This article on the situation in Ukraine was written on the evening of February 21st. Events have moved even more rapidly than its author Antonio Moscato predicted but it contains useful insights into the dynamics of the protests. It’s been translated from Italian.
It’s difficult to predict how things will develop after the violent clashes in Kiev and many other Ukrainian cities over the last few days following the agreement reached by the government and opposition which allows for new elections and a return to the old constitution.
However, it is possible to refute some distorted interpretations which stop us from grasping the complexity of the situation. We can start with the one which sees the anti government mobilisations only as expressing a desire to be in the European Union. A lot of very different motivations have come together in the demonstrations, among which are anti government protests inspired by a variety of reasons.
Just as wrong is the version favoured by some in the “nostalgic” left, which downplays the scale of the protests and attributes them exclusively to sections of the right. Svoboda (which is supported by 10% of voters) and the neo Nazis of Pravly Sektor are present in some demonstrations and have a certain influence, but they are not the essential component. They are just as hostile to Europe as to Russia, in which they see the continuation of the Soviet Union, a state about which many Ukrainians have strong reservations. Many Ukrainians continue to interpret the crisis through the perspective of the forced collectivisation of 1929-33, which caused seven million deaths and they see it as a deliberate attempt to commit genocide, while it was actually the distorted and criminal way in which Stalin belatedly dealt with the issue of kulak farmers. He did the same in Russia and other Soviet republics which had large numbers of peasant farmers. This was the reason, rather than a particular predisposition to fascism, which accounts for a higher level of collaboration with Hitler than in other republics (apart from those in the Baltic). Nostalgia for the anti Soviet, anti-Semitic Ukrainian Liberation Army is a big aspect of the politics for the two far right groups. But they are not the main drivers of the protest, which has accepted the two groups because of their ability to respond effectively to the very fierce attacks by the special police, the Berkut. The protesters have often demonstrated their own critical abilities, disapproving of interventions which haven’t been jointly agreed, and a certain sense of balance, keeping safe and then freeing many young police officers who easily captured due to the mass scale of the demonstrations, protecting them from attempted lynchings.
It is absurd to suggest (as do some in the conspiracy theory prone, pro-Soviet Latin American left) a version of events which reduces the protests only to the usual manipulation by the CIA and Western powers. It’s absurd because of the size of the protests, which have also happened in some eastern Russian speaking cities, as well as in the west which is more attracted by the link with Europe as well as the usual generic and vacuous appeals to respect human rights (and look at who is making these calls!). Neither the United States nor the European Union have shown themselves in any great hurry to intervene. The measures announced by the extraordinary council of ministers are ridiculously ineffective and aimed to kick the problem into the future. Perhaps they should have thought about not selling armoured cars, tear gas, handcuffs, water cannon and other weapons a lot earlier. And maybe they could have thought about offering aid to counter balance Putin’s consistent levels of support right from the start of the crisis. The dream (and it’s a questionable one from our point of view) of entering the EU as a full member wasn’t only blocked by Yanukovich, but also by the EU, which isn’t so keen on expanding to include such a large country whose agricultural products would be in competition with those of France and Germany.
That’s why the West is only dealing with the Ukraine on the level of abstract propaganda. It’s been announced that entire Olympic squads will leave Sochi and then we find out that they’ll leave when the competition has ended; there are tear jerking accounts about the nurse who “died” live on TV and they make far too much of the emerging rift between Yanukovich and some big business people, skating over how they became so fabulously rich at the expense of the rest of their fellow citizens. Ukraine’s fifty richest men would be very at home in Europe. But how did they accumulate this wealth, if not by benefitting from their closeness to corrupt political power, built in large measure by recycling members of the old nomenklatura. That’s why their split from the leader is rather vague and seems more than anything intended to allow them to reposition themselves should Yanukovich stand down, given the ineffectiveness of the measures to stop the clashes, which now have their own dynamic.
The outcome of this crisis can have repercussions in the other countries which are still more or less voluntarily in Moscow’s orbit. They are all torn by deep contradictions and are afflicted by an indelible legacy from the Stalinist past. They all are deeply undemocratic, and they mythologise the “democracy suffocated by the Russian Revolution”. None of these countries had democratic traditions and Stalinist rule certainly didn’t encourage them. Chronic instability is held in check only by massive repression. We will see shortly what happens to them.,
Let’s conclude by reflecting on Putin’s strange winter Olympics which took place in subtropical Sochi which were interpreted by many commentators as a test of strength with the unsettled Caucasus. But Sochi is just a stone’s throw from the Crimea, one of the possible breaking points in the Ukrainian crisis. Perhaps the games were also a show of strength and the ability to spend and impress in advance of a new phase of the endemic Ukrainian crisis. The challenge of delivering the games on schedule, despite the worrying messages sent by the December attacks in Volgograd was won. No one in Kiev, or anywhere else, can forget that Putin is the power broker in this area.