Defend Ukraine's right to self-determination
Russia’s occupation of Crimea and the threat to invade other parts of Ukraine on a trumped up pretext, is a reactionary response to a popular uprising for democracy in Kiev and a diversion from serious economic problems confronting the Putin regime.
As leaders East and West seek to blame one another, the key issue – Ukraine’s right to self-determination is being swept under the carpet. The excuse for the invasion of Crimea – that the Russian-speaking majority had to be saved from “fascists” – is part of a fake narrative dreamt up in Moscow and one used down the ages.
Moscow claims that the Maidan uprising in Kiev has been run and financed by Western reactionary forces and is aimed at suppressing Ukraine’s Russian speakers. Yet the Maidan movement which began in November 2013 was first and foremost a popular revolution, which included many elements in Ukrainian society, amongst them – but not led by – right wing nationalists against a corrupt, autocratic regime.
Many Jews took part in the uprising, for example. An ex-Israeli special forces soldier led a Kiev fighting unit against the Yanukovych government. Volodymyr Groysman, a former mayor of the city of Vinnytsia and the newly appointed deputy prime minister for regional policy, is a Jew.
A language law introduced last week by Kiev’s parliament to reverse a provocative act by ex-president Yanukovych was yesterday vetoed by Ukraine’s caretaker president Turchynov. He acknowledged it had been a mistake.
While Putin’s provocative actions are a blatant infringement of Ukrainian sovereignty, the Russian bear has found some allies in strange places. British media commentators including Jonathan Steele and former British ambassador Rodric Braithwaite are calling for NATO and John Kerry to “back off”. As Timothy Snyder writes in the New York Review of Books:
Interestingly, the message from authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Kiev was not so different from some of what was written during the uprising in the English-speaking world, especially in publications of the far left and the far right. From Lyndon LaRouche’s Executive Intelligence Review through Ron Paul’s newsletter through The Nation and The Guardian, the story was essentially the same: little of the factual history of the protests, but instead a play on the idea of a nationalist, fascist, or even Nazi coup d’état.
The first time Ukraine saw even a glimpse of nationhood in modern times was in 1919 when the Zluty unity agreement was signed and the Ukrainian People’s Republic came into existence. Areas of the country were, however, ceded to Poland.
Early Bolshevik policy strongly asserted the right of all nations to self-determination in the former Tsarist empire and elsewhere. During the 1920s, under Mykola Skrypnyk’s Ukrainization policy, the Soviet leadership encouraged a national renaissance in the Ukrainian language, literature and the arts.
Crimea became an autonomous part of Ukraine in 1954 after being gifted by Nikita Khrushchev. It was his effort to make up for Stalinist oppression, when 7.5 million people – mostly Ukrainians – died in the Holodomar, a terror-famine deliberately imposed by Stalin in the early 1930s. Since 2006, the Holodomor has been recognized by Ukraine and several other countries as an act of genocide.
The Stalinist policy of starvation and repression was followed up from 1944 by the forcible deportation of over 200,000 Crimean Tatars. Even Tatars fighting in the ranks of the Red Army were demobilised and sent to labour camps.
Not too surprisingly, Stalinist repression had led some Ukrainians to welcome German forces after the invasion of the USSR in 1941. Nonetheless, the vast majority of Ukrainians fought with the Soviet Red Army and Moscow named Kiev as a hero city.
Ukraine’s longing for nationhood re-emerged as a powerful force encouraged by Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost policy and, finally, the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union. It inspired the human chain of 300,000 Ukrainians which led to the independence of today’s Ukraine.
After Ukraine declared its state sovereignty in 1990 and its independence in August 1991, a dispute flared up over the status of the Crimea. It was settled by an agreement in 1992, by which Crimea was granted autonomous status within Ukraine.
But Vladimir Putin – following in Stalin’s footsteps, has never accepted Ukraine’s right to exist. In 2008, he said to George Bush that if Ukraine joined NATO, Russia would annex Crimea and eastern Ukraine: “Don’t you understand, George – Ukraine is not even a nation! What is Ukraine? Part of her territory is Eastern Europe, and part, a considerable part, was given by us!”
A succession of leaders representing either a Western-leaning bourgeois or oligarchs looking to Russia have failed to develop Ukraine and played one community off against another. Corruption became endemic with Tymoshenko and then Yanukovych enriching themselves. Now Ukraine is bankrupt. The European Union, for all its mouthing about democracy, has no intention of bailing out any leader in Kiev.
Underlying Putin’s aggressive nationalism is his deep fear of a people’s uprising within Russia itself. The superficial success of the Sochi games was accompanied by a contempt for the corrupt abuse of public funds, disdain for local people’s rights and ecological devastation.
Russia of course has huge natural and oil resources. But the recent growth of some sectors, which saw the enrichment of oligarchs and parts of the middle classes in the 1990s and noughties, is in crisis. Interest rates have shot up, the stock market fell 9% this morning and the rouble is at an all-time low. A massive capital flight has been under way for years. Much of it has ended up in luxury homes in Knightsbridge, laundered by Western banks or in the shape of football clubs.
Putin has quickly reversed the pre-Sochi cosmetic release of opponents, like Pussy Riot. He closed down one of the few remaining television stations that criticised the monstrous Sochi Olympics. Protests by anti-invasion activists in St Petersburg and Moscow were quickly suppressed by riot police. He remains what he has always been: an autocrat presiding over a corrupt capitalist oligarchy who brutally suppresses and kills his opponents.
It is indeed rich of Kerry, Hague and other Western leaders to mouth criticisms of Russia’s military intervention – bearing in mind the US-UK-NATO invasions of Afghanistan, Iraq and bombing of Libya along with remote killing by drones in Pakistan.
But opposing Putin’s act of aggression in no way implies support for NATO and the EU. They can no more represent the aspirations of Ukrainians than Yanukovych or Putin can, while the new government in Kiev has no solutions either. All the people of Ukraine, whatever their mother tongue, have the right to decide their own future free of interference from outside forces. That principle is an absolute.
A World to Win editors
3 March 2014