Demonstration against Russian invasion of Crimea March 10 in Crimean village of Eskisaray outside Simferopol. Signs read, “Ukraine is not Russia” and “Crimea is Ukraine.”
Invasion of Crimea
raises threat of war
BY JOHN STUDER
Russian soldiers, including special forces, are being deployed across Crimea to solidify Moscow’s brutal occupation of that southern Ukrainian peninsula by the Black Sea. They have surrounded Ukraine military posts, taken over the parliament building and “disappeared” opponents of the Russian occupation. They are aided by gangs recruited among ethnic Russians who emigrated there in previous decades as part of Moscow’s efforts to Russify Crimea.
Thousands of troops from the Russian naval base at Sevastopol have been reinforced by 16,000 troops brought over the Russian border. On March 10 Russian troops were “moving methodically down roads in convoys that included BTR armored personnel carriers, mobile electronic warfare vehicles and transport trucks with beds packed with troops in helmets,” the New York Times reported.
The government of Russian President Vladimir Putin has threatened further war moves in Ukraine and beyond. Putin claims that the new Ukraine government is a mob of fascists and anti-Semites who are attacking Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Moscow asserts it has the right to intervene in Crimea, in eastern and southern Ukraine, and, in the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Putin also ordered military drills in the Baltic Sea. On March 4 the Russian president accused Lithuania and Poland of training “extremists” who overthrew Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. The Russian parliament voted to approve the use of force to defend Russian speakers outside Russia.
“Had Putin failed to request permission to use force,” Sergey Markov, a pro-Putin commentator, told Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian tabloid, U.S. and European NATO troops would “have been in Moscow.”
The invasion comes in response to months of mass mobilizations against the pro-Russian Ukraine government of Yanukovych. After a failed attempt to outlaw public protests and his riot police killed more than 80 protesters, Yanukovych lost all political support and fled to Russia. Millions of workers and farmers celebrated their victory in overthrowing Russian domination of Ukraine.
A new government was formed, which called for elections on May 25. Thousands remain in the Maidan — Independence Square — in Kiev, the nation’s capital, determined to place their stamp on politics. In the political space that has opened, working people are debating what course they should take to defend and extend their victory.
“Right now we are thinking what steps should we make to change the system,” said Olga Bogomolets, a doctor who helped organize the network of medical clinics in the Maidan.
She turned down two positions she was offered in the new government, saying all she sees is “a few new faces, but our goal was not to change the faces.”
Bogomolets has been the victim of Russian propaganda that slandered the protests and branded participants as murderous thugs. Russia Today and other Putin-backed media have claimed that Bogomolets said protesters and police were killed with the same bullets during the riot police attacks that provoked outrage and hastened the fall of the Yanukovych government.
“Russia Today feasted on the story, presenting it as evidence to back President Vladimir Putin’s allegation that the deaths in Kyiv came at the hands of opposition provocateurs,” the March 8 Toronto Star reported.
But the story is made out of whole cloth. Bogomolets said the only people she saw who were killed were protesters shot by snipers.
There is also no evidence to support Putin’s accusation that the protesters are carrying out anti-Semitic pogroms. The Jerusalem Post reported Feb. 25, that Hillel Cohen, a representative of Hatzalah Ukraine, dressed in what he called a “visibly Jewish” fashion and walked from one end of the Maidan to the other. He didn’t meet any hostility, he said. In fact, Jewish activists have been among the combatants in the fight to bring down the Russian-dominated government, including at least one of those killed by cop snipers.
Putin and the Russian capitalist interests he represents are acting from a position of weakness. The country’s economy, based overwhelmingly on natural gas and oil, is weak and vulnerable in a world where prices of these commodities are under pressure as new and cheaper supplies are coming on the market. The propertied rulers in Russia see no other road but expansion of economic and political control in the “near abroad,” as they call the former Soviet republics on Russia’s border.
Putin feels encouraged by successfully backing off the administration of President Barack Obama in Syria and elsewhere. Soon after taking office Obama promoted the notion of a “reset” with Russia and the idea that U.S. foreign policy should be based more on diplomacy and dialogue and less on military action.
Russian forces orchestrated the proclamation of Sergei Aksyonov as new Crimean prime minister Feb. 27. Aksyonov is leader of the Russian Unity party, which won a tiny percent of the votes in the last parliamentary election and elected only three of the parliament’s 100 deputies.
On the day of the “vote” the legislature building was surrounded by masked Russian soldiers. Inside, according to Russian Unity, 61 of 100 deputies were present and voted to elect Aksyonov and set a referendum for Crimea to break with Ukraine and join Russia.
However, Reuters, Norwegian Aftenposten and other media have reported that numerous parliament members recorded in the official minutes as voting for the bill, did not even attend the meeting, and there was no quorum.
While the press is full of reports of Crimean connections with Russia to justify Moscow’s intervention, the fact is that the region is dependent on its integration with Ukraine. It receives more than 80 percent of its water, 82 percent of its electricity and 35 percent of its gas from Ukraine, as well as almost all its coal and steel.
Tatars a special target of Moscow
A special target of the Russian forces — who travel in military uniforms without identification in vehicles with Russian license plates — are the 270,000 native Crimean Tatars, who make up more than 12 percent of the province’s population. The Tatars have waged a centuries-long struggle against Russian national oppression — broken only by a flowering of national culture under the rule of Crimean workers and farmers allied with the Russian Revolution under the leadership of the Bolshevik Party and V.I. Lenin in the 1920s.
After the death of Lenin, a privileged social layer growing in the government apparatus carried through a counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin. The Stalinist regime arrested and murdered Tatar revolutionary leaders, reimposed Russification policies of the czarist era and trampled on the national rights of non-Russian people in Crimea and Ukraine.
Tatars have spearheaded mobilizations of tens of thousands — attended by significant numbers of Ukrainians and ethnic Russians — against the Russian invasion and secession ploy. These actions have been larger than counterdemonstrations by Russian Unity.
Refat Chubarov, leader of the Tatar Mejlis council, appealed March 6 on ATR TV for “all residents of Crimea, regardless of their ethnicity, to completely boycott” the referendum, saying there can be no free choice “at a time when there are troops on the streets.”
The referendum only allows two choices, both of which lead to separation from Ukraine. It includes no option for those who want to leave things as they are.
Tatars have also been organizing self-defense units to protect their communities from attack.
Many ethnic Russians also oppose the Russian occupation and referendum. “This is a farce,” Crimea resident Oleg Ilushkin, a railroad engineer born in Donbas, Russia, told the Wall Street Journal. “Who are these people to decide the course of my life and my children’s lives.”
Pussy Riot protests in Russia
Maria Alyokhina, one of the two members of Pussy Riot sentenced to two years in prison in 2012 for protesting Putin’s election as president, published an article March 2 against the Russian occupation of Crimea entitled “Russia is repeating 1968.” The reference is to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.
“Troops are marching through the streets of Crimea today,” Alyokhina said, at the same time police in Russia are “ready to grab and arrest those who have declared no to war.” Calling for action against the war and the Putin government, Alyokhina said, “We should decide how long we will live like this.”
Four days later, she and fellow Pussy Riot member Nadezhda Tolokonnikova were in Nizhny Novgorod where prisoners in the penal colony where Alyokhina had been jailed asked for their help. They were attacked by a gang of police-organized goons, who sprayed them with acidic green dye, threw garbage at them and pushed them around.
They have no plans to stop protesting.
Lenin led political battle for liberation of oppressed nations
Working people the world over should stand with fellow workers and farmers of Ukraine in demanding Russian troops out now! Defend the sovereignty of independent Ukraine!
The Russian government of President Vladimir Putin is raising the specter of war. This is a threat to workers and farmers of Ukraine — Ukrainian, Russian, Tatar, Jews, etc. — as well as to working people in Russia, the rest of the former Soviet republics, and beyond.
The Ukrainian toilers overthrew Moscow’s puppet government of Viktor Yanukovych, opening up space to debate, discuss and organize. Supporting their victory is part of advancing labor’s fight around the world against the bosses’ assaults on our living standards, rights and very dignity.
The Putin government’s annexationist maneuvers are being carried out under false claims of defending “self-determination” in Crimea and protecting ethnic Russians. Moscow is organizing a fake plebiscite at gunpoint as its state media spews a fountain of lies, which dries up in the face of every credible on-the-scene report. Russian speakers are not fleeing to the motherland. There is not a significant movement in Crimea in favor of joining Russia or becoming an “independent” vassal of Moscow. Russian churches and Jewish synagogues in Ukraine are not under assault.
The propertied rulers of both Russia and Ukraine — as well as in Western Europe and America — are driven by fear of the mobilization of working people. And it has found an echo in the “left,” including among many who claim to stand for socialism and the interests of the working class.
As self-serving justification for turning their back on the mobilizations of hundreds of thousands of working people in Ukraine, much of the radical left has clung to a fantastic tale of conspiracy: “Fascist forces have taken over in Ukraine, swept to power by a secret operation engineered from Washington.” The presumption is that U.S. imperialism is the one source of all problems and the enemy of my enemy is automatically my friend.
Further confusion comes wrapped in notions that the Russian regime is a progressive force in the world because it checks the influence of U.S. imperialism. Moscow is a rival of Washington. But both are enemies of working people. And in Ukraine, it’s Russian troops that are on the ground.
Others claim there are residual gains of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia today. There are not. And if there were, would that not be also true of Ukraine? This is a case of a stronger capitalist nation, Russia, attacking a weaker capitalist nation, Ukraine. It is an example of the Great Russian chauvinism that defined the czarist empire’s “prison house of nations” and that was revived as part of the bloody counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin in the 1920s.
This is why the truth about the early years of the Bolshevik government under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin following the 1917 Russian Revolution is so important. It is the only time in which the rights and aspirations of nations and peoples oppressed under the Russian empire were respected and championed. It is in that same Leninist tradition that the sovereignty of Ukraine must be defended today.
Hidden behind the slanders that demonstrators in Ukraine are “fascists” is a contemptuous view of workers and farmers, of their “backwardness,” their supposed ignorance and lack of sophistication. This begins with disdain toward workers at home, who naturally sympathize when they see people like them fighting against tyranny.
Working people should oppose Washington’s denial of visas to Russian officials, imperialist threats of sanctions against Russia or any U.S. intervention in the affairs of Ukraine, military or otherwise.
Workers in the U.S. and Western Europe should demand imperialist governments provide unconditional economic aid, not more loans, and cancel all debts to Ukraine on the brink of economic collapse.
And what if Ukraine joins the European Union trade alliance? We would join struggles by Ukrainian toilers against inevitable mass layoffs and other hardships the capitalist rulers of Europe would impose. And we would welcome the deeper integration of Ukrainian workers with the rest of their class in Europe.
The working class in the former Soviet republics was not defeated with the fall of the Soviet Union. The goal of the Russian regime in a war against Ukraine would be to deal major blows to the morale, confidence and combativeness of the working class. This is what the Stalinist bureaucracy was never able to accomplish, to the chagrin of the capitalist rulers in Europe and America.
Russian troops out! Defend Ukraine sovereignty! Oppose Moscow’s war moves!