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Vol. 78/No. 21      June 2, 2014

Separatists’ ‘takeover’ in
east Ukraine unravels
(front page)
Miners, rail workers and other working people in Ukraine are organizing to push back armed separatists engaged in provocations, kidnappings, building seizures and attempts to close mines and other workplaces in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Simultaneous to these working-class actions, Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s wealthiest industrialist with an empire built on coal mines, steel mills and other factories, organized to defend his property and attempts to stabilize capitalist rule in Ukraine. He has been deploying hundreds of workers employed by his two steel mills in Mariupol to join police in routing secessionists from city buildings and patrolling city streets.

“This morning gunmen of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic captured the Donetsk railway administration building,” said a May 19 statement by six union leaders, including Mikhailo Volynets of the Independent Trade Union of Coal Miners, Vladymyr Kozelsky of the Free Trade Union of Railway Workers, and Peter Tuley of the Transport Workers Amalgamation.

“The separatists declared that they forbid transport of freight except goods to the Russian Federation,” the unionists said. “Such actions will definitely lead to the worsening of living conditions in the eastern parts of Ukraine and to economic collapse of the entire country. … We call upon railway workers, miners, energy company workers, metallurgy workers and employees of other branches of the economy, as well as teachers and doctors, to bring together their efforts in order to rebuff the separatists’ activities aimed at destabilizing the region, leading to the loss of work and wages.”

At the same time, Moscow shows no interest in provoking a war or replicating in other parts of Ukraine its seizure of Crimea in March. Such a course would run counter to the interests of Russia’s capitalist rulers, who the Russian government serves, and would fuel unrest among the toiling masses they fear.

Since armed secessionists ignored a call by Russian President Vladimir Putin to put off their May 11 rump referendum to separate from Ukraine in some eastern towns, Russian government officials have declined to voice any support for the fraudulent “yes” votes or claim any mandate for further intervention.

Instead, Putin said May 19 he would begin withdrawing many of the 40,000 Russian troops deployed near Ukraine’s border. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow views billionaire Petro Poroshenko, a candy manufacturing magnate and leading presidential candidate in the May 25 Ukrainian elections, as “someone it can do business with.”

The capitalist rulers of Russia and their government in Moscow want nothing to do with a self-proclaimed “Donetsk People’s Republic” or other so-called people’s republics declared by separatists in Ukraine that hark back to the Stalinist rule of the former Soviet Union. The propertied classes of Russia seek to build a stable capitalist regime and have no need to drape themselves in “communist” and “revolutionary” phrases — as did the privileged bureaucratic social caste that held power in the Soviet Union following the bloody counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin against the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The Russian bosses and their government have no need for a “red glow” to mask their anti-working-class character. They are embarrassed by it.

When Putin conjures images of the past it’s always to promote Great Russian domination, using references to Peter the Great and lamenting the fall of the Soviet Union for the loss of Russian power over other peoples. He explicitly attacks the revolutionary policies of the early Soviet Union under the leadership of V.I. Lenin, who led the fight for self-determination of Ukraine and other oppressed nationalities. “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 March 18 following the annexation of Crimea.

Likewise, the Stalinist phrases of the separatist paramilitaries repulse most workers and farmers, whose only living memory of the Soviet Union is the Stalinist murder machine that, under the false banner of communism, brutalized them, kept them out of politics and blocked them off from fellow workers around the world. The armed separatist bands in the east and south never got a foothold or were quickly driven out of the largest cities, including Kharkiv and Dnepropetrovsk, as well as Odessa.

A May 18 YouTube posting by Igor Strelkov, a Russian commando proclaimed Commander-in-Chief of the “Donetsk People’s Republic,” provides striking confirmation of the separatists’ isolation. “I do not expect that even a thousand men from the region can be found,” he complained.

Most of his troops, he said, consist of men older than 40, and many of those who came to his forces for arms left, using them to “protect their homes from crime and criminals.”

At the same time, Russian capitalists face substantial economic and political challenges at home. The Russian economy is heavily dependent on exports of gas and oil, whose prices are falling. Life expectancy for a 15-year-old male, according to the World Health Organization, is lower in Russia than in Haiti, Mali or Afghanistan. For women, life expectancy is lower than Cambodia.

“The main thing that [President Putin] is worried about is that what happened in Ukraine will happen in Russia,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova told the Washington Post May 11. Tolokonnikova was one of two members of the group Pussy Riot who spent nearly two years in prison for demonstrations of political dissent against the Putin government.

Steel, mine boss defends empire

Meanwhile, Rinat Akhmetov deployed workers from his two steel plants in Mariupol May 14 to join city cops to patrol the city and oust separatist forces from local public buildings and organize street patrols. Thousands of workers signed up.

Akhmetov, whose net worth is estimated at $12.2 billion, appropriated the most modern and profitable mines and mills in the gang wars over seizure of state property that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. He is the largest private employer in Donbass and was a central backer of former President Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in February as a result of popular mobilizations against his regime.

Akhmetov, who commands a private company army of more than 3,000, including former elite Ukrainian commandos, was making “a business decision to keep Donbas in Ukraine,” as the Kiev Post put it. He launched the patrols in a meeting he called that brought together cops, representatives of the union at his mills and representatives of separatist forces holding city hall. The union leadership signed off on the deal, but has no responsibility for the operation.

“By making it look like political confrontations, some people are pushing our city to chaos but in reality it is pure banditry and crime,” Igor Kurganov, a worker in the mechanical testing shop at Azovstal plant, said, explaining why he joined the patrol in comments posted by the company on its website. “I would not want to live in a city ruled by wolves or by a wolf pack!”

The corporatist-style patrols of cops and workers, dressed in company jackets, began to clear separatists out. Pro-Russian-government forces melted away, along with signs of the self-declared people’s republic. Workers driving company backhoes dismantled their barricades.
Related article:
Tatars in Crimea take to streets, defy Moscow’s ban on protests
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