For the last year, a bloody civil war has raged in Ukraine. In the past month, the anti-government fighters have repulsed a government offensive and now have an upper hand in the fighting. Europe is scrambling to stop the fighting. The U.S. is threatening to arm Kiev.
The United States and the government in Ukraine have blamed the conflict on Russian “aggression.” Russia blames the U.S. and the West for instigating the crisis and backing a new anti-Russian and partially “fascist” government in Kiev.
The conflict was sparked by a coup, led by neo-Nazis and ultra-nationalists, that ousted former President Viktor Yanukovych. The new government, composed predominantly of pro-Western business men, ultra-nationalists and fascists, has been rejected by much of the population in the east of the country.
The Ukrainian roots of the conflict: On one side of the country, predominantly in the west, there is a popular and longstanding orientation toward Europe and nationalism that has manifested itself most forcefully in a right-wing, anti-communist and fascist political tradition. On the other side, predominantly in the east, there is significant orientation toward Russia, especially among ethnic Russians, and a deep mistrust of the resurgent Ukrainian nationalist movement, whose historical roots are wound up in collaboration with the Nazis and U.S. imperialism.
While the United States and Russia are not at each others throats, the confrontation between the two major powers is clearly growing increasingly heated and it is always possible that it could escalate rapidly—even get out of hand.
What are the aims of Russia and the United States in Ukraine?
Washington and Moscow are not friends. This is mostly Washington’s fault. At no time since the collapse of the Soviet Union has Moscow sought to go on an offensive against the United States. The same cannot be said of Washington. The United States destroyed Yugoslavia, helped overthrow governments in Georgia and Ukraine (on Russia’s borders) and is threatening Russia with a coordinated missile system on its borders—and these are merely three examples out of a truly wide-reaching campaign to weaken Russia’s influence.
In fact, a significant part of the U.S. ruling establishment, represented by people like Sen. John McCain, want not only Ukraine in the European Union and NATO, but they also want to bring Russia to its knees if possible. Ukraine is a resource-rich, highly developed country with large geographical portions literally surrounded by Russia. McCain and others actually participated in the anti-government and anti-Russian protests that led to the establishment of the new pro-European government in Kiev—a government that included fascists in prominent positions and which tried to remove Russian as an official language.
Can you imagine what Washington’s response would be if a top figure in Russian politics traveled to Mexico or Canada to participate in demonstrations that were threatening the very existence of those governments—demonstrations that had a visible and violent anti-U.S. component?
For Russia, a Ukraine that establishes an economic and military “partnership” with the West—which in reality would mean the subordination of Ukraine to the West under a European/U.S. puppet regime—can only be understood as a threat. Even more than that, Russia is rightly concerned that the current Western-reliant regime in Kiev could lose credibility in the eyes of Ukrainians in the west of the country and give way to a purely fascist regime. Fascist and semi-fascist organizations are deeply popular in the European-oriented parts of the country.
Again, it’s very important to keep in mind that for the last few decades the United States has sought to encircle and isolate Russia.
It is the United States that has called for and worked for the overthrow of Russia’s president, not the other way around. Full of arrogance, the United States claims for itself the right to unilaterally meddle, invade and overthrow governments. But if Russia annexes Crimea, which was clearly popular among the predominately Russian-speaking population of the peninsula, or comes to the aid of ethnic Russians in a bordering country, that’s aggression!
One has to completely distort the facts to see Russia’s intervention in Ukraine as anything other than primarily a defensive response to U.S.-supported events. Russia could overrun Ukraine easily—only a full-scale military intervention by the United States could stop them. But that has never been their goal. Their goal has clearly been to stop the government in Kiev, an increasingly pro-U.S. government, from subduing the largely ethnic Russian independence fighters and establishing control over the entire country. Russian intervention has been largely predicated on keeping an extremely hostile government—buoyed by ultra-nationalist armed groups—from taking control of all of Ukraine.
On Feb. 7, Vice President Biden gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference that was devoted to attacking Russia. He argued that the U.S. is taking action against Russia over Ukraine “because Russia sought to block Ukraine’s Association Agreement with the European Union.” Biden continued, “That agreement—locking in Ukraine’s European future—was nonetheless signed and ratified by many of you in this room.”
(1) It was the Ukrainian government that, strapped for cash like so many other countries in Europe, rejected the association agreement and the onerous loan agreements that were tied to formalizing a relationship with the EU.
Ukraine’s rejection of the EU agreement was based on the severe austerity it would have imposed. Straight up: Europe saw a chance to cash in on Ukraine’s fiscal woes. They gave Ukraine an ultimatum. To join the EU, you have to carry out privatizations of industry and reduce government subsidies and controls that will allow U.S. and European finance capital to swoop in and basically seize the economy. Yanukovych’s government said no—not out of any anti-EU orientation—and instead accepted a Russian loan that had no austerity strings attached and would have reduced the cost of natural gas. That decision prompted large-scale protests against the government that ultimately led to the coup.
In other words, it was the aggressiveness of European and U.S. bankers—their “hand over your economy or else” approach—that played a central role in sparking the current conflict.
(2) Ukrainians in the east of the country have taken up arms precisely because they don’t want to be ruled by Kiev and “locked in” to the EU. Not to be deterred by this obvious truth, in his speech, Biden called the anti-government fighters, “Russia’s thugs.”
I wonder what we should call the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion fighting for Kiev under the leadership of Lieutenant Colonel Andriy Biletsky, a member of parliament and a 2014 recipient of the Order for Courage from the Kiev-based government? Are they democrats and freedom fighters? Has Biden somehow magically separated out from the equation the fascists at the center of the coup when he remarked: “I’ve sat down with the men and women who braved the snipers’ bullets in Maidan, as many of you did. Their courage has given Ukraine a chance to leave behind its history and recent history of corruption and finally build a genuine democracy.”
Then Biden went on to repeat what the U.S. supports: “And I’ll say it again: inviolate borders, no spheres of influence, the sovereign right to choose your own alliances. I cannot repeat that often enough.” Does Biden include ethnic Russians who don’t want to live under a government that gave a medal to a fascist like Biletsky—a fascist who won 34 percent of the vote in a district in Kiev in the September 2014 elections? Nope. To him they’re Russian thugs.
This is from the same United States, the defender of “borders” and “sovereignty” that spent the 1990s ruthlessly carving up Yugoslavia, the same United States that murderously destroyed Iraq, leading it to be split up into three different entities, the same United States that led the destruction of Libya only to see the country descend into civil war, the same United States that funds the colonial-settler state of Israel and the same that waged war on Mexico in 1846-1848 and took half the country.
Biden went on to outright threaten Russia: “And let me state as clearly as I can what is not our objective. It is not the objective of the United States—I repeat—it is not the objective of the United States of America to collapse or weaken the Russian economy. That is not our objective. But President Putin has to make a simple, stark choice: Get out of Ukraine or face continued isolation and growing economic costs at home.”
Let’s strip off the veils in Biden’s remarks: “If you don’t do what we say in Ukraine, we will wreck your economy!” That’s a very serious threat.
Lavrov’s speech at Munich
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also spoke at the Munich Security Conference to defend Russia’s position. Below is a quote from his speech. It’s very important to read his speech to get a better understanding of the situation. I’m not advocating for Russia in the conflict, but Russia is clearly not in the U.S.-led imperialist club and is being unjustly attacked through sanctions, threats, demonization campaigns and other means.
Lavrov said: “As for the Ukraine, unfortunately, at each stage of the development of the crisis our American colleagues, and under their influence the European Union, took steps leading to escalation. This happened when the EU refused to discuss with Russia the consequences of activating the economic bloc of the association agreement with Ukraine, and then directly supported the coup, and before that the anti-government riots. This happened when our Western partners have repeatedly issued indulgences to Kiev authorities, who instead of fulfilling the promises of starting a national dialogue, began a large-scale military operation, declaring their own citizens “terrorists” for disagreeing with the unconstitutional change of government and a rampage of ultra-nationalists.
“It is very difficult to explain why, in the minds of many of our colleagues, the universal principles of settlement of internal conflicts do not apply to Ukraine, involving, primarily, the inclusive political dialogue between the protagonists. Why in cases such as Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, Mali, South Sudan, our partners urge the government to negotiate with the opposition, the insurgents, in some cases even with extremists, and in relation to the Ukrainian crisis act differently, actually supporting the military operation in Kiev, up to attempts to justify the use of cluster munitions.
“Unfortunately, our Western colleagues are apt to close their eyes to everything that is said and done by the Kiev authorities, including inciting xenophobic sentiments. Let me quote: ‘Ukrainian social-nationalism considers the Ukrainian nation a blood-racial community.’ And further: ‘The question of total Ukranization in the future social-nationalist state will be resolved within three to six months with strict and prudent state policy.’ The author is a deputy of the Ukrainian Verkhovnaya Rada, Andrey Biletsky, the commander of the regiment ‘Azov’, which actively participates in the fighting in Donbass. For ethnically pure Ukraine, the annihilation of Russians and Jews was repeatedly publicly called by the other figures, who broke into politics and power in Ukraine, including Yarosh, Tiagnybok, and leaders of the Radical Party of Lyashko, represented in Verkhovna Rada. These statements did not cause any reaction in Western capitals. I do not think that today’s Europe can afford to ignore the danger of the spread of the neo-Nazi virus.
“The Ukrainian crisis cannot be resolved by military force. This was confirmed last summer, when the situation on the battlefield forced to sign the Minsk agreements. It is confirmed now, when another attempt to win a military victory is drowning. But despite this, in some Western countries increasingly there are calls to strengthen support for the course of the Kiev authorities for militarization of society and the state, to ‘pump’ Ukraine with deadly weapons and pull it into NATO. The growing opposition in Europe to such plans gives hope, as it may only exacerbate the tragedy of the Ukrainian people.
“Russia will continue to seek to establish peace. We consistently advocate for the cessation of hostilities, the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the beginning of direct negotiations of Kiev with Donetsk and Lugansk about specific ways to restore the common economic, social and political space within the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”