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Debating the Character of the Conflict Over Ukraine


Photo by Yevgen Nasadyuk

James Petras distinguishes himself by rejecting the wrong-headed theories on the political left that the driving force of events in Ukraine is a ‘Russian aggression’ or a struggle by ‘two imperialisms’ for control of the country. He calls it as it is–we’re seeing a continuation of NATO’s historic drive to weaken and isolate Russia, now in combination with the drive of the new, neo-conservative government in Kyiv to make a sharp turn to association with austerity Europe.

I disagree with James’ description of the government in Kyiv as a “junta”. I have debated this with others. The situation in the country–a fullout war in the east, the ascendance of right-wing nationalism, yet elections in which large sections of the population in certain regions of the country participated at a high level–is more difficult and complex than the term would suggest.

The political challenges facing progressive forces in Ukraine are formidable. In both the presidential election in May and the Rada election in October, the governing regime in Kyiv won a much higher proportion of votes from the adult population in central and western Ukraine than did the parties of Stephen Harper and Barack Obama in 2011 and 2012, respectively. (There was a simultaneous boycott or disinterest in the election in southern and eastern areas of the country.) The political left in Ukraine has been weakened in the years following independence in 1991. That is in part because it has lost ground in speaking in the name of Ukraine, still an oppressed nation though the source of that oppression has shifted from the bureaucratized and authoritarian Soviet Union (and its leading Russian component) to capitalist Europe and the venal, Ukraine billionaire elite.

I also think that “junta” describes a government that comes to power by a simple brute, grab for power, typically with a big power in the background providing key logistical support. But the majority of the deputies elected to the Rada in 2012 voted after the fact to endorse the overthrow of the elected Victor Yanukovych. The political situation overall, then, and the political challenges for the left in Ukraine and for its international supporters, is more complicated than that of a “junta” in power.

I think a more critical analysis of Russia’s role in events is required in such an article as James’ that seeks to provide a broad overview. Yes, Russia has acted moderately and conservatively in response to events. It did not want a war in eastern Ukraine, it did not provoke one, and it is not responsible for its continuation. The war is the fault of the intransigence of Kyiv and NATO. Thankfully, Russia is compelled by domestic political opinion and national security interests to provide vital support to the struggle in eastern Ukraine, primarily with humantiarian assistance and by not interfering with the necessary tasks of self-defense forces. But its conservatism cuts two ways. It is felt in the pro-autonomy political struggle. Russia has placed limits on the capacity of self defense forces to militarily resist Kyiv’s army and right-wing militias. And it is exercising strong influence over the political leadership in the peoples republics, to prevent a political and social radicalization, including a spillover effect into Russia itself. Boris Kagarlitsky’s most recent article describes this well. All this, too, presents exceptional challenges for the political left in Ukraine.

I’ve said from the get-go that what is happening in Ukraine is the outcome of a political and economic offensive by the NATO imperialist countries against ALL the peoples of the region–Ukrainian, Crimean, Russian and more. A strategy of political unity is needed in the region in the various struggles for social justice and national and language equality. The international left needs to step up its effort to provide all the available assistance and solidarity that it can for the people of Ukraine and Russia, including opposing the economic embargos against Russia and Crimea. The stakes for Europe and the world are very considerable.

I invite readers of CD to read the excellent material that we are writing and otherwise compiling on the new website, ‘The New Cold War: Ukraine and beyond’. Including my most recent article, on Crimea. Visit, subscribe to receive the daily e-mailing of articles that are posted, and like us on Facebook.



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