Ukraine - trapped between the hammer and the anvil

Workers' Fight workplace bulletin editorials
3 March 2014

At the time of writing, Russian forces have occupied the mostly Russian-speaking Ukrainian province of Crimea, while armed gangs of far-right Ukrainian nationalists headed towards that same province, setting up road blocks on their way and generally behaving as if they had been given authority by the new self-appointed government in Kiev to police the population.

No-one can tell how the present deadlock will unfold - whether it will end up in the secession of the predominantly Russian-speaking parts of the country or whether it will result in yet another bloody civil war, reminiscent of what happened in Yugoslavia, in the 1990s.

But the one thing which is clear is the hypocrisy of the US and European governments which are now falling over themselves to condemn the Russian intervention in Crimea. As if these governments didn't bear a large part of the responsibility for the present situation in Ukraine, in the first place.

The great powers' manoeuvres

Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, its former republics have been the target of attempts by the western powers to attract these countries into their respective spheres of influence. And the Ukraine, as the largest among these republics, has been their main target.

Predictably, US oil majors have been busy building up a profitable stake in the country's natural gas resources. But Washington's primary objective, like with all the former Soviet republics, has been to detach Ukraine from Russia's political orbit in order to reduce its regional influence - as part of a "great power" rivalry with Russia which has never ceased despite the end of the Cold War.

Leaked discussions between US diplomats, which were posted on YouTube, revealed their links with Yulia Tymoshenko's right-wing "Fatherland" party, whose leader is now heading Ukraine's self-proclaimed government. They showed how the US were already preparing the succession of president Yanukovych long before he was ousted and how they saw the "Fatherland" party as the best possible choice from their point of view.

As to the EU, it has been primarily interested in the Ukraine's economy, but not to the point of inviting the country to join. European speculators have been buying huge tracts of maize-producing land in the country, while European companies looked with great interest at its skilled, low-paid workforce, but that was it. Last year, eventually, the EU did invite Ukraine to sign an "association pact", which involved four other former Soviet republics. But it involved such drastic conditions that, at the last minute, Yanukovych's government refused to sign.

The threats to the population

This refusal was the spark which set the anger of the population alight, last November, resulting in three months of increasingly bitter protests and bloody confrontations with riot police.

The protesters were expressing their long-standing frustration after two decades of corrupt regimes, ruling in the interest of the "oligarchs". Their only objective was to get rid of a regime which appeared as the only obstacle to the opening up of Ukraine to the rest of the world.

But, waiting in the wings, were forces which had a far clearer agenda. The main opposition parties, whether they had already been in power or not, were there to represent the interests of the "oligarchs". Next to them, the nationalist far-right - including some aspiring fascist groups - used the opportunity to raise their profile, peddle their poisonous demagogy against all minorities and arm themselves.

Now that Yanukovych has been ousted, the provisional government is led by the US favourites, and includes 3 representatives of this far-right. Meanwhile its armed gangs have occupied police stations and taken over the buildings of political groups which they deem "unpatriotic".

Whether these far-right groups will manage to whip up nationalist feelings to their advantage as a result of Russia's invasion of Crimea remains to be seen. But in any case, they represent a deadly threat for the Ukrainian population - something that western politicians do not even care to mention.

And against this threat, the population and working class of Ukraine can expect nothing from the posturing of the West nor from the Russian army. It has only one option: to unite its ranks and get organised in order to impose, collectively, a policy which is favourable to its interests.