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Ukraine: neither Moscow nor Berlin, but workers’ internationalism

Over the last month, thousands of people have occupied Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital Kiev.
Protesters with fascist symbols on their shields clash with police

Protesters with fascist symbols on their shields clash with police

Their protests were initially provoked by President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to suspend negotiations for Ukraine’s eventual entry into the European Union.

It had transpired during these negotiations that the EU was demanding neoliberal “reforms” similar to the austerity it has imposed on Greece or the horrific “shock therapy” that Boris Yeltsin imposed on Russia in 1992.

The effects, in terms of mass unemployment, inflation and the slashing of social services would have fallen most heavily on the Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine, where much of the former Soviet Union’s heavy industry was located. This is the heartland of Yanukovych and his wing of the capitalist class, drawn from former bureaucrats who grew rich from privatisation. They could not survive against “free” competition from the West.

The rival wing of the ruling class, based in the Ukrainian-speaking west and centre of the country, want to liquidate much of this industry that they call a rustbelt. Instead, they hope to act as the local agents for what they hope will be a massive inflow of German capital seeking cheap Ukrainian labour.

Yanukovych would also like to draw in Western capital; in fact, he had already gone a long way to agreeing the EU’s terms and even now has not ruled out a deal. But he wants to sweeten the bitter EU pill and at the same time avoid a break with Russia’s strongman, President Vladimir Putin.

A complete turn to the West, however, would quite simply destroy Yanukovych’s economic and electoral base. It could also see Russia resort to devastating acts of economic retaliation. Ukraine is massively in debt to Russia for its oil and gas supplies; Putin could literally turn the country’s lights off. But the West can exert some quite painful pressure of its own; Ukraine has $17 billion in loans due to be repaid this year.

Ukraine’s internal dispute thereby overlaps with the growing imperialist rivalry. Both Chinese and Russian officials have protested at US and EU interference in Ukraine. These two new imperialist powers have been pulled closer by Washington’s “Pivot to Asia” and by Germany’s economic “Drang nach Osten” or “Drive to the East” for markets and labour.

Putin has undoubtedly exerted pressure on Yanukovych behind the scenes to escape the EU’s embrace, and has offered bridging loans. But, at an economic level, Russia cannot match Germany and its EU partners. Sections of the US ruling class are also sticking their oar in, getting back at Putin for their humiliation over Syria.

The protest camp in Independence Square has been visited by that old Republican warhorse Senator John McCain, who addressed a rally alongside MEP Elmar Brok of Germany’s ruling Christian Democratic Union.

He met with Arseniy Yatsenyuk of the opposition Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party, heavyweight champion and Presidential hopeful Vitali Klitschko, and Oleh Tyahnybok of the openly fascist Svoboda (Freedom) movement, whose members smashed to pieces the statue of Lenin in Independence Square.

Tyahnybok makes brazenly anti-Semitic statements, claiming Ukraine must be liberated from the “Muscovite Jewish Mafia” and the country’s 400,000 Jews expelled. Yet McCain and the EU emissaries sat down to dinner with him!

This outside sponsorship of Ukraine’s rival camps, by Moscow, Berlin and Washington, threatens its independence and its unity. Under these outside pressures, the country could split along its linguistic and historic lines. Only the working class can hold the country together, avoid inter-ethnic conflict and establish a meaningful independence.

Neither the pro-Western parties nor the pro-Moscow eastern oligarchs can offer a real future. The attitude of ordinary people to the Moscow and EU manipulators should be a plague on both their houses!

What is urgently needed is the independence and unity of the working class across both language groups, a militant defence of jobs and social services, and a determined reaching out to the workers of Western and Eastern Europe alike.

Brussels and Moscow hands off the Ukraine!
For a Ukrainian workers’ republic!
For a Socialist United States of Europe!

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