The brutal actions of the Kiev government against the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine are directed not simply against a few thousand pro-Russian separatists who have entrenched themselves there. The means being employed are determined by the desired ends.
The bombardment of these densely populated areas by jet fighters, rocket launchers and heavy artillery; the blood-curdling calls with which Ukrainian President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk are whipping up the soldiers; and the deployment of the fascist-ridden National Guard are intended to terrorise and intimidate all those who oppose the political and social aims of the regime in Kiev.
For the first time since the NATO bombardment of Belgrade fifteen years ago, another European city with a million inhabitants—Donetsk—is being fired on with heavy weapons. To some observers, the actions of the Ukrainian forces resemble the Israeli attacks on Gaza, to others, the destruction of the Chechen capital of Grozny by the Russian army. The aptness of these comparisons is confirmed not only by Russian sources, but also by eyewitness reports from Western journalists.
According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung, which sent a reporter to the besieged city of Slavyansk, with some 120,000 residents, up to 1,500 homes have been destroyed or damaged. Every day since early May, at least ten corpses of people killed by gunfire or bombing, many of them civilians, were delivered to the coroner.
The population has been deprived of food. Electricity and water supplies have been cut off for weeks. One witness reported that 500 families had to survive for two-and-a-half months on just 100 loaves of bread, supplemented only by what they could obtain from their vegetable gardens.
Now the 1.5 million inhabitants of Donetsk and Luhansk face a similar fate. Prime Minister Yatsenyuk and President Poroshenko have urged Ukrainian troops to act ruthlessly.
Yatsenyuk called the insurgents “sub-humans” that had to be “rubbed out.” Poroshenko warned the rebels that they would pay for each dead Ukrainian soldier with the lives of hundreds of their own people, his threats recalling the methods of the Nazis, who in World War II shot dozens of hostages for each soldier killed by partisans.
Some Western governments have felt obliged to call on Poroshenko to exercise more restraint. They have done so only to cover their own tracks. The Ukrainian president discusses his every move with Washington, Berlin and Warsaw, with which he is in daily contact. He is advised by Western military experts. On Monday, he discussed the formation of a combined Ukrainian-Polish-Lithuanian Brigade with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a proposal that is soon to be agreed in writing.
The brutality with which the regime in Kiev is acting against the opposition in its own country arises from the policies it and its Western backers pursue. The billionaire Poroshenko embodies the alliance of the Ukrainian oligarchs with international capital. They have come together to exploit Ukraine’s wealth and its working class, to break the country from its centuries-old political and economic ties with Russia, and subjugate Russia to the dictates of the imperialist powers.
Poroshenko owes his office to the Western-backed February 22 coup that expelled his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, after Yanukovych refused to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union. Poroshenko was subsequently elected president under conditions where large sections of the population abstained or were intimidated by far-right forces.
Since his election, the new president has relied on the ultra-nationalist and fascist forces that played a major role in the coup. He has neither changed the government nor ordered new parliamentary elections. The nationalist Fatherland Party continues to hold the premiership and head the seven most important ministries, although its presidential candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko, received only 13 percent of the vote. The fascist Svoboda Party, whose candidate Oleh Tyahnybok received just 1.1 percent of the vote, has three ministers.
The armed forces had initially balked at firing on their own people and had been weakened by desertions. They have since been packed with ultra-rightists and fascists. Journalists who visit the Right Sector offices in Kiev, which are adorned with Swastikas, are boastfully told that hundreds of the group’s members are fighting in and alongside the army in Donbas in the east. Poroshenko needs these forces to suppress the working class, for whom his policies have disastrous implications.
The Association Agreement with the EU, which he has now signed, severs the link between Russia and the steel and coal industries of the Donets Basin that were built up in the Soviet era. It threatens to turn the entire region into an industrial desert, with the sort of mass unemployment that can presently be seen in parts of France’s Lorraine or Germany’s Ruhr.
Many Ukrainians, especially those with Russian roots, rightly fear that the encroachments of NATO and the EU will provoke a war with Russia, which could trigger a nuclear world war.
Moreover, the Association Agreement requires that the country be subjected to the strict austerity measures of the EU and the International Monetary Fund. For the desperately poor majority of Ukrainians, this means even deeper poverty and the gutting of social benefits without which they cannot survive.
It is left to the German Social Democrats, Greens and Left Party to promote these thoroughly reactionary policies as steps toward freedom and democracy and glorify the oligarch Poroshenko and his ultra-right supporters as democratic luminaries.
The events in Ukraine confirm what was already apparent in Greece and other countries: in the depths of crisis, the EU and European capitalism have nothing to offer working people other than social degradation, exploitation and war.
The only way out of this impasse lies in the unification of European workers in a struggle for the United Socialist States of Europe. Only the establishment of workers’ governments and the unification of Europe on a socialist basis can prevent the continent from descending into nationalist conflicts and war, and create the conditions for utilising and developing its rich resources and productive forces, in alliance with the international working class, for the benefit of society as a whole.