The West support dictatorships around the world. Putin is no friend of democracy, but the campaign of demonisation against Russia is cynical propaganda that could lead to war
What started as a protest about an agreement between Ukraine and the EU has turned into the most serious threat to peace in Europe since the break-up of Yugoslavia, and possibly since the Second World War.
Western expansionism has been the main factor creating this crisis. Ever since the break-up of the Soviet Union, the western powers, led by the US, have been pushing towards the borders of Russia by expanding the EU and Nato. Twelve Eastern European countries have joined Nato since 1991. Russia, inevitably, is trying to maintain its influence in the region.
The motives of all sides are imperialistic, but the balance of power must be remembered: the US is creating an ally in the Ukraine; it’s not as if Russia is meddling in Mexico. This is not a power struggle between two global blocs, as witnessed during the Cold War era. The global hegemon is challenging a regional power, albeit a large one.
EU deal with strings attached
Interference by outside powers in the Ukraine is threatening to tear the country apart, as linguistic and cultural differences are turned into issues for which people are willing to die, and kill.
The spark was Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to suspend negotiations with the EU. This caused demonstrations in the capital against the government. Though considered pro-Russian in reality Yanukovich tried to balance between Russia and the west.
However, the country’s economic problems made this impossible in the long run: Ukraine is broke and needs cash to avoid default. The European deal came with little cash and many strings, and threatened ruin for the country’s heavily industrialised east.
Russia, on the other hand, offered $15 billion with no visible strings attached. Yanukovich plumped for Moscow. This infuriated the opposition and opened up a divide between the mainly Ukrainian-speaking west and centre and the mostly Russian-speaking east and south.
The nature of the demonstrations began to polarise the country as they took on an increasingly nationalistic and anti-Russian flavour. Attempted clamp downs led to radicalisation, mainly to the right, as the influence of the fascist Svoboda party grew and a violent street-fighting “Right Sector” emerged.
Whilst the demonstrations had a high level of popular support in some parts of the country, they were politically dominated by the right-wing opposition, who were co-operating closely with the US State Department.
At the end of January, violence on the streets rapidly escalated. An EU brokered deal between Yanukovich and opposition leaders foundered as dozens were killed in the space of two days. The president fled the capital and a new government emerged, facilitated by the US, led by the right-wing opposition parties with negligible support in the east and south of the country.
The new interim government includes seven fascists and neo-Nazis. This is ignored by the Western powers whilst Putin is dubbed a ‘new Hitler’.
Putin’s strategy for the reassertion of Russia in what it considers its own backyard lies in tatters. The revolts not only brought to power parties hostile to Moscow, they also wrecked plans for a single market for the former Soviet states. It was inevitable that Putin’s regime would try and kick back. Crimea is easily detachable: its population is overwhelmingly Russian-speaking, it is the base of the Russian Black Sea fleet and the peninsula is geographically distinct.
The main enemy is at home
Though strong voices on both sides want to avoid violence, fearful of further escalation, potentially destructive forces are now in play. A new phase in big power rivalry has opened up, making the world a much more dangerous place.
The losers of any further descent into nationalism and jingoism will be ordinary people in both Ukraine and Russia. Socialists in this situation must oppose their own ruling classes’ role, their expansionism and sabre rattling.
The West support dictatorships around the world. Putin is no friend of democracy, but the campaign of demonisation against Russia is cynical propaganda that could lead to war.
Alastair Stephens has been a socialist his whole adult life and has been active in Unison and the TGWU. He studied Russian at Portsmouth, Middle East Politics at SOAS and writes regularly for the Counterfire website.