Does unrest drop from the sky? Most certainly not; like any other political phenomenon, the kind of civil unrest we can observe in Ukraine is a result of determinant economic, social and political factors which in convergence transform into open struggle, which cost the lives of 75 people so far. The main entry point for an analysis is the class alliances in Ukraine that internalize the economic domination that both the SCO-aligned Russian bourgeoisie and the EU-aligned German bourgeoisie (backed by other Euroamerican powers) and reproduce it.
The protests and riots we are witnessing in Ukraine were triggered by the Yanukovich government’s acceptance of a $15 billion aid package offered by the Russian government and the concomitant decline of an Association Agreement offered by the European Union. This proposed agreement would’ve imposed austerity-tied loans on Ukraine, it included several security policies, provisions that would have subordinated key aspects of Ukraine’s military strategy to NATO’s, and would’ve liberalized trade, which would’ve allowed the EU to skip import duties for Ukrainian exports within seven years, and skipping Ukrainian import duties for EU exports within ten years. This trade liberalization would’ve meant lots of opportunities for the haute and petite bourgeoisies situated in the Western part of the country which, coincidentally, happens to be the geographical power base for the ongoing protests. On the other side of the country, in the East, the bourgeoisie sees the relationship with the Russian Federation as vital, given the connection of the Eastern side of the country’s economy with the Russian pipeline network and most industrial enterprises being dependent on Russian gas, imported at concessionary rates thanks to the collaboration existing between Russia and Ukraine.
Accordingly, the supporters of the Yanukovich government are mostly residents of the Russian-speaking Eastern part of Ukraine, while the oppositionists are mostly residents of the Ukrainian-speaking Western part of Ukraine. The Yanukovich government expresses the political will of a certain SCO-aligned section of the oligarch capitalists who enriched themselves off the privatization of Soviet state property after 1991; the oppositionists express the political will of an EU-aligned section of the same oligarchy.
This profit-seeking inter-imperialist geopolitical struggle is translating into people on the ground killing other people on the ground. In Lviv, a Western region of Ukraine, the People’s Rada, executive of the region’s council, headed by Petro Kolodiy and comprised of deputires, representatives of the Maidan self-defense, public figures, and scientists, has stated it will take full responsibility for the fate of the region and establishing its administrative control over it. This decision followed the storming of the prosecutor’s office in central Lviv by protesters, who forced the interior ministry police to surrender. The People’s Rada stated: “The regime has begun active military action against people […] Dozens of people have been killed in Kyiv and hundreds have been wounded […] Fulfilling the will of society, the executive committee of the Lviv region’s council, the People’s Rada, is assuming full responsibility for the fate of the region and its citizens.”
The executive committee, in control of all administrative bodies in the region called on all state servants and citizens to fulfill decisions and orders signed by Kolodiy, reiterating its supposed role as keeper of law and order. The committee has also declared its intentions to send activists to Kiev and provide Maidan activists with everything they need. According to local media, the storming of public buildings is spreading and has already hit the cities of Khmelnitsky, Ivano-Frankivsk, Uzhorod and Ternopil. The opposition stronghold had de facto ousted governor Oleh Salo in January, expelling him from his offices. Since then, the opposition has been in control of the Lviv region, but only now have they made an explicit declaration.
Ukraine’s security service has announced that protesters have seized over 1,500 firearms and 100,000 bullet rounds. Aleksandr Yakimenko, the head of the Security Service, has said that the recent events in Ukraine were marked by “the escalation of violence and a massive use of firearms by the extremist groups. In many parts of the country, public authorities, military installations and depots with munitions are being seized. Court buildings are burning, the vandals are destroying private property and killing peaceful civilians”. In response to what the Security Service has called “conscious, purposeful use of force by means of arson, killings, kidnapping and terrorizing people”, the Security Service and Anti-Terrorist Center of Ukraine had declared the intentions to launch a counter-terrorist operation, which was however voted down in parliament. Both police officers and rioters have been hospitalized with gunshot wounds, and footage from Tuesday’s clashes showed masked rioters firing guns and ramming police cordongs with trucks.
In this conjucture, it is crucial to understand what the army, the primary repressive state apparatus at the moment, will do. The balance of forces is such that the military is likely to intervene on the side of Yanukovich in order to stamp out the protests. A less likely scenario is an imposition by the army itself on the government. The latter is very unlikely, as the government is democratically elected and there are no signs the democratic process is going to be shut down at any time; it wouldn’t be intelligent of the military to intervene to remove the president, taking an important risk just one year before the next elections. Moreover, Yanukovich has very recently fired the army chief, implying the civilian government has strong control over the military apparatus. Yanukovich is, at the moment, the dominant personality in the government. The opposition also lacks unity, so they are unlikely to survive a possible military crackdown as a political force.
Up to now, the EU and the US have pushed Yanukovich to make concessions: he amnestied all detainees, scrapped anti-protest laws, fired large sections of his government and offered opposition leaders top cabinet posts, but the protests are still going on. This faction’s interests are a compromise between Yanukovich and the opposition, however the Russian Federation is powerful enough to challenge the West in this battle of political hegemonies. The Russian government has engaged in money diplomacy, promising a $15 billion aid package to Ukraine in order to deter the Association Agreement between Ukraine and EU, but are waiting to disburse them until the situation is pacified. In a recent move, the Russian government promised a $2 billion tranche from the aid package, but withdrew it on Thursday as Yanukovich lost central Kiev to protesters.
On the other side of the Atlantic, president Obama has stated: “Our goal is to make sure that the people of Ukraine are able to make decisions for themselves about their future … Mr Putin has a different view on many of those issues and I don’t think that there’s any secret on that”. This brings to mind the words of Edward Said: “Every empire, however, tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, that its mission is not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate.”
It’s interesting to see who Obama and his imperialist colleagues lend their solidarity to: protests which started as pro-European and were overtaken by ultranationalist groups, among which are supporters of the Svoboda party, whose leader Oleh Tyahnybok called the Yanukovich government a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia”, and members of the Nazi organization Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense (UNA-UNSO), trained in NATO terrorist camps in Estonia, in 2006. The presence of ultranationalists can’t be ignored even by bourgeois sources like the Financial Times, which recognized the presence of the militarized protest group Right Sector, a group comprising supporters of ultranationalist organizations across the country.
The Euroamerican power bloc is now supporting the paramiliatry fascist groups to increase pressure on Yanukovich, and Angela Merkel has expressed support for sanctions against Yanukovich. It’s clear what the Euroamerican power bloc wants: any regime that will distance Ukraine from Russia, bring it closer to the EU, and impose measures of value transfer from the working classes to the oligarch capitalists of the post-Soviet nation. The EU’s plans can be seen from its Association Agreement proposal. The opposition, allied with the Euroamericans in Ukraine and internalizing the dominance of Western powers, headed by Klitschko, Yatsenyuk and Tyahnybok, shares this aim. Despite all the rhetoric, Obama doesn’t care about the people, he cares about the pipelines. Merkel doesn’t care about the people, she cares for the Ukraine as a jumping point to draw other countries into the EU sphere, such as Georgia and Moldova.
Ben Rhodes, national security adviser for strategic communication for Obama, has openly stated: “We have also made clear that Ukraine has a future that is a part of the Atlantic community, that Ukraine’s orientation towards Europe and the Transatlantic community is an important priority of U.S. foreign policy”. Germany’s political ties with the opposition are tight; earlier this week, Klitschko and Yatsenyuk, two important opposition leaders, flew to Berlin to meet Angela Merkel and the German Foreign Minister Steinmeier.
“The characteristic feature of imperialism is precisely that it strives to annex not only agrarian territories, but even most highly industrialised regions (German appetite for Belgium; French appetite for Lorraine), because (1) the fact that the world is already partitioned obliges those contemplating a redivision to reach out for every kind of territory, and (2) an essential feature of imperialism is the rivalry between several great powers in the striving for hegemony, i.e., for the conquest of territory, not so much directly for themselves as to weaken the adversary and undermine his hegemony.”
Vladimir Lenin, “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism”