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Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 1025
August 24, 2014

Socialist Project - home

Understanding the Civil War in Ukraine

David Mandel

The Ukrainian conflict, like most political phenomena, is multi-dimensional and highly complex. As such, it calls for a holistic – dialectical, if you wish – approach. But to judge by American and NATO spokespersons and by their mass media, there is only one really decisive factor that explains everything: Russia's imperialism, Vladimir Putin's determination to dominate and further dismember the Ukraine as part of his plan to restore the Soviet empire. In this simplistic view, Ukraine, with benevolent support from the West, would be quite capable of dealing with its problems and would soon be on its way to becoming a prosperous, Western-style democracy.

Results of the 2010 presidential election in Ukraine

Results of the 2010 presidential election. [click on picture for higher resolution]

My view is quite the opposite: the roots of the Ukrainian conflict are domestic and profound; outside intervention, while significant, is a secondary factor. Given limitations of space, I will, therefore, focus on the internal situation. But I will necessarily, if more briefly, also address the international dimensions of the conflict. This is also the more necessary since the Canadian government has been particularly zealous in its support for the Ukrainian government and in condemning Russia as solely responsible.

My goal is to offer a framework that can help in understanding and evaluating the mass of information about the conflict coming from governments and the media.

A Deeply Divided Society

Ukraine is a deeply divided society – along lines of language, culture, historical identity, ethnicity, religious affiliation, attitudes to Russia, as well as real and perceived economic interests. Since Ukraine became independent in 1991, these divisions have been manipulated and fostered by corrupt economic and political élites with the aim of distracting popular attention for their criminal activities and to gain advantage in intra-élite competition. This manipulation, on the background of widespread poverty and economic insecurity, has prevented popular forces from mobilizing to oppose this oppressive ruling class, the so-called ‘oligarchs’, who have run the economy into the ground while fantastically enriching themselves. Since independence, Ukraine has lost over 13 per cent of its population, down to 45 million. Of those, several million are working abroad as cheap labour in Russia and the EU.

About half of Ukraine's population speaks Ukrainian in everyday life; the other half – Russian; and practically everyone can speak both languages well enough. The three western, overwhelmingly ukrainophone, regions joined the rest of Ukraine in the 1940s after two centuries under oppressive Austro-Hungarian, then Polish, rule. The southern and eastern parts first became part of Ukraine at the end of the Russian civil war in 1920. Until 1991, Ukraine had never existed as a state, except for a very brief period during the civil war.

The population of the western regions is deeply nationalistic; and at the centre of that nationalism at present is a profound fear, mixed with hatred, of Russia and, to varying degrees, of Russians. The eastern and southern regions, mostly russophone, have strong cultural and ethnic affinities, as well as political sympathies and economic ties, with Russia. The situation in the centre is mixed. Historical memory plays a big role in the divisions: the heroes of the west collaborated with the German occupation in World War II and participated in its crimes; the heroes of the east and south fought against fascism and for the Soviet Union. In fact, there is hardly any major historical event or figure going back centuries upon which the two poles agree. There are also economic interests: the east is more industrial and closely integrated with the Russian economy, by far Ukraine's leading trading partner; the western is dominated by small towns and is more agrarian.

These differences express themselves in opposing political positions, in which irrational fears play a not insignificant role. The population of the west, with some support in the centre, has generally been more active politically and has sought to impose its culture, which it considers the only truly Ukrainian, on the rest of the country. People from the western regions constituted a disproportionate part of the Maidan protesters. Opinion surveys consistently show the Ukrainian population to be split on major issues, although most, both east and west, have perceived the successive governments as corrupt and dominated by oligarchs. The major issue of contention has been the legitimacy of the central government. The one formed after Victor Yanukovych's overthrow has strong support in the west and, to a significant degree, also in the centre, which has seen a nationalistic upsurge; the population in the east and south widely despises and fears the government, which it considers illegitimate.

What was Maidan?

The initial issue in the Maidan protest was the fate of an economic agreement that the then President Yanukovych had been negotiating with the European Union. Yanukovych, who was identified with the russophone east and south, decided (wisely in my view) to suspend the negotiations and accept Russia's offer of a $15-billion loan. But when he resorted to repression against the protesters, the protest was transformed into a protest movement against the government itself, its repressive, corrupt nature. Armed neo-fascist elements from the West increasingly became involved, further radicalizing the protest, attacking police, occupying government buildings, and finally convincing Yanukovych to flee on February 21.

A provisional government was then formed by not altogether constitutional means. It consisted exclusively of politicians identified with the western, nationalist regions and included several neo-fascists. Politicians identified with the west, including some oligarchs, were put in charge of eastern regions, whose population widely viewed the new government as hostile.

Donbass Insurgency

Copying the Maidan protest and earlier actions in the western regions that had been directed against Yanukovych's government, groups of local Donbass citizens already in February began to occupy government buildings, calling for a referendum on the region's autonomy and possibly its secession and annexation to Russia. These groups were initially unarmed, nor were they for the most part separatist. As their compatriots in the west had done earlier against Yanukovych, they were demanding local autonomy as a measure of protection against a hostile central government.

Kiev's reaction only confirmed the worst fears and prejudices of the Donbass population. Under the impression of Russia's annexation of Crimea and spurred on by its own fervent nationalism, the new government in Kiev made no serious effort to reach out to the population of the east. Instead, almost immediately it declared the protesters “terrorists” and launched a so-called “anti-terrorist operation” against them. There was no genuine desire to negotiate, but to crush militarily. And since the Ukrainian army was a mess and had little taste for fighting its own people, the government created and armed a National Guard, consisting of poorly trained volunteers that included ultra-nationalists and neo-fascists. As if that were not enough to confirm the fears of the easterners, some 45 anti-government protesters were massacred in Odessa on May 2, a crime for which Kiev blamed the protesters themselves, as well as unidentified Russian provocateurs.

None of this changed fundamentally after the presidential elections of early May. President Petro Poroshenko has also made no serious effort to negotiate an end to the conflict. The indiscriminate shelling of civilian centres in Donbass by the government only confirmed its illegitimate, alien nature in the eyes of the local population.

There is not much that is known for sure – at least by myself – about the relations between the local population and the armed insurgents in the Donbass. Moreover, these relations undoubtedly evolved over time. But it is clear that the insurgents were, and still are, in their majority local people and that, at least until relatively recently, they enjoyed varying degrees of sympathy among the population, most of whom, however, did not want to separate but only a measure of self-rule. I imagine that today the local population mostly wishes only for an end to the fighting and a measure of physical security.

The insurgency itself underwent radicalization over time, especially with the influx from Russia of Russian nationalists. In any case, although the government in Kiev has made an offer of amnesty to those who have not committed serious crimes, the militias no doubt fear only the worst if they were to surrender.

The Central Government

Ukraine's political regime differs from Russia's in that in Ukraine the oligarchs dominate the state and the mass media. In Russia the regime is ‘Bonapartist’, that is, the political élite dominates the oligarchs, even while serving their interests. That is essentially why there has been more political pluralism in the Ukraine. Whether that has been more beneficial to Ukraine's working-class is another question. As for the economic and social situations, Ukraine is basically Russia but without oil and gas.

A glance at the political career of president Poroshenko, billionaire owner of a confectionary empire and auto plants, offers some idea of the nature of the regime. Poroshenko was a founding member of the Party of Regions in 2000, the political machine that eventually brought Yanukovych to power in 2010. But a year later, Poroshenko left the party to become a leading financial backer of Our Ukraine, a party closely identified with the western regions and with Ukrainian nationalism. He backed the so-called Orange Revolution at the end of 2004 that brought to power Viktor Yushchenko, a staunch pro-West Ukrainian nationalist. Poroshenko became his Foreign Minister, advocating NATO membership (a position rejected by a strong majority of the population). But he lost his job in 2010 when Yanukovych won the presidential elections. Poroshenko nevertheless returned in 2012 to serve Yanukovych as Minister of Trade and Development. But he left that post after eight months to return to parliament as an independent. In short, this is the career of an inveterate political opportunist, who, like the rest of his class, subscribes to the Russian adage: “Where my fortune lies, there lies my heart.”

Poroshenko, to the extent he has principles, does not belong to the more extreme wing of Ukrainian nationalism, although he has called the Donbass insurgents “gangs of animals.” (Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, beloved by Western governments, has called them “subhumans.”) But in any case, Poroshenko shares power with a cabinet and parliament that include extreme right-wing elements. And because of the army's weakness, he has had to rely heavily on ultra-nationalist paramilitary forces to prosecute the war. For example, the cease-fire, to which he agreed to on June 21 and apparently wanted to prolong while pursuing negotiations, was cut short after a demonstration by so-called “volunteeer” battalions, recruited largely from ultra-nationalist far-right elements. Then there are people like the multi-billionaire governor of Dnepropetrovsk region, Igor Kolomoiskii, who payrolls his own army, the Dnipro Battalion; or the increasingly popular parliamentary deputy, the right-wing populist thug, Oleg Lyashko, who has personally commanded volunteer battalions in the Donbass. Poroshenko also has to consider the upsurge of nationalist sentiment in the wake of Crimea's annexation and the massive propaganda campaign against Russia in the oligarch-controlled media that has gone well beyond the typically nationalist elements of Ukrainian society. Finally, the war and national emergency are needed to distract popular attention from very harsh austerity measures that are really only in their first stages.

International Dimension

Although the conflict is fundamentally a civil war, external forces have played a significant role. The “West” (U.S., EU, NATO) bears a heavy responsibility for its unflinching support and encouragement of the Ukrainian government in its pursuit of an exclusively pro-Western political and economic orientation. In view of Ukraine's deep internal divisions, that policy is fatal to the integrity of the state and the peaceful development of the society. Moreover, from the moment the internal divisions assumed the form of an armed confrontation, the West has unflinchingly supported both the actions and the propaganda of the Kiev government. That propaganda portrays the Russian government as solely responsible for the conflict and is silent about Kiev's own intransigence, its serious war crimes against the non-combatant population of Donbass and the serious economic suffering it is imposing on the entire population.

An analysis of Western interests and motives is beyond the scope of this presentation. But it is quite obvious that since the fall of the USSR, the U.S., with more or less active support from Europe, has followed a course aimed at maximally limiting Russia's geopolitical influence and at surrounding it with unfriendly states. Despite solemn promises made to Mikhail Gorbachev, these states have been integrated into NATO, from which Russia is excluded. Where integration into NATO has not been possible or desirable, regime change has been pursued. That has been the West's policy in Ukraine. The EU's association proposal, which was at the origins of this crisis and which contained clauses pertaining to defence policy, forced this deeply divided country to choose between Europe and Russia. (A national poll from December 2013 found that 48 per cent agreed with Yanukovych's decision not to sign and 35 per cent disagreed. In western Ukraine, however, a full 82 per cent disagreed.)

The Russian government saw the very open and active support for the Maidan protests and then for the provisional government and its policies as being in direct line with that policy of “containment.” The annexation of Crimea, that does not appear to have been long in the planning, was, at least in part, a message to the West: only so far!

Ukrainian and Western claims notwithstanding, Putin does not aim to further dismember Ukraine, nor does he plan to recreate the Soviet empire. While it may not be his preference, he is prepared to accept Ukraine's neutrality and its closer economic ties with Europe. What he does not want is a hostile, exclusively Western-oriented Ukraine. European Russia, which has the bulk of its population and industry, shares a 2500 kilometer border with Ukraine. Given the history of the twentieth century, Russia's sensitivity to this question should not be too hard to understand, even apart from the deep historical, cultural, ethnic, family and economic ties that bind the two societies.

But Russia is not without its own responsibility in this conflict. I take issue with some on the left (including the Russian left), who support the annexation of Crimea and Russia's involvement in the civil war as justified anti-imperialist policies. Meanwhile, others on the left have taken the opposite position, essentially embracing Kiev's version of the conflict.

It goes without saying that Western condemnation of the annexation of Crimea is profoundly hypocritical in view of the West's longstanding and continuing history of imperialist aggression and disregard for international norms. One thinks of the detachment of Kosovo from Serbia and the invasion of Iraq, as only two recent examples of this. There is, moreover, no doubt that the vast majority of the population of Crimea, which never felt itself to be Ukrainian, was happy, many even overjoyed, with the annexation. Local Crimean governments have wanted as far back as 1992, only to be rebuffed by Russia. In every national election, Crimeans have voted overwhelmingly for pro-Russian Ukrainian parties.

As a citizen of Canada, a NATO member with a right-wing government that has been a zealous cheerleader for Kiev, I admit that my first instinct was to support Putin as acting in defense of his country's national interests against Western aggression. But that is a mistaken position.

If the annexation of Crimea was not part of a master plan to restore the Soviet empire, neither was it motivated primarily by legitimate concern for Russia's national interests. Indeed, one has to wonder what might constitute a national interest in a class-divided society where vast wealth is concentrated in the hands of so few and which is dominated by a corrupt, authoritarian government.

In any case, Putin himself has not explained the annexation in terms of geopolitical interest. In his speech in March dedicated to Crimea and in another in early July at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he referred instead to the duty to protect Russian populations outside Russia's borders. This is an appeal to ethnic nationalism. And it (as with the wars against Chechnya and Georgia before) has been extremely successful in boosting Putin's popularity, at the same time as it narrowed the already limited space for opposition to his regime.

But even from the point of view of geopolitical interest, the annexation of Crimea appears incredibly short-sighted and harmful to Russia. The annexation, along with Putin's justification, gave a major boost to anti-Russia nationalist paranoia in Ukraine. At the same time, it encouraged the armed resistance in Donbass to Kiev. So while Russia, sincerely I believe, has consistently called for a cease-fire and a negotiated settlement, the annexation, in fact, has fed the armed conflict. And Russia is also directly contributing to the conflict, since the groundswell of nationalist sentiment in Russia forces Putin to allow an unofficial, limited flow of combatants and arms to the Donbass, even while Putin has no intention of intervening in force to rescue the militia. (I could be proved wrong but I strongly doubt it.)

And so instead of protecting the Russian population of Donbass, Putin has in fact contributed to the deterioration of its situation and has undermined Russia's ability to effectively defend its interests.

But the annexation has also been very injurious to Russia's own situation in the world. By giving a major boost to anti-Russian nationalism and the government in Kiev, Putin ensured that Ukraine will henceforth be firmly within the Western camp and hostile to Russia. He has also helped to solidify NATO as a hostile alliance aimed at containing a supposedly expansionist Russia. And he has deprived Russia of what had been its fundamental argument against U.S. and NATO aggression: respect for the international norms of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states and for their territorial integrity.

Some make the argument that Putin had to secure Russia's naval base in Sevastopol. But the threat was only potential – although over the years high Ukrainian officials have spoken of handing it over to NATO – and its securing hardly outweighs the geopolitical damage to Russia incurred from the annexation. (Putin seems to have miscalculated Europe's, especially Germany's, willingness to follow the U.S. in a crusade against Russia.) Moreover, if Sevastopol were really threatened, the base could have been moved to Russia's Black Sea port in Novorosiisk. The cost of the move would probably not be much greater than the losses that will be incurred from the Western sanctions.

Conclusion

The solution, in principle, has always been evident: a cease-fire monitored by international observers, followed by negotiations, on the sole condition of acceptance of Ukraine's territorial integrity. The subject of negotiations would be the delegation of power to regional and local elected governments. This is the famous “federalization,” supported by Russia and most of the population of Donbass but rejected by Kiev and the West, who claim it is merely a cover for separation of Ukraine's east and its annexation by Russia.

But in so deeply divided a society, federalism can, in fact, be an effective measure against separatism. (If Canada were not a federal state, Quebec would have separated years ago.) But things might have probably already gone too far. Kiev, backed by the West, will not hear of a cease-fire. It wants a full surrender or decisive military victory. And, although unlikely, domestic pressures might finally convince Putin to intervene directly. In any case, the future does not appear bright for a unified Ukrainian state. •

David Mandel teaches political science at the Université du Québec à Montréal and has been involved in labour education in the Ukraine for many years.

Comments

#11 SV 2014-09-06 17:01 EDT
Ukraine
Is this Marxism?

A strange article by a professed Marxist that makes no mention of Russian colonialism in Ukraine, or the anti-Stalinist and anti Russian Ukrainian radical left. Odd is abscence of a socio-economic analysis of Ukraine's neo-feudal order in which a national bourgeoisie still has a progressive role to play as does Ukrainian anti-imperialist nationalism. Does Mandel think just because Ukraine happened to be oppressed by Russian and not American imperialism letists should not defend it? Odd as well is no mention whatsoever of the neo imperialist Russian neo Nazi extremist right in Ukraine that is fighting Putin's neo imperialist war. Instead we see the vague term "Donbass citizens" to refer to these UNREPRESENTATIVE armed gangs suggests Mandel is either a fool or naïve.

ON RUSSIAN NEO NAZIS IN EASTERN UKRAINE
As of 2011 there were at least 17 Kremlin sponsored anti Ukrainian Russian fascist and neo nazi organizations in Ukraine. http://j-mihalych.livejournal.com/456482.html.
A list compiled by Sergei Bilokin (Kyiv) in 2014 lists 53 Russian fascist and neo nazi parties, some of which have filial branches in Ukraine. How many of these are funded by the Kremlin is unknown. To this total should be added at least 4 organizations that are not Ukrainian parties but merely Russian parties in Ukraine : the Communist Party of Ukraine, Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, Borotba and Liva Sprava. - See more at: http://krytyka.com/en/community/blogs/left-or-russia-strange-case-foreign-pro-kremlin-radical-leftists

http://anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.ca/2014/08/neo-nazi-russian-national-unity-in.html

ON THE REVOLUTIONARY UKRAINIAN LEFT

http://socialistworker.org/2014/03/11/ukraine-and-the-national-question
http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia

See also. S. Velychenko, “Ukrainian Marxists and Russian Imperialism 1918-1923: Prelude to the Present in Eastern Europe’s Ireland,” Irish Left Review (2014) http://www.irishleftreview.org/2014/05/23/ukrainian-marxists-russian-imp... ; “Ukrainian Anti-Colonialist Thought in Comparative Perspective. A Preliminary Overview,” Ab Imperio no. 4 (2012); “The Issue of Russian Colonialism in Ukrainian Thought,” Ab Imperio no. 1 (2002) 323- 66. - See more at: http://krytyka.com/en/community/blogs/left-or-russia-strange-case-foreign-pro-kremlin-radical-leftists




#10 Louis Proyect 2014-08-31 09:23 EDT
Copying the EuroMaidan protests?
I have no idea where Mandel gets the idea that there was anything peaceful about the initial protests in the east. As moderator of the Marxism list, I have tried to stay on top of developments there since I have found the claims of Kagarlitsky et al that the Donetsk People's Republic as the purist expressions of anarchism, etc. to be really quite ludicrous. I could post a lot more evidence of the early violent and reactionary tendencies of the Russian-backed separatists but this item from March 14 2014 should suffice:

KIEV, Ukraine -- At least two pro-Ukraine protesters participating in an anti-war demonstration were killed and more than a dozen others injured late on Thursday after their group was violently attacked by men from an opposing pro-Russia demonstration in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

The pro-Ukraine participants had been waving blue and yellow Ukrainian flags as part of a "For a United Ukraine" rally on Donetsk's Lenin Square when pro-Russian activists began heaving firecrackers, eggs and stun grenades at them, chanting, "Russ-i-a!" and "On your knees!", according to eyewitnesses and journalists from local news site Novosti Donbassa who spoke with Mashable.

Police tried but failed to whisk away the pro-Ukraine demonstrators from the scene in a police bus, but the pro-Russia activists smashed out its windows and clobbered it with a barrage of firecrackers.

(clip)



#9 Anonymous 2014-08-30 10:09 EDT
Divided Ukraine
A lot has been left out especially that millions of Ukrainians did not vote for Poroshenko and his western Ukrainian party members. So millions of Ukrainians want a new president that is pro-Russian.The division and civil war will continue until a new president which gives east and west Ukraine equal voice or by a new republics in eastern Ukraine.



#8 Purple Library Guy 2014-08-28 00:05 EDT
Violence is largely unrelated to Crimea annexation
I agree with most of Mr. Mandel's analysis, but I really question the notion that somehow everything would have been fine and not-violent had Russia stood by to be kicked out of their naval base. Had Putin left Crimea hanging, there would simply have been violence there before there was violence in other parts of Ukraine; there were events at the time that made clear there had been plans to begin violent intimidation of the locals should the protest the new government (as it was certain they would). But the Russian military presence, in surprisingly low-key fashion, pre-empted.

One problem lies in relying on violent thugs, such as some of the fascist groups, to achieve power. You can't just put them back in the box when they've gotten you what you want. At that point they have become a force of their own, and they are inclined both by instinct and by tactical interest to keep making the situation more unstable and violent. By instinct because they are violent thugs, by interest because they know their power is greatest in situations of instability and violence, so they will keep stirring the pot.

It also seems that the U.S. influence has been directed toward greater instability; it may well be that a failed Ukraine turned into a war zone for the foreseeable future is more desirable to U.S. policymakers than a stable, Europe-oriented Ukraine. The former is far more of a barrier to Russia-EU trade, whether in natural gas or anything else, than the latter, and much harder to reverse to a Russia-friendly outcome. After all, a stable Ukraine with a pro-EU government can be changed simply through an election -- that's what happened last time, after all. And once EU-sponsored austerity started to bite, it would become a quite likely event. But an unstable Somalia-like hellhole is very difficult to fix and could be a pain in the neck for Russia for decades.

All in all, I'm pretty confident that had Russia refrained from accepting Crimea, the violence would still have started, we'd still have a civil war (merely a slightly broader one), and the West would still have come up with some excuse for declaring Russia the aggressor.

As to the legitimacy of the annexation, or whatever one wants to call it, here's a question: What if the Crimeans had first voted overwhelmingly for independence? Would it have been legitimate to recognize them as an independent state? And, what if an independent state had a referendum and voted overwhelmingly to annex itself to some other state? Would it be legitimate to accept that move? I'd want to argue yes in both cases. So then how is it suddenly illegitimate when it happens in one step rather than two?

It is certainly true that Putin's domestic politics surrounding the whole issue do rather play on blood-and-soil nationalism. Putin has always pandered to that kind of red-meat patriotism, and it's repugnant. I generally dislike Putin's domestic politics and always have. He's no worse than, say, Stephen Harper -- but that's hardly saying much, is it? But internationally, Putin's record is pretty positive, and whatever gloss he might have put on the act for the redneck-equivalents in Russia, the actual act itself of accepting Crimea when the Crimeans voted to join was about the best move he had available, and at the time it seemed like there was a good chance that far from aggravating violence it might be enough to put a stop to it.



#7 Roger Annis 2014-08-27 20:37 EDT
Ukraine and Crimea
I appreciate all these informed comments as well as David's article. He and I spoke on a panel about Ukraine at the Peoples Social Forum in Ottawa on August 22. I have written up my talk and it will be published in the coming days. In the meantime, here is what I said in Ottawa on Crimea (text slightly edited for publication):

For many historical and socio-economic reasons, the populations of eastern and southern Ukraine as well as Crimea strongly opposed the neo-conservative turn of Kyiv. They took up self-defense in the face of the violence unleashed upon them by the rightist militias and then the armed forces of Ukraine. The violations of their political rights and popular will these past months have deepened the anti-austerity struggle. As well, a new dimension of the struggle has arisen -- for political self-determination. A solidarity movement must take account of this evolving reality and support the right of these people to decide their political future.

Because of their unique history and geographic location, the people of Crimea were able to exercise a quick and distinct solution to the threat of civil war coming from the new regime in Kyiv. A plebiscite for self-determination was held in March and a large part of the population opted to secede. While the vote may have fallen short of the democratic ideals that a peacetime situation could have provided, few serious observers doubt that a large majority of Crimeans voted to get out of the way of Kyiv's chosen path to civil war by seceding. It's important to note here that Crimea's historic ties and ethnic composition are much closer to Russia than to Ukraine. Crimea only came under the administration of Ukraine through an arbitrary decision of the Soviet Union in 1954.

Russia, of course, had compelling, national security interests that coincided with the will of the Crimea plebiscite. Its only warm-water naval base is located in Simferopol, Crimea. It welcomed the plebiscite and it took decisive moves alongside local officials to block rightist paramilitaries from Ukraine from infiltrating into Crimea in order to sow violence and mayhem.

I emphatically reject a description of the events in Crimea as being an "annexation". I believe that Crimeans seized the only realistic political option available to them to avert being drawn into Kyiv's course to austerity and civil war. Their chosen political option meets any reasonable definition of political self-determination.

End citation.

When I was in Crimea in July, I saw the evidence of the economic sanctions that Europe and the U.S. have imposed. Tourism is down. Credit cards cannot be used. Traditional markets for agricultural and other products are disrupted. But a combination of aggressive efforts to find new markets and quite substantial investments in economic and social infrastructure by Moscow are easing the blows considerably, including Russia's plan to build the first bridge to Crimea from Russian territory (a bridge was built following WW2 but collapsed in less than one year). Crimea is being punished by the EU et al because its people had the audacity to grab a lifeline and escape the clutches of imperialism with barely a loss of life. They are joined ever more closely to the class struggle of the Russian people.



#6 David Finkel (Detroit) 2014-08-26 11:22 EDT
The War in Ukraine
David Mandel's analysis is very informative and insightful. My only point of possible disagreement: It seems to me that Putin's intentions may be more aggressive than David suggests. His proclamations about an extraterritorial mandate to "protect Russian speakers" is ominous, as are the discourse of "Novorossiya" and statements by high-level Russian government figures, in their official capacity, that the Ukrainian government is a "nazi regime." Also, I have been shocked by the pronouncements of Russian leftists, notably Boris Kagarlitsky, about the proletarian revolutionary character of the "Donetsk Peoples Republic" and I'd like to see David's analysis of how people like Kagarlitsky could have gone so far off the rails. -- David Finkel (Detroit)



#5 davidg 2014-08-25 23:14 EDT
A good book
Stephen Lendmann edited a great anthology of essays: Flashpoint in Ukraine. It's worth the few bucks. Sadly I've tried to share some of the ideas with some of my friends, but the MSM beat me. It's a no go. Putin's bad, Russia is the aggressor, or the eyes roll back while we try to be new age and think of more spiritual things. I wish I had better strategies. But the book is great. I hope you have better luck. Sparks can be ignited at kitchen tables.



#4 Glen Filson 2014-08-25 11:52 EDT
Mandel's analysis
Yes, I agree with this though, for the large majority of Crimeans, joining Russia was their choice, not Putin's. With their main naval fleet stationed in Sevastopol, it was relatively easy for Russia to accept the overwhelmingly Russian Crimea into the fold especially considering the fact that Khrushchev simply handed Crimea to Ukraine as an apology for Stalin's crimes as the Ukraine during the forced collectivization of agriculture, without giving Crimeans the choice. The Americans and NATO have been trying to pull Ukraine out of the Russian orbit since 1991 and have invested billions of dollars in the support of pseudo-democracy groups while happily forging an alliance with the neo-fascists. Too bad Canada's Harper, the US's Hilary Clinton and even the western EU lackies of America are so willing to work with these groups while denouncing Putin as Hitler. And it's a shame that the Western media is so biased against the Donbass region and Russia while not giving a thought to the humanitarian aid that is so desperately needed in the Donbass region. A cease fire is immediately required so that a negotiated autonomous region of Eastern Ukraine can be established.



#3 John W. Warnock 2014-08-24 18:41 EDT
divisions in the Ukraine
Very good analysis, in my opinion. But what about Crimea? Was it all right for the Russian top dog to give it to Ukraine without consulting the people of Crimea? It is quite clear that the large majority wanted to re-join Russia, from the referendum and the Gallup Poll done for the U.S. government. Is the left to be against the right of people to self determination? How would Canadians react if Quebec voted 80% to secede from Canada but the USA and NATO said no you can't do this, it is "illegal"?



#2 Anonymous 2014-08-24 11:17 EDT
U.S. Imperialism
Ukraine is a battlefield in the USA's quest for global supremacy. There is no negotiating with it.

I'm no fan of Putin's Russia but it's important to recognize U.S. imperialism as the world's most dangerous current threat to peace.



#1 Billie 2014-08-24 05:12 EDT
Civil War in Ukraine
A very good analysis, and a refreshing change from the usual blinkered media guff. I have just a couple of points of disagreement:
1) The divisions between East and West Ukraine are not as strong as you suggest - apart from the Western strip, essentially Galicia, which was once part of the Hapsburg Empire - most of Ukraine is united both by Orthodox religion, and by shared Soviet experience. If you drew a map of UK, you would find a similar distinction between Labour-voting ex-industrial north and prosperous new-economy Conservative-voting South East.
2) I think at the time Russia had no choice but to annexe Crimea, which until had been part of Russia for years. They could not have foreseen the effect of sanctions, and must have seen the situation as much more analogous to Cuban Missile Crisis, with NATO missiles based in Crimea; Putin's domestic kudos soared after his intervention, just as Kennedy's did after Cuba.

My sense is that Russians are a bit flummoxed by outrageous Western hypocrisy - they expect a measure of honesty, even though they are quite used to hypocrisy from their own politicians.



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