Postcard from the Ukraine II: Factions, Putin and Painted Corners

By Diane Gee, The Wild Wild Left
SPECIAL DISPATCH

ukraine-donetsk-russianFlag
Russian flag waving in Donetsk 
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin
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One would hope by now, that anyone paying attention has garnered a better understanding of the issues in the Ukraine than it being “freedom fighting rebels” standing up against an “oppressive government,” as originally propagandized by the American Press Transcribers. That they would see that was always a lie.Even some of the US media mouthpieces now grudgingly admit what I reported in Postcards From the Ukraine a full month ago:  That there is more than an ideological split there, it is one of culture and language and grave historical precedent.  It is exceedingly important to understand these basics, the mistrust of the Eastern people, primarily of Russian descent for their Western counterparts whose Parents and Grandparents took part in the slaughter of their own under a Nazi flag. For those in the West, they have been breast-fed on post Austria nationalism, and feel that anything short of pure Ukrainian is a threat – the Russians, the Polish, and yes, the Jewish – to their autonomy.

 

This?  This is the fabric upon which the Maidan uprising was painted, aided heartily by US planners and CIA monies, a fabric loosely but peacefully tied together in coexistence for decades, but fragile nonetheless. Fragile, and soon rent asunder.

To be sure the last government, though legitimately elected, was corrupt.  Wages were going down, while costs were being driven up, much like here in the Unites States, by their own Oligarchs, the Robber Baron class.  It wasn’t hard to take that general anger and ignite it into a frenzy of far right-wing, even fascist and neo-nazi movement that could scapegoat minorities and look to the Capitalist West to save them (which is where the far-right libertarians and infantile leftist anarchists meet in the US as well).

Those important facts cannot be denied as the start of the Ukrainian troubles, yet as things metamorphosize of their own volition – it is just as important to understand there are far more variables at play now.  More factions on the ground, more anger, and more international subversion than ever.

 

The face of bravery – Ukrainian women stops line of tanks.

First and foremost, the far-right, the Nazis that originally took the power, roving bands of violent skinheads screaming of “Ukraine only for the Ukrainians” and hoping to make the Russian language illegal no longer hold the power, though they are still on the streets. Aleksandr Muzychko, whose claim of “I’ll be fighting Jews and Russians till I die,” has in fact met that death. This has made the right wing militias feel angry and betrayed by the slightly less right-wing leadership.


I can only offer to the US audiences, that this would be akin to the Tea Party joining forces with the Aryan Nation to overthrow Washington… then upon taking power, killing David Duke and then telling the white supremists that they no longer have “Killing Blacks and Jewish” on their agenda.  This faction will not be satisfied with less than a racially pure state, an enforced national language, and loyalty tests for employment in their new Nation.

Ironically, when these extremist militants claimed to have purged the most extremist of them, and created their own party to challenge interim President Olexander Turchynov’s legitimacy in office – Turchynov claimed it was a Russian backed challenge to him.  Suuuure, cousin, we believe you, because if the KKK’s political branch tried to overthrow the new Tea Party government in a post-coup US, it would be the Blacks who made it happen.  These people hate Russians. Pravy Sektor (the extremists) may not be in power, but they still wield considerable power in Kyiv, and are still roaming the streets in packs, terrorizing people who seem less than their version of Perfect Ukrainians.

The West/East divide is simplistic, for both are a melting pot of many differing peoples, right up to the languages they speak.  While the East speaks primarily Russian, in Kiev people speak Ukrainian, Russian, and often a hybrid of each; in local dialect and a simple borrowing of words from both languages slipping back and forth without notice.

The West of the country is still firmly in the hands of rightwingers, from the Government to the disgruntled extremists.  Things are far from settled there, but that threat is basically internal.  As Dmitri Kolesnik who we met in my last Postcard from the Ukraine reported yesterday, there are videos of them making these claims:

 

17.04.2014 Odessa – march of Right Sector Neonazis.
The speaker: “[We want] into that kind of Europe that crusaders fought for, into that Europe – the European nationalists were fighting for – into Europe of white people, but not into Europe where now live Muslims and ousting native population: they seize their lands and restrict their rights. We will be fighting for Europe – white Europe of traditions and national states – for Europe of free nations. Glory to the nation! Death to enemies!”

Moving to the West, earlier this week it seemed that the Donetsk region protected themselves from the attack by the new Government’s military forces, without a shot being fired or a drop of blood spilled. The Saker reported:

 

Something really amazing happened today in Kramatorsk. It appears that a column of Ukrainian paratroopers entered the city unopposed, some of them put Russian flags on their Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV), others Saint George ribbons. When they made it to the city center they were greeted by the civilians who brought them flowers and food.

Both Betty, and Dmitri reported the military forces were on their way to the West last week, hearing ordnance in the distance. By the 7th Kharkovwas still under the people’s control. By the 12th, the miners had come to the defense of their area as reported in the Guardian, though those on the ground said they vastly underestimated the number of protestors there.

 

Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
 

The crowd parted as a group of a dozen or so burly men in orange work helmets marched past barbed-wire and tyre barricades into the 11-storey administration building, which protesters seized last weekend as they demanded greater independence from Kiev.”Glory to the miners!” the crowd began chanting. “Glory to Donbass!” they shouted

::snip::

“It’s hard to arouse the miners, but when you do, there will be trouble,” said Artyom, a former miner who was guarding the administration building on Friday night. “If the miners all rise up, it will be an economic, physical and moral blow. It will be hard for everyone.”

By the 13th the attack had come to the Donbass area, whose central city is Donetsk. The area is a heavy industrial area, mainly mining.

Betty reported:

Donbass is the name of the province, the industrial region of Ukraine where many people work in the coal mines. Donetsk is the main city of Donbass. The new fascist gov is beginning its military attack against protesters in Donetsk tonight.

But later, was disappointed:

The miners are not very active, the owners warned about mass dismissals if they go out to support the rebels. [The pro-Russia separatists—Eds.]

Note, these mines are privately owned, and pay has stagnated, if not gone down.  Some weeks their wages are not met.  Picture being owed $100 for a week’s work, and getting a paycheck for $67.85 with no explanation other than, “That’s what we have right now.”  But thus made hungry, they are less likely to strike, all while knowing full well their Russian counterparts across the border, a few miles away, are making 3x, 5x, up to 8x the pay scale they are being given. It’s hard to endure.

Yet, as I pointed out this ended up not being a bloody confrontation.  Many soldiers walked away, many flipped sides, while they ended up surrounded, nominally by the new Ukrainian forces – mostly, the whole thing fizzled out.  People went back to doing their business, with a few protestors here and there.

Were this really a divide between Russian sycophants in the East as they say, and hardline nationalist Westerners, were it all-encompassing and pervasive as all that, it simply would have come to bloodshed. But in between all the propagandist rhetoric, in between the wonks working furiously to decipher what is happening and why, and create predictive models for outcomes, lies the real people. They don’t want a civil war, they don’t want to kill one another.

Save a few?  Most do not want to see their country broken up.  They want a unified Ukraine, with the social tolerance of all her citizens as in their recent past.  But they want it with less corruption, they want it with an economy that lets them not hunger.

Dimitri:

(on desertions)

Ordinary soldiers and officers do not desire a war and we see even a kind of sabotage in the army.


(on the extremists)

 

We see the rise of young neo-nazis – a kind of storm-troopers (especially from provinical western towns where children were indoctrinated for many years by nationalist ideas) that expect nothing from life and just want to die at least for something – for something like ‘government’, ‘race’, ‘state’, ‘nation’ – they are being used very well by oligarchs – they use them as a ready-made army to crush dissenters for free.

(lastly on why fewer extremists join – then sometimes desert as they did when sent to Donetsk)

 

Too many young people have no job – we refused last year also from army recruiting – many young people (boys) see no prospects except a career of a militarymen. You should remember that in Germany (where army was forbidden after 1918 WWI defeat) there was a great number of unemployed young people – they became the core of Nazi-storm-troopers.

Overall, it is the desperation of economic stress driving people and they are torn between wanting a united Ukraine, wanting and or resisting a strong federal presence in their lives (which at the moment is highly oppressive to ethnic Russians) and wanting local autonomy.

Dmitri, from the West sees the East as marginalized by both Russians and Ukrainians:

 

As for eastern Ukraine – not the same way – the pro-Russian sentiments are present there – but you should understand that eastern Ukraine – is a melting pot of nations – there live predominantly people of mixed ethnic groups. They are considered as ‘Russians’ by western Ukrainians, but at the same time as ‘Ukrainians’ – by ethnic Russians. Eastern Ukraine – is a mix and the language spoken there is ‘surzhik’ – a mix of both languages

Betty, from the East feels a deeper Russian kinship and defends their language:

As for the language I disagree. The most awful dialect is in Kiev region. Poor children. In comparison – our surzhik is an example of aristocrat’s speech.  In Donetsk only teachers of Ukrainian language can speak it. Yes. But anti-fascism is closely connected with Russia which inherited the values of the Soviet Union.

She would like to see her area more closely tied to Russia, and would prefer local control to Ukrainian Nationalist control (they call that federalization – the opposite of what we would call it) local control loosely affiliated with either Russia or the Ukraine.  She feels Russian values would be better for her people, than the Fascists now in power.

Dmitri defines it:

 

they demand mostly federalisation – the right to elect own governors (instead of appointed oligarchs) and decide own cultural and language policy in regions…

The KEY thing, that most need to understand is this… most in the East have 3 primary motivations, I have paraphrased and expanded both of my Ukrainian friends’ comments.

 

A kind of local patriotism (on the level of a town or region) – they are loyal to their own, and want their local interests served.  The next motivation is antifascism – they do not accept far-right policy of Kiev, with all its inherent racism.

Lastly, comes a kind of pro-Russian sentiment, born not only of tradition and ties of language, but the concrete fact that Russian workers working mirror mines a few miles hither are making a wonderful wage by comparison.

So enter the Geneva agreement, loosely binding both the right wing contingent in Kiev and the resistance in Donetsk (and all factions in between) to lay down their arms and negotiate. Here is the actual wording:

 

“The Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions and restore security for all citizens.  All sides must refrain from any violence, intimidation or provocative actions. The participants strongly condemned and rejected all expressions of extremism, racism and religious intolerance, including anti-semitism.

All illegal armed groups must be disarmed; all illegally-seized buildings must be returned to legitimate owners; all illegally occupied streets, squares and other public places in Ukrainian cities and towns must be vacated.  [But how can an illegal government in Kiev speak of illegality anywhere in the nation?]

Amnesty will be granted to protestors and to those who have left buildings and other public places and surrendered weapons, with the exception of those found guilty of capital crimes.

It was agreed that the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission should play a leading role in assisting Ukrainian authorities and local communities in the immediate implementation of these de-escalation measures wherever they are needed most, beginning in the coming days. The U.S., E.U. and Russia commit to support this mission, including by providing monitors.

The announced constitutional process will be inclusive, transparent and accountable. It will include the immediate establishment of a broad national dialogue, with outreach to all of Ukraine’s regions and political constituencies, and allow for the consideration of public comments and proposed amendments.

The participants underlined the importance of economic and financial stability in Ukraine and would be ready to discuss additional support as the above steps are implemented.”

It has left many here on the left wondering if Putin has lost his mind; right now the interim (and quite illegal) government is in control and likely will not disarm in the name of security… and by bedding with the US/EU in monitoring the constitutional process is bending over for the big fat capitalist gift that never stops giving.

Or perhaps, as happened in Syria – Putin is again outmastering the chessmaster by appearing to be calm and reasonable, and setting up the West to have to show their overt face of conquest and colonization – something that did not play well last time, and is increasingly damned by the Global Community.

If, as part of the process, the West shares power with the East, has to allow languages other than Ukrainian to be spoken, they risk being overthrown yet again by the extremists of Maidan, who will see this as an ultimate betrayal.

I put this question to my dear friends, and asked the general reaction of left-leaning Ukrainians to this latest development.

Betty responds what the West is after from her POV with regards to the accord:

 

in general it will be the following: try to calm protesters, give them promise and push through own agenda but not so quickly

Dmitri:

 

I don’t know all the political secrets (behind the scene) – but I hear contradictory opinions – some say that Putin bowed, some – that in fact- not. But it’s difficult to judge – actually we see what’s happening in Ukraine – and our authorities stated that they will not follow the agreement and continue crackdown on rebellious regions.  Yes, they play their own game – and can easily come to an agreement, but inside Ukraine the conflict is nevertheless being escalated.

Putin plays his own game and those rebellious regions are not so pro-Putin (or pro-Russian) as media present it – they are mostly Ukrainians too – those that do not recognise new unelected government – they demand mostly federalisation – the right to elect own governors (instead of appointed oligarchs) and decide own cultural and language policy in regions…

I countered that both sides have claimed they will ignore the agreement, which they  confirmed and was in turn confirmed by other sources throughout the day.  I asked if there was any hope of this making a difference there.

Betty:

There isn’t much hope for this part.  Europe supports the new govt and they will hide the facts I am sure and blame Russia for backing up the East.

Dmitri:

 

No, I think it’s not hopeful – the authorities understand that they can destruct people only by a war hysteria and moving militants to wage war somewhere (in other case they will crush them) – so, they already refuse to fulfill the Geneva agreements.

All in all, I am glad that both of these lovely people feel safe enough to still be traveling and going about their lives.  Dmitri’s blog has come under attack several times, but neither feel in imminent danger from violence.

Neither feels any more, nor any less hopeful about the Geneva accord, because they know their countrymen, and they know the levels of distrust and anger…they KNOW that it will bring no concrete change to what is happening there on the ground.  It is constantly escalating as rents increase, wages stagnate, and prices of everything else goes up.  It is also transforming, as troops bearing down on them defect to their side over a sandwich, being maltreated by the Kiev junta military leaders.  It lies in impatient wait, as the steadfast miners try to remain gainfully employed and almost-but-not-quite neutral for the moment until pushed.  It bubbles as deals are made between the rich, as they divvy up appointments between cronies of slightly differing ideologies just to concretize the Oligarchs grip on power.  It seethes as the neo-nazis scream from ethnic purity.

To them, what Putin is doing in Geneva is mostly irrelevant.  His troops are at the border, and they know he will not let them be slaughtered.  [The new agreement] is words on paper to people worried about heat and food. They do worry, that with Europe as their biggest gas customer, Russia may not be as honest about their welfare as he once seemed.  It is Russia for the Russians, in a way.

Betty, though she says the East will never give up to those now in power:

 

Russia is in isolation and although they try to be optimistic in fact business interests are stronger than their love of the Ukraine.

I am not sure what Putin was thinking, but I certainly know what the reports would be had he not come to the table, or refused to denounce violence.  The passion play of public opinion matters.  I am not sure this is capitulation, though it may be. I am not sure he did not find some upper hand to play in the background.  It is too soon to tell.

I still predict a divided nation, watching this play out, there are just too many factions demanding to have ultimate control, which is painting the people into the farthest corners of hell.  People in corners are more unpredictable than rattlesnakes, and twice as deadly.

I look and listen to their stories, an outsider wonk, trying to decipher something still primordial in its making.  Its shape or form has not yet presented itself.

And the only thing I could say to them, the only pearl of dubious wisdom I could utter, was one with which they BOTH heartily agreed:

 

Not to be crude, but it seems the regular people are fucked in every direction right now….

And that they are, my friends, that they are.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Diane Gee has been causing trouble for the 0.1% for some time, as she takes living in a democracy seriously.  Besides her main blog, The Wild Wild Left, she runs the most vibrant left political discussion group on Facebook, Links for the Wildly Left

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