Socialist Worker

As Ukraine’s president flees, who has won?

After the government falls and rebels claim victory, Simon Basketter looks at the situation in Ukraine

Issue No. 2392

A new government of Ukraine was being formed as Socialist Worker went to press. The former president Viktor Yanukovych fled the capital, Kiev, last weekend. 

After a week of unrest in which some 88 people were killed and hundreds injured, MPs voted to oust Yanukovych. Fresh presidential elections are planned for 25 May.

The US and the European Union (EU) welcomed the fall of the president. Russia condemned it. 

Baroness Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, visited Kiev and laid flowers for those who died in the anti-government protests. The potential for financial assistance from European powers dominated her visit.

The new finance minister Yuriy Kolobov said Ukraine needs around £21 billion in urgent foreign aid.

Unlikely

This outcome had seemed unlikely a week earlier as demonstrators fell under police sniper fire in central Kiev. Thick plumes of black smoke from burning tyres filled the sky as anti?government protesters armed with clubs, Molotov cocktails and guns fought with police. 

Police retreated. Yanukovych replaced the head of the army with a supporter—but troops stayed in their barracks. Senior army commanders resigned in protest. In the Ukrainian-speaking west, several police units and local government officials joined the opposition. 

Yanukovych signed an agreement with three opposition leaders brokered by the EU that he hoped would keep him in power until December. But it was too little too late. 

The state abandoned him. His last allies jumped ship, with his party issuing a scathing statement denouncing him as a coward and a crook. The political crisis erupted in November after Yanukovych rejected, at the last minute, a trade deal with the European Union. 

Splits between the pro-Western and pro-Russian sections of the ruling class, and widespread anger at the government, sparked mass protests and occupations of government buildings.

Crush

Attempts to crush the demonstrations repeatedly failed. 

All the potential leaders reflect sections of the ruling class manoeuvring against each other with foreign help. As fighting intensified the reliance on far right militias grew. But so did the depth of opposition to the president.

The conservative, pro-Western parties that claimed leadership of the movement are trying to press their advantage. At the same time some of the fascist street fighters have been offered jobs alongside the police.

But stability is far from guaranteed. The east of the country looks to Russia both economically and politically. And the east is the economic heart of the country. There is the risk of Ukraine fragmenting.

Further, the disparate parts of the opposition agreed with getting rid of Yanukovych but almost nothing else. The scale of protest meant the opposition leaders were unable to sign up for earlier compromises. 

While workers didn’t join the protests with independent demands it is not certain that they will simply accept whatever the politicians come up with.

Finally, the International Monetary Fund vultures are set to swoop in. They will bail out the rich by pushing through deep austerity of exactly the type that made Yanukovych unpopular in the first place.

 

Break the stranglehold of the oligarchs

Ukraine’s Stalinist ruling class embarked on a privatisation drive when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991—and kept the proceeds. Ukraine’s rulers developed into oligarchic clans. Some look to the EU to make more cash, others look to Russia. 

As Ukrainian left wing economist Zakhar Popovych put it, “Both routes are bad for Ukraine. The principle problem is within the country. The oligarchy’s grip on politics has the consequence that corporation tax is at zero. All tax is paid by workers and small businesses. 

“So the coffers of the state are empty, despite the fact that there’s enough resources in the country. It’s not the choice of integrating into one bloc or another that will solve this.”

 

History of the Soviet Union’s breadbasket 

Ukraine had been part of the Tsarist Russian empire. The victorious Communists recognised its independence in the wake of the 1917 Russian Revolution.

They hoped to break Russian chauvinism, encourage the process of revolution and lay the basis for a voluntary socialist federation. They got a positive response in some parts of the Ukraine. 

But Ukrainian nationalists struck deals with the great powers of Europe and created a succession of short-lived puppet regimes. 

The country became caught up in the civil war that followed Western intervention. In the 1920s, after the war ended, an attempt was made to create a genuine socialist federation.

As Stalin’s dictatorship replaced genuine socialism the Ukraine had an important role as “the Second Soviet Republic” after Russia. Its huge agricultural lands became a breadbasket for the USSR. 

Still, many starved during famines in the 1930s. Large coal and iron deposits allowed the development of coal and steel complexes in eastern Ukraine. 

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine’s rulers tried to balance between Russia, the US and Europe. Ukraine is divided between a more pro-Western, Catholic and Ukrainian-speaking west and a more Moscow-oriented, Orthodox and Russian-speaking east. 

 

The main political players

All-Ukrainian Union (Fatherland)

Fatherland holds about 20 percent of seats in parliament. It was launched in 1999 by Yulia Tymoshenko. Parliament ordered her release from prison last weekend. She made her fortune by setting up a gas supply company that at one stage controlled nearly one fifth of the Ukrainian economy. Essentially it’s a pro-Western neoliberal party.

Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR)

Led by Vitali Klitschko, a former world heavyweight boxing champion. The party’s abbreviation spells out the Ukrainian word for “punch”. Also essentially a pro-Western neoliberal party.

Svoboda (Freedom)

This far right party is led by Oleh Tyahnybok. Driven by loathing of the East in general and Jewish people in particular it is openly racist and homophobic.

Right sector

At the core of the street fighting in Kiev are far right networks who oppose integration with Russia and are against the EU. There are a number of other militias, including some that support the former president.

Party of the Regions

Former party of ousted president Viktor Yanukovych. He sparked the protests when he turned his back on a deal with the EU in favour of strengthening ties with Moscow. Yanukovych is seen as Russia’s representative, but in reality there were tensions since he came to office in 2010.


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