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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 78/No. 16      April 28, 2014

 

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(lead article)
Moscow intervention spurs
protests in Ukraine, Russia
 
AP/Alexander Zemlianichenko
More than 10,000 people in Moscow protest Russian intervention in Ukraine April 13.

BY JOHN STUDER  
Small pro-Moscow paramilitary units have seized government and police buildings in a number of cities across eastern Ukraine, including Donetsk, Horlivka, Kramatorsk and Mariupol. These provocations are part of an operation by the capitalist government in Russia to destabilize Ukraine, create a pretext for possible further intervention and deal blows to the popular movement that drew hundreds of thousands into action — speakers of Ukrainian and Russian alike — and toppled the government of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Similar provocations in Crimea served as a prelude to Moscow’s annexation of the peninsula last month and the mobilization of some 40,000 Russian troops near Ukraine’s eastern border where they remain today.

On April 15, Ukrainian army special forces troops finally began to move against forces organized by Moscow, liberating the airport in Kramatorsk.

Meanwhile, workers and others have been organizing local self-defense units in response to ongoing provocations. “What happened in Zaporizhia was instructive,” Euromaidan PR reported April 16. “The ‘pro-Russian’ protesters turned out to be mostly members of a local criminal gang, paid to stir up trouble. People came out by the thousands to surround them. It’s no secret that people are organizing and arming themselves in the East in pro-Ukrainian partisan groups.”

“In Sverodonetsk and Lysychansk, law enforcement and miners worked closely together to shut down any outbursts of separatism,” Voices of Ukraine reported April 15.

The Ukraine government April 15 released recordings of phone calls between four Russian military operatives in eastern Ukraine and their handlers in Russia. A handler applauds the agents’ reports of killing Ukrainians and instructs one, code-named “Shooter,” to do an interview with Russian TV and “demand federalization, governor’s elections” and “emphasize that the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine parliament] should not be allowed to accept external financial support without support of two-thirds of oblasts [provinces].”

For the most part, police forces in the east — unchanged since the overthrow of Yanukovych — either permitted or helped to organize provocations. A big majority of cops in Donetsk defected to the Moscow-backed forces, taking the regional administration building and appealing for Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops.

But the provocations have received very little support among working people. Sergei Baryshnikov, a 53-year-old former history professor who was recently proclaimed a “deputy” in the pro-Moscow “Donetsk People’s Republic,” told the Wall Street Journal April 9 that “miners and steelworkers haven’t joined the pro-Russia movement.”

In Luhansk, 35 miles from the Russian border, more than 1,000 took to the streets to protest the provocations April 13. Sizable rallies also took place in Odessa and Zaporizhia. More than 1,000 rallied in Kharkiv April 12. And hundreds of miners and others rallied in the city square of the eastern mining city of Krivii Rig.

“We’ve been in contact with miners in Luhansk, Donetsk and other cities,” Yuriy Petrovych, president of the city-wide Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine in Krivii Rig, told the Militant April 9. “Miners know that if Russia seizes some of our cities, there will be no work in the mines within a month. We know what’s at stake and we are determined to fight to keep a united Ukraine. That’s what our comrades in all the eastern cities are organizing to do.”

“We are organized to prevent Russian forces or their supporters from taking any government buildings here,” Petrovych said. “Earlier today we heard there was a possible attack at the city square and we mobilized our self-defense groups to go down. No one showed up. People know we are prepared here.”

These actions and preparations reflect the overwhelming sentiment of working people across Ukraine. A recent poll by the Kiev-based Democratic Initiatives Foundation suggests only 8 percent of Ukrainians are in favor of secession. In Donetsk, the main city in the east, it is 18 percent.

In Moscow, more than 10,000 joined an April 13 “march for truth,” to protest Russian intervention in Ukraine and the barrage of lies by government-backed media. Russia’s Union of Journalists was among the protest organizers. Similar actions took place in St. Petersburg and other cities in Russia.

Russian government-dominated media claim Ukraine is now dominated by a “junta” of fascists and anti-Semites under Washington’s control and posing a threat to Russian-speaking people in the country.

“I was in Kiev. To anyone who hasn’t yet been there, I advise you to go,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, one of the members of Pussy Riot, said April 1. “It’s peaceful in Kiev. I didn’t get attacked even once ‘by bands of neo-Nazis.’”

Tolokonnikova traveled to Kiev with fellow Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina. The two spent 21 months in Russian prisons on charges of “hooliganism motivated by religions hatred” for a demonstration inside Moscow’s Orthodox Christian cathedral in 2012 against government repression and the growing political power of the church hierarchy.

“I spoke Russian and did not get slapped in the face,” said Tolokonnikova. “I got smiles and words of thanks that there are Russians who do not support the aggressor Putin. … Maidan is a place of unbelievable power.”

The Russian government of President Putin is acting from a position of weakness and vulnerability. Russia’s economic crisis is likely to get much worse given its dependence on exports of oil and gas, whose prices on the world market are posed to continue falling.

Among working people and others, the government faces widespread anti-war sentiments based on the experiences of recent decades in Afghanistan, Chechnya and Georgia. And the capitalist class, in whose interest the Putin government acts, is in its majority more interested in further stabilizing capitalist social relations and long-term profitability than unpredictable military adventures.

Meanwhile, the Ukraine economy continues to deteriorate. The hryvnia, the country’s currency, has lost more than 35 percent of its value against the dollar since the beginning of 2014. The country’s debts continue to grow. And Moscow has imposed higher prices for Russian gas imports.

The International Monetary Fund said it will provide $18 billion in loans on the condition that Kiev takes steps to boost profitability and attract foreign investment. Ukraine’s interim government has agreed to slash the subsidy for energy costs to workers and to put a cap on wage raises and pensions.

Unemployment continues to grow as orders for plants and mines connected to Russia are being cut. “Wages at the mine have been lowered,” Yuriy Petrovych said from Krivii Rig, where iron-ore miners work for EVRAZ, a Russian group. “Promised big project investments to develop the mine have all come to a stop.”
 
 
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