Ukraine oligarchs strike back: Time for anti-capitalist struggle

May 20 — The Ukrainian struggle has entered a stage of maneuvering in light of the failure of the coup regime to defeat the resistance in the eastern regions. The puppet government in Kiev is now negotiating with different factions of the Ukrainian ruling class and political establishment and desperately trying to pull off the May 25 elections to find a fig leaf of legitimacy.

Meanwhile, the resistance of the People’s Republic of Donetsk and the People’s Republic of Lugansk must find a way forward to widen and elevate the struggle after their resounding referendum victories of May 11.

The Kiev regime has convened a so-called “unity meeting” in Kharkov to pass on to parliament a 12-point “Memorandum of Understanding” to “restore order” in the country. The MOU may include a pledge to change the constitution to extend more power to Ukraine’s regions, grant a limited amnesty to separatists, condemn the unlawful use of weapons and secure the status of the Russian language.

The meeting originated with the European imperialists through the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. None of the leaders of the rebellion in the eastern regions were invited, nor were any of their representatives present. On the contrary, they were denounced.

The issue of extending political power to the regions is partly meant as an attempt to placate popular regional resentment against Kiev and also to make concessions to oligarchs from the region who want more autonomy.

Thus the regime of Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleksandr Turchynov, the candidates of the U.S. State Department, are trying to find a modicum of stability and legitimacy in the wake of their coup and their failure to subdue the rebellion in the east and the south.

Military offensive collapses

This “unity” discussion comes in the wake of the collapse of the military offensive in the east. The Washington Post reported May 20 that the Ukrainian military is in no shape or state of mind to attack or dislodge the resistance.

“At a frontline post near pro-Russian rebels,” wrote the Post, “a Ukrainian military unit gave off a vibe that did not exactly convey a readiness to fight.

“One soldier — without helmet, flak jacket or rifle — stood off to the side of the unit’s roadblock to sun himself as a line of vehicles waited to pass. Other soldiers hung out laundry.”

The Post continued, “The disorder on the road to rebel-held Slovyansk on a recent afternoon underscored the severe challenges facing Ukraine as it seeks to regain control of its restive east.”

“‘Ukrainian soldiers have been on U.N. peacekeeping operations, but not in actual combat,’ said Taras Beresovets, a Kiev-based political analyst. … ‘The Ukrainian military doesn’t have the military experience. They are a peacetime force, not taught to kill.’”

Oligarchs in command

The regime is now relying on the Ukrainian oligarchs for support. The leading candidate for president in the May 25 elections is billionaire Petro Poroshenko, who has said that Ukraine must be with Europe. He owns Roshen, the largest confectionery company in Ukraine as well a shipyard, a TV channel and auto and bus factories. He was a financier of the Orange Revolution in 2004, the first attempt by U.S. and European imperialism to move Ukraine into the Western orbit.

In Mariupol, a rebellious coastal city of half a million people in the east, Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, orchestrated an agreement with the mayor, some union representatives and the police to deploy steelworker patrols on the streets and to clear the area of debris.

Akhmetov, worth $12.2 billion and ranked 92nd on Forbes’ list of billionaires, is the largest employer in the Donetsk region, employing 300,000 workers. He has a private security force of 3,000, made up of former elite Ukrainian commandos. (WP, May 16)

Akhmetov has since made a menacing call for demonstrations against the resistance in Donetsk and Lugansk. His call has been endorsed by Yatsenyuk.

In the southwest, the major prop of the regime has been oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, who is the governor of Dnepropetrovsk. Worth $2.4 billion, Kolomoisky is the third wealthiest man in Ukraine and owns the largest bank, Privatbank, with assets in oil, ferroalloys, food industries, agriculture and transport. (RT, May 8)

Kolomoisky is strongly suspected of involvement in the massacre in Odessa on May 2. He has been a decisive factor in holding back the resistance in Dnepropetrovsk, an important industrial city.

These and other oligarchs are the foundation of the ruling structure in Ukraine as the Kiev putschist government tries to stabilize itself. This very fact lends itself to opening up a countrywide struggle against the capitalist ruling class.

From separatism to class struggle

The struggle in the east to establish local sovereignty was a necessary step to keep the coup regime from taking over this key industrial region. It was a blow to the imperialists who sponsored the coup and to the reactionaries in Kiev. It lifted the morale of all anti-fascist forces and everyone opposed to being absorbed by Western imperialism and being put under the rule of the International Monetary Fund and its austerity program.

But separatism as a program for the struggle in Ukraine must now be put aside in favor of a multinational, countrywide struggle against capitalist austerity, against the oligarchy and against capitalism itself.

Separatism was a temporary expedient, but now it can only serve as a diversion to a great struggle that has begun in the east. Small capitalist mini-states can only restrict the struggle of the working class and give an advantage to the ruling class. The masses have experience in self-organization, both military and political. This is an invaluable first step. But this struggle must be spread throughout Ukraine. The basis for spreading the struggle is to expand the movement into an anti-capitalist struggle and against the oligarchs who are the props of the puppet regime.

This is the key to victory of the Ukrainian working class and the key to the defeat of imperialism and its attempt to take over the country.

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.” See web site and blog Order books at online booksellers.