Ukraine workers resist
pressure to demobilize
IMF ‘offers’ more debt,
Moscow hikes gas price
|The Maidan — Kiev’s Independence Square — remains a center of resistance for working people fighting for democratic and political rights in Ukraine. Above, March 30 demonstration.
BY FRANK FORRESTAL
KIEV, Ukraine — Thousands assembled in Independence Square here March 30 to mark the 40th day since the killing of the “heavenly hundred,” a reference to the demonstrators murdered by Berkut riot police under the government of President Viktor Yanukovych days before it was overthrown in a popular rebellion.
“What motivated me to come to Maidan recently was the police violence against the people. I also came to stop the attacks from Russia and stand with Ukraine,” said Sergey Nikolayevich, a mason and former brick factory worker from Sumy in northeastern Ukraine. “I’ve been working, but unemployment in my town is around 40 percent.”
“Our main worry is the attempt by the government to dissolve Maidan,” said Oleksei Kuznitsov, a former truck driver, who came from Donetsk last December. But the Maidan remains popular and “many continue to bring us potatoes, meat, bread, everything we need,” he said. While talking to Kuznitsov, a water tank truck was filling gallon jugs for camped protesters.
The demobilization of working people is one thing the capitalist rulers of Ukraine and Russia, as well as the U.S. and its imperialist allies, would all like to see.
“The U.S. and Russia have differences of opinion about the events that led to this crisis,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said in a press conference following a March 30 meeting in Paris with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. But the two sides agreed, Kerry said, “to work with the Ukrainian government … to assure the following priorities: the rights of national minorities; language rights; demobilization and disarmament of irregular forces and provocateurs; an inclusive constitutional reform process; and free and fair elections monitored by the international community.”
Moscow has deployed some 40,000 military troops and has been establishing supply lines along Ukraine’s eastern and southern borders, including in Transnistria, a pro-Russia breakaway region of Moldova southwest of Ukraine. Another 25,000 Russian troops occupy Crimea to the south.
In a March 15 speech, Russian President Vladimir Putin defended Moscow’s annexation of Crimea on the basis that up until six decades ago the peninsula had been part of Russia, a possession of the czarist Russian empire before 1917. And he made similar claims to other regions in Ukraine. “After the  revolution, the Bolsheviks … may God judge them, added large sections of the historical South of Russia to the Republic of Ukraine,” Putin said.
Under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik Party brought to power in 1917 fought to reverse centuries of “Great Russian” chauvinism. But the Soviet Union’s policy of backing the rights and national aspirations of the many peoples oppressed under the czarist empire was reversed as part of a counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin that began in the 1920s.
The Ukrainian military today — reduced to some 140,000 troops, only 6,000 of whom are considered ready for duty — has been seeking money from big Ukrainian capitalists and organizing collections from Ukrainian working people.
And the government has sought to end the Maidan protest by recruiting young demonstrators to the National Guard. “We have to disarm them, because they simply cannot have arms,” said Ukraine’s new defense chief and First Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Yarema.
Meanwhile, working people are organizing their own defense guards. In a recent trip to the eastern city of Krivii Rig, union members showed a flyer calling on “all who are not indifferent to the fate of their families and our country” to “organize voluntary local people’s self-defense detachments.”
“We organized self-defense units here, starting with members of the miners’ union,” said Samoilov Juriy Petrovych, the local leader of the Independent Trade Union of Miners of Ukraine at the big iron ore mine in Krivii Rig, March 26. “We were facing attacks from what they call Tatushka, which are groups of thugs recruited from among unemployed, lumpen elements. Here they were organized by the guard detachments of the mine owners.
“Now we’re building on this to organize to meet whatever challenges to come — from the cops, the thugs or Russian forces.
Effective April 1, the Russian government raised by 80 percent the price of natural gas imports into Ukraine. Russia’s union of milk producers is asking for a ban on Ukrainian dairy products, and Russian steel companies are pressing for protectionist measures against Ukrainian ore.
Imperialist ‘aid’ increases debt
The International Monetary Fund announced in Kiev March 27 an agreement to loan up to $18 billion to the Ukrainian government over two years. The deal, subject to approval by the IMF board, is designed to prevent Kiev from defaulting on interest payments on its foreign debt. By the end of 2003, the country’s foreign debt had climbed to more than $17 billion. By 2012 it had soared to $135 billion.
Ukrainian Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told Ukraine’s parliament that “gross domestic product could drop 10 percent this year unless urgent steps were taken,” reported the New York Times. Steps include freezing the minimum wage and raising gas prices by more than 50 percent by May 1, followed by further increases under a fixed timetable through 2018.
Since the Russian occupation of Crimea, thousands of Tatars have left the peninsula. Temporary shelters have been organized in several Ukrainian cities, including here in Kiev.
On March 20, the Ukrainian parliament, after decades of foot dragging, adopted a resolution recognizing the Crimean Tatars as an indigenous people with the right to self-determination in Ukraine. Mustafa Dzhemilev, a central leader of the Crimean Tatars and member of the Ukrainian parliament, said at a press conference in Kiev March 22 that the resolution was good, but “a shame that it was done so late.”
Dzhemilev also criticized Moscow’s ban on some 200 Crimean and other Ukrainian politicians from entering Crimea, including Dzhemilev, who voted for the dissolution of the Russian-imposed parliament there.
Putin recently told Dzhemilev that he would “do everything” to protect Crimean Tatars “from any possible aggression,” according to Monkey Cage, a blog of the Washington Post. But his wooing of the Tatars — who were brutally oppressed by the czars and Stalin — has largely fallen on deaf ears.
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