Ukraine: To the Brink

Frank Lee has presented some critically important interventions on a Russo-Ukrainian crisis that still leaves the west flummoxed. He returns here to continue his critique of a western left response that has shown little improvement.


At the time of writing this (11–February-2015) Talks between the leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Ukraine are scheduled to take place in the Belarus capital, Minsk. These talks are labelled as ‘make or break’ in the current Ukrainian crisis. It seems that these negotiations were prompted by a panic in European circles caused by the deterioration of the military situation in the East of Ukraine.
The Novorussian armed Forces, (NAF) seeing their cities being subjected to round the clock, indiscriminate shelling by the Ukrainian armed forces (UAF) notwithstanding an official truce, decided that they had had enough and went onto the offensive, probably against Putin’s wishes. Firstly Donetsk airport was recaptured after months of intermittent fighting, and fighting then erupted all along the front line. Ominously for the UAF a large contingent of their army numbering between 8,000 and 12,000 has been encircled around the town of Debaltseve. Many of them wretched conscripts, badly led and low in morale. This is similar to what happened in August/September 2014, when another encirclement carried out by the NAF resulted in a rout – the battle of the southern cauldron – of the advance guard of the UAF. It was after this defeat that Poroshenko sued for peace first time around.
My thoughts at the time was that this conversion to peace on Poroshenko’s part was merely a fig-leaf to give himself and his army a respite and time to regroup and rearm ready to resume hostilities at a later date; this is actually what has come to pass. (See my article in Chartist – Ukraine: pause for breath) At that time the NAF in fact actually wanted to go further and take the southern port town of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov and finish off the UAF as a fighting force, but they were held back from doing so by Putin who believed in diplomatic solution.
And so here we are again. But this time both Merkel and Hollande seem to have acted on their own initiative by unexpectedly flying to Moscow to meet Putin and discuss the issue. I think that they have finally twigged that if Washington begins to arm Ukraine with heavy weapons this will invite retaliation from Russia and a massive escalation of the war.
The United States, for its part, seems more interested in a Russian, Donbass surrender then a negotiated peace, hence the braying of the US media, both Houses of Congress and various other pressure groups and think-tanks, for arming the Kiev regime with heavy weapons. After all, any ensuing war will not be fought on American soil. This escalation of the war is a very real concern, for the Europeans however, since such a war will be fought on European soil.
This explains Hollande’s and Merkel’s sudden Damascene conversion to the cause of peace. Moreover, there are domestic considerations that also weigh on the minds of both leaders. In France Marine Le Pen leader of the Front National has turned into a staunch critic of Hollande’s foreign policy and has called Brussels “American lackeys” over the EU’s Ukraine policy. She further accused Washington of attempting to start a “war in Europe” and expand NATO towards Russia’s borders.
“European capitals do not have the wisdom to refuse to be dependent on US positions on Ukraine,” Le Pen told French journalists on Sunday.
“Regarding Ukraine, we behave like American lackeys,” she said, before warning that “the aim of the Americans is to start a war in Europe to push NATO to the Russian border.”






This is actually what the left should be saying instead of being, as it is, outflanked by the far right. But the pusillanimous centre-left, in particular including The New Statesman, The Guardian, New York Times, and Washington Times (aka Pravda-on-The-Potomac) have either been silent or openly supportive of the US neo-cons on the issue.
Similarly French ex-President Sarkozy, has opined “Crimea has chosen Russia, and we cannot blame them … we must find the means to create a peacekeeping force to protect Russian speakers in Ukraine.”
Hollande and his government are not popular and Le Pen and Sarkozy are hitting him where he is most vulnerable.
Frau Merkel is opposed to the arming of the Kiev regime and being pushed on one side by the US, NATO, and the Washington neo-cons, and from the other by much of German business which has extensive operations in Russia, as well as increasing political opposition in Germany. Significantly Germany’s increasing distance from the US was reiterated by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Who reiterated Germany’s rejection of weapons deliveries to Ukraine in a speech on Sunday… “I see this, to say it openly, as not just risky but counter-productive,”  Mr. Steinmeier also hit back at open criticism of Germany’s position on weapons deliveries from U.S. Senators and others here in Munich on Saturday.
“Perhaps we are so insistent because we know the region a bit,” And he might have added in this respect that Germans don’t want to see another Russian flag hoisted on the Brandenburg Gate for a second time in less than a century.
Whether this shift in the European position represents a decisive break from the US-imposed policy of ongoing war in the Eastern Ukraine remains to be seen. It could equally be argued that this is just the west playing soft cop, hard cop with Russia and Putin.
What also remains to be seen is how the Russian proposals go down with the Donbass separatists. Putin favours federalization with some autonomy for the Donbass regions and an integrated Ukraine. This has been ruled out by the Donbass leader Alexander Zakharchenko who, after all the mayhem, murder and destruction of the region by Ukrainian forces, wants complete secession for the Lugansk and Donetsk Peoples’ republics. And rest assured this is also the position of 90% of the population of the Donbass. Whether Putin is able to make Zakharchanko and the Donbass swallow this bitter pill is a moot point. But it would be a brave man who tries to run up the blue and yellow flag of Ukraine in the centre of Lenin Square in Donetsk. Putin has also got his domestic critics including Igor Strelkov and Segey Galzyev two influential, marverick, hardline members of the Russian polity, who regard Putin as being, too soft, on Russia’s internal and external enemies. Strelkov in particular, a romantic figure, is regarded as a national hero among many ordinary Russians, and is openly critical of Putin, who would be very unwise to try to silence him. Strelkov is not Pussy Riot. It would be truly ironic if the regime change that Washington so assiduously desires brings either or both of the gentlemen to power in Moscow.
My own view is that the outcome of this conference will have already been decided in Washington regardless of what the Minsk participants say or want. The Kiev regime is completely in thrall to Washington; a puppet government, it does not have an independent foreign policy, it was paid for ($5billion according to Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, Victoria Nuland ) and installed by the US and continues to owe its precarious existence to the Americans. What will Poroshenko bring to the talks? Nothing new. No compromise, no concessions, the war to continue. This, even though Ukraine is close to economic and military collapse.
I hope I am wrong, but I think the ludicrous and tragic the show must go on, since the war parties in Washington and Kiev believe they can get what they want by military means. The truth is however that …
‘’The Ukrainian army is being defeated not because it lacks weapons. The Ukrainian army had an overwhelming advantage in weapons at the start of the war in spring 2014 when it had tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery, aircraft and helicopters in abundance whilst its opponents had none of these things.
The Ukrainian army could not win then and now that its opponents are far better armed it cannot win now. It cannot win because the overriding political factor that caused the conflict — the hostility to Maidan of the people of the Donbas — makes such a victory impossible.’’ (Alexander Mecouris – Russia Insider)
This war, like all wars, will come to an end one day. But only when some geopolitical realism breaks out. Geopolitical wisdom at present is in short supply, however, and neo-conservatism is there in abundance.


Frank Lee is a member of the CHARTIST Editorial Board and regular contributor on economics and Ukraine.






  1. A rather strange article for a democratic socialist to advise we follow the example of the French fascists on Ukraine. Who are also very close with Putin. It is far from the socialist tradition to advocate the recreation by force of a former Tsarist colonial state of Novarossiya – New Russia.

    Within the territory seized by the Russian forced trade union rights are facing severe restrictions and repression:

  2. If Ms Le Pen states that water boils at 100 degrees celsius. I am bound to agree with her; the statement which is self evidently true, but that doesn’t make me a supporter of her party or her archaic gallic ideals. Similarly if she says that Brussels is a lackey of Washington and its lunatic neo-con establishment, and that the EU leadership is little more than a vassalised group of nonentities prioritising US strategic interests over those of Europe. I am also bound to agree since this also seems self-evident. Again this doesn’t make me a supporter/sympathiser of the Front National or any other extreme right wing group. But I think that it is rather unfortunate that the left has not been saying this and has been outflanked by the extreme right on this particular issue. Indeed a number on the left – The Guardian for example – have been taking the overtly neo-con position: to wit, it’s a Russian invasion, Putin is Hitler, NATO must resist, NATO must expand even further than it has already, and then the usual double-speak and vacuous blather about freedom and democracy. War is peace, Ignorance is strength, Freedom is Slavery. A daily tsunami of Russophobia.
    On a different tack: A trade union conference was violently attacked by fascist thugs on June 26 2014 in Kiev. The Federation of Trade Unions of Ukraine was holding its congress and was due to elect the union leadership, when it was interrupted by a violent attack by “Right Sector” and “Social-National Assembly” neo-nazi thugs, as well as the Maidan self-defence militia. You know, the ones that don’t exist
    The police force arrived after most of the damage and violence have been done and have failed to intervene effectively, while several Afghan war veterans attempted to defend the conference on their own.
    The attackers, who burned flags, used pepper spray against their opponents, broke glass doors and windows, and set fire to one of the corridors in the building, had declared the leadership elections illegitimate and demanded that the Federation adopt measures of “lustration” against most of its former leaders, especially Party of Regions members, Yanukovich’s party. (Of course the Communist Party has already been banned in ‘Free Ukraine’).
    This is just another move towards suppressing dissent by the regime. Whether the FPU is bureaucratic or not is irrelevant in this case, this is a problem that workers in Ukraine have to deal with themselves, not neo-Nazi thugs.
    The “Right sector” neo-nazis say they advocate the creation of “independent nationalist trade unions.” As in other spheres of society, where secret police, aided by fascist thugs, carries out arrests against dissenters and left-wing activists, here the Kiev regime uses neo-Nazi militants in an attempt to push through politically loyal leadership into trade union organisations – like the so-called Independent Miners’ Trade Union, where the leadership is affiliated to the nationalist “Batkivshchyna” (Fatherland) party and has played a strike-breaking role during the Donbas miners’ industrial action.
    (From Democracy and Class Struggle – 29 June 2014)
    The Fatherland party is the party of Yuschenko and Tymoshenko during the days of the orange revolution in 2004 which the leadership of this union supported. The present PM of Ukraine, Yetsanuik has also been a member. The elections of 2010 saw Yanukovich voted into office, when he defeated Tymoshenko 46%, Yanukovich 49% of the vote. A full and fair vote according to OSCE observers.
    The boss of the Independent Miners’ Union, and a member of Ukraine’s parliament, one, Mikhail Volynets, is well spoken of in the Cold War media, e.g., Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty. And there was also a fraternal visit from the US AFL-CIO. Excellent cold war credentials, worthy of the CIA imprimatur.
    Cold-war trade-unionism isn’t new, however, it was a feature of the first cold war and a political instrument much like the present day NGOs, viz the National Endowment for Democracy, USAID, and the American Enterprise Institute all basically Neo-con/ CIA fronts in the ongoing information war against the US’s enemies.
    During the first Cold War in British trade unions, focusing on the period 1947-9, the UK Labour movement was subjected to an anti-Communist offensive exerted on the TUC General Council from various sources, including American union leaders and the Labour Party. The response was belated and cautious, and the article enumerates the countervailing pressures on the General Council to moderate their anti-Communism.
    The Concern of western leaders about workers’ rights in the communist eastern Europe has to be tempered with their own domestic policies. When Thatcher was praising Lech Walesa and Solidarity she was also busy at home smashing the miners strike (the enemy within) of 1984-85. Similarly Regan’s praise for Walesa has to be tempered by his taking on and defeating of the US air traffic controllers strike. This was to be the beginning of the long neo-liberal counter-revolution, still ongoing.
    The United States Labour movement is now almost extinct with only 11% of the workforce in trade unions. Union membership in the UK is half of what it was during the 1970s. The neoliberal counter-revolution was a concerted attack on trade unions and rights of working people.
    But back to the Ukraine. The miners in the Don Bass region, unlike Mr Volynets outfit, have openly supported the separatist movement. See The Guardian- 13 April 2014- East Ukraine protesters joined by miners on the barricades. You should understand that these people in the East and South Ukraine have got the crazy idea that self-determination is their inalienable right, and they don’t care what the Kiev and its western supporters through at them, they are sticking to their guns – literally and metaphorically.
    As for the assertion of a ban on trade unions in Lugansk I would refer you to: Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine 23.02.2015 – ‘’Reply to the false claim that trade unions are being banned in Luhansk.’’ Two sides to every story I think you would agree.

    BTW. At its Annual General Meeting in Bristol in June 2014, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, which organises over 80,000 workers, passed a motion in solidarity with the antifascist resistance in Ukraine, denouncing Western support for the far right regime in Kiev and affiliating to the Solidarity with Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine campaign.
    RMT 2014 AGM Decision

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