What’s going on in Ukraine?

The recent events erupted in Ukraine within the last months are simply one of the most blatant examples of ongoing processes in different parts of the world. These processes have a twofold character: Popular masses, having had enough with poverty, misery and corrupt regimes, rise as a result of their deep discontent against the situation they have been through, involve in protests and rebel. Nevertheless, bourgeois forces, taking advantage of the lack of any revolutionary alternatives seek to manipulate and make use of the tremendous energy of these masses for their own interests. This is a common feature of all developments from Libya to Syria, from Venezuela to Ukraine. While capitalist system, passing through a historical crisis and imperialist war, is unable to prevent the working classes from revolting, these social movements, on the other hand, cannot spontaneously develop into a socialist revolution.

It is very obvious that following the break-up of the USSR, Western imperialists and Russia brought Ukraine to the verge of disaster in order to attain their own interests. While Western powers gained an advantage over the overthrown pro-Russian government, Russia de facto started to occupy Crimea where it has vital interests without even issuing an official statement. Meanwhile, it is only a matter of time for the expansion of this occupation to east Ukrainian territories. The country is, therefore, on the verge of separation and war. This move by Russia, who will not easily accept a pro-Western government change, will seriously increase the level of imperialist scramble. In addition to that, tensions between Western imperialists and Russia not only in Ukraine but also throughout the whole world are likely to mount.

It is very likely to be driven away to opposite extremes when the recent developments in Ukraine are not analysed with the right method. It is also equally wrong to see these recent social events as a “popular revolution” as it is wrong to define them as the “victory of fascism.” When social and political events are evaluated in terms of their position against American imperialism rather than their class characteristics and demands, one cannot help to make such kinds of mistakes. The USA is not the only imperialist power nor does it make other imperialists more preferable just because the USA is the current hegemonic power.

In that sense, it is very important to make an analysis of what really is going on in Ukraine and its likely effects. When these examples are better understood, other developments can be more properly interpreted and this lead to the following of right attitudes. By this way, the establishment of an independent political line for the working class will be possible.

From “Orange Revolution” to the “Maidan” Battle[1]

We have already said that the recent developments in Ukraine are part of the scramble between Western imperialism and Russia in the aftermath of the break-up of the USSR in 1991. Beneath this scramble lies the policy of containment and isolation of Russia especially by the USA via the newly-established countries that emerged after the break-up of the USSR. The disintegration of Yugoslavia, the “colourful revolutions” in Caucasia and Central Asia, all should be evaluated with regard to this policy.

Ukraine became an independent state with the break-up of the USSR in 1991, however, it continued to stay within the Commonwealth of Independent States which was under the hegemony of Russian federation.[2] As a matter of fact, pro-Russian governments kept on ruling in Ukraine until the “Orange Revolution” in April 2004. During this interim period, the economy entirely collapsed, national income fell by 60%, inflation rose to five-digit numbers, political decay and corruption went rampant and oligarchs emerged, who seized the national resources of the country via governments. These developments were accompanied an oppressive and authoritarian regime.

At that time when the working classes were driven to misery, the pro-Western bourgeois, utilising the unrest of broad masses, erected Yushchenko against pro-Russian Yanukovych as candidate for president (2004). However, Yanukovych won the elections by a narrow margin. Following Yushchenko’s objection to election results on grounds of allegations of rigging the elections, his supporters took to the streets. In the elections conducted following the decision of the Appeals Court to renew the elections, Yushchenko won and became the president while Timoshenko became the prime minister. This popular movement was called the “Orange Revolution” as it was the colour Yushchenko used in his election campaign. To understand what the “Orange Revolution” really is has a key importance in grasping what is currently happening in Ukraine.

As Ukraine has a great strategic importance (because for Russia, Ukraine is the gate to the Black Sea and then to the Mediterranean while, at the same time, it is located on energy transmission lines), a pro-Western government and inclusion of the country to NATO have been priorities of the USA. First, the USA sought the support of a section of the bourgeoisie which was not hard to achieve. Consisted of the oligarchs and the bureaucrats under their influence, the bourgeoisie did not hesitate to be on the USA-EU side as they were already close to the West for their economic and political interests and as they were afraid that the authoritarian regime can take what they have. This bourgeoisie initiated an anti-government campaign starting from the 2000s through the leaders like Yushchenko and Timoshenko with the support of Western countries. The campaign took hold among masses because of the anger at Russia and pro-Russian governments. Another reason is that the central and western regions of the country, which constituted the majority of the population, are historically closer to the West.[3]

It might be useful to explain a bit more the nature of the bourgeois politicians like Yushchenko and Timoshenko and the support provided by the USA to them. Yushchenko was one of the senior bureaucrats of the Soviet era and assigned to the presidency of the Ukraine Central Bank in 1993. He is one of the major architects of Ukraine’s capitalist transformation, one of the major representatives of the nascent bourgeoisie after the end of the Soviet era. On the other hand, Timoshenko is one of the oligarchs, the nascent rich. Her natural gas and energy company has occupied the first place in the natural gas import from Russia until 2004. This company has relations with American energy monopolies. Her fortune is measured by billions of dollars and she has been on trial many times on charges of corruption/bribery.

About the US support: It would be naïve to think that the role of the USA and other Western powers in “colourful revolutions” that erupted in former Soviet lands is solely an external political support. Herbst, who was assigned as the US ambassador to Ukraine in May 2003, is one of the behind-the-scenes organizers of the “Orange Revolution.” Herbst had previously served in Yugoslavia and Georgia and he is also one of the architects and executors of US foreign policy which is called “regime changes through peaceful protests.” Following the success of this method in Yugoslavia, Herbst was sent to Georgia in 2003 and there he organized “Rose Revolution” before he was sent to Ukraine. The very essence of this project of the USA, which was established based on a refinement of counter-insurgency methods of the Cold War era and their covering up by “peaceful” forms, depends on manipulating the existing reactions and unrest of the masses via various civil society organizations, media and legal-illegal means.

The main goal of the campaign which was initiated under the motto of Pora (“it’s time”) in 2001 was to advocate Ukraine’s membership to the NATO and the EU. Significant amounts of money was transferred to the campaign via various foundations and shell companies while, on the other hand, the experienced staff were sent to Ukraine following the “Rose revolution” in Georgia. Furthermore, a US-based public relations company designed and conducted the propaganda and advertisement organizations of the campaign. As a matter of fact, the major target among the large masses with anti-regime sentiments was especially the young population, university students coming from petty-bourgeois families with Western values. The major aim, here, was to create an anti-government young generation with a propaganda encouraging apoliticism and discouraging hard organising.

It is very obvious that US-Western support involving these methods has proceeded in the same way since it started in November 2013 in Ukraine, with two exceptions: This time, paramilitary fascist gangs who could go into armed combat when necessary were involved. Moreover, the senior politicians from the USA and from the European Union went to Ukraine and gave speeches to the masses in “Maidan.” This simply means that this time, Western imperialist powers expressed their support in a more overt way.

“Maidan Battle” for EU membership

Although a pro-American and pro-EU government has come to power following the “Orange Revolution” in 2004, things did not work out the way that those powers desired and, therefore, the pro-Western government could not last long. There are multiple reasons for this: First, the pro-Russian bourgeoisie has economic and political power as well as the pro-Western bourgeoisie. Second, even the pro-Western oligarchs have business both with Russia and the European Union at the same time. It is because the country has deep and important economic connections with Russia. Furthermore, the country is militarily depended on Russia and it is also under the pressure of Russia’s military supremacy. For these very reasons, the government was forced to follow balanced policies between Russia and the West. In addition to that, the government lost power in a very short period of time as a result of its own internal cleavages and the pressure of Russia (Russia cut its natural gas transfer to Ukraine in 2008 when Ukraine’s NATO membership was on the agenda and it also threatened that it would cut the natural gas transfer even to the EU). Following these developments, pro-Russian Yanukovych has won the presidential elections in 2010. In this way, the idea of Ukraine’s NATO membership collapsed and its process of EU membership proceeded only in a low level.

As a matter of fact, it is not correct to define any of these governments as entirely pro-Western or pro-Russian. In parallel with development of capitalism, the Ukrainian bourgeoisie feels the necessity to follow more extroversive policies, policies encouraging integration to world markets. Nevertheless, economic and political connections with Russia are so deep-rooted that it is not easy to break them. Moreover, Ukrainian economy, bottom out with the impact of the global crisis in 2008, is in permanent dependence on external debts. Under these circumstances, both the European Union and Russia did not want to give credits needed by Ukraine without strict conditions.

For the imperialist powers, the USA, EU and Russia, their own interests carry more importance than that of Ukraine’s. The major purpose of the US government is to win Ukraine to its own sphere of influence via NATO membership and, thus, cut one of the vital veins of Russia. On the other hand, European countries, particularly Germany seek to expand their markets by getting Ukraine into the EU just like they did with other Eastern European countries. As for Russia, losing Ukraine and Crimea is a serious problem like losing lifelines. It is for these reasons that the oscillatory balance policies of Ukrainian governments do not fully satisfy any of these imperialist powers and Ukraine is, therefore, always exposed to external pressures.

The pressure of imperialist powers increased polarization in Ukraine and laid the ground for an environment which would nearly divide the country by segmenting the country almost in every respect. It is, therefore, necessary to analyse the current “Maidan” battle within this framework.

For the bourgeois media, what sparked the course of events was the attitude of Yanukovych who backed down from signing a partnership agreement with the European Union which was supposed to be signed in November 2013. It is true that Yanukovych, who could not resist Russian pressure, backed down from signing the agreement in the very last minute, however, the hard conditions imposed by the EU have equally been influential in taking this decision. The moment Yanukovych announced the EU process was suspended in order to make a reassessment for a choice between Russia and the EU, the masses gathered in the streets following the call of Timoshenko and they occupied the “Maidan” in the capital city of Kiev (the other name of the square is the “Independence Square”).

When the attempt of the opposition parties to bring down the government via a vote of confidence failed, 500 thousand people were gathered in Kiev with the slogan “government resign” and, after that, various government buildings were occupied. The tension remained even after Russia’s gesture of 15 billion dollars and the following commercial concessions but clashes mounted with the inclusion of fascist groups of 100-200 people. When the protests started to spread to the other western cities in late January and the police could not cope with the protestors, Yanukovych retreated by accepting many demands of the opposition and offered to assign one of the opponents as the prime minister. Following this offer which did not satisfy the opponents, 12 governors in western cities and the prime minister resigned. Meanwhile, all opposition leaders went to Germany and talked with the leaders of the EU and US secretary of state, Kerry. Then the army stated that they would not be part of the clashes and declared that the government should immediately take necessary measures in order to ensure peace in the country.

In mid-February, when a proposal for constitutional amendment cutting the powers of the president would be discussed in the assembly, 40 deputies from the opposition parties stormed the assembly desk and prevented the assembly from working. At the same time, fascist groups started to mount clashes along with calls for armament and war. The violent reaction of the police against the armament of these fascist groups caused 60 people to lose their lives within few days. Although the moderate wing of the opposition which constitutes the majority of the opposition parties had arrived at a deal with Yanukovych, the parliament dismissed Yanukovych from presidency in late February due to the pressure of Germany-USA and of the radical wing which contains fascist groups. The decision was taken by not allowing the deputies of the governing party to enter parliament. After this incidence, Yanukovych secretly escaped to Russia.

As this summary of incidents indicates, this is not a grassroots movement or a “revolution” marked by the working classes, but instead, there is a bourgeois scramble that imperialists overtly take part. The majority of the industrial proletariat did not participate in the protests since industrial enterprises are largely located in the eastern part of the country. The common ground of the mobilized masses is their anti-Russian sentiments. Moreover, there is a strict geographical division in the country: while the central and western parts of the country generally supported the movement, eastern and southern parts opposed it. On the other hand, the demands of the movement has been highly limited; the signing of the agreement with the European Union and the resignation of the government. Slogans about political freedom on a general level or economic betterment of conditions of the public did not come forward. The words of the overthrown prime minister uttered in the initial phase of this process which lasted more or less three months give a clear explanation of the nature of the process: “Russia does not give us any guarantee, Europe does not give us any guarantee. What are we? A combat zone?”

No doubt that “EU membership” amounts to a better life, end of unemployment and poverty and more democracy in the minds of the protesting masses. However, with the impact of this illusion, the energy of the masses served the interests of pro-Western bourgeoisie and Western imperialists. Even when we are to use the term “revolution” for a moment, we would face a bizarre situation such as “revolution carried out for EU membership!” Let alone the nonsense (if not consciously) of calling every social unrest a revolution, it is not even possible to say that there is a situation that can be affirmed or to take sides with. The ongoing war takes place between the two bourgeois camps where imperialist powers are overtly a part of.

Those who tell the truth about Ukraine get puzzled in Gezi

For communists, the conclusion to be drawn from these assessments is to be alert on not falling into a position of taking sides in bourgeois scrambles and to try to create a true revolutionary alternative to prevent workers and toilers from getting involved in bourgeois polarisations. Of course what is said here is not only valid for Ukraine. We can say that it also makes sense for the bourgeois polarisation that gradually mounted after Gezi protests. It is very essential to make such a warning because the majority of the socialist movement in Turkey attributed great significance to Gezi process and only after the incidents slowed down (that is to say that, after it was understood that Gezi would not produce a “revolution”), they have become able to make more reasonable assessments. Nevertheless, the attempt to justify their positions on the basis of making analyses on Ukraine and making groundless comparisons with other examples across the world still continues.

For pro-Gezi socialists, there is no common ground between what happens in Ukraine and Gezi protests and there can never be! While they explain recent developments in Ukraine rightly within the framework of the scramble between imperialist powers and sections of the bourgeoisie, they seek, on the other hand, to put the Gezi protests in the same category of what happened in Egypt, Tunisia and Greece. This is to try to cover up the mistake. No doubt that in each example there are different peculiarities and dynamics. Moreover, there is no need to describe Gezi and “Maidan” as same. However, isn’t it true that in both cases, unorganized masses have been the buttress in the fight among sections of the bourgeoisie, that a great part of industrial workers did not participate in the movement and that those working layers which participated in the movement did not do that with their own class identities and organisations? Then why is it defended that one should not be part of the bourgeois scramble and that the recent developments cannot be defined as revolution in Ukraine but what happened in Gezi is compared to “Paris Commune” or “68 Spring”? Why tail-ending the CHP and taking side in the bourgeois scramble based on a mere anti-AKP stance on the basis of Kemalism? Does one need similar developments to take place abroad and that the imperialists be so much in evidence in order to correctly grasp the problem?

Some of these “pro-Gezi” socialists tried so hard to cover this striking contradiction that they even became distant from Marxism by presenting the movement in Ukraine as excessively negative and bad. According to them, there has been a fascist coup d’état in Ukraine and fascism has won a victory! It should be noted that the pro-Russian, statist and Stalinist remnants of the past also play a role in the socialist support for this discourse, used also by Putin and Yanukovych. The fact that fascist groups played a leading role in street fights especially towards the end of the process, that the fascist Svoboda party was much in evidence though they a minority within the ranks of the opposition, that members of fascist gangs were included in the new police force after the overthrow of Yanukovych and that Svoboda demanded Russian not be an official language any more, are cited as evidence for this argument.

There is strong evidence to believe that these fascist groups were organised by oligarchs and CIA agents. Moreover, these fascist groups exacerbated the clashes following the deal between the moderate wing of the opposition and Yanukovych. Nevertheless, the fact that these groups took the lead in street fights and the inclusion of a few thousands fascists to the police force do not necessarily mean that fascism took over the government. It is true that bourgeois opposition and imperialists used these fascist forces, however, those who have taken over the government are the well-known westernist and right-wing bourgeois parties.

We have already said that the thesis of “victory of fascism” emerged from the need to justify the erroneous attitudes in Gezi. Theoretical background is composed of the following ideas: First, by saying that “the rightmost elements are those who behave in a way to serve the highest interests within the existing hierarchy (that is to say the interests of the USA),” pro-Russian forces are charecterised as “less right-wing” or “non-fascist.” This happens when pro-Russian armed militia in Crimea occupied state institutions with slogans of “Great Russia” and when the record of pro-Russian parties who were in power for long are so obvious…

The theory of choosing one of the imperialists is done in the following way: “The parties are not on equal terms with each other in the struggle for hegemony between Western imperialism and Russia and China. That means that the hegemonic power of the world capitalist system is the bloc of the USA and the EU. Therefore, all the analyses that take the parties of the struggle as equals and do not focus their criticism on Western imperialism would be wrong from the standpoint of the left. What is more, the existence of the forces that upset the games of imperialism in the region just as Syria is currently doing and that undermine and weaken US hegemony are positive for the progressive forces from every respect. It would therefore be right to say that the attitude of treating the parties of the new Cold War on equal terms and not turning the hegemonic power of the world’s capitalist system into a target is nothing but apoliticism under guise of radicalism.” (FatihYaşlı,

What does that mean? Socialists should defend Russia and China against the USA and the EU and when it is necessary, defend the dictators such as Gaddafi and Assad or reactionary regimes such as in Iran! We take it confusing why these great policy experts with their great ideas now do not support the “anti-imperialist” Erdoğan who challenged the USA and the EU!

These conceptions and tendencies work to make the working classes in the countries that witness social movements exploited by bourgeois scrambles to take sides on one of these bourgeoisie camps. Well, is it possible with this mentality to shape the independent policy of the working class and create a revolutionary alternative?

Getting off the grip of imperialist scramble

Under current circumstances, the working classes are divided in Ukraine as pro-Westernists and pro-Russian. This happens when the country is on the verge of entering the process of imperialist war and of separation along the lines of imperialist interests. As we have already discussed above, Russian army started a large scale of military exercises in Ukrainian border under Putin’s orders and this was followed by the occupation of the airports in Crimea by Russian troops in Sevastopol and the hoisting of the Russian flag after the occupation of some public buildings (including parliament). This manoeuvre of Russia was followed by the press release of Yanukovych in a Russian city near the border. In a nutshell, Yanukovych has stated that he did not recognize the new government in Ukraine, he represented the legitimate government, and he would come back and seek his right. In this public statement, Yanukovych did not forget to ask Russian help. Meanwhile, Crimean parliament occupied by pro-Russian militia formed a new government by excluding pro-Ukrainian Tatar deputies and on the 25th of May (election day in Ukraine), it announced that it would put the issue of separation from Ukraine to referendum. After these developments that took place only within a few days, Putin obtained the approval of the Assembly to use military force in Ukraine and then, tens of thousands of Russian soldiers were transferred to Crimea whereas a part of these soldiers were transferred to some points in Ukraine. That simply means that Russia de facto invaded Crimea and took the control in east Ukraine. At the same time, some pro-Russian protests happened in the region and some soldiers as well as military officers from Ukrainian army at various levels (including the new Commander of the Naval Forces that was recently appointed by Ukrainian Assembly) aligned themselves with Russia. In addition to that, the protests of Crimean Tatars against the invasion and independence referendum continue.

The new Ukrainian government declared mobilization, announced that it deemed these occupation initiatives of Russia as casus belli and asked for Western help. However, the West did not yet answer these calls in a serious way to deter the “Russian bear.” The West “seriously condemned” this attitude of Russia and threatened Russia to exclude it from G-8 and start economic and commercial isolation. It is very obvious that none of these threats will have much influence over Russia and Putin will absolutely not step back. Under these circumstances, we can summarize the possibilities and outcomes in the following way. Either the new government will assure convincing guarantees that Russia’s interests will not be harmed (that simply means that Ukraine will not be member of NATO or EU) or the country will be de facto divided. On the other hand, it is disputable to what extend the West, which did not offer its support asked for by Ukraine against these daring manoeuvre of Russia, is against the perspective of a separation of Ukraine. The worst scenario is that NATO would be involved in the process and an imperialist war would start in Ukraine. The consequences of such an incidence would be beyond what is expected and unfortunately, even in the best scenario, the ground of a reactionary civil war has been prepared in the country.

What is worse, in all these scenarios, peoples in Ukraine will lose. Even in the best option offered to the working people by imperialist and capitalist powers, there is plenty of pain, misery, blood and death. For this very reason, the working class has no choice but to create its own revolutionary option.

[1] Maidan is a Turkish word. Together with “battle” it means “Pitched Battle”

[2] On December 1991, Ukraine, Russian Federation and Belarus established the Commonwealth of Independent States with a common agreement. Initially, the 11 countries out of 15 countries within the former USSR were involved in this Commonwealth. The reason why the membership of Ukraine is considered a de facto membership is simply because Ukrainian parliament did not ratify the decision that Ukraine was one of the founders of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

[3]The current Ukraine should be historically taken as formed of three different regions. The central and western parts of the country remained as Polish and Lithuanian territories until the Tsarist Russia’s occupation of Poland. The people living in these territories speak Ukrainian and constitute 77% of the population of Ukraine. There is a historical anti-Russian sentiment among Ukrainian people which has two fundamental reasons: Many people lost their lives from famine as a result of Stalin’s “collectivisation” policies followed in early 1930s and oppressive policies of the Soviet regime in the following period. On the other hand, Russian speaking people constitute more than 50 percent of the population in the eastern and southern parts of the country. Those regions have been an extension of Russia and Russian culture since the Tsarist Russia. The fact that the majority of industrial basins were established in this region led to an economic “dependence” on Russia, which is still the case. Despite the fact that Crimea in the Southern part of the country has historically been the land of Crimean Tatars, Tatar people constitute only the 13 percent of the Crimean population as Tatar population has been expelled to remote regions of the country from the last years of the Tsarist Russia and they were also exposed to serious pressures under orders of Stalin. It can therefore be said that Tatar people have a hostile attitude against Russia for the similar historical reasons.

Marksist Tutum, March 2014, n.108