Ukraine: What is the trouble and who are the troublemakers?


TML Daily (March 21) – THE cunning of history has positioned Ukraine as the latest country in which post-Soviet Russia and U.S.-led imperialism confront each other. The U.S.-led camp, which includes the old European colonialism, is on a rampage. The Russian government has responded in a measured way, securing its naval assets in the Crimea and going so far as to take Crimea out of the clutches of the fascist coup that seized power in Kiev while putting the elected president, Alexander Yanukovych, to flight.

Students in Khrakov, Ukraine, lay flowers at monument to Second World War partisan fighters and the Soviet Red Army | Jaroslav the Wise National Law University

Students in Khrakov, Ukraine, lay flowers at monument to Second World War partisan fighters and the Soviet Red Army | Jaroslav the Wise National Law University

Beyond and underlying the intermonopoly contradictions (mainly over energy resources access and control[1]) that are at odds and in play at this time in that region, the longest-standing and most burning issue for the peoples of this region has surfaced once again: how can the equality and sovereign rights of nations and peoples, irrespective of their ethnic makeup, be established (and in some respects re-established) with a guarantee that is meaningful under current conditions? Only as a constituent founding republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1921 did Ukraine finally became a nation-state embracing all the Ukrainian-speaking ethnos. Regardless of the decades of imperialist propaganda before and during the Cold War dismissing Ukraine as a puppet of Moscow and its people starved of rights etc., it was the USSR itself, with its constitutional provision upholding the right to secede from the Union, that provided the first-ever guarantee of Ukraine’s independence. Indeed, Ukraine was one of the few founding Soviet republics to enjoy its own seat at the United Nations.

Economically, during the Soviet period, the Ukrainian working class transformed their country from an agricultural colony to an agro-industrial economy supplying the coal industry that fuelled industrial development throughout the Soviet Union, to an industrial-agricultural economy participating as an exporter of specialized heavy industrial machinery and advanced pharmaceuticals into world markets. Today, under the stewardship of Arsenii Yatseniuk, a previously-unheard-of private banker, Ukraine is bankrupt and a report has even appeared – so far uncontradicted – that its national treasury was put on a plane to New York the day after the recent Right Sector-Svoboda coup in Kiev and is now in the custody of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York in Manhattan.

Ethnographically speaking, it is widely accepted down to the present that the Russian ethnos and some of the Ukrainian ethnoses share a common origin. For the period preceding the emergence in the Ukrainian region of the Cossacks and their hetman system of governance at the height of the European Middle Ages, a complete and verifiable catalog of all the original peoples of Ukraine remains in dispute.

Notwithstanding this academic fact, nevertheless, it is widely accepted that, earlier in the Middle Ages, the probably originating portion of the Russian ethnos emerged from what became known as the Kievan Rus. This was a collection of settlements in the region of present-day Kiev. In other words, the emergence of part of what becomes a distinct Russian ethnos begins in Ukraine about a millennium ago.

As far as social and political organization goes, however, before the middle third of the 19th century, there existed neither an abstract conception of a Ukrainian nation nor of a Ukrainian territory peopled predominantly by a single Ukrainian ethnos.[2] The principle of a Ukrainian nation was elaborated in the middle of the 19th century by a movement of intellectuals led by Taras Shevchenko. His was effectively the founding voice of modern Ukrainian national literature and culture. On the one hand, standing up for a Ukrainian nation energized the mass resistance of the peoples particularly of western Ukraine against the annexationist efforts of the Polish monarchy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[3] On the other hand, the growth of the struggle for full Ukrainian national autonomy encountered a serious challenge from the social and economic conditions prevailing, and rapidly deteriorating, in eastern Ukraine (some of which was already effectively Russian). There the national question confronted a profound socio-economic challenge, deriving from the Russian landowners’ pressure in this period – in eastern Ukraine and throughout Russia  – to “en-serf” the peasants and deprive them ultimately of any legal rights to work any land of their own or for their own family’s account.[4] In the years immediately following its defeat in the Crimean War, the halting and indecisive character of Tsarism’s attempts at “reform from above” was not unexpected.

After eliminating serfdom in 1861, however, the failure of Tsar Alexander to allow the peasants to own and work land on their own, independent of the whims of the nobility or other landowners, greatly boosted the Ukrainian national movement along with all the other centrifugal forces tearing at the absolutism of tsarist autocracy.

Meanwhile, the stage in which the various movements for national autonomy from Tsarist autocracy inside imperial Russia eventually found their footing would emerge during the First World War. The Russian peasantry were conscripted in their hundreds of thousands to die like flies under heavy German shellfire. By the end of 1916, not only had the armies of Britain (plus its soldiery from Canada and other colonies) and France been bled to a point of near collapse. At the same time, the two-million-man army of the Tsar, which was supposed to be the Entente powers’ ace-in-the-hole against Germany, more or less collapsed and ceased to play any strategically consequential role in the conduct of the war.[5] Soviet propaganda for decades repeated the view that the USSR was the guarantor of a self-determining Ukrainian nation-state. Its correctness was demonstrated dramatically once again, this time by negative example, with the first so-called “Orange Revolution” imposed in 2004 via a coalition of neo-fascists and neo-liberals instigated and propped up by the George W. Bush administration that seized power in Kiev through mass demonstrations in the city’s central Maidan Square. Ten years later under the Obama administration, the latest coup has taken place along many of the same lines. Once again, it is the Ukrainian people’s turn to settle the question of what is the trouble and who are the troublemakers of the front of their national sovereignty. Only their movement and struggle can take away the war-threatening power of the US and EU imperialists on the one hand and restore brotherly relations of equality and mutual benefit with their neighbours the Russian people on the other.


1. The map below illustrates the network of Russian natural gas pipelines to southern Europe, including southeastern Germany, that go through Ukraine’s territory. (There are other Russian pipelines that go directly to northern Germany and Scandinavia.) Russian gas currently provides 30 per cent of the heating and industrial needs of Germany.

2. Since the French Revolution, one of the greatest damages wrought by Eurocentric thinking stems from the assumption that the one nation-one country pattern – which an extremely short list of countries in western Europe happen to have enjoyed always and everywhere – represents the true direction towards which all the rest of humanity ought to strive.

3. These powers sought to expand their control over this region, which they called “Eastern Galicia”. This designation came from schemes that they hatched with the Russian tsar that came to fruition during the 1770s, in which the territory of Poland was partitioned among Russia, Vienna and Warsaw. This, and the background of its development in the preceding couple of centuries, is examined in detail in Michael Hrushevsky, A History of Ukraine (Yale University Press 1941), Chapters 21-23

4. The shattering defeat suffered by Russia in the Crimean War strengthened the hand of a faction at the Tsar’s court seeking to reform the administration (including especially tax collection) of the lands worked by enserfed peasants. The leading faction in the national movement in western Ukraine thought these “modernizers” could be their silent ally in eastern Ukraine, standing in between the Ukrainian national movement and the Tsar. See Orest Subtelny, Ukraine: A History (University of Toronto Press, 1989), Part Four “Ukraine Under Imperial Rule.”

5. With the launch of the revolution in Petrograd in March 1917, hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers fled the front lines of the war for home. With the Bolshevik victory in October/November, Russia was completely out of the war. The Entente powers quickly assembled a counter-revolutionary army to attack and destroy the Bolshevik victory. The peasantry from various Ukrainian regions controlled by Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire were initially recruited for the armies of Kolchak and Denikin, the Russian Tsarist officers leading the counter-revolutionary war. See Vasyl Kuchabsky, Western Ukraine in Conflict with Poland and Bolshevism 1918-23 (Edmonton AB: Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies Press, 2009 – first English translation of the 1934 German edition)

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