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