U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Kiev on March 4 and laid flowers at the site of a memorial — to fascists who had died in the fighting that toppled the legally elected Ukrainian government, headed by Viktor Yanukovych.
He then demanded that Russia recognize and talk with the pro-Western puppets who had been installed after Yanukovych was driven from office by force and terror. Kerry announced a $1 billion loan to keep the newly installed regime afloat. He also announced sanctions against Russia — and threatened more sanctions if the Russian government did not bend to Washington’s dictates.
Kerry denounced Russia’s show of military force in the Crimea, an autonomous region with a majority of Russian-speaking citizens, as “aggression,” even though all accounts say that the population welcomed them.
The actual aggression took place on the Maidan Square at the end of February, when a coalition of pro-Nazi, ultra-right-wing, anti-Semitic nationalists, armed and organized by the Right Front, set fires and seized arms from arsenals in Kiev and Lviv. They attacked the police and threatened to attack the Yanukovych government. These are the forces that Kerry calls the “Ukrainian people.”
Noticeably absent during Kerry’s appearance in Kiev were any representatives from the West European imperialist powers.
Washington is twisting the other imperialists’ arms and they may have to get into the act eventually. But it is the right-wing hawks in the U.S. ruling establishment who have seized the initiative and are pressing ahead toward deepening the confrontation over Ukraine.
Kerry knew before he spoke in Kiev that Russian President Vladimir Putin had conducted his first interview on Russian television on the question of the crisis. Kerry was fully aware that Putin had denounced the right-wing takeover as “an anti-constitutional coup and a military seizure of power” and noted the “revelry of neo-Nazis, nationalists and anti-Semitic elements that is currently going on in different parts of the Ukraine.” (RiaNovosti, en.ria.ru, March 4)
Putin declared he would not recognize the present illegal government, but said he had instructed Russian officials to make contact with the new administration. He stated that Yanukovych, while out of power, was still the only legally elected president, but added that he had no sympathy for the discredited leader.
So Kerry’s demand that Russia recognize and negotiate with Washington’s puppets was a premeditated provocation and a hard-line, unilateral escalation of the crisis.
Tries to bolster weak U.S. puppets
Kerry’s rush to Kiev was not only an escalation but an urgent attempt to bolster the faltering regime. The Kiev government of acting president Arseniy Yatsenyuk and prime minister Oleksandr Turchynov is weak and unstable. Yatsenyuk is the “Yats” who was named a month ago as the U.S. choice to head Ukraine by U.S. State Department official Victoria Nuland in her notorious “f… the EU” recorded phone call.
One sign of the regime’s weakness is that it fired its newly appointed head of the Navy, Rear Admiral Denys Berezovsky, after he publicly stated: “I swear allegiance to the residents of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea.” (bbc.com, March 2) The regime cannot even count on its own appointees.
Its most reliable appointees are its allied oligarchs. Lacking any reliable political apparatus in the east of the country, Kiev has appointed oligarchs as governors of the regions of Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk.
Sergei Taruta, a steel magnate, will govern in Donetsk, and Ihor Kolomoyskyi, whose fortune lies in banking, media and airlines, among other things, will govern Dnipropetrovsk. The idea was said to come from the corrupt billionaire leader of the Fatherland Party, Yulia Tymoshenko, who was released from jail as part of an agreement with the European Union. Yatsenyuk and Turchynov are also from the Fatherland Party.
The regime is especially shaky politically in the east of the country, where sections of the popular masses have been surrounding parliaments. For example, anti-Kiev forces in Kharkiv stormed the government center and expelled the agents of the puppet regime. This was widely seen on CNN and the BBC. Similar acts have been repeated throughout the region.
In the east, defense guards have been put up around statues of Lenin and monuments to the victory over the Nazis in World War II, to prevent them from being defaced or toppled by right-wing forces. These dedicated and extreme opponents of the Yanukovych government are really enraged by the fact that their side, the nationalists who joined forces with the Nazis, were defeated by the Soviet Red Army and the Ukrainian partisans, 150,000 of whom fought against the Nazis.
Every Ukrainian anti-fascist knows that in Kiev in January, a demonstration of 15,000 celebrated Stepan Bandera, the head of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists during World War II. Toward the end of the war, his group organized the extermination of Jews and Poles and helped train Nazi battalions.
These are the same forces that were in Maidan Square. Everyone knows it. And that is one of the reasons that Kerry had to be photographed shaking hands with the two stooges of Washington.
This was why Putin referred to the “revelry of neo-Nazis, nationalists and anti-Semitic elements.” And it explains in a nutshell why Russia doesn’t want the imperialist sponsors of these counterrevolutionary forces brought to its doorstep in Ukraine.
Capitalist crisis weakens Europe, undermines U.S. sanctions
Washington is having to cajole, bully and drag the European imperialists to get behind its efforts to bolster Ukraine and help consolidate the new regime.
Europe, and especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the German capitalists, are also concerned that Wall Street and the Pentagon are running the show and will try to shape policy in order to get the most advantage out of any victory.
Furthermore, the European capitalist economy is highly fragile, due to the global economic crisis. Europe fears that the sanctions being demanded by the U.S. can come back to harm the interests of German, British and French capital.
This inter-imperialist antagonism made the news when a photographer was able to zoom in on a page of a classified document that a British official was carrying into a high-level government meeting. When the photo was blown up, it read, in part, that Britain does “not support, for now, trade sanctions or [to] close London’s financial centre to Russians.”
It also said, in reference to NATO, that Britain will “discourage any discussions of contingency military preparations.” (eurobserver.com, March 4)
London is a global financial center. The British finance capitalists do not want to sacrifice their profit interests to make Washington look strong. Nor do they want to press forward with dangerous and expensive military preparations so that NATO can flex its muscles.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted as saying that “all responsible should refrain from steps that could only be understood as an escalation.” (wsj.com, March 4) The German imperialists do not even want to cancel the G-8 talks scheduled to take place in Sochi in Russia — something U.S. President Barack Obama has put forward.
Their view, according to the Wall Street Journal, is that the G-8 is the only format in which the West can actually talk to the Russians.
And the reason is clear. One third of Germany’s gas comes from Russia. Germany is Russia’s third-largest trade partner. And the German capitalists have $22 billion invested in Russia.
In fact, some 6,100 companies with German capital participation operate in Russia, in 81 out of 83 federal subjects — administrative units — and with a turnover of around 40 billion euros in 2012 and a total workforce of some 270,000. (auswaertiges-amt.de, February 2014)
German economic relations with Russia involve a lot of profits and a lot of jobs. The same is true for Britain, France and other European capitalist countries. They are not so dedicated to hurting Russia that they want to risk profits and political stability. Of course, this could change, depending upon how much pressure Washington puts on them and how the situation in Ukraine develops.
Anti-imperialist solidarity between Russians and Ukrainians essential
One important part of Putin’s interview that should not be overlooked affects relations among nationalities. He spoke about deploying troops “only for people’s protection.” And then he said, “Our militaries are brothers in arms, friends. I am sure that Ukrainian and Russian soldiers will be on the same side of the barricade.” (RiaNovosti, en.ria.ru, March 4)
Regardless of how one evaluates or interprets this remark, it shows clearly that Putin is mindful of the national question in Ukraine and is trying to undercut Russian chauvinism — part of which he created — that is being promoted in the capitalist press and probably by Russian nationalists in Ukraine.
It reminds all progressive and revolutionary forces that they should do all within their power not to fall into the trap of expressing politics in terms of Russians versus Ukrainians. What is needed is to promote solidarity between the two nationalities against the Western imperialists who want to take over the country and to oppose all the oligarchs in Ukraine, regardless of their political alignment, while fighting for a working-class position of internationalism and against capitalism itself.
While the present situation must make such solidarity difficult, it cannot be avoided. For now, it may take the Russian troop presence to at least partially reverse the present victory of Western imperialism. But in the long run, the solidarity of the workers of all nationalities in Ukraine is the only guarantee of victory in this crucial struggle.
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.”