BY JEFF MACKLER
(UPDATED April 9) Crimea’s overwhelming vote to secede from Ukraine and its annexation by Russia have been followed by mass demonstrations and occupations of government buildings in southern and eastern Ukraine, where protesters have raised similar demands for affiliation with Russia.
An April 7 Associated Press article provided a measure of the stakes involved: “The Donetsk and Kharkiv regions—and a third Russian-speaking city besieged by pro-Moscow activists over the weekend, Luhansk—have a combined population of nearly 10 million out of Ukraine’s 46 million, and account for the bulk of the country’s industrial output.”
Ukraine’s acting President Oleksandr Turhynov, who was installed after the far-right coup of late February had toppled the former regime in Kiev, said that he intended to treat the demonstrators as “terrorists.” Police arrested dozens in a nighttime sweep. Meanwhile, Washington and NATO have escalated their Cold War rhetoric against Russia, which they accuse of fomenting the demonstrations in Ukraine’s east and massing troops on the border in preparation for an invasion.
After the secession of Crimea, the Obama administration initiated limited economic sanctions against Russia, while raising the threat of stronger measures. But the best that Obama administration officials could muster to explain the 97 percent vote of the Crimean people on March 16 in favor of seceding from Ukraine and joining Russia was that there were “massive voting anomalies.” No one disputed that 83 percent of the electorate participated in the referendum.
The New York Times Pulitzer Prize winner and on-the-scene reporter C.J. Chivers took on the task of discrediting the vote by reporting on the implied intimidating presence of Russian troops. It soon became clear, however, that few others in the world doubted that the vote totals reflected anything other than the reality—the large majority Russian-speaking population of Crimea was fearful of the consequences of the right-wing, virulently chauvinist, and anti-Russian coup in Ukraine, led in significant part by armed pro-Nazis militias.
Even Chivers felt compelled to note the massive Russian flag-waving rallies throughout Crimea that hailed the results.
The Associated Press reported that two-thirds of Ukraine’s 18,800 soldiers chose to remain in Crimea—most of them joining the Russian army. The 6400 or so (according to one key source) that elected to return home were assigned by Russian troops to their barracks to pack their bags to leave.
Every day, the corporate Orwellian-like NewsSpeak media conjured up the threatening spectacle of Russian troops and/or local Crimean defense forces surrounding Ukrainian military bases and preparing for bloody attacks. Instead, what appears to have happened is a series of political exchanges that quickly ended in Ukrainian soldiers’ agreeing to evacuate all military bases and turn them over to Russian or allied local militias. A single person was reported killed and zero wounded during this transition.
The March vote totals contrast sharply with the 90 percent Ukrainian vote in 1991 to secede from the disintegrating Soviet Union. The vote in Crimea was 95 percent to leave the USSR. Perhaps the past 23 years convinced the people of Crimea that the purported wonders of western capitalism were more myth than reality, that their new Ukrainian capitalist oligarchs were the same as the old bureaucrats except that they were no longer formally part of the USSR. Not even a change of names! Or maybe the orders they received from a number of regional neo-fascist groups that their homes were to be commandeered by Ukrainian troops that might be called on to engage in a war against the Russians in the Crimea convinced them that the coup government could not act in their interests.
It is even possible, if not likely, that many got a stiff whiff of the Association Agreement’s austerity terms that included an end to government gas subsidies and other social subsidies in order to pay their new “benefactors” for the EU-IMF Greek-like bailout. This included major cuts in pensions, massive layoffs of public workers and more (see below).
A March 25 decision of the rump Ukrainian parliament appointed General Mykhaylo Koval as the new defense minister, after approving the resignation of his immediate and post-coup predecessor, the neo-fascist and Svoboda party leader, Ihor Tenyukh.
Tenyukh tendered his resignation supposedly following growing criticism of his response to the Russian troop occupation of the Crimea. It was he who told the Associated Press that he had received some 6400 requests from Crimean soldiers to return home. Since then other sources have put the number at 1400. His response was deemed “indecisive” by the even more fanatic coup deputies, implying that perhaps the Svoboda Party Defense Minister should have ordered reluctant Ukrainian troops to militarily engage with the Russians.
While no one doubted that such a confrontation would have been a disaster for the massively outgunned Ukrainian troops in Crimea, the adrenalin-hyped coup-makers perhaps had other thoughts in mind, including using a Russian response as a pretext to call on the U.S. and/or NATO to respond in kind. Such actions, even those that might lead to a world conflagration, are never ruled out by the U.S. ruling class.
On March 12, for example, Bloomberg News reported: “Earlier today, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, stated that in the case of an escalation of unrest in Crimea, the U.S. Army is ready to back up Ukraine and its allies in Europe with military actions.”
Prior to his “resignation,” the German news magazine Der Spiegel asked Tenyukh if he was “concerned about being disappointed by the European Union,” with regard to the harsh bailout terms of the Association Agreement. Tenyukh’s reply? “Our dream of Europe is not dependent on prosperity [an issue that we will return to at the conclusion of this article]. We want European values; we want an independent judiciary and freedom.” [!]
In contrast, during a Jan. 19 Maidan (Independence Square) rally in Kiev, the “democratically minded” Tenyukh warned of the dangers posed by what he termed “the coup d’etat planned by the current [Victor Yanukovych] authorities.” The now quickly deposed/resigned defense minister, perhaps too “moderate” today for the new regime, at that time called for members of the armed forces to defy “illegal” orders from those in power—that is, the elected government of Yanukovych.
Tenyukh stated, “Tomorrow the [Yanukovych] regime will enslave you too. Therefore we are calling on you to fulfill your military oath of loyalty to the Ukrainian people, and not to the [elected] authorities who have gone off the rails.” Tenyukh’s Feb. 29 appointment as minister of defense lasted just short of one-month. He resigned on March 25, a day after fascist militia leader Oleksandra Muzychko was killed by Ukrainian Interior forces. Apparently, the new regime is sensitive about its police or military forces killing one of its own!
In the meantime, at the instigation of the United States, the G7 group of the largest industrialized nations condemned both the Crimean vote to secede and Russia’s subsequent decision to incorporate Crimea. The G7 called Russia’s actions a “clear violation of international law,” and booted out Russia from what previously had been the G8. The G8 meeting, scheduled to take place in Sochi, was cancelled. Perhaps revealing more than a bit of truth, the Russians responded that “the G8 is an informal club” that “can’t purge anyone by definition.” Indeed, a “club” it is—a place where the most rich and powerful imperial nations gather to negotiate deals that best meet the interests of their ruling classes.
That G7 nations’ interests were in conflict was reflected in the financial sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union (EU) on a select and relatively unimportant group of Russian and pro-Russian Ukrainian elites. In essence, these lesser officials saw their U.S. and European bank accounts and other assets frozen. The EU, qualitatively more dependent on imports from and exports to Russia, especially the importation of Russian gas and other fossil fuels, took care to not sanction Russian’s big time capitalists, whom they depend on, at least for now, for vital fuel resources. The U.S., selecting a different group of industrialists and minor power brokers to punish, was similarly modest in its choices.
Few, if any, observers have commented on the definition of the word sanctions. In essence, in the present context, it means freezing the assets of one’s enemies or competitors—an act close to stealing those assets. In the case of Libya, for example, when the U.S. froze the U.S. banking assets of the top Gadhafi regime leaders, it failed to release them after the U.S./NATO war that virtually destroyed that nation. In fact, the U.S. announced in effect that it would not return these assets at all and instead would use them to pay for the military expenses it incurred in destroying the country—a neat imperialist bit of multi-billion-dollar rhetoric to be sure!
Despite their heated Cold War rhetoric, both the EU and the U.S. calculated that harsh sanctions, that is, stealing too much money from the Russian oligarchs or their Ukrainian counterparts, might bring on similar retaliatory measures that could interrupt the world’s interdependent capitalist order. While Russia is a relatively minor player today, over-dependent on the export of fossil fuels to the tune of almost half its GDP, and suffering from a slowed growth rate of just above one percent, it nevertheless provides some 30 percent of Germany’s gas and perhaps even more to nations in Central and Eastern Europe.
At the same time, given the massively intensified use of shale fracking, the U.S. has just this year emerged as the world’s largest gas exporter. On March 5, House Majority Speaker John Boehner called on President Obama to “dramatically expedite the approval of U.S. exports of natural gas” to Ukraine. ExxonMobil was listed as among the supporters of his proposal.
Moreover, U.S. ruling-class tops see control of Ukraine’s vast shale-gas reserves, the fourth largest in the world, as a medium-term weapon to replace Russia as Europe’s chief supplier. The world’s marketplace in the modern era is almost always subject to the rule of the power with the greatest competitive edge. Both before and after the Ukraine coup, Chrevon and Shell signed major fracking agreements to exploit that nation’s massive shale resources.
For the present, however, both the Ukraine and Europe remain heavily dependent on Russia’s fossil-fuel resources. Roger Annis, a leading Canadian eco-socialist and long-term political activist, aptly noted on the System Change, Not Climate Change listserve, “I find it hard to imagine that the capitalist rulers of Ukraine would turn their backs on acquiring relatively cheap natural gas from Russia in favor of LNG [Liquefied Natural Gas] imported from the other side of the world. For their part, Russia’s rulers have every interest in continuing their sales of gas and other commercial relations with Ukraine.”
The world’s capitalist elite are quite capable of temporizing their moves rather than resorting to immediate military confrontation, and especially so when their contemplated medium-term gains—the U.S. and EU right to frack Ukrainian shale reserves—outweigh any possible immediate advantages. For now, Russian gas will continue to flow to Europe through Ukrainian pipelines. No doubt in the months and years ahead, Russia’s dominance in this sphere will be diminished by its U.S. and EU rivals.
We need only note here that the environmental consequences for all humanity have been inadvertently exposed once again by the future imperialist projections to frack the earth to the point of no return, wherein capitalist-induced global warming murders tens of millions of people and countless other species critical for the earth’s fundamental ecological balance.
One does not usually “cut off the hand that feeds it,” as the saying goes. Nevertheless, the Ukrainian crisis warns us once again that capitalist economic competition in pursuit of profits and the monopolization of markets, on the rise today the world over, can and will give rise to capitalist wars. It is unmistakable that the U.S. has its calculating eyes on its chief competitors in the EU and China today. Militarily encircling Russia and limiting its future economic potential as a regional rival is similarly never far from the calculations of the world’s leading imperialist plunderer.
This is not to underestimate the capacity of Russian or Chinese multi-billionaires to engage in heinous acts of plunder against their own people and others who fall under their control. Both emerged from the old Stalinist bureaucracies after looting the nation’s wealth by plundering nationalized property and terminating the vast benefits that accrued to their peoples following the unprecedented social gains of the 1917 and 1949 revolutions that ended capitalist rule. U.S. and European bankers were more than eager to help finance this plunder, and in return gain substantial access to exploit China’s and Russia’s resources and labor force.
Today, U.S. capitalists own or control half of China’s multi-national corporations. China obligingly provides U.S. and EU corporations with the largest cheap labor force in the world. Russia’s economy is similarly and increasingly dependent on deals between its oligarchs and their American counterparts at the expense of the Russian people.
In both instances, however, it is critical to understand that U.S. imperialism remains the most powerful actor on the world stage—dominant as never before in history in the military arena, and using this power and its far-flung military bases to its economic advantage wherever possible. U.S. accusations that Russia violated “international law” with regard to Crimea are not taken seriously by anyone who understands that U.S. wars around the world—whether accomplished by outright intervention or by funding other reactionary forces, by drone assassinations or by privatized squads—are the norm with regard to U.S. policy. The U.S. “cop of the world” has no standing when it comes to so-called international law. It operates by the defining law of imperialism only—plunder the earth and its people first and invent a “legal” justification” later.
In our previous article on the Ukraine crisis, published in the March issue of Socialist Action, we included material researched by Marilyn Vogt Downey, whose article entitled, “An Imperialist Invasion Without An Imperialist Army: Whither Ukraine,” provided in-depth information as to the terms of the Association Agreement that the beleaguered Yanukovych government signed with the EU on the virtual eve of Yanukovych’s demise. Vogt-Downey described in detail how the EU-IMF Ukraine bailout, with the assistance of the U.S., was and remains aimed at imposing an austerity regimen on the Ukrainian masses that parallels the economic rape of Greece imposed by similar European forces.
Further substantiation of Downey’s central thesis is provided in a March 17 article by radical economist Jack Rasmus entitled, “Who Benefits, Who Pays for the Ukraine’s Economic Crisis.” The article appears on Rasmus’ website at: http://www.kyklosproductions.com/articles.html.
After reviewing in detail the massive negative impact of the previous IMF loans of 2005 and 2010 to Ukraine, Rasmus’ conclusions regarding the present negotiated bailout are to the point: “To briefly summarize in terms of just the net impacts of the EU/IMF deal, ‘Who Benefits’ include: western European banks who will continue to receive principal and interest payments from the IMF that would have defaulted; global currency speculators who will be able to sell Ukrainian currency to the Ukrainian central bank at a subsidized price, Ukrainian companies that will be given export credits to continue selling to western Europe and the western Europe companies that import the Ukrainian exports at a more attractive price.
“Those ‘Who Pay’ and who lose include: majority of Ukrainian households that will have their real income reduced as they pay higher prices for gas, Ukrainian elderly who will have their pensions cut, Ukrainian government workers who will lose their jobs, and all Ukrainian households who will lose other government services.”
In a follow-up article on the post-coup re-negotiated terms of the updated March 21 EU Association Agreement, Rasmus reports that the bailout sum was increased to $27 billion, as opposed to the $15 billion that had originally been offered. Rasmus concludes with two projections that are not unexpected but catastrophic. After the world’s imperial bankers and financial speculators get their hands on this money, the 2014 IMF “bailout” will result in a net Ukraine GDP loss of $30 billion. In Rasmus’ words: This “net reduction in Ukraine’s GDP of $30 billion in the next two years, or about $15 billion a year, represents a cumulative decline in GDP of at least 18%. And that’s a Greece-like Depression.”
Rasmus continues: “By absorbing the Ukrainian economy into the Eurozone, the latter is in effect taking under its economic wing yet another ‘Greece’ and ‘Spain.’ And as in the case of those latter economies, those who will pay will not be the bankers and multinational businessmen, but the Ukrainian people. But that is the essential and repeated history and legacy of IMF deals globally for the last three decades.”
Viewed from this vantage point, the Ukraine events of the past several months reveal that the central player is and remains U.S. imperialism, whose economic and now political penetration of the Ukraine has been all but finalized.
The U.S. is the leading player in the IMF and was far from playing second fiddle to the EU in the events that led to Yanukovych’s fleeing the country. It was central to the coup regime’s decision to appoint Arseniy Yatsenuk as prime minister as opposed to the EU’s choice. Indeed, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland disclosed at a Washington D.C. conference that the U.S. had spent $5 billion in funding the “democratic opposition” in Ukraine according to a Dec. 16, 2013, report issued three days later by the Strategic Forecasting Inc., or Stratfor, an agency linked to the CIA.
The $5 billion was funneled to some 40,000 Ukrainian NGOs that undoubtedly played a role in the largely middle-class Maidan mobilizations that came to be militarily dominated by organized and armed neo-fascist militias, several of whose leaders now hold top government posts and head ministries in the new Ukraine. It was Nuland’s never denied “Fuck the EU” remark, secretly taped by Russian authorities and broadcast around the world, that made it clear that the U.S. had no intention of ceding the right to be top dog in Ukraine to the EU or anyone else.
The dispute over Crimea has now been settled by a referendum vote that few dispute represents the will of the majority. But the Crimean people, now part of Russia, are far from free from capitalist exploitation and oppression. In this vital sense their future, and that of the people of the Ukraine more generally, will be determined by events to come—by events that will eventually include the formation of revolutionary socialist parties deeply integrated into all the organizations of the working masses and prepared for a break with capitalism in all its manifestations worldwide.
In recent years the world has witnessed magnificent mobilizations against tyranny and repression time and again. The masses come into the streets looking for real alternatives to the destructive social and economic order that in the context of an unprecedented worldwide capitalist economic crisis has wrought unspeakable horrors to the working masses everywhere. In many, if not all, of these repeated mobilizations, the absence of revolutionary socialist leadership has allowed reactionary forces to come to the fore, sometimes with the direct assistance of U.S. imperialist intervention and war, and other times through political-economic alliances with whatever pro-capitalist forces are available.
In Ukraine, today’s U.S. allies include neo-fascists and their ilk, along with more compliant and pro-U.S. and EU oligarchs and politicians, employed to reset the status quo to the advantage of a new Ukrainian ruling capitalist elite. The new U.S.-backed, if not U.S.-installed, prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenuk, pledged in late March to fully implement the Greek-like massive austerity measures demanded by the terms of the new bailout agreement he had signed, while stating bluntly that the pain inflicted was necessary to resolve Ukraine’s economic crisis.
Meanwhile, the U.S. sound and fury and repeated warnings against “a Russian invasion” of eastern and southern Ukraine have been accompanied by diplomatic exchanges between Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergeo Lavrov. Ironically, both appear to agree that “constitutional changes” are an urgent and immediate necessity in Ukraine today. These include the direct election, as opposed to the present appointment, of regional governors, at least in places where Russians are in the great majority.
From the vantage point of Russia’s capitalist elite, increasing the influence and power of its allies in these regions is aimed at maintaining as much as possible Russia’s prior financial and geo-political interests. No doubt, Russia’s elite are far more concerned with maintaining their economic power than with any notion of the democratic rule of the people.
Obama and Kerry, bluster aside, are more than content with the overall result of the U.S.-aided far-right and fascist Kiev coup, which in its essence turned over one of Europe’s largest nations, minus Crimea, to the grasping hands of Western bankers. What is now to be negotiated, as always behind the backs of the Ukrainian people, is precisely whose interests will prevail given the changed relationship of forces.
That Crimea has joined Russia is no longer in dispute, U.S. hyperbole aside. Russia’s leverage in the east and south will undoubtedly be employed to advance its ruling-class interests as opposed to those of the working masses there or anywhere else. The same is the case with the U.S. and EU, whose economic power dwarfs Russia’s and who can only be expected, over time, to use it to further marginalize Russian capitalism and subordinate it to its will.
Tragically, in Ukraine and virtually everywhere else in the world today, the working-class majorities, victims of a world capitalist order in its deepest crisis in decades and longer, have yet to find a voice in the form of powerful and independent mass political and economic formations that represent their interests.
Only when the undeniable worldwide anger and resentment of capitalist austerity, repression, and war are matched with a deeply rooted revolutionary socialist leadership, will the present series of terrible defeats be reversed, and a new social order brought into being. The present capitalist system will then become little more than a footnote in human history. And socialism, a system free from all the monstrous deformations of the previous era, will ring in societies whose central purpose is peace, equality, and the fullest development of human potential.
AP Photo: Crimeans celebrate after vote to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.