By Roger Annis, Dec 16, 2014
James Petras distinguishes himself in a recent article on Ukraine by rejecting the wrong-headed theories prevalent on the political left that the driving force of events in Ukraine is a ‘Russian aggression’ or a fight between ‘two imperialisms’ for control of the country. He calls it as it is in an article last month, All out war in Ukraine: NATO’s ‘Final Offensive’–we are seeing in Ukraine a continuation of NATO’s historic drive to weaken and isolate Russia, now in tandem with the neo-conservative government that came to power in Kyiv in February of this year. The Kyiv government is making a sharp turn to association with austerity Europe and the International Monetary Fund, with devastating consequences for the majority of the country’s population.
I disagree with Petras’ description of the government in Kyiv as a ‘junta’. I have debated this same issue with others.
Ukraine is in the midst of a full-out war in the east launched by Kyiv nine months ago. Right-wing nationalism is ascendant. But at the same time, national elections have taken place twice this year in which large sections of the population in central and western Ukraine participated at high levels. So the political situation is more difficult and complex than the term ‘junta’ would suggest.
The political challenges facing progressive forces in Ukraine are formidable. In both the presidential election in May and the Rada election in October, the governing regime in Kyiv won a solid mandate from those who voted, In fact, it received a higher proportion of votes from the adult population in central and western Ukraine than did the parties of Stephen Harper and Barack Obama in the elections that returned them to office in 2011 and 2012, respectively.
Very importantly, there was a simultaneous boycott or disinterest in the May and October elections in southern and eastern areas of Ukraine. People there want more democracy, including more political autonomy. In the southeast of Ukraine, which has suffered the brunt of Kyiv’s austerity and war policies, the majority want some form of outright independence. But this is only one part, albeit essential, of the overall, complex political picture in Ukraine.
The political left in Ukraine became weakened in the years following independence in 1991. One reason for this is that the left lost ground in speaking in the name of the nation. Ukraine is still an oppressed nation. But crucially, the source of that oppression has shifted. Whereas before, the bureaucratized and authoritarian Soviet Union (and its leading Russian component) was the main, direct, agent of Ukraine’s national oppression. Today, it is capitalist Europe and Ukraine’s billionaire elite. The disastrous war imposed on the nation this year by these two conglomerates of venal capitalists is striking proof of their predatory and destructive nature.
The term ‘junta’ more typically describes a government that comes to power by a brute, grab for power with limited popular support, typically with a big power in the background providing key logistical if not direct support. But the majority of the deputies who were elected to the Rada in the year 2012 voted after the fact in 2014 to endorse the overthrow of the elected Victor Yanukovych in February of that year. The political situation overall, then, and the political challenges for the left in Ukraine and for its international supporters, is more complicated than that of a ‘junta’ in power.
Another critique I have of Petras’ article is that it is uncritical of Russia’s role in events. A more critical analysis is required in such an article seeking to provide broad overview and context. Yes, Russia has acted moderately and conservatively in response to events. It did not want a war in eastern Ukraine, it did not provoke one, and it is not responsible for its continuation. The war is the fault of the intransigence of Kyiv and NATO. Thankfully, Russia is compelled by domestic political opinion as well as national security interests to provide vital support to the struggle in eastern Ukraine, primarily with humanitarian assistance and by not stopping the movement of supporters of the self-defense forces across the Russia-Ukraine border.
But Russia’s conservatism cuts two ways. Its harmful consequences are felt in the pro-autonomy political struggle. Russia has placed limits on the capacity of self defense forces to militarily resist Kyiv’s army and right-wing militias. For example, the ceasefire of Sept. 5 created a very unsatisfactory situation for the autonomy movement. And Russia is exercising strong influence over the political leadership in the peoples’ republics in Donetsk and Luhansk in order to block a political and social radicalization in the Donbas region, not least because of its fear of a spillover effect into Russia itself. Boris Kagarlitsky’s article in Links on Nov. 10 describes this well.
All this, too, presents exceptional challenges for the political left in Ukraine.
I’ve said from the get-go that the war and austerity drive in Ukraine are part of a political and economic offensive by the NATO imperialist countries against ALL the peoples of the region–Ukrainian, Crimean, Russian and more. A strategy of political unity is needed in the region between the various struggles for social justice and national and language equality. The international left needs to step up its effort to provide all the available assistance and solidarity that it can for the people of Ukraine and Russia, including opposing the economic embargos against Russia and Crimea. The stakes for Europe and the world in stopping Kyiv’s war in Ukraine are very considerable.
I invite readers of ‘A Socialist in Canada’ to read the excellent material that we are writing and otherwise compiling on the new website, ‘The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond‘. My most recent article is a reply to NATO’s and Kyiv’s propaganda war over Crimea.
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