Ukraine and Imperial Designs
R Arun Kumar
UKRAINE today is the laboratory for imperialist designs. The unrest and popular protests in Ukraine had forced the president of the country, Viktor F Yanukovych to flee. Armed with a warrant, search is on to arrest him. A case is also filed before the International Criminal Court to try him for war crimes – the police action against the protesters, which resulted in the death of more than hundred people. As is now becoming common, any popular protest that results in the ruler being ousted from power is called as a 'revolution' and in Ukraine it is called as an 'orange-brown revolution'. SIMMERING TENSIONS Tensions have been simmering in Ukraine for the past few years, particularly after the global economic crisis hit its economy. During Soviet days, Ukraine was considered as an economic powerhouse. After the collapse of the USSR, all the former republics of the Soviet Union had witnessed a sharp fall in their economy and living standards and Ukraine was not an exception. For a republic which was way ahead of Germany, France, Great Britain in per capita production of goods in the days of USSR, it is today in a deplorable situation. Ukraine was at the top of many industrial countries of Europe in all the aspects of manufacturing – from industrial to agricultural goods and engineering. In the subsequent two decades, there was complete chaos and all aspects of production saw a decline, machine production fell by over 28 percent and so did agricultural production. Social evils like prostitution, drug addiction spread rapidly. Unemployment grew, particularly amongst the youth. Corruption became all prevalent. These had adversely impacted even the demographic character of the country. The number of people living in Ukraine too fell drastically. All this, due to its transition to capitalism and adherence to neo-liberal economic policies. It is in this background that the economic crisis had impacted the country. The government of Ukraine was forced to further hasten its 'reforms', which were hugely unpopular. Social sector spending was cut particularly in the field of healthcare, housing and community services. A tax policy that increased prices and tariffs was introduced. On the other hand, the rich oligarchs, who are hand-in-glove with government officials and thoroughly corrupt, are handed doles. Many Western experts believe that Ukraine is under a serious threat of economic and financial collapse. Ukraine needs around 15 billion dollars to cover its gas bills, for loan payments to the IMF and other creditors. The monies for this were sought to be mobilised by further burdening the people. The country’s foreign-currency reserves have been reduced to about $12 billion and the value of the Hryvnia, its currency, is plummeting. Today, Ukraine’s coffers hardly contain enough money to pay salaries and pensions for even a few months. Severe discontent among the people resulted in waves of protests in many Ukrainian cities. These got further strengthened after the violent police attack on a peaceful youth protest in the Liberation Square in the centre of Kiev on November 30. The Ukrainian government instead of addressing the concerns of its citizens wanted to come out of the crisis by negotiating deals with the European Union on one hand and Russia on the other. The EU had demanded Ukraine to implement severe austerity measures, to which President Yanukovych was reluctant, rightly fearing popular wrath. At the last moment, he backed away from a trade deal with Europe and sought help from Russia instead. Russia in fact had promised $15 billion in loans and cheap gas, but had suspended that aid in response to the political uncertainty. Both Russia and EU are keen to have Ukraine under their influence. Ukraine’s trade in 2012 was almost equally split between Russia and the EU, but over the past year Russian-Ukrainian trade has fallen by a quarter, which is a concern to Russia. For Russia, Ukraine with 45 million population, one of the biggest of the former Soviet republics and which is like a buffer between its territory and the rest of the Europe is strategically important. Its Black Sea naval fleet is based in that country and crucial pipelines in Ukraine carry Russian natural gas to customers in Europe. The oil produced in Russia is refined in Ukraine. So Russia is keen to have Ukraine as a part of its Eurasian Union, rather than leave it to become a member of the European Union. Sizeable number of Russians still live in the eastern parts of Ukraine. The developed countries in the EU and the US want Ukraine to be an integral part of the EU and even the NATO, to counter the growing assertion of Russia. Wooing Ukraine and other East European countries gathered pace after the 2008 economic crisis, as this was viewed as one of the ways to come out of the crisis – prising open their markets, robbing their resources and imposing burdens on their people. As a part of these efforts, in 2009, the European Union initiated an Eastern Partnership Program to tighten ties with former Soviet republics, including Ukraine. Being part of EU was projected to the people of Ukraine, both by the ruling and opposition parties, as a panacea for many of their problems. The EU and US actively encouraged and aided this propaganda. The president of the country had promised the EU leaders to positively consider their proposal and align with them. He had promised to integrate Ukraine with the European Union by signing sweeping political and trade agreements. Many of the opposition parties too had spread this illusion among the people that despite the problems of various countries in the EU, they can make the Union 'better' and also ensure a 'better association agreement' between Ukraine and EU. Russia perceived all these attempts as a threat to its economic and military interests in the region. It exerted pressure on the government to desist from aligning with the EU and joining NATO. Russia also tried to lure the government by offering cheaper loans and gas prices. The pressure exerted by Russia and its offer of 'aid', together with the harsh conditions accompanying the loans and assistance offered by the EU, pushed the government to declare that it is not going to sign agreements with the EU in November. People who were already influenced by the pro-EU propaganda protested this move and came out on the streets in large numbers. The far-right parties, propagating chauvinist positions, projected the government's decision to move away from the EU as succumbing to Russian pressure. They fed on the undercurrent anti-Russian sentiments, which blame Russia for all the present problems of Ukraine and fanned jingoist Ukrainian nationalism. The EU's campaign against communism, socialism and distorted presentation of history combined with the propaganda that Russia had forcefully occupied Ukraine during the Soviet era, aided the right-wing forces and neo-Nazis. According to the Communist Party of Ukraine, these neo-Nazis were responsible for the vanadalisation of Lenin's statue in Kiev and also the targeting of communists and even an attack on the headquarters of the Communist Party of Ukraine. IN DEEP LURCH Ukraine today is in a deep lurch. Oleksandr V Turchynov, the new speaker of the Ukrainian parliament admitted as much, warning in an open letter to the Ukrainian people that “Ukraine is now in a pre-default condition and sliding into the abyss”. Ukraine said that it needs $35 billion in aid and loans over the next two years. The EU and the US that enthusiastically supported the ouster of President Yanukovych, to check the Russian influence, are now not too eager to help Ukraine come out of this abyss. The prime minister of Poland, a country which actively aided the anti-regime protests categorically stated as far as aid is concerned, “Poland will not sweat its guts out”. Neither the EU nor the US have done anything more than make promises. Both of them have stated that Ukraine must go to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for most of what it needs, even though any renewed deal with the Fund would come with difficult and politically painful conditions, principally the slashing of large State subsidies for energy. The IMF has made clear that it is unwilling to help Ukraine without a commitment from the country to undertake painful austerity measures and other restructuring measures. According to economic analysts, acceptance of the conditions imposed by the IMF would mean that Ukraine will be heeding into deep recession in 2014. Russia, stung and angered by the developments in Ukraine, refused to recognise the government in Ukraine saying that they are “Kalashnikov-toting people in black masks”. It had already stalled its earlier promise of aid and if it insists on the repayment of its loans and tries to economically strike, Ukraine will be in even deeper crisis. The opposition that had come together to topple the government had failed to form a government, as we go to press. Talks are still on. Elections to the post of president and mayor of Kiev are scheduled for May 25. There is a great deal of political uncertainty, flux and chaos in the country. This is not in anyway helping ease the burdens of the people, which in the first place moved them onto the streets. Moreover, indications that a change in the government will result in a change in the policies are bleak. Both the deposed president and the opposition groups are vouching for the same set of neo-liberal policies. Ultimately, it is the people who are going to suffer unless there is a thorough change in the policy trajectory. Those forces which had openly sided with Hitler and Nazis during the Second World War and against the Red Army, are once again ganging up. They are trying to utilise the popular discontent for their vested interests. It is imperative for all the progressive forces in Ukraine to rise up to the challenges posed by the neo-Nazis and right-wing forces. The growth of Nazism and fascism, as history taught us, is very costly and we hope Ukrainians, who know it all too well, will not allow it to repeat.