May 4 — U.S. imperialism has orchestrated and approved a new military offensive against the anti-Kiev resistance in towns and cities of the populous, industrial region of eastern Ukraine. This is playing with fire.
The offensive included an unspeakable massacre in Odessa, attacks on defenseless checkpoints around towns and cities, sudden helicopter raids and indiscriminate killing of civilians.
This offensive, underway now, aims at pumping some credibility into the discredited, illegal junta that Washington put in power by unleashing fascist violence against the elected Viktor Yanukovich government. These same fascists just carried out the Odessa massacre.
Besides trying to damage the resistance, the offensive is also aimed at provoking Russia’s government, which has repeatedly warned against launching violent attacks on the popular forces in Ukraine’s east.
Washington’s aim is to goad Russia into countermeasures that could serve as a pretext for a further escalation, either by wider sanctions, increased military pressure or both.
Aim is to stop incipient dual power
A more fundamental way to view this latest U.S.-backed “anti-terrorism offensive” is that it is a desperate attempt to break the momentum of a developing, incipient dual power in Ukraine’s southeastern region — especially to undermine the planned May 11 referendum in the east on federalization and autonomy.
This prospect became frighteningly evident to Washington after Kiev’s first offensive ended in ignominious collapse. The coup regime sent two columns of tanks and armored personnel carriers to oust the armed popular forces occupying government buildings. Local anti-Kiev authorities were widely supported by the population, who greeted the armored columns and prevailed upon them to refuse to attack their own people.
The result: Tanks, armored personnel carriers and ammunition were at day’s end in the hands of the resistance in Donetsk and Slovyansk. The Kiev putschists’ authority totally dissolved in the area. Two poles of authority were developing: Kiev’s putschists, backed by imperialism and fascist forces, on one side; the resistance on the other. In a growing number of cities and towns of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions the anti-Kiev and anti-fascist forces had established local authority.
This first April 12 offensive came after a visit to Kiev by CIA head John Brennan. His strategy failed and his advice came to naught. The defeat was not only Kiev’s, but Washington’s.
The collapse of this offensive gave further impetus to the resistance, which took over more cities and towns.
This latest May 2 offensive, while inflicting some losses on the side of the resistance, has so far left the strategic centers under control of popular forces.
To get beyond the lying propaganda in nearly all the capitalist media — including the New York Times itself — that government officials and politicians were spouting daily, and to better understand these popular forces, the Times sent two of its reporters to Slovyansk to get a real assessment of the forces on the ground.
Their article in the Times of May 3 focused on a key unit of military defense in Slovyansk — the 12th Company of the Peoples Militia of the Donetsk People’s Republic. Its commander was an “ordinary eastern Ukrainian” named Yuri, who was a former Soviet special forces commander in Afghanistan. He served four years in Kandahar fighting counterrevolutionaries who eventually overthrew the pro-socialist government in Kabul.
After all the propaganda insisting that Russian forces were behind the rebellion in the east, the reporters were forced to conclude that “the rebels of the 12th Company appear to be Ukrainian” who were veterans of the Soviet, Russian or Ukrainian armies. They share a “passionate distrust of Ukraine’s government and the western powers that support it.”
The fighters shook their heads when asked if they were paid by Russia or the oligarchs to fight. “This is not a job. It is a service,” said a fighter named Dmitri. If Russia were behind them, they would have new weapons. The weapons they have were “taken from police buildings and a column of captured Ukrainian armored vehicles or bought from corrupt Ukrainian soldiers.”
The unit has widespread popular support. It has a network of spotters who track Ukrainian armed forces and fascists. The Times reporters witnessed a crowd laboring to build a barricade and a bunker beside a bridge over a canal.
The population feeds them with healthful food. A volunteer’s mother set up a company kitchen, stocked by the people. There are barracks in a garage and an armory in a shed. The local police accept the militia’s authority and go about their patrols normally.
The fighters denounced the fascists and right wing in Kiev because “in western Ukraine they showed their faces: Nazis, fascist. … They destroyed monuments to Lenin, attacked our history.”
This is a clear picture in microcosm of incipient dual power. The anti-Kiev forces still have no central regional body to represent them politically. They have no centralized, regional military command yet, nor have they agreed upon common political demands. There is a long way to go.
But these obstacles can be overcome in time. If they succeed in holding the May 11 regional referendum in the east on federation, this can be a step toward regional autonomy or even regional separation. This is precisely what imperialism and its right-wing stooges in Kiev are trying to forestall, disrupt and destroy, by any means necessary.
Where are the ruling class ‘doves’?
Just days before this second offensive, Secretary of State John Kerry declared at the Atlantic Council, “We will defend every inch of NATO territory.” In almost the same breath he mentioned Ukraine.
In fact, no NATO nation is under attack or under threat by Russia or anybody else. So this belligerent statement implied that NATO had military responsibility for Ukraine. By using ambiguous language, Kerry had virtually inducted Ukraine into NATO for purposes of military defense, without actually saying so.
This was a highly provocative pronouncement by the U.S. secretary of state. It was preceded by a statement from the Obama administration that its new doctrine was the “containment of Russia” and an end to dealing with the Putin administration.
The lack of any opposition to these provocations from any significant quarters in the U.S. ruling class is telling and ominous.
In fact, the present scenario is reminiscent of the run-up to the U.S. war on Iraq. The most adventurous sectors of the capitalist state and the political establishment seized the initiative to push U.S. imperialism’s aggressive expansion. President George W. Bush was backed by Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz as they engineered the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
They promoted the doctrine of “preemptive warfare.” They lied repeatedly about Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction.” “Shock and awe” followed, and U.S. troops marched to Baghdad and accomplished the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The Bush administration predicted that the war would be over and Iraq reorganized in three to six months.
Eight years of violent U.S. occupation and the current unstable puppet regime themselves document the strategic blunders and monumental miscalculations of the Bush administration.
In the same way, the adventurist wing of the present U.S. capitalist state seems to be running U.S. policy in Ukraine. These elements engineered the seizure of the government in Kiev and dragged Ukraine into the EU and closer to NATO. They thought the Feb. 22 Kiev coup would end the conflict. But, as with the invasion of Iraq, it was just the beginning.
The differences between 2003 and 2014 are two-fold. First, the stakes involved in a conflict with Russia are potentially far greater than in the Iraq occupation. Second, the ruling class, the political establishment and its brain trust have all lined up and are marching in lock step behind the new war drive without even a discussion. This contrasts with the fears expressed in the ruling class before the war on Iraq, especially after the massive anti-war demonstrations of January and February 2003, before the March invasion.
In the past decade, the political moderates who might have been expected to express alarm over the present belligerent posture toward Russia have either retired or been pushed out of most of the significant political and administrative positions in the state. To be sure, no moderate ruling-class opposition ever stopped an imperialist war. But open debate in the ruling class can awaken the masses to the danger and help give impetus to an anti-war movement.
The working class must be made aware of the potential danger of the current situation, and the movement must mobilize without waiting for a bourgeois imperialist opposition, which may not develop until the direct conflict with Russia sharpens. The time to fight against this war is now.
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.” Website and blog: lowwagecapitalism.com