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Dollar bills and F15s: how the West plans to win Ukraine

By KD Tait

An austerity package, for the “prevention of financial catastrophe”, passed by the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, on March 29, threatens to deliver the people of Ukraine firmly into the grip of western imperialism.

The bill, passed by a parliament purged of former President Yanukovych’s supporters, confirms that the decisive question characterising the recent struggle for power was whether Ukraine would be subordinated to the imperialist exploitation of Russia or to the EU-US bloc and its instruments, the World Bank and IMF.

War has now been declared. Not yet a war fought with bullets and bombs but an economic war in which billionaires battle for control of Ukraine’s vast natural and human resources. As with all wars, it will be the ordinary people, the working class, the poor and the oppressed, whose jobs, living conditions and hopes for a better future will be sacrificed on the altar of finance capital.

“Welcome to hell”

When new President Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the candidate hand-picked by Victoria Nuland, Barack Obama’s secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, took power in February, he admitted “extremely unpopular measures” would be necessary to restore economic stability.

He said: “We are on the brink of a disaster and this is the government of political suicides. So, welcome to hell.”

Now Ukrainians, including those naïve enough to think victory for the Maidan movement would lead to prosperity and democracy, can see what he meant. The measures amount to a series of standard neoliberal “reforms” in return for billions of dollars in loans, not to be spent on the welfare of the people but to make debt repayments to international banks and billionaires.

The Ukrainian Finance Ministry says it needs $35 billion over the next two years to avoid default. The Finance Minster is Oleksandr Shlapak, a former banker and a representative of Ukraine’s second richest oligarch, Ihor Kolomoisky, who runs his business empire from Switzerland. The new government is backed by many of Ukraine’s richest billionaires who have been imposed as governors of key towns in the East, whose populations opposed the Maidan “revolution.”

Many of these oligarchs previously backed Yanukovych. They have joined the new government to protect the economic empires they gained by fraud and theft following the collapse of the USSR.

The new government is dominated by a cabal of billionaires with no interests other than defending their right to loot the national economy. They will use their influence to vigorously resist any attempt to challenge the monopoly of political and economic power that they have enjoyed for two decades. The idea that they represent in any way a triumph for the battle against corruption is a sick joke.

The cuts already outlined are only the first wave in a punishing austerity programme designed by the IMF. They will fall almost entirely on the backs of Ukraine’s working class, which is itself disproportionately concentrated in the industrialised Russophone East.

Gas prices will rise 50 per cent; other utilities by 40 per cent after the IMF insisted that the price consumers pay for energy should include a healthy margin of profit.

Excise duties will rocket by 39 per cent on spirits, 31.5 per cent on tobacco and 42.5 per cent on beer, increasing the already regressive character of taxation and thus further privileging the rich.

Almost 80,000 people will be dismissed from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Security Service, the Office of the State Guard, and the prosecutor’s office. Given the announcement of a volunteer “national guard” it is clear that these cuts will purge the state apparatus of those who did not support the “revolution” and make way for the fascists and extreme nationalists who did.

The economy is forecast to contract by three per cent, while inflation will rise by 14 per cent. The minimum wage will not rise with inflation, meaning effectively a 14 per cent pay cut in a country with some of the lowest wages in Europe.

In return, the IMF will provide Ukraine with between $14 and $18 billion in loans over the next two years. The World Bank is considering providing between $1 and $3 billion. A further $10 billion in loans will then come from the “international community” (the major western imperialist powers) and the US has already given $1 billion in loan guarantees. This almost equals Ukraine’s debt payments. The racket of international finance capital means that western imperialist governments will borrow money from banks to lend to Ukraine to cover its debts to the very same banks.

All this is only the thin end of the wedge. In May, the Maidan oligarchs have to win an election. The full scale of the “hell” they and their Western masters are preparing will not be revealed before then. What the full consequences of taking the IMF’s “medicine” will be can be seen in Greece where IMF bailouts were secured by wiping out pensions, sacking hundreds of thousands of workers, closing schools and hospitals and driving millions of ordinary Greeks into poverty.

The motive force for subordinating Ukraine to the diktat of the IMF is the need to monopolise access to its cheap labour and natural resources in order to boost the stagnant profit rates in the imperialist heartlands. The objective is to secure the integration of Ukraine as a semi-colony within the western imperialists’ orbit of exploitation.

F15s and gunboat diplomacy

Given the level of integration of the east Ukrainian economy with that of Russia, the looming neoliberal revolution will severely diminish Russian influence and disrupt a critical sector of Russian imperialist foreign trade and investment. Russian capital will not easily surrender its near monopoly access to east Ukraine’s massive, if relatively economically unproductive, mining and manufacturing complex. This is to say nothing of the response of the working class whose livelihoods depend on these industries.

Consequently, the “shock therapy” planned for Ukraine requires the threat of force to underpin and guard it from its internal and external opponents. Hence the recent media hype about the Crimea and the supposedly imminent threat of a Russian invasion of Eastern Ukraine. More importantly, Western advances on the economic front have been matched by a raising of the stakes militarily.

Britain, France and the United States have sent extra warplanes to Poland and the Baltic States under the transparently false pretext that these Nato members are somehow threatened by Russia. The USA has sent an aircraft carrier group to the Mediterranean and a destroyer into the Black Sea. Nato forces are currently undertaking their own war games in Bulgaria. Nato and Georgian officials met on April 2 to discuss a plan to fast track it into Nato membership. Most provocative of all, Nato will undertake joint military exercises on Ukrainian territory.

Of course, Russia is itself an imperialist power. Its occupation of Chechnya and support for Assad in Syria mirrors precisely the western imperialist powers’ disregard for democracy and human life. But, relative to the USA and EU, it is a much weaker imperialist power.

In the context of Ukraine, however, it is on the defensive against an attempt by the principal Nato powers to extend “their” territory. Russia’s complaint is that the neoliberal and fascist putsch in Kyiv, which aims ultimately at EU and Nato membership, ends Ukraine’s post-Cold War neutrality and makes it complicit in Nato’s military encirclement of Russia. Though socialists have no concern for the cynical protests of imperialist powers, Russia’s concerns plainly have a material basis.

Russian tanks did not roll across Ukraine’s border. There were no parachutists or amphibious landings. The troops and naval base at Sevastopol are there by international agreement and represent a strategic asset for Russian imperialism. Therefore, the Russian army mobilised to secure the peninsula against attempts by the nationalist regime in Kyiv to impose its rule.

This was an action motivated purely by selfish military concerns but, nevertheless, an action for which they had the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. The Crimeans did not want the Kyiv regime to impose an oligarch as governor of Crimea as it has in Kharkov, Donetsk and other towns opposed to the putschist government. The Kyiv regime refused to recognise the prime minister elected by the Crimean parliament, since that is the prerogative of the President of Ukraine.

However imperfect the referendum might have been, no one seriously challenges the fact that it represented the majority will of Crimeans. Conversely, the purge of the Verkhovna Rada, the austerity deal struck with the IMF, the integration of the fascist militias into a “national guard” , these had no democratic mandate whatsoever.

The oligarchs appointed to rule the eastern towns have banned demonstrations and encouraged fascist gangs to shoot protesters. In Kyiv, fascists patrol the streets and attack communists. In the west, the Communist Party of Ukraine (KPU) and other socialists have been driven off the streets.
When the election comes, in May, it will be conducted under the rifle butts of Svoboda and the Right Sector.

The main enemy is at home

Nato’s advance into Eastern Europe, and its military exercises in central Asia, represent a continuation of its founding purpose; a military alliance between the western imperialist powers which seeks to contain and strategically outflank Russia.

When the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, following the collapse of the USSR, the Nato powers promised that they would not advance “one inch’”into Eastern Europe. However, as the movie producer Sam Goldwyn once put it: “a verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on.”

Under the noses of the fool Gorbachev and subsequently the incompetent drunk Yeltsin, Nato absorbed Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. Only Belarus, Ukraine, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro and Moldova remain outside Nato from the former Eastern Bloc states. Of these, the states comprising the former Yugoslavia are under Nato hegemony, Moldova has been subordinated to the imperialist EU Association Agreement, and Ukraine has been courting Nato membership for several years.

Of course, revolutionary socialists shed no tears over the misfortunes of a “great power” that not only restored capitalism but became in the process a second tier imperialist power. But even less do we take at face value the USA-EU’s claims to be disinterestedly defending the national freedom of Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic Sates or Poland by assimilating them into their neoliberal and military empires.

Nato is not looking for a direct military confrontation with Russia. But it is seeking to flex its military muscle to force Moscow into accepting its further expansion as part of its plan to surround Russia with potentially hostile states. Over the past decade, this has been combined with “soft power”, a process of fostering pseudo-democratic and pseudo-national liberation uprisings (the “colour revolutions”).

The creeping extension of military force directed against Russia is simply the military aspect of western imperialism’s drive to deny Russia access to foreign markets. Privileged access to the labour and raw materials in these markets can ultimately only be defended by force. The struggle for the division and redivision of Europe can be achieved only through direct military conflict or political capitulation. Unstable compromises, like that over Ukraine, are increasingly untenable in a period of sharpening inter-imperialist rivalry.

What then is the task of revolutionary socialists in western and central Europe and North America? It is what it has been for a hundred years: to expose and mobilise against the designs of their own rulers. This does not mean covering up, much less supporting, the imperialist designs of those rulers’ enemies. Russia’s repression, from Chechnya to Syria, deserves the harshest exposure and condemnation. So, too, does the Putin regime’s persecution of its political opponents and LGBT people.

Nonetheless, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg’s statement “the main enemy is in your own country” applies quite literally in this case, despite the billionaire and state media’s high octane propaganda for the Maidan revolution, the least genuine and least democratic of all the colour revolutions.

The Nato encirclement of Russia is a strategy of hostile military aggression. Likewise, economic sanctions, boycotts and blockades are an act of economic war. The continued escalation of such measures creates the prospect of another cold war, another excuse for increased military spending, the danger of proxy wars between western and Russian allies and, ultimately, inter-imperialist war itself.

Our allies in this struggle are the people who feel the imperialist noose tightening around their necks, the working class of Ukraine. In East and West alike, they will be at the sharp end of the IMF austerity; they will populate the hell that Yatsenyuk and his fascist praetorians will unleash.

In the western imperialist powers, revolutionaries should struggle for a working class response which aims to stop their own rulers’ war machine, and condemns every imperialist regime, democratic or not. We should do this in concert with the working class of Russia in its struggle to stop Putin’s military interventions and end the economic bullying of Russia’s neighbours. Together, an internationalist and working class struggle is needed to support those workers in Ukraine fighting to resist austerity, throw out the imperialist puppet regime and enable Ukraine’s working class to determine its future for itself.

Any attempt to divide Ukraine between Russia and the West must be as strongly opposed as the attempt to seize it in its entirety for the West. It is, however, clear that a united, democratic and independent Ukraine is impossible without a struggle to dispossess the political and economic dictatorship of the ruling elites, and for that power to be taken up exclusively by the working class who will use it in their own interests.

The workers of Ukraine, beset by imperialist enemies without and fascist and nationalist enemies within, cannot succeed in building a country where power is in the hands of ordinary people, where the economy is run in the interests of the many, not the few, without the support of their sisters and brothers in Europe. A Europe-wide struggle for the self-determination of the working class of Ukraine will be a defeat for imperialism and open up the road of struggle for a workers’ Europe, a Europe based on the free association of independent socialist states. This is what we are fighting for.

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