehicle by a gang of his supporters.
That this hysterical charlatan, once the favourite of the West but now just an embarrassment, should be capable of making such political waves in Ukraine speaks volumes about the shallow bankruptcy pervading all public life in a society that is coming apart at the seams.
Not all Ukraine’s European neighbours, meanwhile, appreciate their proximity to such an unstable, and destabilising, social volcano. Nor do they appreciate the knock-on effect of the US-led war of trade sanctions on their own economies. The trade war triggered by sanctions against Russia is exacting a price in lost commercial opportunities which many in Europe are finding more than irksome, as they witnessed last summer US Congress passing a bill that expanded the sanctions regime. The Austrian Institute of Economic Research, in a study published in October, showed that the sanctions the EU had imposed against Russia had cost the EU millions of euros; and in September UN Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy estimated that the EU had been losing a minimum of $3.2bn every month for the same reason.
The German foreign minister, Sigmar Gabriel, has been forthright in his refusal to sacrifice the German economy in order to tail-end a US grudge-war against Russia. In an interview with Russia Today he said that “Germany tries to ‘make it clear for the US’ that it is high time to solve the Ukrainian conflict. He went on to say that Germany wants to see a lasting ceasefire in Ukraine that would allow the political transition process envisaged by the Minsk Agreements to properly function.
“Achieving peace in Ukraine would allow to ‘finally lift’ the anti-Russian sanctions, Gabriel said, adding that it is the goal, which the German government pursues in its policy. He also said that the German government is working on getting this point across to Washington.” The economy minister, Brigitte Zypries, was more forthright still, urging the European Commission to “look into countermeasures” to America’s sanctions, correctly identifying the most recent sanctions by the US as “against international law” (‘”We have other priorities”: German FM urges US to end sanctions’, RT, 29 November 2017).
Nor is Germany alone in these sentiments. Inside the EU, Hungary argues for the scrapping of sanctions against Russia and has strong trade links, including a gas supply agreement with Gazprom and a deal for Russia to finance and build a nuclear power station (see Marton Dunai, ‘Hungary tests EU nerves’, Reuters, 1 February 2017). The Czech Republic has also broken the lockstep with imperialism. On a recent visit to Sochi, the Czech president Milos Zeman told Russian president Vladimir Putin that he looked forward to an end to all sanctions and stressed the importance of the Russian market for Czech businesses. Noting that on a similar trade delegation to France only 14 businessmen showed up, whilst on the current Russian trip there were 140 queueing up, Zeman joked that Russia was ten times more important to the Czechs than France. Despite the sanctions, trade between Russia and the Czech Republic grew by over 42% in 2017 (see ‘Drop sanctions and eat our cheese’, RT, 21 November 2017).
Such deviations from the anti-Russian hymnal elicit a scalded reaction from such quarters as the Foreign Policy magazine, which featured an article melodramatically entitled “Is the Czech Republic falling under Putin’s shadow?” Fondly recalling the (for him) halcyon days of the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989, the author has a dire warning: Russia is supposedly pursuing “a single-minded yet sophisticated counter-revolutionary cam-paign to roll back the changes”, so that now “Central Europe and the Balkans are slowly but surely slipping away from the West’s embrace” as “governments or politicians whose interests align more closely with Moscow than Brussels have taken power in Hungary, Serbia, Moldova and Bulgaria.”
It does not seem to have occurred to the author that this phenomenon might have less to do with a sinister Kremlin plot than the fact that most countries rate their own economic survival higher than any supposed duty to tail-end the geopolitical ambitions of either the US or the EU. In short, the Czechs are more worried about finding a market for their yoghurt and cheese than they are about worshipping at the feet of “heroes such as Czech Nobel Laureate Vaclav Havel, the playwright-president” who promoted “the dream of a united Europe ‘whole and free’” (Adam Ereli, ‘Is the Czech Republic falling under Putin’s shadow?’, Foreign Policy, 10 October 2017).
What is tearing Europe apart is not dastardly Russian plots but the overproduction crisis of imperialism itself. It is that same crisis of market glut that impels monopoly capital to seek out new markets, by conquest if need be. This is what lay behind the West’s orchestration of the fascist coup in Kiev as a hostile provocation on Russia’s western border. We salute the courage and steadfastness of the armed forces of the People’s Republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in their just war of resistance.