We here bring an interview with the Ukrainian left wing organisation Borotba discussing the situation in Ukraine today, one year after the Maidan movement and the fall of Viktor Yanukovych.
It has been one year since the overthrow of Viktor Yanukovitch. The Euromaidan movement described its aims as being against corruption and the oligarchy while being for "democracy" and Western values. What is the balance-sheet one year later?
In the aftermath of Euromaidan movement, even the supporters and participants of the movement now recognize it’s failure in fighting corruption and the oligarchy. Sergey Kaplin, a deputy of the party "UDAR", stated that corruption in Ukraine has exploded. Kaplin blames this on his colleagues from his own party. Indeed, the latest corruption scandals have even surprised the Ukrainian public, which has been used to them for many years. As for the oligarchs, in order to understand that nothing has changed one simply has to look at the president-oligarch Petro Poroshenko. Not only did he keep doing business in Ukraine, but his businesses continued to operate successfully in Russia. In connection with the issue of the fight against the oligarchs, we should also remember that one of the reasons for the tense situation in the South-East of Ukraine was the appointment of oligarchs as governors in these regions after the victory of the Euromaidan movement. In contrast, the situation with corruption and the oligarchs in the People’s Republics has actually changed. Of course, we cannot talk about "victory" over corruption, but certain old oligarchic families have at least been removed from the government.
Democratic rights in Ukraine have been reduced to a minimum over the past year. Opposition demonstrations are almost impossible as they are often outlawed and brutally suppressed. There is also a strict censorship of the media. Most of the media (not just the opposition) who have deviated from the official line have had to cease operations. Media outlets have also experienced armed attacks on their offices and editorial boards as a result of political deviation.
The killing of dozens of people by snipers on Februrary 20, 2014 played a key role in the final ousting of Yanukovicth. Had there already been an agreement for his removal from power at that point? One year later, do we know who carried out those killings, and under whose orders? How has the investigation been handled by the government?
Yanukovych left Ukraine on February 22, 2014. In his last interview he said that before he left, the EU representatives guaranteed him a peaceful settlement of the situation and a return to the constitutional process. Now, no one remembers this.
A year since the Euromaidan movement, Ukrainian authorities have yet to release any official findings of the investigation, despite many Ukrainians believing that the authorities would want to quickly clarify the truth about these deaths. Contrary to expectations, many traces of shelling and fighting in the Maidan have been destroyed with the consent of the government. There has been a lot of contradictory evidence that refutes the authorities’ official version of the events. The representatives of the Berkut (riot police) could not have murdered the people who died under fire from substandard weapons. Rather, the evidence points to the law enforcement officers and others being responsible for these deaths. Interestingly, a number of police representatives have been found dead, but investigations of these deaths have not been conducted. This raises the suspicion of a deliberate concealing of the real causes and circumstances of the deaths. It must be noted that the crisis in Ukraine as a result of the Euromaidan movement was profitable for the former opposition as they were able to exploit the opportunity and seizing power. Of particular interest is a Euromaidan commandant and founder of the neo-Nazi Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy, who obviously lied about the snipers as reported by BBC.
We already have more than one case of involvement of snipers in the shooting of protesters, and most of these cases have not been investigated fully. At the moment, neither the“firing at the protesters by law enforcement agencies” explanation, the “planned provocation by the opposition” explanation, nor the explanation of “involvement of a third external force” have been proven or disproven. The obvious problem of the investigation is that the investigators may have committed these crimes themselves. If we trust a judge in a corruption case against himself, his verdict will be quite predictable, even if the evidence points to the contrary.
Some commentators insist that the conflict in Ukraine is one between an oppressed nation (Ukraine) fighting against an aggressive imperialist power (Russia). In your opinion, does this describe the situation?
Before we answer this question, it is worth noting that Ukraine has not been able to prove the presence of regular Russian troops on the territory of the People's Republics. This is accepted as fact by Ukrainian officials. We did not see any Russian troops in the DPR, and the locals we spoke to have not seen them either. Although of course, one cannot deny that Russia is helping the People’s Republics, including military and humanitarian aid.
However, in raising the question of participation in the conflict of Russia, one should not forget that the Western countries intervened in Ukraine before Russia. For instance, Western leaders gave both verbal and material support to the Euromaidan movement . There are the visits to Independence Square by John McCain, Victoria Nuland, and others. Was this not foreign interference in Ukrainian politics? Later in April 2014, US military experts and medics advised Ukrainian troops in preparing for the ATO (war against the Donbas rebels dubbed by Kiev as an Anti-Terrorist Operation). The US supplied weapons and provided loans to the ATO. There are also volunteers and mercenaries from other countries, including from Russia, as well as representatives of Polish and the United States armies in the ATO.
From our point of view, the situation in Ukraine can be seen as a conflict between the Western-oriented bourgeoisie which bases itself on the extreme right-wing and neo-Nazis thugs, and the bourgeoisie associated with the industrial base in the East that has close ties to markets in Russia. Subsequently, as a result of the crisis and the associated political and economic protest movement, the struggle escalated into a civil conflict between the new right-liberal government who relied on far-right militants, and the population of South-East of the country who opposed the nationalist agenda imposed on them and were for the preservation of industrial relations with Russia along with social security. On top of this is the external conflict between the US and Russia. We think that the presentation of the conflict as a conflict between Russia and Ukraine distorts the situation. We obviously have a civil war in the country as well as a conflict between the US and Russia on an international level.
What is the character of the volunteer battalions fighting on Kiev’s side? What is their legal status vis a vis the Ukrainian state apparatus and military structure? How much are they part of it?
The neo-Nazi gangs at the base of the “self-defense” battalions on during the Euromaidan movement have increased in size, acquired a certain independence, and have been armed by the state. As these gangs became a threat to the new government after the victory of the Euromaidan movement, officials began integrating them into various government agencies. There was a time when the gangs moved freely throughout Ukraine, attacking the rallies and activists of the Anti-Maidan protests. They once killed two protesters in Kharkov. Several times they ventured to Odessa with the eventual outcome being the massacre of the trade unionists on the 2nd of May.
The Ukrainian oligarchy, in an effort to control the fascist gangs, began to create volunteer militias that in actuality served as their own private armies.
These militias eventually clashed with certain oligarchs as well as the government. Under pressure from the government, these militias were put under the control of Internal Affairs and became part of the National Guard of Ukraine, and thus acquired legal status. Many Nazis and nationalists seek to formally enter into the police force as well.
Supporters of the Kiev authorities argue that these are not really neo-nazis, but patriots and nationalists. What do you think about this?
In most cases, neither the fighters nor the commanders hide their neo-Nazi and racist beliefs. They do not deny their connection and continuity with organizations that declare their views as National Socialist. Their ideology has been recounted in numerous interviews, while proudly displaying tattoos with various Nazi symbols. Indeed, the symbol of the battalion "Azov", the Wolfsangel, is one of the symbols of the SS. The Ukrainian media did not hesitate to publish these photos of our troops during the holidays:
Those who deny the ideological dominance of neo-Nazism in volunteer battalions are deliberately distorting the facts. They are trying to describe it as a lesser evil, opposed to the great evil of Russia.
The Ukrainian media have a misunderstanding of the word "fascism", it is considered to be just an insult. They think it should not be used to describe “their own”, even if their own idolize Hitler and talk about the "superiority of the white race."
Others will say that it is necessary to work with these elements in the struggle against the "Russian invasion". They say that these elements actually play no political role and that their far right nationalist ideology has no support amongst the population.
In actuality, the idea of the superiority of the Ukrainian nation and the idea of its "purification" from “non-Ukrainian” elements is popular in certain parts of Ukrainian society. A very prominent idea is that the people of the South-East are not purebred Ukrainians and that these regions are inhabited by flawed residents who are affected by Russia. In western and central Ukraine, the media has spread stories about their misconduct and inferiority. In Kiev, there are known cases of schools humiliating refugee children. All of this contributes to heighten war hysteria and the militarization of society. In addition, it should be noted that paramilitary battalions do not have the support of the majority of Ukraine. Terror begins when force alone can push the agenda, independent of the majority, and that is what we have seen in Ukraine since February last year.
Supporters of the Kiev government say that the rebels in the South and Eastern provinces are really Russian agents, terrorists, and at best, brainwashed sections of the population.
You cannot fully answer that question without comparing the Anti-Euromaidan and Euromaidan movements. The Anti-Euromaidan movement did not arise by itself, but as a reaction to the events on the Maidan and attempts to transfer the Euromaidan movement to South-Eastern regions. Despite the Euromaidan movement attempting to present itself as some sort of self-organization of the masses, it was supported by several major political forces and the majority of the oligarchy. It was immediately supported by a number of right-wing organizations, who were trained street fighters. Almost all the major oligarchic media outlets were encouraged to cover the Euromaidan movement 24 hours a day. Nationalist and pro-Western ideas were echoed on the Maidan. None of this existed in the Anti-Euromaidan movement: no permanent sites, heating, or substantial funding. There were no pre-arranged groups of self-defense existed, but rather, they were formed in the course of the confrontation. No mass media supported Anti-Euromaidan, instead they ignored or caricaturized it.
At the same time, the southeastern region was dominated by the central Ukrainian media which had taken a tough stance pro-Euromaidan.
Anti-Euromaidan enjoyed the support of the workers in mass industrial production as well as the poor all over Ukraine, who became the victims of cuts in social security. In many areas, the police supported the protests and refused to disperse the Anti-Maidan protesters. The supporters of the Kiev regime sought to dehumanize their opponents by portraying the residents of industrial regions as illiterate, criminal, and underdeveloped cattle that were not worthy of Ukrainian society.
Do the People’s Republics have a degree of popular support? How can it be measured?
The most obvious expression of support was the participation in the referendum and then in the election on November 2nd. High turnout is confirmed by numerous reports and presentations from international observers. Every Ukrainian army shelling of towns in the Donbass, and every new humiliation of its people, has led to increased support for the People’s Republics.
It is also impossible to forget that the continuation of hostilities is leading to economic and social disaster in these regions. There remain unpaid pensions and salaries, as well as work stoppages for most enterprises. Humanitarian aid from Russia is not even enough to sustain the lives of the most vulnerable in society. Therefore, at the forefront is the desire to end the war at any cost.
Would it be true to say that the dividing line in the conflict is ethnic and linguistic. That is, ethnic Russian and Russian speaking vs ethnic Ukrainian and Ukrainian speaking?
Such an ethnic question exists of course, but its value is greatly exaggerated. For many years the Ukrainian bourgeoisie tried to stir up nationalist sentiment and manipulate these contradictions, but this conflict has deeper social causes. By signing the association agreement with the EU and agreeing to stringent IMF-imposed fiscal policy, the Ukrainian bourgeoisie was ready to sacrifice the most vulnerable part of the population through implementing austerity. They were ready to destroy large-scale industry, which is closely linked to the Russian economy, and condemn thousands of people to unemployment. Many plants throughout Ukraine have stopped, such as Kremenchug Steel for example. For many families, it is a matter of survival. Importantly, the social demands raised by these workers are associated with sympathy for the days of the Soviet Union. Industrial development and high social standards are associated with the experience of the Soviet Union. The fight against neo-liberal reforms combined with the rise of neo-Nazism determined the anti-fascist direction of this movement.
Therefore, we consider the reduction of this conflict to an ethnic one a great simplification. On March 9th , Donetsk and Lugansk celebrated the anniversary of the birth of the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko for example. On the other hand, most of the fighters in right sector are Russian speaking. Ukrainians and Russians can be found on both sides of the barricade.
Who is doing the fighting in the Peoples' Republics? Are there Russian involved? What is the real role of the Kremlin in the military side of the conflict (do they actively supply the rebels, do they allow material to cross the border, do they open and close the tap at will)?
The majority of the militia fighters are local residents of the Donetsk and Lughansk regions and adjacent areas. Many joined the militias after already having encountered the ATO. Some of those who entered the militias were also anti-Euromaidan activists from other Ukranian cities. As we already mentioned, there are also volunteers from other countries, including Russia. There are no regular detachments from the Russian military on the territory of the Republics. We know this because if they had been there they would have been discovered. However, instructors in military techniques and specialists are probably helping. It is also likely that delivery of food and provisions is being carried out by Russia. It is through these means that Russia is influencing the People’s Republics, but this type of influence is not direct. Russia is likely using assistance, or the promise of assistance, for the purpose of leveraging power. Regarding the weapons, it is worthwhile to have a look at the findings of ARES (Armament Research Services), which reported, "The majority of arms and munitions documented in service with separatist forces have evidently been appropriated from the Ukrainian security forces and their installations within Ukraine." (p. 89)
From a political point of view, what is the character of the Republics and those doing the fighting? Are there left wing, trade union and communist organisations involved? Are they allowed to operate?
There was not a significant leftist power or party before the Euromaidan movement in Ukraine. The Communist party of Ukraine revealed itself as a sold out parliamentary party that has long rejected the communist ideology. As result of this weakness, the lefts were not able to play a leading role in the anti-Euromaidan movement and become the dominant force. Furthermore, the anti-fascist socialist points of view often appeal to the Soviet past, and these are very strong in the People’s Republics. Specifically because of this, the majority of the communists are participating in their struggle.
To talk about a common ideology in the Republics is very difficult because the public authorities and military units are still poorly organized. Often, the different units do not even interact with eachother. In the various departments the attitude towards the left can be very different. Negative attitudes towards the left are often associated with fear of any protest activity during the hostilities. The Republic's leadership is also trying to prevent the establishment of the Communist Party and its participation in the elections because of the very high popularity of communist ideas and fears that the Communist Party could win an election in the DPR and LPR. The idea of nationalization of the oligarchies property has spread in the Republics, and has not yet completely realized due to the war situation.
Trade unions in the Republics are active, and there has recently been an agreement between Lugansk and Greek unions on the organization of summer camps for children of Lugansk workers in Greece.
Does the Kremlin have political control of the Republics?
It has indirect control through the humanitarian and military supplies to the republics.
In the areas under the control of the Kiev authorities, what is the general mood of the population and how has it evolved? Is there enthusiasm for the military campaign? What about mobilisation? Is there open and organised opposition? Is that allowed?
Kiev in the most part seem to support the right-wing policies and rhetoric of the Government, while the dissenting minority is intimidated. Neo-fascist slogans of the global fight against the socialist legacy are already commonplace and have some support. That being said, the majority have been touched by the economic disaster, a consequence of the government’s economic policy. People are also dissatisfied with the defeats and the difficult situation at the front. The call for a new mobilization also brings out dissatisfaction. Those called up are literally hunted down and then thrown onto the front line.
In general, the attitude towards the war can be characterized as follows: many would like a short victorious war, but fear the protracted conflict and are not ready to participate in it personally. Also, people are tired of the demagogy and slogans, while the decline of political participation has led to complete apathy.
The internal struggles for influence in the government stirs distrust in the people. In general, the difference in terms of the illusions people had on the Maidan, and the reality of the current situation, leads to political apathy. Increasingly, some political decisions are made by small paramilitary groups with weapons or military support.
How is the economic situation in Ukraine? How is that shaping consciousness?
Factually – in a state of default. There is an economic disaster, primarily affecting the socially vulnerable segments of the population. This economic state in Ukraine is in the first place associated with the war, but it is also realized that the responsibility lies with the government of President Poroshenko and Yatsenyuk as they have followed the IMF neoliberal line of austerity. In the future, this could lead to a radicalization amongst Ukrainians that could be quickly followed by another change of government.
Is the Poroshenko - Yatseniuk government strong?
As we have said, this government is responsible for the economic catastrophe, the fall of the Hryvnia, and for the huge debts to the IMF. Their credibility has been undermined. There is also the continuing power struggle within the government, with the right wing forces becoming more and more entrenched. However, open opposition to the government and social protest are treated as the work of "the enemy."
What is the attitude of the different elements within the Republics towards the rest of Ukraine? Is there an idea that this struggle is for joining up with Russia, for independence of the Donbass, or for autonomy within Ukraine? Have there been any political appeals towards the rest of the population of Ukraine?
Initially, the most popular idea in the republics was the transition to a federal structure, the possibility of electing their own governors, the opportunity to influence the decisions on Ukraine's integration into Europe, and cultural and linguistic autonomy.
Mass bombardments by the Ukrainian army residential areas of settlements, civilian casualties, war hysteria and dehumanization of citizens of the republics in the Ukrainian media have led many to conclude that peaceful co-existence of these regions within Ukraine is impossible. Yet the idea of a special autonomous status for the republics within Ukraine has yet to be discarded.
What are the perspectives for the conflict in your opinion?
Unfortunately, there is nothing on the immediate horizon that could end the war and better the economic situation.
What do Communists in Ukraine fight for?
In the first place, it is a fight against the war and rising neo-nazism, for the right to self-determination, and for the basic right of the continued existence of communist organizations on the territory of Ukraine.
What should be the priorities of Communists and internationalists abroad when dealing with the conflict in Ukraine?
The main priority now is peace. For example, blocking the attempts of the Ukrainian government to attain assistance, especially military assistance, should be a priority. Termination of political persecution, the release of political prisoners, an end to terror by neo-Nazis, ie the beginning of the democratic peace process is very important. It is absolutely necessary to support political prisoners, those who were forced into exile and watered-those who are working underground. Communists should also explain the real situation in Ukraine to the public, and expose the lies and hypocrisy of the corporate media.