Ukraine Between ‘Popular Uprising for Democracy’ (Canadian Government) and ‘Fascist Putsch’ (Russian Government)

Published on The Bullet, Socialist Projtect’s E-Bulletin no 948, by David Mandel, March 12, 2014.

Let’s begin with Prime Minister (Canada) Stephen Harper’s version. One can think what one likes about deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, but his election in 2012 was recognized as legitimate by international observers and, after a certain hesitation, by the defeated candidate, Yulia Timoshenko. In fact, relatively honest elections were just about the only positive outcome for ordinary people of the last big mobilization on Maidan Square, the ‘Orange Revolution’ of December 2004 … //

… The Provisional Government: … //

… Fascists Gain Legitimacy: … //

… Complex Divisions:

  • It goes without saying that this does not augur well for a country that is so deeply divided, for a very fragile state that had never existed until 1991 (except for some months during the Russian civil war). The western provinces were attached to Soviet Ukraine only in 1939 (and reattached in 1944). As for Crimea, which had been part of Russia since the eighteenth century, Moscow presented it as a gift to Ukraine in 1954. If the nationalists reject the Soviet past as illegitimate – and they are calling for lustration – they should logically be prepared to give up Crimea. Instead, Svoboda’s programme calls for the abolition of Crimea’s autonomy. The party also wants to reintroduce ethnicity in identity documents. (A prominent member of Svoboda even proposed to make the use of Russian a criminal offense.)
  • A situation so fragile would seem to counsel prudence to genuine patriots of Ukraine. But the nationalists, who are a minority in the country, want to impose their will on the others by force. One of the first acts of Parliament after Yanukovich took flight was to rescind the law that allowed certain regions to make Russian a second official language, though subordinate to Ukrainian. This decision was soon annulled by the government, but the damage was done. Polls indicate that a strong majority believes that Russian should be recognized as a second official language. Somewhat less than half the population uses it as their everyday language. Parliament’s actions help to understand the reaction to the new government in Crimea, largely Russian-speaking and ethnically Russian.
  • The government that was formed in the wake of Maidan is thus anything but a government of national unity, as envisioned by February 21 Accord, which was aimed at reassuring the Russian-speaking population of the eastern and southern regions. Of the 19 ministers in the new government, only two come from the east, none from the south. Besides the language question, it has introduced a resolution to outlaw the Communist Party, which took 13 per cent of the vote in 2012 and is, in fact, the only remaining oppositional party after the Party of Regions fell apart. In several western provinces, where the legislatures are operating independently of Kiev, the Communist Party and the Party of Regions have been declared illegal.
  • Ukraine’s divisions are very deep and complex. Besides language, there is culture, in particular historical memory. The heroes of the western provinces collaborated with the German occupation and participated in its crimes; the heroes of the east and south fought fascism and for the Soviet Union. There are also economic interests: the eastern part of the country, the most industrial, is closely integrated with Russia, by far Ukraine’s biggest trading partner. There are also more subtle cultural differences, which are beyond the scope of this article. But one thing is clear – the population of the western provinces, driven by anti-Russian nationalism, is more easily mobilized. A significant part of the protesters on Maidan came from those provinces.

The American and EU Interventions:

  • A few words in conclusion on the international actors. Many will recall the conversation between Victoria Nuland, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Europe and the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev, Geoffrey Pyatt. The media focused on her saying “fuck the EU.” Much less prominence was given to that part of the conversation that should have really shocked: a discussion of the composition of the government that would follow Yanukovich’s ouster. Nuland definitely wanted to have “Yats” as head of the government. And, behold, Arseniy Yatsenyuk is today Ukraine’s Prime Minister. Surely, a mere coincidence.
  • One could also see Nuland during the demonstrations distributing bread to the protesters in Maidan Square. Imagine the reaction of the Canadian government to the Russian ambassador distributing donuts to student protesters during Quebec’s ‘Maple Spring.’ There is a difference, to be sure (as the West and the media claim without irony): when Western diplomats intervene in the internal affairs of foreign countries they do so to promote democracy and defend the people of those countries.
  • Given the deep internal divisions of Ukraine, its history, its geography, its economy, it seems obvious that the most suitable international stance would be one of neutrality, like that of Finland or Sweden. Polls indicate that 80 per cent of the population opposes membership in NATO. Yet all presidents up until Yanukovich pursued membership in NATO. Yanukovich was the first to embrace a policy of neutrality. But NATO will not hear of that.
  • We do not know why Yanukovich suddenly suspended negotiations on the Association Accord. He did not reject it outright. If he did it under pressure from Moscow, it is not clear why Putin waited so long to apply it, since, had he done it earlier, he could have avoided the mass protest. After all, Yanukovich’s party adopted the goal of an accord back in 2008. It seems probable that Yanukovich himself changed his mind, fearing the negative impact on Ukraine’s economy (which is in very bad shape, as it has been more or less since independence in 1991). The EU was offering a mere 600 million euros to be paid in tranches dependent on ‘structural reforms,’ that is, on a policy of austerity applied to a population among which poverty is already very widespread. Moreover, Ukraine would have to remove all commercial barriers and duties for goods and services coming from Europe and to align its legislation and regulations with those of Europe. That would have had devastating consequences for Ukraine’s industry, located mainly in the east. And what in return? Neither free entry into Europe for its citizens nor membership in the European Union. Yanukovich seems to have taken fright. But not ‘Yats,’ who has promised Ukrainians ‘painful measures.’
  • Remember Yugoslavia. It was after IMF-imposed reforms that the separatist movements really took off. An austerity policy would be devastating for the Ukrainian population and reinforce unhealthy and centrifugal tendencies.

The Russian View:

  • How do things appear from the Russian side? The Russian government no doubt sees what has happened as another step in the longstanding policy of the U.S. and NATO to contain Russia’s influence to her own borders, this despite the solemn commitment of George Bush made to Gorbachev not to expand NATO in return for German reunification. From the Russian point of view, it is another use of the tactic of manipulation of popular mobilizations, used successfully in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, to bring about regime change.
  • Besides that, for purely domestic reasons, Putin cannot remain indifferent to the rise of an extreme anti-Russian right in a region with which Russia has close cultural and historic ties. The foreign policy of his authoritarian, corrupt and largely incompetent regime is about the only thing that attracts positive support from the population.
  • It isn’t surprising, then, that Russia has frozen its offer of $15-billion in loans to Ukraine, an offer made, be it noted, without austerity conditions. The government has also announced it will not renew its discount on the price of gas. And Russia has many other economic levers at its disposal. Russia is Ukraine’s leading trading partner and already threatened to impose punitive tariffs on certain goods when the European accord was being discussed.
  • Russia’s military moves in Crimea appear to be pursuing primarily symbolic goals aimed at its own population as well as at Kiev’s right-wing government, which is being warned not to get carried away. As for Western indignation, one should recall the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, a flagrant violation of international law (such as it is), under the invented pretext of a threatened genocide of the Kosovars. Or the illegal invasion of Iraq justified by imaginary weapons of mass destruction. And dozens of other illegal interventions in Latin America and the world over.

The words of the last U.S. ambassador to the USSR can provide a fitting conclusion: “Because of its history, geographical location, and both natural and constructed economic ties, there is no way Ukraine will ever be a prosperous, healthy, or united country unless it has a friendly (or, at the very least, non-antagonistic) relationship with Russia.” Contrary to the will of the majority Ukrainians, NATO rejects that position out of hand.

(full long text).

(David Mandel teaches political science at the Université du Québec, Montréal and has been involved in labour education in the Ukraine for many years).


Coexistence Does Not Equal Conquest: GMO Policy being Warped by Industry Groups Co-opting Language of the Left, on Dissident Voice, by Jason Velazquez, March 12, 2014;

The State, the Deep State, and the Wall Street Overworld, on Global, by Prof Peter Dale Scott, March 10, 2014 -  (first on The Asia-Pacific Journal, Volume 12, Issue 10, No. 5, March 10, 2014);

America’s Advancing Empire: Putsch, Pillage and Duplicity, on Global, by Prof. James Petras, March 9, 2014;

On Goons and Rhizomes: a tale of the Internet age, on Dissident Voice, by Matt Reichel, March 12, 2014 (other articles by Matt).

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