Sept. 1 — After a difficult summer when their very existence seemed to hang by a thread, the Union of Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, also known as Novorossia, demolished Ukraine’s military blockade against its capital cities in late August.
In the space of a week, the territory controlled by the People’s Republics doubled. Towns and villages occupied by the Ukrainian military from July to mid-August were liberated as rank-and-file soldiers surrendered or fled into Russia.
By Aug. 30, the city of Mariupol in the Donetsk Region — which has not been under the authority of the People’s Republics up to now — was completely surrounded by the people’s militias.
On Sept. 1, Ukrainian troops abandoned the long-contested Lugansk airport, while militias were advancing to capture the Donetsk airport. (Le Figaro)
The volunteer militias — now coordinated under the umbrella of the Novorossian Armed Forces — are preparing a counteroffensive that could further expand the liberated territories beyond the borders of Donetsk and Lugansk to other areas of southeast Ukraine like Kharkov and Odessa. There, activists have faced heavy repression and massacres for opposing the Kiev junta.
How was this amazing turnaround possible? How did a poorly armed rebel movement send a modern, heavily armed military machine and battalions of armed, fascist goons — financed and politically backed by Washington, the European Union and NATO — fleeing in disarray?
The people of Donetsk and Lugansk struggled all summer to survive a lack of food, water and electricity, and the deliberate shelling of civilian homes, hospitals and schools by the Ukrainian forces. Meanwhile, time was running out for the U.S.-backed junta in Kiev, as its drafted soldiers grew increasingly demoralized and families in western and central Ukraine rose up in protest against sending their sons and husbands into the fray.
The crisis of the Ukraine junta can only grow in the coming weeks and months as austerity measures demanded by the International Monetary Fund and EU bite deep. For the first time, Ukraine faces a winter without fuel on easy credit from its Russian neighbor.
The Novorossians said all along that they just had to hold on until the Ukrainian offensive burst apart.
Washington and Kiev: ‘Blame Russia’
The White House and the corporate media have repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that President Vladimir Putin and Russian military intelligence are responsible for arming and directing the Novorossian armed struggle.
On Aug. 28, the New York Times and other major media uncritically reported a statement by Ukraine’s oligarch president, Petro Poroshenko, that Russian troops had invaded Ukraine. (It was not the first time the Kiev junta had made such a charge.)
Although the German TV news show “Tagesschau” reported the “invasion” claim was the result of a translation error, the cry was taken up by Washington — just in time for the NATO Summit in Newport, Wales. There, it was announced that NATO, the U.S.-dominated imperialist military alliance, would create a 10,000-strong “rapid deployment force” to “counter Russian aggression.”
Russia is not a disinterested bystander, of course. Putin and Russia’s capitalist ruling class, along with the country’s population, are well aware of the danger of a pro-NATO, fascist-dominated Ukraine on Russia’s western border. They understand Washington’s strategy of NATO expansion to surround and break up the Russian Federation and make it a vassal of Wall Street. However, Moscow has employed a reserved diplomatic strategy, refusing to be baited into a military confrontation with Kiev.
Russia’s boldest move thus far was to authorize the delivery of a convoy of humanitarian aid to Novorossia after weeks of stonewalling by Kiev and the International Committee of the Red Cross. This vital aid was an important morale boost, especially in beleaguered Lugansk city — though far more is needed. Two more Russian aid convoys are reportedly in the works, and smaller, independent humanitarian convoys are being organized by anti-fascists in Italy and other European countries.
The collapse of Ukraine’s “Anti-Terrorist Operation” also gave Russia an opportunity to respond to the junta’s campaign of demonization. Putin addressed a short message to the Novorossian militias, asking them to create a “humanitarian corridor” to Russia for Ukrainian soldiers who wished to flee. This was an important act of solidarity with the women across Ukraine protesting against the military draft. It was also the first time official Moscow addressed Novorossia as an independent entity.
An anti-fascist people’s war
Donetsk and Lugansk make up the Donbass mining region, formerly part of southeastern Ukraine, bordering Russia. The region is overwhelmingly working class. For many years, it was the electoral base of the Communist Party of Ukraine and is steeped in the traditions of Soviet anti-fascism.
People in the Donbass republics voted overwhelmingly for independence from Ukraine in a referendum on May 11, rejecting the rule of the oligarchs, neoliberal pro-Western politicians and the neo-Nazis who seized power in an illegal coup in Kiev in February.
The strength of the Donbass People’s Republics and their militias isn’t primarily military, though this too has grown as the people’s forces have captured heavy weaponry from retreating Ukrainian troops.
Rather, it is the determination of the Donbass workers — women and men, young and old, of many nationalities — not to succumb to the fascist-imperialist domination their families fought against in World War II. Then, many lived under Nazi occupation aided by the Ukrainian fascist collaborator Stepan Bandera, whom many elites in Kiev today claim as their exemplar.
The development of this anti-fascist people’s war — full of contradictions like any great social upheaval — has led to a revival of discussion and interest in socialist ideas and the accomplishments of Soviet Ukraine and the Soviet Union. Coming just a generation after the collapse of the USSR, this is a development of great historic significance.