March 31 — The U.S. imperialists are trying to strengthen their grip on Ukraine, having seized the reins in Kiev through a fascist-led coup against the elected government of Viktor Yanukovych.
In the wake of the coup, the new, unelected puppet regime has signed an “associate agreement” with the European Union that opens wider the Ukrainian economy to European big business. The regime has been promised an International Monetary Fund loan of $18 billion, to be doled out over two years. In return, Kiev has accepted draconian austerity conditions that will strike directly at the masses. The loan also requires that Naftogatz, the state-owned oil and gas company, operate on a market basis. Already, the unelected regime in Kiev has announced a 50 percent increase in gas prices, effective May 1.
The IMF is also demanding cutbacks in government spending, including wages and pensions; a devaluation of the currency, which will make imports much more expensive; and other austerity measures.
Billionaires running in election
Rush elections were set for May 25 (they had originally been called for December) in which both leading presidential contenders are reactionary, pro-imperialist billionaires: Yulia Tymoshenko of the Fatherland Party and Petro Poroshenko of the Solidarity Party. Timoshenko is a gas billionaire and Poroshenko is one of the ruling oligarchs who owns chocolate factories, auto and ship factories, among other enterprises.
Secretary of State John Kerry met for four hours with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on March 30. At the end of the meeting Kerry accused Russia of violating international law because of its incorporation of Crimea — after a democratic referendum in which over 90 percent of the Crimean people voted to affiliate with Russia. Kerry’s charge was a brazen “big lie,” especially given the fact that he was there to defend the coup government in Kiev.
The U.S. is intransigent in its position of holding onto the pro-imperialist stooge government in Kiev, which seized power through a struggle that relied on armed pro-Nazis, anti-Semites and fascist sympathizers of the Right Front, the Svoboda Party and other assorted right- wingers. Washington is trying to force Russia to recognize this coup regime as legitimate.
Russian proposals would loosen U.S. grip
Russia, on the other hand, is trying to find ways to loosen Washington’s political grip on Ukraine by a series of proposals that so far have been completely ignored.
Among the proposals are:
• Constitutional reform in Ukraine to set up a federal structure that would allow for a high degree of autonomy in the regions, giving them the ability to veto reactionary proposals from Kiev and carry on external economic relations.
• Declaring Russian to be the second official language.
• A formalized pledge of military neutrality with Ukraine, regardless of the government in office. This is an attempt to nullify the Pentagon’s intention to bring Ukraine into NATO or to coordinate with NATO. It aims to stop NATO from basing anti-missile installations in Ukraine directed at Russia.
• An end to the either-or ultimatum from the EU and Washington requiring Ukraine to shun ties to Russian-sponsored regional economic organizations.
These and other Russians proposals are basically demands to recognize its fundamental, life-and-death economic and security interests that are profoundly threatened by the U.S. seizure of Ukraine.
Washington has raised a hue and cry over the presence of Russian troops inside their own country, near the border with Ukraine. Meanwhile, NATO is preparing to carry out war games in Eastern Europe. The British have announced their intention to join these games, sending British Typhoon aircraft to Estonia to police the skies around the Baltic region. In addition, an extraordinary session of the Ukraine-NATO Commission is taking place in Brussels on April 1-2.
Pentagon grabs last buffer state
The Pentagon has steadily expanded NATO’s presence toward Russia for the past 15 years, in complete violation of U.S. promises to the contrary. Back in 1990, then Secretary of State James Baker “promised Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that if the Soviets allowed Germany to reunify, NATO — the U.S.-led Western military alliance that took form after World War II — would not expand ‘one inch’ further east, not even into the former East Germany itself.” (The Atlantic, March 3)
Today, however, every one of the countries of Eastern Europe and 14 former Soviet republics on Russia’s western and southern borders have been pulled into some form of collaboration with the NATO military alliance.
Ukraine was the last buffer state between the Western imperialists and Russia. The coup in Kiev was aimed at eliminating that buffer and bringing imperialism right to Russia’s 1,500-mile border with Ukraine.
Washington has been at this project at least since 2004 and the so-called “Orange Revolution,” run by the CIA and various imperialist-sponsored nongovernmental organizations. At that time, Washington got its candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, into office after a phony third round of elections, but there was not yet enough support to rush Ukraine into the EU and NATO.
Washington and the EU had to wait 10 more years for another try. And this time they were not going to be deterred by an elected government.
This bold act of aggression-by-subversion is an attempt to dramatically change the relationship of forces between Western imperialism and Russia. Washington has changed the international situation by attempting to tighten the ring around one of its few competitors that has the capability of significant military resistance.
The attempt to seize Ukraine is a long step toward a cherished 23-year goal of Washington: to undermine and weaken Russia to the point that Wall Street and U.S. big business can move in with a free hand and reduce this huge country to an economic colony. U.S. monopolies are dreaming of getting hold of Russian oil, gas, gold, timber and other resources, industrial and commercial empires, and so on. The pressure in this direction grows greater as the global economic crisis constricts the expansion of monopoly capital.
Unlike the European imperialists, who would be content to continue doing business with Ukraine and Russia from a position of economic strength, the adventurists in Washington have gigantic ambitions to subdue a government that has nuclear weapons.
They hope to undermine its capitalist economy and turn the Russian ruling class against the Putin regime. That is what the sanctions are aimed at. Unfortunately for Washington, its junior imperialist partners in Europe are more vulnerable to lost markets and lost investments than Wall Street, so it is hard to get them to bite the bullet in order to fulfill the Pentagon’s dreams.
Collapse of USSR and socialist camp opened the door
With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Washington became infected with just such ambitious goals. Socialism had barred the way to the conquest of the Soviet Union for 74 years. But the capitalist counterrevolution brought a U.S. stooge, Boris Yeltsin, to power. Wall Street rapidly moved in and together with the IMF administered “shock therapy” to dismantle the nationalized economy and wipe out social and economic benefits that had prevailed under Soviet socialism.
The socialist economy had been built up through planning and sacrifice that eventually made the world’s poorest capitalist country, beset by illiteracy and rural backwardness, into the second-greatest economic power. Within a year, Yeltsin, under the guidance of his U.S. handlers, broke up the socialist economic structure and sold it off for a song to the new capitalist oligarchs.
The USSR had never been an international debtor. Capitalist Russia, however, quickly fell into debt and was on the road to becoming a thoroughly dependent economy. However, Vladimir Putin, representing a wing of the oligarchy, rebelled against being reduced to such dependency.
While protecting capitalism and backed by a section of the ruling class, he pushed back against the trend to reduce Russia to a financial colony of the West. That is why Putin is demonized by the big business media in the U.S.
But Washington reached too far when it tried to seize Ukraine and hopefully push the Russian Black Sea Fleet out of Crimea. Moscow reacted sharply and decisively, disregarding all imperialist threats.
There is now a momentary pause in the acute phase of the struggle. But Washington’s imperial intransigence, its arrogant belligerence is bound to trigger future escalation.
While Russian capitalism is no savior for the Ukrainian masses or for the exploited Russian working class, a victory for U.S. imperialist expansion into the Ukraine would strengthen Wall Street, the Pentagon and the White House — the enemies of the world’s people.
While having no confidence that the capitalist regime in Moscow will consistently confront imperialism, revolutionaries and progressives must find a way to stop Washington’s new drive to war.
Fred Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End,” which has been translated into Spanish as “El capitalismo en un callejón sin salida.” Both books are available at the website and blog: lowwagecapitalism.com.