Reflections on the revolution in Ukraine

Frank Lee asks why the West is uncritically backing a government with fascists in Kiev 

Victor Yanukovich was elected President of the Ukraine in 2010 narrowly defeating Yulia Timoshenko with 49% of votes cast to Timoshenko’s 45%. The Ukrainian Presidential term of office lasts for five years. Yanukovich’s party, The Party of the Regions, together with its coalition partner, the Communist party of the Ukraine, also had a majority in the Ukrainian Parliament, with Mykola Azarov as Prime Minister.  The membership of the European Union was one of the more salient issues during this time, and was the trigger for the recent upheavals.

Negotiations for Ukraine’s initial stage of eventual membership of the EU – the Association Agreement – had been going since 2011, with both Yakunovich and Azarov favourably disposed, although the communist coalition partners were not. This did not go down at all well in Moscow and Azarov tried to assuage Russian misgivings by urging Russia “to accept the reality of Ukraine signing the EU agreement”. The commitment of Yanukovich was eventually to be tested to destruction since he was being pulled in two directions, by Russia on one hand, and the EU on the other. For their part the Russians offered the Ukraine a $15 billion loan, a discount on gas prices, and membership of the customs union of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus. But the EU was having none of it: President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso stated that the EU will not tolerate “a veto of a third country” (Russia) in their negotiations on closer integration with Ukraine. Thus Yanukovich was forced into a choice which would be certain to alienate and anger one of the powerful interested partners on his borders.

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Negotiations dragged on into 2013. Yanukovich was invited to sign the Association Agreement, but there were a number of conditions.  The most significant of these were those concerning an IMF loan. The conditions were very much in the tradition of IMF Structural Adjustment Programmes (the scourge of the developing world). This was enough to scupper the EU deal. Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov stating that ‘’the issue that blocked the signature of the EU deal were the conditions proposed by the IMF loan being negotiated at the same time as the Association Agreement, which would require large budget cuts and a 40% increase in gas bills.’’ This, for a country already verging on bankruptcy. In store for the Ukraine was the usual neo-liberal IMF austerity package: deregulation, privatisation, and liberalisation – the Greek medicine. Yanukovich therefore took the Russian deal.

This seemed like a normal business decision, but it was not perceived as such in the western Ukraine. Then the whole thing kicked off.

The battle of Maidan an the interim government

Immediately this became known the mass protest in Kiev the west saw on their TV screens, with demonstrators waving Ukrainian and EU flags. This seemed to be a mass popular protest and the demonstrators were to set up camps in Independence Square, but the carnival atmosphere was not to last. Ultra-nationalist groups (fascists) began to appear among the generally moderate majority and battles with the Berkut (riot police) began on a daily basis which the opposition forces finally won. A victory for democracy and ‘peoples’ power’ as stated in the Guardian editorial? Not quite. For nobody should be in any doubt about the political complexion of these nationalist groups who now hold six portfolios in the new ‘government’ based in Kiev. Nor should anybody be in any doubt about both the overt and covert role played by both US and EU officials in the formation of the future interim government. Throughout this period EU and high-ranking US officials openly engaged in Ukraine’s internal affairs. The US Ambassador, Geoffrey Pyatt and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland were strolling around Independence square reassuring the protestors that America stood behind them. This action could never have taken place without being sanctioned at the highest level by the White House. EU representative Catherine Ashton carried out much the same function for the EU although at a more official level. As to the outcome:

“The ultra-right Svoboda Party has scored six major cabinet ministries in the government of Arseniy Yatsenyuk approved by the Ukrainian parliament on Thursday. Svoboda is the Neo-Nazi, ultra-right, anti-Semitic, Russophobic party with its base of support in the Western Ukraine, with links to the Front Nationale in France and the BNP in the UK

The most important post was claimed by a co-founder of Svoboda, Andriy Parubiy. He was named Secretary of the Security and National Defense Committee, which supervises the defense ministry and the armed forces. The Parubiy appointment to such an important post should, alone, be cause for international outrage. He led the masked Right Sector thugs who battled riot police in the Independence Maidan in Kiev.”

        Dmitry Yarosh. Leader of Right Sector. The Ukraine’s own Ernst Roehm

The Right Sector is an openly fascist, anti-Semitic and anti-Russian organisation. Most of the snipers and bomb throwers in the crowds were connected with this group. Right Sector members have been participating in military training camps for the last two years or more in preparation for street activity of the kind witnessed in the Ukraine over the last few months.

The Right Sector, as can be seen by the appointment of Parubiy, is now in a position to control major appointments to the provisional government and has succeeded in achieving its long time goal of legalizing discrimination against Russians. The new parliament has passed legislation that declares Russian speakers no longer have equal rights with Ukrainians.

He is also associated with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s Fatherland Party. Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector delegation in parliament, was named Parubiy’s deputy. These appointments of those openly fascist to positions of control over the armed forces are particularly alarming given the possibility of provocations against the Russian naval base in Sevastopol.

Oleksandr Sych, a Svoboda parliamentarian from Ivano-Frankivsk best known for his attempts to ban all abortions in Ukraine, including those resulting from rape, was named deputy prime minister for economic affairs. Svoboda was also rewarded with the Education Ministry under Serhiy Kvit, as well as the Ecology Ministry and the Agriculture Ministry under Andriy Makhnyk and Ihor Shvaiko, respectively. Earlier in the week Svoboda Member of Parliament Oleh Makhnitsky was named prosecutor-general of the Ukraine.

Others with ultra-right associations with the Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defense (UNA-UNSO) also received cabinet posts. Tetyana Chernovol, portrayed in the Western press as a crusading investigative journalist without reference to her past involvement in the anti-Semitic UNA-UNSO, was named chair of the government’s anti-corruption committee. Dmytro Bulatov, known for his alleged kidnapping by police, but also with UNA-UNSO connections, was appointed minister of youth and sports.

Yaysenuyk’s Fatherland Party, and figures close to it, obtained ten cabinet posts, including deputy prime minister for EU integration, interior, justice, energy, infrastructure, defense, culture, social issues, and a minister without portfolio. Yegor Sobolev, leader of a civic group in Independence Maidan and politically close to Yatsenyuk, was appointed chair of the Lustration Committee, charged with purging followers of President Yanukovich from government and public life.

In a society where oligarchs play such an important political and economic role it is unsurprising that Volodymyr Groysman, mayor of Vinnytsa and close associate of oligarch Petro Poroshenko, was chosen as deputy prime minister for regional affairs. Groysman was also close to former President Viktor Yushchenko. The new finance minister, Oleksander Shlapak, is a representative of oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskiy, the second wealthiest man in the Ukraine.

“The remaining cabinet posts went to technocrats, a doctor who organized medical services for the Maidan protestors, and a retired police general.’’ (Global Research 02/03/2014)

The interim cabinet matches exactly the government Victoria Nuland recommended in her intercepted call with the U.S. ambassador in Kiev where she revealed the U.S. plan for a coup in Ukraine. Vitali Klitschko and his UDAR party are excluded, likely because of their close relationship with German chancellor Angela Merkel. Yatsenuyk’s Fatherland Party received the majority of portfolios. And as Nuland demanded, so long as Svoboda leader Oleh Tyahnybok did not receive a major cabinet post, Svoboda could receive several ministries.

The Fallout

After the assumption of power by the new regime in Kiev the former government parties, the Party of the Regions and the Communist Party were banned in 10 of the western regions of the Ukraine. Additionally party offices were burned down and former members of Yakunovich’s coalition and supporters were intimidated, verbally and physically assaulted by supporters of the new regime.

Then came the bombshell, though not entirely unexpected, – and now a virtual fait accompli – to be formalized in the referendum 16th March – of the Crimea’s secession from the Ukraine, an event which has stoked up an international crisis with the big beasts getting involved in geopolitical positioning and a propaganda war.

One can only speculate about the consequences – national, regional and international – of the events in Kiev and the future reaction to these events in the Eastern and southern Oblasts of the Ukraine; an arc stretching from Odessa, through Crimea, East to Muriopol, on the Black sea and Sea of Azov, and east and north up to Donestk, Lugansk and the old Ukrainian capital of Kharkov. This is about half the country where most of the industry is situated, particularly in the Don Bass area. Will they, the staunch and solid electoral base for Yanukovich, be willing to be governed by the new regime in Kiev? Or will they follow the Crimean secession?

We shall wait and we shall see.