Since November 2013, with moments of intense confrontation in December and in the last weeks of February, the bourgeois media presented the Ukrainian protest as a model struggle for “freedom” and “European Democracy” against a President submissive to the requirements of an oppressive Vladimir Putin. But if we examine the leadership of the opposition forces, as well as the wider socio-economic context, we will realize that this is basically a struggle between factions of the same Ukrainian bourgeoisie that we cannot understand without taking into account the context of an inter-imperialist struggle between the forces of NATO and the Russian-Chinese alliance for the redivision of the world, its markets, labour and resources.
Ukraine as a defined territory is the historical result of national oppression experienced particularly under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Russian Empire, which explains the division between the west and its capital Kiev and the Russian speaking eastern areas including cities like Donetsk and Kharkov.
The last election results demonstrated this geographical division, where the gas oligarch Yulia Tymoshenko found most of her support in the west whereas the corrupt Viktor Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was victorious through the support of the east. However, these two parties are quite similar in terms of their pro-capitalist ideological and political positions: both advocate privatization and the flexibility of labour; both practice patronage and support large-scale corruption; both prefer to enrich a small minority at the expense of the majority as the normal way to do business. The conflict primarily resides in deciding whose small gang of the rich will win the electoral jackpot and to upon what power they will ultimately rely: European bankers and the IMF or the Russian oligarchs.
Now the street demonstrations have moved beyond these traditional party lines and the far-right has succeeded in organizing the militias that led the occupation of Maidan, the central square of Kiev. The reactionary Svoboda party, which has MPs in Parliament, was already strong in some regions; a neo-Nazi paramilitary organization called “Pravy Sektor” (“Right Sector”) has tried to outflank them and lead the street movement. Political negotiations were more the responsibility of the All-Ukrainian Union “Fatherland,” which succeeded in releasing Yulia Tymoshenko, and the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform of former boxer Vitali Klitschko.
When they met with the opposition, the European and American envoys had no problem appearing alongside the fascist Oleh Tyahnybok of Svoboda, who despised a statue of Lenin and systematically displayed the portrait of Stepan Bandera—an ultranationalist Nazi collaborator during the Second World War. Using fascists and neo-Nazis, as long as they can serve their objective of controlling Ukraine and be managed, is the political game that the US imperialists and their allies are playing in the region.
Following the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine became an independent republic in which former members of the state apparatus enriched themselves, while competing with new forces that had awaited the return to a private capitalist economy, desiring to bring Ukraine into the European Union or even into NATO, following Hungary and Poland. For the working masses, however, this process meant an impoverishment, the rise of unemployment, and a deterioration of living conditions illustrated by a decrease of GDP by 40% between 1991 and 1999. Over a quarter of the population lives below the poverty line now and life expectancy is only 69. Foreign investments were about $55 billion in 2012, while Ukrainian investments abroad were only $8 billion. This shows the weakness and dependence of the two main factions of the Ukrainian bourgeoisie.
Ukraine experienced the “Orange Revolution” in 2004, which was nothing more than the promotion of Western capitalist interests under the slogan of “freedom” and which saw the accession to power of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko. Several loan agreements with the IMF have been concluded since, but were each time abandoned because the pace of economic reforms aimed at opening customs and allowing the free marketization of natural gas has been too slow in the eyes of those predatory lenders.
After the 2008 economic crisis and the return to power of Viktor Yanukovych in 2010, Ukraine turned to Russia to avoid bankruptcy. Russia is by far the largest economic partner of Ukraine, providing the country with natural gas. The external debt from Ukraine to Russia is about $17 billion. While Ukraine was in a near state of default and facing a new recession in 2013, Yanukovych began to negotiate a possible movement to the European Union, while trying to renegotiate trade agreements with Russia and Belarus.
On December 18, 2013, Vladimir Putin announced the lifting of customs barriers between Ukraine and Russia, as well as its intention to lower the price of its gas by 33% and to offer the Ukrainian government a new loan of 15 billion dollars. This was well above the loan of $600 million advanced by the EU. Russia sees a strategic interest in developing its Eurasian bloc and maintaining access to the Black Sea via the Crimea. The US and Western European bourgeoisie would certainly be harmed by this expansion; they too want to control this market and Ukrainian cheap labor. At the same time, they would certainly be delighted if Russia suffers a defeat after its geopolitical success in Syria.
When Yulia Tymoshenko says that the problems of Ukrainians will be solved after entering the EU, it should be clear for anyone aware of the situation in Europe, particularly in the south and east, that this is not true. Proletarians should be more inspired by struggles currently taking place in Greece, Spain and other countries closer to Ukraine like Bosnia (where the working masses are fighting for their own demands against bourgeois fractions and the old corrupt parties) than by an illusory “European democracy.”