Perilous brinkmanship between the West and Russia
Bloodshed rises in Ukraine as both sides dig in
Megan Cornish
volume 35
issue 3
June 2014

Odessa’s House of Trade Unions on fire May 2. Suggestively, that date is the anniversary of Germany’s Nazis outlawing unions in 1933. Stringer / Reuters

“Kiev and Moscow are both guilty. Odessa will not forgive this.” So said Alexander Lugansky, a veteran of the Soviet army, after at least 42, possibly 116 died on May 2. Most burned to death in a massacre of anti-Maidan protesters in the House of Trade Unions building.

Lugansky’s are the sentiments of many as bloodshed intensifies in Ukraine.

Since the February ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovych and Russia’s occupation and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, anti-government partisans for more autonomy or separation have taken over local government buildings in more than a dozen towns in the east. Even though the earlier Maidan protestors did the same thing, their new government calls the resisters “terrorists” and is taking military action.

The U.S. and EU as well as Russia are using Ukraine as a pawn in their power games. Real popular movements do exist on both sides of the spiraling conflict, though each side discounts the legitimacy of the other. And both Ukrainians and Russians have rightwing nationalist and fascist elements involved.

Meanwhile, ordinary people face increasing hardships in one of the poorest countries in Europe. The interests of the working class majority are not represented by either camp. The root of the problem is the severe economic crisis that has battered the country since the global economic crash of 2008. And the only real answer is to fight the cause, a failing global capitalist system.

Imperialist intrigues. On the day of the stepped-up government assault in the east and the carnage in Odessa, Pres. Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a press conference. They made no mention of the mayhem that had just occurred, signalling their endorsement. They merely announced broad economic sanctions against Russia if it “interferes” with the government’s presidential election in late May.

The U.S. corporate media acts as a megaphone for U.S. policy. The New York Times uncritically published photos provided by the administration claiming to show Russian soldiers involved in the revolts in the east. It later issued a quiet retraction.

After pledging not to, the U.S. has over the years belligerently expanded NATO into most of the former Soviet bloc countries. NATO bases now ring Russia. In April, the U.S. sent troops to four countries on Russia’s border to conduct military drills, and war ships to the region.

Even though the Ukraine government and the U.S. failed to prove direct Russian involvement in the upsurge in the east, there is little doubt that Russia supports it. More importantly, Pres. Putin is putting extreme economic pressure on Ukraine, just as the U.S. and EU enforce sanctions on Russia. Putin has announced the end of significant natural gas discounts and will soon require prepayment by Ukraine, which is deeply in debt due to its economic crisis. Russia is also increasing its military firepower in Crimea and the Black Sea.

Once more oil is the key. New oil deposits were discovered in Ukraine in 2013. Agreements with both Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell soon followed. Offshore oil drilling in the Black Sea near both Crimea and Odessa was announced. The new and environmentally disastrous technology of fracking is planned in both eastern and western Ukraine.

Even more important are the pipelines Russia uses to ship natural gas to Europe. And Obama and the American oil industry are gushing about selling fracked U.S. liquid natural gas to Ukraine.

The truth is Ukraine’s economy depends on both Russia and Europe. But each side wants to exclude the other. Meanwhile, Ukraine has signed its new loan deal with the IMF, accepting severe cuts to public spending, privatization of public resources, and other austerity measures. Ultra-rich oligarchs continue to loot the country.

Volodymyr Ishchenko, an anti-capitalist sociologist in Kiev, puts it in a nutshell. “The crazy, irrational capitalist system that inevitably produces competing imperialisms … this is the root of the problem — not only for Ukraine, but for the entire world.”

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