By Alex Callinicos
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Ukraine shows splits in the US ruling class

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Issue 2682
Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (Pic: White House/creative commons)

There’s a large element of accident in how Ukraine has come to dominate the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump.

His preoccupation was to get Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on the business activities of the Hunter Biden. He is the son of Joe Biden, former Democratic vice president and a contender to stand against Trump in 2020.

Anywhere else could have served just as well for these purposes. But Ukraine illustrates how the crisis of the neoliberal political order is feeding into and intensifying geopolitical rivalries among the great powers.

It’s helpful to compare Ukraine’s relationship to Russia with Scotland’s to England.

Ukraine developed its own national identity but was part of the Russian state for more than three centuries, about the same length as Scotland’s union with England. Ukrainian independence tore a huge hole in Russia’s power, just as Scottish independence would in Britain’s.

After declaring independence in 1991, Ukraine became a space in which rivalries between Russia and the US and the European Union have been fought out. Indeed, an article in the Foreign Affairs journals calls it “a country that has wrecked attempt after attempt at establishing a durable order” in Europe and Asia.

The most recent example is the crisis in 2014. When a strongly pro-Western government took office in Ukraine, Russia annexed the strategically important Crimean Peninsula. And parts of southeastern Ukraine fell under the control of breakaway statelets propped up by Russia.

The result has been an escalation in tensions between Russia and the West, with a succession of sanctions packages.

Meanwhile Russian president Vladimir Putin has become a power broker in the Middle East by exploiting the partial retreat of the US there. Add to that the election of a US president who admires Putin, and you have a heady draught of Cold War paranoia on both sides.

It seems that Trump defers to Putin, not because he’s being bribed or blackmailed, but because he genuinely admires him

Putin, fearful of a US-backed “colour revolution” in Russia, has been meddling in Western elections. European and American liberals in turn use him as an alibi for their own failures, blaming Trump’s victory, the Brexit referendum, and other upsets on Russian manipulation.

Ukraine first entered the story because Trump and his allies claim that it was Ukrainian, not Russian interests that intervened in the 2016 elections. Now he has been exposed as apparently exploiting Ukraine’s dependence on US military aid to force Zelensky to help him smear Biden father and son.

It’s interesting that it should be a Ukrainian rather than a Russian connection on which the Democrats think they have got Trump.

This confirms my impression that all the efforts to prove that he is beholden to the Kremlin and its spooks and oligarchs have been unsuccessful. It seems that Trump defers to Putin, not because he’s being bribed or blackmailed, but because he genuinely admires him.

Nevertheless, from the perspective of the US national security establishment, this is crime enough. For them, Ukraine is the front line against Russia. The hearings revealed that the ultra-belligerent national security adviser John Bolton tried to block the efforts of Trump and his tools, like Rudy Giuliani, to make US aid to Ukraine conditional on Zelensky investigating the Bidens. This may help explain why Bolton was sacked in September.

One of Bolton’s ex-colleagues, Fiona Hill, who was senior director for European and Russian affairs at the National Security Council till July, gave widely-praised testimony last week dismissing the idea of Ukrainian meddling in 2016 as Russian disinformation.

The hearings have thus exposed the extent of opposition to Trump within the US national security establishment. But this isn’t because he’s a racist, sexist bully who is building the far right internationally.

It’s because they believe he is proving to be a poor servant of US imperialism in its power struggles with its rivals. Let’s bear this in mind before we cheer the impeachers too loudly.

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