Friday, February 21, 2014

Ukraine on a knife edge

by Stephen Morgan in Brussels
At the time of writing, on the afternoon of Friday 21st in the Ukraine, it looks unlikely that the opposition activists on Maidan Square will accept a proposed compromise deal to call off protests which was brokered by EU negotiators with President Yanukovych. The so-called settlement offers a vague promise to reduce the powers of the President and calls for new elections for the Presidency by December and the formation of a coalition government with the opposition leaders within 10 days.
After more than 70 dead and 500 yesterday in armed battles with the police, the protesters expect the immediate resignation of Yanukovych and the calling of new parliamentary elections. As far as they are concerned, Yanukovych's hands are indelibly stained with blood and many are calling for his head. After months of zigzags and hollow promises, followed by his orders to crush the revolt in blood, regardless of the loss of human life, nobody trusts him. Yanukovych looks increasingly like the Yemeni dictator, Saleh, desperately manoeuvring to hold onto power, while searching for opportunities to crush the revolution.

The situation is far from resolved. As one protester told the BBC “What an insult this so called agreement is. "Early" elections says Yanukovych. They were already going to be held in 2015 so December 2014 is hardly early. Does he think the Ukrainian people are stupid? And what about him resigning and going on trial? Surely this is the first prerequisite of any agreement.”
Despite the pull back of police from the Parliament buildings it is not at all sure that Yanukovych  still doesn't have a plan to crush the uprising and is biding his time. An editor for the UK's ITV Europe Channel tweeted that Polish Foreign Minister Sikorski was overheard telling protest leaders 'If you don't support this deal you will have martial law, the army. You'll be dead'

There is no doubt that Yanukovych was prepared to do whatever it took to suppress the rebellion and that may still be the case. On Thursday morning the Interior Ministry issued a statement authorizing the use of fire arms for police and security forces. Photos and videos have confirmed the actions of police snipers shooting innocent protesters from roof tops, complimented by recordings of their orders to fire, passed down to them in Russian, not Ukrainian. This was supplemented by indiscriminate firing of live ammunition from police at street level and brutal violence by the hated Berkut special police, backed by the so-called “titushki” gangs of government thugs.

At one point it appeared that the attempt to retake the Maidan Square would succeed, however, after risking their lives with incredible courage and determination, the protesters were able to repel the police and push them out of the Square. Some of the opposition forces retaliated with gun fire of their own and ran into police lines brandishing wooden clubs, iron bars and axes. By dusk they had reclaimed all of the territory lost in the original police assault.

70 police were captured or surrendered and were held inside a building next door to city hall. Morale among police is now low after their defeat and it is not at all sure that the police wont split or disintegrate. There are many reports and photos of police who are deserting. There is also evidence that special police marksmen were posing as opposition members and shooting ordinary police in a desperate attempt to instigate them into retaliation against the protesters.

But the counter-revolution didn't go to plan. Yanukovych has been forced to call on the army and special military forces to try to crush the revolt, since he is obviously uncertain that the police wont cave in or mutiny. On Thursday morning, it was reported that trains with "40 carriages of military servicemen" were headed towards Kiev from Kremenchuk and that opposition activists were blocking the tracks in front of a train carrying 500 paratroopers from Dnepropetrovsk to the capital. Military transport planes were also photographed landing in Kiev and overnight in the capital a battalion of marines from Crimea arrived by special train.

But the attempt to use special forces is also an admission of weakness, as Yanukovych is afraid that

ordinary conscript troops would go over to the side of the masses, bringing with them their weapons and equipment. This was underlined by the fact that the President dismissed the chief of the army on Thursday and replaced him the admiral of the fleet. The military chief has admitted on TV that he refused to obey orders to use the army against the protesters.
In another indication that sections of the security forces could break down and turn against each other was the arrival of police from the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine, who joined the Kiev protesters under the command of their Police Colonel Vasyl Krykyavsky, who vowed to defend the opposition with their weapons. Civilian reinforcements for the opposition are also arriving in their hundreds each day from the provinces.

The country is breaking up. The central government has now lost control over half of the country. The security forces have been totally unable to suppress the continuing rebellion in the West, where they have either revolted or find their offices burned to the ground. There have been revolts in cities of  Ivano-Frankivsk, Lviv, Lutsk, Khmelnitsky, Ternopil, Uzhgorod, Vinnitsa, Poltava, Sumy and  Kharkiv. The regional government  in Ukraine's western Transcarpathia Region has voted to declare the region "free of Yanukovych rule" and  the Ivano-Frankivsk region voted to no longer recognize the central government and described President Yanukovych, as an “illegitimate head of state.”
At the same time, the pro-Yanukovych Council of Russian-speaking Crimea has hinted at separation stating that “secession from Ukraine is possible: There is a possibility that the country will fall apart. This is where the things are heading."

Clear splits have opened up now in the ruling class as the scenes of violence escalate and bureaucrats fear for their political lives. The chief of the Kiev city administration denounced the crackdown and ordered the reopening of the metro, which was closed by security forces to stop reinforcements from reaching the protesters in downtown Kiev.

A top figure in Ukraine's ruling party, Serhiy Tyhypko, criticized the government on Facebook saying that "the president, parliament speaker, acting prime minister and opposition leaders have totally lost control of the situation." There are also reports that leading politicians have left for the airport to take charted planes with cash suitcases delivered by armoured vehicles. Employees at Zhulyany airport in Kiev told the media that the number of charter flights was three times higher than on other days and that many "expensive cars" were arriving at the VIP terminal.

Unfortunately, some on the left are de facto supporting this repressive government. The fact that the opposition movement has confused demands over the EU and other issues and that a minority of the extreme-right (who in fact oppose joining the EU!) have played a prominent role in the fighting, isn't a reason to stand with the enemies of the working class in the government or to simply write off the masses who are now under attack from bourgeois counter-revolutionary forces backed by Russian Imperialism.

An article on the BBC yesterday showed exactly who these people and how the Yanukovych bureaucracy is backed by the super rich, capitalist oligarchs, who together make up the ruling elite in the Ukraine, jointly exploiting the working class and enriching themselves through profiteering and corruption.

“Ukraine's richest man, Rinat Akhmetov,” the report points out, “is the main financial backer of the regime and a long-standing ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, was, until recently, a member of parliament. These privileges can yield substantial benefits. ..reports that Mr Akhmetov's businesses obtained 31% of all state tenders in January 2014....Mr Akhmetov controls a group of around 50 MPs in parliament.”

Mr Yanukovych's son tops even this, having "won" 50% of state contracts in the same period.
“Other powerful business moguls inside the Party of Regions include Vadim Novinsky, the third-richest man in Ukraine, and Serhiy Tigipko, a former presidential candidate and minister of labour.....................the so-called "Firtash group" in the parliament is led by gas magnate Dmytro Firtash and Vice-Prime Minister Igor Boyko. It includes around 30 MPs. A close ally of Mr Firtash, Serhiy Liovochkin, has resigned as Head of the Presidential Administration but remains an advisor to Mr Yanukovych. ” Can anyone on the left seriously make excuses for such people?

A big question is whether the oligarchs and a section of the bureaucracy will now turn against Yanukovych. They may decide that the government's actions cannot succeed and are beginning to threaten their overall interests. The new EU sanctions against them will sting and the internal economic situation is deteriorating rapidly. The banking system is on the verge of collapse and can no longer supply money for withdrawals. Foreign investors are jumping ship and fearful of a contagious spread of revolution to Ukraine's neighbours, are pulling out of Eastern Europe, provoking currency crises.

The EU capitalists are imposing sanctions, but not for democratic reasons. Obviously public outrage in the West means they have to be seen to criticize Yanukovych's actions, but the real reason for their intervention is that they are terrified that their supplies of oil and gas from Russia, via pipelines through the Ukraine, will be disrupted, thus causing an economic crises and dashing hopes for a recovery.

The Kremlin, which must have given the green light to the repression, has misjudged the balance of
forces. The entire situation could now backfire on Putin, as unrest spreads like gangrene to Russia and its satellite states. The scenes of revolt have already infected Bosnia and Montenegro to the south. Unrest could now break out in the rest of the Balkans, in neighbouring Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and any other number of former Soviet republics.

The genie is now out of the bottle and whatever they do – even if repression temporarily succeeds- they can never put it back. Even if it turns into a further new battle and Yanukovych succeeds, there will never be stability. The country will be in a permanent state of chaos racked by urban guerilla warfare, terrorism and popular rebellion.

At this point, Russia is unlikely to intervene, as this would lead to a conflagration and they would end up fighting a war of liberation. It would be a dangerous move, even if it was to consolidate the eventual break up of the Ukraine into two separate countries based on the Ukrainian-speaking West and the Russian-speaking East. But the ruling caste in Russia is saturated with an Imperialist outlook and it isn't the most intelligent of elites or the most skilful in terms of tactics.

But the European and other ruling classes around the world are looking on in horror at the events from a wider angle. Regardless of its pro-capitalist, sometimes nationalistic character and the factor of some extreme right-wing groups, the international bourgeoisie is witnessing how its utmost lines of defense against the masses can just crumble under the determined counter-assault of an opposition movement. All the sophisticated anti-riot equipment and crowd control devices, the water cannons, the tear gas, the stun grenades and the supposedly mighty new body armour of the police cannot defend them. Even the use of live ammunition will not stop people.

So what now for the rebellion and its tasks? In the first place, the opposition has to face the fact that it cannot fully succeed unless it wins the support of the workers in the Russian-speaking East. These workers are just as cognizant of the exploitation of the oligarchs and the corruption and antidemocratic methods of the bureaucracy. They despise them as much as their brothers and sisters in the west do. They only support them because they fear for their jobs and families if ties to the Russian market are cut and European goods flood the Ukraine undermining their older and less efficient industries.

Therefore, the opposition needs to guarantee the jobs of these workers. It must promise that to save jobs it will expropriate the oligarchs and re-nationalize privatized factories and mines, while also removing bureaucrats who run them. By expropriating the oligarchs it can use their profits to reinvest in modernizing those industries. Waste and inefficiency can be removed by extending genuine democracy to the workplace, where workers elect their own management and experts to run the enterprises. Then a democratic plan of production, drawn up by workers' representatives and independent experts, could reconstruct and develop the Ukrainian economy.

The same is true of the political sphere, where a new regime should eliminate the rule of corrupt charlatans and big business backers and, instead, provide for the election of real representatives of the people. It should stipulate that under a new regime, no members of parliament should receive more than the average wages of a worker and their expense accounts would be open to public scrutiny and any business interests would be forbidden.

Can this be achieved on the basis of the present political system? Surely, the events of the last months have shown that the office of the Presidency, the government and the parliament are really a sham, which are organized to thwart the rule of the people, block all reforms and defend the interests of the ruling class. They are little more than organizing centers for counter-revolution and the question has to be raised as to whether parliament and the Presidency should be abolished altogether.

Wouldn't it be better to have a clean sweep and instead abolish parliament and hold elections to a new Constituent Assembly in which representatives would be subject to the immediate right of recall by their electors? This, together with the democratic running of society and industry by working people would be a new form of democracy which would be a beacon to people in other countries, including Russia. On that basis, it would be more possible to negotiate fare and friendly trade agreements with both the East and the West.

* Down with Yanukovych! Arrest the President and make him stand trial for mass murder and crimes against the people.
* Immediate elections!
* Down with the stooge parliament!
* For a Constituent Assembly based on direct representation and right of recall.
* End corruption! No political representatives should receive more than a workers' wage.
* Workplaces should come under the democratic control of workers and employees.
* Protect all jobs in both the east and west of the country.
* Expropriate the oligarchs and use there riches to invest in the creation of jobs and the modernization of industry throughout the country.
*  For a democratically-controlled economic recovery plan based on the input of workers and independent experts!
* No to separation! For an independent, democratic and united Ukraine!
* For the spreading of the revolution to Russia and the rest of the world and the introduction of a fair and just, international economic plan of cooperation for trade and investment.
* For a new and modern form of genuinely democratic socialism worldwide.

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