[Marxism] Fwd: Peering through the fog of war | Observer Ukraine

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Aug 29 08:20:15 MDT 2014


Two weeks ago I wrote in this blog that Putin will not back off, that 
his strategy is to place an army in Eastern Ukraine rather than build an 
insurgency, that he may well send thousands of Russian soldiers over the 
border. This is happening as I write. 27 August 2014 will go down in 
history as the day even the most inveterate apologists for the Kremlin’s 
secret war in Eastern Ukraine can no longer deny this aggression.

And this invasion comes just the day after Putin devoted his entire 
address to the Minsk meeting of European Union, Ukrainian and Eurasian 
Economic Union leaders to the question of trade, refusing to speak 
directly to an issue he insisted is an internal affair of Ukraine’s, the 
resolution of which his government can “only facilitate”, but not 
directly take part in. He has shown once again that one can never take 
the language of diplomacy literally. Putin was saying “its all about 
trade and economics” while in reality it is all about the boots on the 

If on the one side we heard the apologists of the Kremlin insisting all 
this is just a Ukrainian civil war without Russian state intervention, 
from the other side we have had yet another kind of illusory and hopeful 
thinking: that the Ukrainian government can win the war in the east 
militarily, that with just a little more firepower the separatists can 
be defeated. And Russia would have to accept that fact and back off. The 
illusion in this line of thinking is twofold: first, that for Russia the 
goals of the war are limited to the subordination of Ukraine; and 
second, that the outcome of this war will be decided by the balance of 
brute force on the front.

I see the current situation somewhat differently. Putin has chosen what 
he sees as a favourable historical conjuncture both in Ukraine and 
internationally to assert Russia’s claim to great power status. The 
successful incorporation of Ukraine into Russia’s sphere economically, 
diplomatically and militarily would give serious credibility to that 
claim not only by demonstrating Russian capacity, but also the 
incapacity in the camp of its Western rivals. For Putin the USA is in 
long term decline; the European Union is a clearing house for its member 
states, not a state capable of adopting and implementing a common 
position on war on its eastern periphery; and Russia’s time has come as 
a Eurasian hegemon to hold the balance of power in the centre of this 
continent. In Ukraine the favourable opening was provided by a crisis of 
the Ukrainian state elite created by the Maidan which drove out 
Yanukovych but proved unable to democratise the state institutions and 
drive out the remaining bulk of the oligarch-serving opposition parties.

The other illusion is that the war in the east will be won – or lost –by 
military means alone. Here we must confront some uncomfortable facts. 
First, Russia has overwhelming military capacity and has shown it will 
match and surpass every escalation in the technology and numbers of arms 
advanced by the Ukrainian army. Some have argued that Russia can go on 
fighting indefinitely, but that it cannot win outright. This may indeed 
be the case, but the factors working against the Russian war effort will 
be political: more casualties, more public concern, more protest against 
the war in Russian society. Political opposition in Russia to the war is 
muted, but slowly emerging. In the long run, I believe that the only 
force that can get the Russian military out of Ukraine will be a mass 
anti-war movement in Russia. It is imperative that all defenders of 
Ukraine’s right to national self determination lend their support and 
solidarity to the Russian antiwar protesters who are trying to launch 
that movement and who are being picked off and imprisoned by Putin’s regime.

The second uncomfortable fact is that the Western powers will not mount 
sanctions against the Russian economy that are damaging enough to 
cripple the Russian war effort. The European and American members of the 
Western alliance are variously integrated with the Russian economy 
through investment and trade. They cannot agree to a single set or level 
of sanctions. There is a limit to the level of sanctions some countries 
will agree to, beyond which their own big business interests will 
tolerate. For the same reasons and by force of various historical 
perceptions of Russia as neighbour, friend and enemy, the member states 
of NATO together will not confront Russia militarily over Ukraine. They 
may be all persuaded to strengthen NATO forward bases in Central Europe 
for the defense of their own alliance members, but military aid to 
Ukraine is another question altogether.

On this issue: War is not the answer, neither at its present level or an 
increased level. I believe a NATO military land intervention in the war 
would be a disaster for Ukraine because it would lead to the partition 
of the country into two camps, each under martial law. NATO aid may rise 
with the provision of more lethal equipment to the Ukrainian armed 
forces, increased intelligence provision, joint strategic planning. But, 
as many other wars where the NATO or Western “coalitions of the willing” 
have got involved, their involvement has increased to the point of 
troops entering on the ground and the emasculation of the national 
government whose sovereignty they claimed to be defending. Can you think 
of one war where Western involvement has had a beneficial impact on the 

The Kyiv government is calling for military support from NATO because it 
cannot match Russian military power AND because it believes that the war 
can be won militarily if it gets more and better hardware. I disagree 
with the second part of this reasoning. The Ukrainian state is on the 
verge of insolvency. A couple of weeks ago it revised the annual state 
budget to impose a war levy on all wages and salaries and made a 
half-hearted effort to increase taxes on the lease of publicly owned 
natural resources by oil, gas, iron and steel producers and exporters. 
Ukrainian big business has responded by accelerating the removal of its 
capital assets abroad and increasing reliance on transfer pricing to low 
tax havens in order to keep their profits from being taxed. Capital 
flight has cancelled out whatever gains would have gone to the state 
budget as a result of the parliament’s revision of tax levies. Business 
profits from exports (60% of GDP) go up and the real income of workers 
comes down as a result of devaluation of the hryvnia and inflation. So 
much for the commitment of Ukraine’s capitalists to the war effort.

Corruption in high state office carries on as before. It goes on in the 
highest echelons of the armed forces. The president blames treason in 
the highest echelons for setbacks in the war. The children of the rich 
are sent abroad while working class men and women go the front. Concerns 
about the inadequate provision of soldiers on the front with protective 
clothing and munitions continue to be voiced and often go unanswered. So 
much for the government’s chances to forge a national solidarity of all 
the classes behind the war effort.

There is a difference between fighting for Ukraine’s national self 
determination and fighting for the present Ukrainian state. I am not 
prepared to support any effort that will weaken the Ukrainian state 
against Russia or the West. But I do believe that Ukraine’s national 
self determination needs a more effective defense than the one being 
mounted by the present state leadership. What kind of stake do Ukrainian 
workers, the unemployed, students, farmers and pensioners hold in that 
state if they see they are giving their livelihoods and their lives for 
a return to the status quo ante, albeit without Russian overlordship?

The elections on 26 October offer one avenue for them to alter the 
leadership of their state. However, the signs they will be given the 
chance to make a real choice between truly alternative paths for their 
country’s development are not auspicious: the parliament is not about to 
change the electoral system to provide for fully proportional 
representation, for open party lists and for lowering the threshold for 
entry of new parties into parliament and government. And that old 
electoral system, as I wrote two weeks ago, gave Ukraine in 2012 the 
dirtiest, money driven, oligarch directed election campaign in its 
history, a government of the rich and a cabal of parties that made 
Yanuovych a near-dictator.

The Russian regime will not win the war. It will face years of Ukrainian 
resistance and the ongoing loss of its own soldiers’ lives. It will 
inflame national hatreds among peoples who for decades lived together 
under Stalinist dictatorship and post-communist misery without tearing 
each other’s throats out. Russia’s current leaders will be brought down 
by its citizens, the first of whom are already before Russian courts or 
in prison for opposing this war.

As for Ukraine this war will usher in a new Maidan unless there is a 
radical, democratic renewal of its state leadership. And this time the 
soldiers will be in the thick of it.

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