The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 78/No. 10      March 17, 2014

(front page)
Russian troops occupy
Crimea in Ukraine
Putin targets popular overturn of Yanukovych
Reuters/Baz Ratner
Some 200 Ukrainian soldiers at Russian-occupied Belbek air force base in Crimea confront Russian troops, demanding right to take up their posts. They marched up to Russian forces, singing national anthem and disregarding warning shots. After seven-hour standoff, Russian troops backed down and 12 Ukrainian soldiers took up guard duty.

Moscow occupied Crimea February 28 and has threatened further incursions into Ukraine. Russian President and former KGB Colonel Vladimir Putin seeks to weaken and reverse the victory won by massive and sustained mobilizations of Ukrainian workers and farmers breaking free from Russian domination.

Thousands remain mobilized in Independence Square in central Kiev. They are determined to place their stamp on political developments following the overthrow of Moscow-backed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who fled Feb. 22.

Though you wouldn’t know it from the bourgeois press, tens of thousands have marched across Ukraine — from Kiev in the west to Odessa in the south and Dnipropetrovsk in the east — demanding that Russia withdraw from their country. The propertied rulers not only in Moscow, but also its rivals from Washington and Berlin, all fear the popular struggle for political space and independence.

The new Ukraine government reports the Kremlin has massed some 16,000 Russian troops in Crimea, a southern Ukrainian peninsula home to the Russian navy on the Black Sea.

For centuries Crimea was the homeland of the Tatar people. After the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of V.I. Lenin defended the right to self-determination for nationalities oppressed under the czarist regime. Both Crimea and Ukraine declared independence and were won to voluntary association as equal republics to Russia in the Soviet Union.

After the death of Lenin, a growing privileged social layer based in the government apparatus carried through a thoroughgoing counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin. In years that followed the Stalinist government arrested and murdered indigenous revolutionary leaders and trampled over national rights of non-Russian peoples in Crimea and Ukraine.

The Russification policy of the old czarist empire — the importation of Russians to weaken the influence of Ukrainian and Tatar peoples — was revived.

In 1944, during the Second World War, Stalin slandered the entire Tatar people as agents of Hitler and forcibly uprooted them to Uzbekistan, Siberia and the Urals. Nearly half of the Tatar population died in the process.

Beginning in the 1960s and especially after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Tatars began returning to their Crimean homeland where they faced discrimination, their lands now occupied by Russian settlers. There are 270,000 Tatars among the 2 million people in Crimea and they overwhelmingly support the fight for Ukrainian independence from Russia.

After the fall of Yanukovych’s government, Russian state media peddled a tale of anarchy and brutal reprisals against Russian speakers in Ukraine. A Russian foreign ministry statement decried “excesses of militants on Maidan, the bullying of their political opponents and ordinary citizens, anti-Semitism, militant-Russophobia and the desecration of monuments to the heroes of World War II.”

Russian television spun accounts of hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians fleeing over to Russia to escape the carnage. The images shown on screen, however, turned out to be cars lined up at a border crossing with Poland.

Supporters of the Putin government in Russia went to Crimea to help organize pro-Moscow forces there. Sergei Aksyonov, one of three deputies from the Russian Unity party in the 100-seat Crimean regional assembly, and others pulled together a pro-Russia demonstration Feb. 26 in the capital Simferopol that received prominent coverage in the big-business media in the U.S. But what received little notice was a larger rally that day in support of the new Ukraine comprised of Tatars, Ukrainians and Russians.

The next morning, Aksyonov and others organized a group of armed thugs to seize Crimea’s assembly building, keep out the press, and preside over a closed-door session that named him prime minister of Crimea.

Aksyonov told a news conference March 4 that he was in complete control of the province, even though armed standoffs continue between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops at several military installations, where the Ukrainians refuse to give up their post.

Protests against occupation

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets in the south and east of Ukraine, areas where there are significant numbers of Russian speakers, demanding that Moscow stop its invasion. Ten thousand marched for four hours in Odessa March 2. Among the slogans were “Putin take your hands off Crimea,” “Odessa, Kiev, Crimea: Ukraine is united,” and “Putin and Yanukovych will be cellmates in prison.”

Ten thousand gathered outside the Local State Administration offices in Dnipropetrovsk to condemn Russian aggression. More than 5,000 marched in Mykolaiv in the south, chanting “Putin, go away!” Several thousand protested in Zaporizhia in the east. A thousand rallied in the eastern city of Kharkiv carrying placards saying, “Kharkiv is Ukraine.”

Dozens were arrested when some 400 rallied in Moscow against Putin’s invasion.

The Russian occupation is born out of weakness and necessity for Russian capitalists, who amassed great fortunes out of the theft of state property after the fall of the Soviet Union. The Russian economy is a “petro-oligarchy,” vulnerable and dependent on high oil and gas prices. But these resources are becoming less and less profitable in a world where massive quantities of natural gas are flowing from “fracking” extraction in the U.S. and elsewhere. The secret-police regime in Moscow is driven to seek control of markets, resources and productive capacity from former members of the Soviet Union and elsewhere.

Russian bonds, stocks and the ruble tumbled after the Russian military intervention. The ruble sank to an all-time low against the dollar and the euro. The Bank of Russia responded by hiking interest rates by 1.5 percent in an effort to stem capital flow out of the country.

Putin invaded the former Soviet republic of Georgia in 2008, seizing part of its territory. When President Barack Obama took office the next year, he launched a policy of “reset” toward Moscow, seeking dialogue and cooperation.

The Defense Department announced March 5 that Washington is stepping up air patrols over Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Putin’s bet is that Obama — who has proposed deep cuts in the U.S. war budget and adopted a passive stance toward the Syrian government to the advantage of Moscow and its ally President Bashar al-Assad — will resist countering Russia’s moves.
Related articles:
‘Russia out of Ukraine,’ demand protest actions
Russian troops out of Ukraine!
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