[Marxism] Stop forcing Ukraine into a narrative of Moscow versus Washington | Oliver Bullough | Comment is free | The Guardian

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon May 19 17:13:39 MDT 2014


Anyone who tells you Ukraine is a battle between Russia and the west is 
wrong. It is a lazy narrative told by ignorant people, but is helping 
create a genuine tragedy that we should all be concerned about.

The history of Ukraine's crisis began not in February, with Viktor 
Yanukovych's flight, but in 1991, with independence. Desperate to break 
communism, privatisers sold state assets as quickly as they could. They 
didn't care who got them; they just wanted private property to exist. 
They thought the new owners would insist on their rights, and thus build 
a stable society, governed by the rule of law.

It was the west that killed that dream. By moving their wealth offshore 
– to Austria, the Caribbean or the various UK-owned tax havens – 
Ukraine's property owners could enjoy western property rights, while 
benefiting from chaos at home. That turned the privatisers' calculations 
on their head.

Insiders snatched Ukraine's industries, with particularly powerful 
business clans in the cities of Donetsk and Dnepropetrovsk. They fought 
for control of the government in Kiev, but all had the same basic 
interest: to perpetuate chaos. The longer Ukraine was a mess, the richer 
they got.

This was not Russia against the west; everyone piled in. Just look at 
the needless intermediary company created by Dmitry Firtash in 2004 to 
buy gas from Russia and sell it to Ukraine, making more than $600m a 
year. RosUkrEnergo was a west-east joint venture: half owned by Russia's 
Gazprom, half owned via an Austrian bank. Every dollar it earned was a 
dollar less for ordinary Ukrainians.

Some would have you believe that Yanukovych was a democratic, 
pro-Russian president driven out by western spies – yet he held his 
palaces and hunting estate via British shell companies, and his son's 
assets were owned through the Netherlands and Switzerland. Ukraine was a 
modern Prometheus, chained to the ground, while vultures of all 
geopolitical persuasions companionably pecked at its liver.

The corruption was obscene. Ukraine has Europe's second-highest HIV 
rate, with 230,000 Ukrainians infected with the virus, yet in 2012 and 
2013 more than a fifth of the budget for anti-retrovirals was embezzled 
through rigged auctions. Anti-corruption campaigners estimate 30% of the 
annual procurement budget was stolen: that's $15bn a year, the same 
amount Ukraine is now begging from the IMF. In the three years of 
Yanukovych's rule, his son became Ukraine's second richest man. And 
Yanukovych jailed Yulia Tymoshenko, a political rival who had run 
against him as president, to show how tough he was.

In the parallel reality of some commentators, she was pro-western and 
Yanukovych was pro-Russian. In fact she is from Dnepropetrovsk, and he 
is from Donetsk, and they are both pro-themselves. Ukraine's real 
political split has always been between different industrial clans, 
whose placemen dominate parliament. Now Yanukovych has fled, Donetsk has 
lost power and, by default, Dnepropetrovsk has taken over. Ukrainians 
did not revolt to swap one business clan for another, however, so they 
insist on immediate elections. (Tymoshenko is polling in the single 

The protesters are still on the Maidan in central Kiev because this 
isn't their first revolution. Back in 2004-5 they ousted Yanukovych and 
elected a president who appointed Tymoshenko to head his government. 
They trusted her to make things better and went home, but corruption 
continued. This time they're keeping the pressure on.

Whisper it, but it's working. A new procurement law scraped through the 
corrupt old parliament and removes the loopholes that allowed the annual 
$15bn to be stolen. Punishments for corruption are tougher, registers on 
property are better, checks on officials' expenditure are tighter.

This is what the revolution is about: Ukrainians trying to wrest control 
of their country from the oligarchs of Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk and 
elsewhere who – with help from east and west – have robbed them for 23 
years. The left should be cheering them on.

The east against west story does have one beneficiary: the Kremlin. In 
Ukraine Moscow is trying to preserve a crooked regime against the wishes 
of Ukrainians who want to live with dignity, because the old ways made 
it money. It also fears a united and stable Ukraine would join Nato. 
That's why Russia is sheltering Yanukovych, and threatening not to 
recognise the elections on 25 May. Russia is deploying its propaganda 
apparatus to present this as an ideological struggle rather than a 
mercenary one. RT, the channel formerly known as Russia Today, addresses 
the outside world, while state television channels bombard 
Russian-speakers with denunciations of the "fascists" in Kiev.

Journalists who grew up in a world when Moscow and the west were equal 
adversaries feel comfortable in this narrative. It's far easier to sell 
Ukraine if it's Czechoslovakia 1968, rather than a messy failed state, a 
European Congo.

With media on all sides forcing Ukraine into a west v east narrative, 
Ukrainians keep hearing that this battle is geopolitical and 
inter-ethnic, rather than an attempt by ordinary people to take control 
of their destinies. There is enough truth in the caricature – west 
Ukrainians do speak Ukrainian, east Ukrainians do speak Russian – that 
Ukrainians have started believing it, and started fighting about it. And 
people got killed. And the propaganda is turning into the truth.

Journalists have a responsibility at a time like this. They should learn 
what's really happening before making sweeping conclusions. They should 
remember this is about ordinary Ukrainians, not about Moscow or 
Washington. And they should be aware that their lazy judgments are 
tomorrow's incendiary propaganda.

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