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News :: Human Rights
Troublemaking Washington - Pushing Ukraine to the Brink
09 Jul 2014
“The unipolar world model has failed. People everywhere have shown their desire to choose their own destiny, preserve their own cultural identity, and oppose the West’s attempts at military, financial, political and ideological domination.”

- Vladimir Putin

“While the human politics of the crisis in Ukraine garner all the headlines, it is the gas politics that in many ways lies at the heart of the conflict.”

- Eric Draitser, Waging war against Russia, one pipeline at a time, RT
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What does a pipeline in Afghanistan have to do with the crisis in Ukraine?

Everything. It reveals the commercial interests that drive US policy. Just as the War in Afghanistan was largely fought to facilitate the transfer of natural gas from Turkmenistan to the Arabian Sea, so too, Washington engineered the bloody coup in Kiev to cut off energy supplies from Russia to Europe to facilitate the US pivot to Asia.

This is why policymakers in Washington are reasonably satisfied with the outcome of the war in Afghanistan despite the fact that none of the stated goals were achieved. Afghanistan is not a functioning democracy with a strong central government, drug trafficking has not been eradicated, women haven’t been liberated, and the infrastructure and school systems are worse than they were before the war. By every objective standard the war was a failure. But, of course, the stated goals were just public relations blather anyway. They don’t mean anything. What matters is gas, namely the vast untapped reserves in Turkmenistan that could be extracted by privately-owned US corporations who would use their authority to control the growth of US competitors or would-be rivals like China. That’s what the war was all about. The gas is going to be transported via a pipeline from Turkmenistan, across Afghanistan, Pakistan and India to the Arabian sea, eschewing Russian and Iranian territory. The completion of the so called TAPI pipeline will undermine the development of an Iranian pipeline, thus sabotaging the efforts of a US adversary.

The TAPI pipeline illustrates how Washington is aggressively securing the assets it needs to maintain its dominance for the foreseeable future. Now, check this out from The Express Tribune, July 5:

“Officials of Pakistan, India, Afghanistan and Turkmenistan are set to meet in Ashgabat next week to push ahead with a planned transnational gas pipeline connecting the four countries and reach a settlement on the award of the multi-billion-dollar project to US companies.

“The US is pushing the four countries to grant the lucrative pipeline contract to its energy giants. Two US firms – Chevron and ExxonMobil – are in the race to become consortium leaders, win the project and finance the laying of the pipeline,” a senior government official said while talking to The Express Tribune.

Washington has been lobbying for the gas supply project, called Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India (Tapi) pipeline, terming it an ideal scheme to tackle energy shortages in Pakistan. On the other side, it pressed Islamabad to shelve the Iran-Pakistan gas pipeline because of a nuclear standoff with Tehran…

According to officials, Petroleum and Natural Resources Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi will lead a delegation at the meeting of the TAPI pipeline steering committee on July 8 in Ashgabat.

…At present, bid documents are being prepared in consultation with the Asian Development Bank, which is playing the role of transaction adviser. The documents will be given to the two companies only for taking part in the tender.

Chevron is lobbying in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan to clinch a deal, backed by the US State Department. However, other companies could also become part of the consortium that will be led either by Chevron or ExxonMobil.” (TAPI pipeline: Officials to finalise contract award in Ashgabat next week, The Express Tribune)

So the pipeline plan is finally moving forward and, as the article notes, “The documents will be given to the two companies only for taking part in the tender.”

Nice, eh? So the State Department applies a little muscle and “Voila”, Chevron and Exxon clinch the deal. How’s that for a free market?

And who do you think is going to protect that 1,000 mile stretch of pipeline through hostile Taliban-controlled Afghanistan?

Why US troops, of course, which is why US military bases are conveniently located up an down the pipeline route. Coincidence?

Not on your life. Operation “Enduring Freedom” is a bigger hoax than the threadbare war on terror.

So let’s not kid ourselves. The war had nothing to do with liberating women or bringing democracy to the unwashed masses. It was all about power politics and geostrategic maneuvering; stealing resources, trouncing potential rivals, and beefing up profits for the voracious oil giants. Who doesn’t know that already? Here’s more background from the Wall Street Journal:

“Earlier this month, President Obama sent a letter to (Turkmenistan) President Berdimuhamedow emphasizing a common interest in helping develop Afghanistan and expressing Mr. Obama’s support for TAPI and his desire for a major U.S. firm to construct it.

…Progress on TAPI will also jump-start many of the other trans-Afghan transport projects—including roads and railroads—that are at the heart of America’s “New Silk Road Strategy” for the Afghan economy.

The White House should understand that if TAPI isn’t built, neither U.S. nor U.N. sanctions will prevent Pakistan from building a pipeline from Iran.” (The Pipeline That Could Keep the Peace in Afghanistan, Wall Street Journal)

Can you see what’s going on? Afghanistan, which is central to Washington’s pivot strategy, is going to be used for military bases, resource extraction and transportation. That’s it. There’s not going to be any reconstruction or nation building. The US doesn’t do that anymore. This is the stripped-down, no-frills, 21st century imperialism. “No nation for you, buddy. Just give us your gas and off we’ll go.” That’s how the system works now. It’s alot like Iraq –the biggest hellhole on earth–where “oil production has surged to its highest level in over 30 years”. (according to the Wall Street Journal) And who’s raking in the profits on that oil windfall?

Why the oil giants, of course. (ExxonMobil, BP and Shell) Maybe that’s why you never read about what a terrible mistake the war was. Because for the people who count, it really wasn’t a mistake at all. In fact, it all worked out pretty well.

Of course, the US will support the appearance of democracy in Kabul, but the government won’t have any real power beyond the capital. It never did anyway. (Locals jokingly called Karzai the “mayor of Kabul”) As for the rest of the country; it will be ruled by warlords as it has been since the invasion in 2001. (Remember the Northern Alliance? Hate to break the news, but they’re all bloodthirsty, misogynist warlords who were reinstated by Rumsfeld and Co.)

This is the new anarchic “Mad Max” template Washington is applying wherever it intervenes. The intention is to dissolve the nation-state in order to remove any obstacle to resource extraction, which is why failed states are popping up wherever the US sticks its big nose. It’s all by design. Chaos is the objective. Simply put: It’s easier to steal whatever one wants when there’s no center of power to resist.

This is why political leaders in Europe are so worried, because they don’t like the idea of sharing a border with Somalia, which is exactly what Ukraine is going to look like when the US is done with it.

In Ukraine, the US is using a divide and conquer strategy to pit the EU against trading partner Moscow. The State Department and CIA helped to topple Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych and install a US stooge in Kiev who was ordered to cut off the flow of Russian gas to the EU and lure Putin into a protracted guerilla war in Ukraine. The bigwigs in Washington figured that, with some provocation, Putin would react the same way he did when Georgia invaded South Ossetia in 2006. But, so far, Putin has resisted the temptation to get involved which is why new puppet president Petro Poroshenko has gone all “Jackie Chan” and stepped up the provocations by pummeling east Ukraine mercilessly. It’s just a way of goading Putin into sending in the tanks.

But here’s the odd part: Washington doesn’t have a back-up plan. It’s obvious by the way Poroshenko keeps doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. That demonstrates that there’s no Plan B. Either Poroshenko lures Putin across the border and into the conflict, or the neocon plan falls apart, which it will if they can’t demonize Putin as a “dangerous aggressor” who can’t be trusted as a business partner.

So all Putin has to do is sit-tight and he wins, mainly because the EU needs Moscow’s gas. If energy supplies are terminated or drastically reduced, prices will rise, the EU will slide back into recession, and Washington will take the blame. So Washington has a very small window to draw Putin into the fray, which is why we should expect another false flag incident on a much larger scale than the fire in Odessa. Washington is going to have to do something really big and make it look like it was Moscow’s doing. Otherwise, their pivot plan is going to hit a brick wall. Here’s a tidbit readers might have missed in the Sofia News Agency’s novinite site:

“Ukraine’s Parliament adopted .. a bill under which up to 49% of the country’s gas pipeline network could be sold to foreign investors. This could pave the way for US or EU companies, which have eyed Ukrainian gas transportation system over the last months.

…Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk was earlier quoted as saying that the bill would allow Kiev to “attract European and American partners to the exploitation and modernization of Ukraine’s gas transportation,” in a situation on Ukraine’s energy market he described as “super-critical”. Critics of the bill have repeatedly pointed the West has long been interest in Ukraine’s pipelines, with some seeing in the Ukrainian revolution a means to get access to the system. (Ukraine allowed to sell up to 49% of gas pipeline system,

Boy, you got to hand it to the Obama throng. They really know how to pick their coup-leaders, don’t they? These puppets have only been in office for a couple months and they’re already giving away the farm.

And, such a deal! US corporations will be able to buy up nearly half of a pipeline that moves 60 percent of the gas that flows from Russia to Europe. That’s what you call a tollbooth, my friend; and US companies will be in just the right spot to gouge Moscow for every drop of natural gas that transits those pipelines. And gouge they will too, you can bet on it.

Is that why the State Department cooked up this loony putsch, so their fatcat, freeloading friends could rake in more dough?

This also explains why the Obama crowd is trying to torpedo Russia’s other big pipeline project called Southstream. Southstream is a good deal for Europe and Russia. On the one hand, it would greatly enhance the EU’s energy security, and on the other, it will provide needed revenues for Russia so they can continue to modernize, upgrade their dilapidated infrastructure, and improve standards of living. But “the proposed pipeline (which) would snake about 2,400 kilometers, or roughly 1,500 miles, from southern Russia via the Black Sea to Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and ultimately Austria. (and) could handle about 60 billion cubic meters of natural gas a year, enough to allow Russian exports to Europe to largely bypass Ukraine” (New York Times) The proposed pipeline further undermines Washington’s pivot strategy, so Obama, the State Department and powerful US senators (Ron Johnson, John McCain, and Chris Murphy) are doing everything in their power to torpedo the project.

“What gives Vladimir Putin his power and control is his oil and gas reserves and West and Eastern Europe’s dependence on them,” Senator Johnson said in an interview. “We need to break up his stranglehold on energy supplies. We need to bust up that monopoly.” (New York Times)

What a bunch of baloney. Putin doesn’t have a monopoly on gas. Russia only provides 30 percent of the gas the EU uses every year. And Putin isn’t blackmailing anyone either. Countries in the EU can either buy Russian gas or not buy it. It’s up to them. No one has a gun to their heads. And Gazprom’s prices are competitive too, sometimes well-below market rates which has been the case for Ukraine for years, until crackpot politicians started sticking their thumb in Putin’s eye at every opportunity; until they decided that that they didn’t have to pay their bills anymore because, well, because Washington told them not to pay their bills. That’s why.

Ukraine is in the mess it’s in today for one reason, because they decided to follow Washington’s advice and shoot themselves in both feet. Their leaders thought that was a good idea. So now the country is broken, penniless and riven by social unrest. Regrettably, there’s no cure for stupidity.

The neocon geniuses apparently believe that if they sabotage Southstream and nail down 49 percent ownership of Ukraine’s pipeline infrastructure, then the vast majority of Russian gas will have to flow through Ukrainian pipelines. They think that this will give them greater control over Moscow. But there’s a glitch to this plan which analyst Jeffrey Mankoff pointed out in an article titled “Can Ukraine Use Its Gas Pipelines to Threaten Russia?”. Here’s what he said:

“The biggest problem with this approach is a cut in gas supplies creates real risks for the European economy… In fact, Kyiv’s efforts to siphon off Russian gas destined to Europe to offset the impact of a Russian cutoff in January 2009 provide a window onto why manipulating gas supplies is a risky strategy for Ukraine. Moscow responded to the siphoning by halting all gas sales through Ukraine for a couple of weeks, leaving much of eastern and southern Europe literally out in the cold. European leaders reacted angrily, blaming both Moscow and Kyiv for the disruption and demanding that they sort out their problems. While the EU response would likely be somewhat more sympathetic to Ukraine today, Kyiv’s very vulnerability and need for outside financial support makes incurring European anger by manipulating gas supplies very risky.” (Can Ukraine Use Its Gas Pipelines to Threaten Russia, two paragraphs)

The funny thing about gas is that, when you stop paying the bills, they turn the heat off. Is that hard to understand?

So, yes, the State Department crystal-gazers and their corporate-racketeer friends might think they have Putin by the shorthairs by buying up Ukraine’s pipelines, but the guy who owns the gas (Gazprom) is still in the drivers seat. And he’s going to do what’s in the best interests of himself and his shareholders. Someone should explain to John Kerry that that’s just how capitalism works.

Washington’s policy in Ukraine is such a mess, it really makes one wonder about the competence of the people who come up with these wacko ideas. Did the brainiacs who concocted this plan really think they’d be able to set up camp between two major trading partners, turn off the gas, reduce a vital transit country into an Iraq-type basketcase, and start calling the shots for everyone in the region?

It’s crazy.

Europe and Russia are a perfect fit. Europe needs gas to heat its homes and run its machinery. Russia has gas to sell and needs the money to strengthen its economy. It’s a win-win situation. What Europe and Russia don’t need is the United States. In fact, the US is the problem. As long as US meddling persists, there’s going to be social unrest, division, and war. It’s that simple. So the goal should be to undermine Washington’s ability to conduct these destabilizing operations and force US policymakers to mind their own freaking business. That means there should be a concerted effort to abandon the dollar, ditch US Treasuries, jettison the petrodollar system, and force the US to become a responsible citizen that complies with International law.

It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen, mainly because everyone is sick and tired of all the troublemaking.

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Fascist-infested, imperialist-backed Ukraine coup
10 Jul 2014
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Workers Hammer No. 226 Spring 2014

Crimea is Russian

On 18 March, 2014, Crimea officially rejoined Russia as Russian president Vladimir Putin signed a reunification treaty with his Crimean counterpart. This came two days after Crimea voted by nearly 97 per cent in favour of secession from Ukraine and absorption into Russia, with 83 per cent of the electorate reportedly participating in the poll. The overwhelming desire of Crimea’s population to rejoin Russia is irrelevant, however, to the Western imperialists. The Obama administration and its European allies, including Britain, have refused to recognise Crimea’s reunification with Russia. David Cameron proclaimed that: “A sham and illegal referendum has taken place at the barrel of a Kalashnikov.” The British government has joined Washington and the EU in imposing a new round of sanctions against Russia, including travel bans and asset freezes targeting officials. We say: No to sanctions against Russia!

As Putin was ratifying the accession of Crimea to the Russian Federation, in Brussels, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, appointed Ukrainian prime minister in the wake of the imperialist-backed, fascist-infested coup in Kiev, was signing an “association agreement” with the EU. In a further provocation against the Russians, the EU imperialists have brought forward similar deals with two former Soviet republics — Georgia and Moldova. Meanwhile NATO’s sabre-rattling has continued apace. At a 6 March meeting General Anders Fogh Rasmussen assured Yatsenyuk that NATO “will strengthen our efforts to build the capacity of the Ukrainian military, including with more joint training and exercises”. Already the US has sent twelve warplanes and 300 personnel to Poland in the wake of Russia’s intervention in the Crimea. And while planned joint military exercises with Russia have been cancelled, around 1300 troops, including British forces, are set to take part in Rapid Trident, a military exercise in Lviv, western Ukraine. It is in the interest of the working people internationally to oppose this imperialist warmongering.

The article below is adapted from Workers Vanguard no 1041, 7 March. We have omitted the second clause (shown in italics) from the sentence in the original article which reads: “It is principled for Marxists to support the Russian intervention into Crimea so long as Russia were to implement special rights for the Crimean Tatar minority, who are plenty oppressed under Ukrainian rule.” We have also omitted the entire sentence which says: “For example, if Russian forces use the takeover of the Crimea to deepen the oppression of the Tatars, it would then be unprincipled to support the Russian invasion.” As a motion voted by the International Secretariat on 28 March noted: “Making self-determination of Crimea dependent on the Putin government extending special rights to the Tatars, as we did, undercut our correct position that Crimea is Russian”. Moreover, as the motion stated, “we have never made our call for independence of Quebec contingent on the Quebecois bourgeoisie granting full rights to the Native Indian population”.

* * *

MARCH 3 — As Russian strongman Vladimir Putin deployed troops into Crimea, following a resolution in the Russian parliament, the Western propaganda machine went into hysterical overdrive. US secretary of state John Kerry declared that Russia would pay “a huge price” for its incursion, threatening Russia’s removal from the imperialist Group of 8 and the freezing of Russian assets abroad. Without the slightest hint of irony, Kerry pontificated, “You just don’t, in the 21st century, behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.” Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, etc — the list of countries threatened and invaded by the US and British imperialists “in the 21st century” goes on and on. Indeed, events in Ukraine have the hands of the US imperialists in particular, as well as those of the European Union (EU), all over them.

Russia’s intervention into Crimea is a direct response to the overthrow of the government in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. On 22 February, the corrupt pro-Russia president, Viktor Yanukovich, was toppled by a right-wing coup spearheaded by fascists and supported by the US and the EU; Yanukovich subsequently fled to Russia. The thugs toting Molotov cocktails who have been at the head of the three-month mass mobilisations in the streets of Kiev, seizing government buildings and violently confronting the police, now have the upper hand. The fascists of the Svoboda party have a deputy prime minister and several ministers in the new government. Svoboda co-founder Andriy Parubiy is now head of the National Security and Defence Council, which supervises the armed forces. The new deputy prime minister for economic affairs is Oleksandr Sych of Svoboda, a member of parliament infamous for his attempts to ban all abortions, including in the event of rape. While Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Washington’s favourite and head of the Fatherland party, is now in charge as prime minister, the thugs of Maidan square continue to dictate policy.

The seizure of power by a right-wing Ukrainian nationalist coup deeply alarmed the populace in Russian-speaking areas of eastern and southeastern Ukraine in particular. Indeed, one of the first acts of the new regime was to abolish a 2012 law allowing the official use of Russian and other minority languages. This was rightly seen as an attack on non-Ukrainian minorities, prompting widespread protests, including even in Lviv, where the fascists have a sizable base. Thirteen out of Ukraine’s 27 regions, primarily in eastern Ukraine, had adopted Russian as a second official language, and two western regions adopted Romanian, Hungarian and Moldovan. In Crimea — where 58.5 per cent of the population is ethnic Russian, 24.4 per cent is Ukrainian and 12.1 per cent are Tatars — Kiev’s new chauvinist law hit particularly hard, as some 97 per cent of the region’s two million people use Russian as their main language, regardless of ethnic background.

The Russian military, with the aid of local “self-defence” forces, has established control over the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Reportedly, the majority of Ukrainian troops in Crimea have switched sides, with some resigning. Meanwhile, the head of the Ukrainian navy has defected to the Russian side, as well as the 800 personnel of a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea. Unrest has also spread to eastern Ukraine.

There are numerous Russian troops and naval personnel on the Crimean peninsula. By agreement with previous Ukrainian governments, the city of Sevastopol is the home base for the Russian Black Sea Fleet.

Predictably, the new Ukrainian government has denounced Putin’s intervention as a Russian seizure of Ukrainian territory, and bourgeois pundits have raised comparisons with the 2008 Russo-Georgian War. The Russian military intervention into Crimea is not akin to that war, during which Russian forces moved into Georgian territory. In that war, Marxists had a revolutionary defeatist line, opposing both bourgeois military forces. (Georgia was backed by Western imperialism.)

Contrary to how it is often presented in the Western media, the Russian intervention into Crimea is not an intervention into a “foreign country”, notwithstanding Crimea’s formal status as part of Ukraine. Crimea has been Russian since the late 18th century, when it was wrested from the Ottoman Empire. It was only in 1954 that Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev ceded Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Later, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, this took on significance, as the fate of the area was the subject of heated disputes between the now bourgeois states of Russia and Ukraine. In 1991, an attempt by local inhabitants to hold a referendum on Crimea’s independence was banned by the Ukrainian authorities. Another attempt in 1992, which asked whether voters wanted Crimea returned to Russia, was also declared illegal by the Ukrainian government. Pro-Russian Crimean forces attempted yet again to have another referendum in 1994 but Kiev once again intervened, first downgrading the referendum to a consultative vote and then banning it altogether. The vote went ahead anyway, with overwhelming support for autonomy, including nearly 83 per cent of voters backing a provision allowing Crimean residents to hold dual citizenship (Russian as well as Ukrainian). The following year, when several Crimean parliamentary deputies threatened to hold a referendum on reunification with Russia, the Ukrainian parliament annulled Crimea’s constitution, abolished its presidency, moved to disarm the presidential guard and began criminal proceedings against Crimea’s president at the time, Yuri Meshkov.

The main opposition from within Crimea to seceding from Ukraine comes from the Tatars, an overwhelmingly Muslim Turkic people. On 26 February, fighting in the Crimean capital of Simferopol broke out between Tatars and pro-Russian demonstrators, leaving two dead and 30 injured. Distrust of Russian authorities among the Tatars dates back to the period of Joseph Stalin, who deported the Crimean Tatars en masse in 1944 from their historic homeland to Central Asia and other parts of the Soviet Union.

Since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, we have emphasised the need for working people to join together in struggle against capitalist exploitation and all manifestations of oppression, national subjugation and anti-Jewish bigotry. In a 3 April 1995 statement by the International Communist League, issued at a time when we were banned from Ukraine as part of an anti-communist witch hunt, we stressed that “today, in our quest for the democratic rights of the working people and all nationalities to be asserted and defended, we believe that a plebiscite on national affiliation is in order in the Crimea and Chechnya” (Workers Vanguard no 620, 7 April 1995).

The people of Crimea have every right to self-determination, including independence or incorporation into Russia. In the present juncture, exercising that right might well depend on the support of Russian forces. Indeed, it was the new Crimean government that requested Russian intervention.

It is principled for Marxists to support the Russian intervention into Crimea. That Crimea was ever transferred to Ukraine was a stupid administrative error of the Khrushchev regime, contrary to the history as well as the national and linguistic make-up of Crimea. Although it remains to be seen, the new authorities have at least verbally stated that they want to redress Tatar concerns. Crimea’s deputy prime minister, Rustam Temirgaliev, has declared that the local government will offer the Crimean Tatars a place on Crimea’s Supreme Council and that funding for programmes of resettlement and reintegration of those deported during the Stalin era will be plentiful (Russia Today, 2 March).

For the right of all nations to self-determination!

The right of self-determination and other national rights apply to the peoples of all nations, including those of great powers like Russia. As Marxists, we have always rejected the methodology that democratic rights apply only to certain “progressive” peoples, as opposed to those designated “reactionary”. For example, the Zionist state viciously oppresses the Palestinians, but we recognise the national rights of Israeli Jews as well as the Palestinians and oppose the view that the Jews should be driven into the sea. In Northern Ireland, the Catholic minority is oppressed by the (slim) Protestant majority and the British state. But we recognise that the Protestants are a distinct community and oppose their forcible reunification into an Irish Catholic state. We stand for an Irish workers republic as part of a voluntary federation of workers republics in the British Isles.

Self-determination is a democratic right and not an absolute one. Its application is subject to the demands of the class struggle. As Bolshevik leader VI Lenin underlined, the recognition of the right of self-determination is a way to get the national question off the agenda and to foster the fighting unity of the proletariat, thereby enabling the working people of different nations to see who their real enemies are — namely, their respective capitalist classes. We are implacable opponents of Russian nationalism, just as we oppose all forms of nationalism. Thus we supported the Chechen people in their military struggles for independence against their brutal Russian bourgeois oppressors, under both Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin.

In intervening into Crimea, Putin is seeking to defend the interests of capitalist Russia against the Western imperialists, who are aiming to establish a client state on his border. At the same time, in the context of increasing hostilities against ethnic Russians in Ukraine, Russia’s realpolitik military manoeuvres intersect the very real national fears faced by Russians in Crimea.

Workers must sweep the fascists off the streets!

Just as our attitude towards Russian intervention into Crimea does not entail the slightest political support to Putin’s capitalist regime, our opposition to the Ukraine coup does not entail any political support to Yanukovich and his cronies. What was necessary in the lead-up to the coup was for proletarian class unity to be asserted above the national and ethnic divisions that plague that country. It would have been in the interest of the international proletariat for the working class in Ukraine to mobilise to sweep the fascists off the streets of Kiev. Today, it would certainly be in the interest of the proletariat for multiethnic, non-sectarian workers militias to be formed to crush the fascists and repel any and all expressions of communal violence.

In our article “Ukraine Turmoil: Capitalist Powers in Tug of War” (Workers Vanguard no 1038, 24 January), we pointed out the major role played by fascists in the anti-government demonstrations in Ukraine. But despite ample evidence that neo-Nazis have a strong hold on the opposition now in power, the New York Times and other mouthpieces of the American ruling class still will not call them by their right name. The Western media continues to sell the lie that this coup is the result of a “peaceful revolution” for democracy and against corruption.

Svoboda is a fascist anti-Jewish party whose leader Oleg Tyagnibok claims that a “Moscow-Jewish mafia” controls Ukraine. This party derives from the Ukrainian nationalists led by Stepan Bandera, who militarily collaborated with the Nazis during World War II and carried out mass murders of Jews, Communists, Soviet soldiers and Poles. The party was initially named Social-National Party of Ukraine, an intentional reference to the German Nazi (National Socialist) party. In January, Svoboda led a 15,000-strong torch-lit march in Kiev and another in its stronghold of Lviv, in western Ukraine, in memory of their hero Bandera.

Even more extreme groups such as the Right Sector, which considers Svoboda too “liberal” and “conformist”, went on to outflank Svoboda in the protests. Introducing paramilitary gangs, they turned the tide of the protests in Kiev to attacks on police, with the aim of overthrowing the government. Following the coup, Right Sector supporters in Stryi, in the Lviv region, destroyed a national monument to the Red Army soldiers who died liberating Ukraine from Nazi Germany. (Dozens of statues of Lenin have also been dismantled in the past couple of months.) Aleksandr Muzychko, leader of the West Ukrainian section of the group, has pledged to fight against “Jews, communists and Russian scum until I die”. Asserting the Right Sector’s authority over the situation, Muzychko declared that now that the government has been overthrown, “there will be order and discipline” or “Right Sector squads will shoot the bastards on the spot”.

To the extent that a government exists now in post-coup Ukraine, its laws are largely dictated by these neo-Nazi, Russophobic, anti-Jewish, ultra-nationalist outfits. In addition to stripping the official status of minority languages, the new regime also banned in the western regions of Ukraine the “Communist” Party of Ukraine (CP), which openly collaborated with the bourgeois Yanukovich regime, as well as Yanukovich’s Party of Regions. The CP, which claims 115,000 members and more than two million voters, reports that its supporters have been harassed and beaten and that the CP leader’s house was burned down. Meanwhile, citing “constant warnings concerning intentions to attack Jewish institutions”, a Kiev rabbi called on the Jewish population to leave the city and even the country if possible. Indeed, on 24 February a Jewish synagogue was firebombed in Zaporozhye in southeastern Ukraine. A 3 March statement by the Russian Foreign Ministry noted, “The West’s allies now are outright neo-Nazis who wreck Orthodox churches and synagogues.”

The present crisis in Ukraine was precipitated by Yanukovich’s decision to reject a “partnership” with the EU. That deal was tied to an IMF loan that would have put the Ukrainian working class on starvation rations, as happened to the Greeks and others. US assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs Victoria Nuland, EU representative for foreign affairs Catherine Ashton, US senator John McCain and numerous other American and European politicians rushed to Maidan square in Kiev to encourage the protesters and show their support. On 17 December, Russian president Putin offered the cash-strapped Yanukovich a $15 billion [£9.1 billion] loan and a reduction in gas prices. While far from enough to lift the country out of poverty, this would have been a temporary reprieve for Ukraine, which is about to default. Putin’s loan was immediately denounced by the US Senate as “Russian economic coercion”.

At every level, what is going on in Ukraine is the product of the capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet bureaucratically degenerated workers state and ravaged the economies and peoples of the former Soviet republics. The Ukrainian economy, which had been integrated into an all-Union economic division of labour, was dealt a severe blow. Living standards plummeted throughout the former USSR. In Ukraine, real wages in 2000 were at best only one-third of 1991 levels, while industrial employment fell 50 per cent between 1991 and 2001.

As a former Soviet Republic, Ukraine is still economically very dependent on Russia. The bulk of industry — the production of steel, metals, railway cars and nuclear equipment — is located in the heavily Russified and Orthodox eastern Ukraine, not in the more rural and Uniate Catholic west. These industries, crucial for Russia, are of no use to the Western imperialists, who are intent on liquidating them.

Ukraine’s population of 46 million is deeply divided, with much of western Ukraine advocating closer ties with the EU while eastern and southern regions look to Russia for support. The country was also polarised between corrupt gangs of capitalist tycoons who were earlier scratching each other’s backs while gorging themselves on the theft of the industrial wealth built up over decades by the multinational Soviet working class. Some of these oligarchs, with an appetite for more European investment, orient to the West. Meanwhile, Yanukovich’s support derived from eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which trade with Russia.

The Ukrainian working class, which had shown militancy in the early 1990s in the eastern industrial Donetsk region, has so far remained silent as a class. No doubt the workers feel little sympathy for mafia chief Yanukovich. But the pro-imperialist coup in Ukraine, ushered in by fascists, offers up the working class for even more savage exploitation by the imperialists.

Great-power rivalries

Siding with ultra-reactionaries and fascists has never bothered the “democratic” US imperialists. In fact, the Banderaites are old friends of Washington. After World War II, Western intelligence protected Bandera’s units and turned them into a guerrilla force against the Soviets, also making them a mainstay of Radio Free Europe. Today, in need of even harsher austerity to keep profits flowing, the Ukrainian ruling class and its imperialist godfathers may find the fascists handy to divert the focus of social discontent from the oligarchs and foreign capitalists to minorities like Jews and immigrants, or to crush militant workers and leftists.

When Barack Obama first came to power, he talked of attempting a “reset” of relations with Russia. However, the US attitude towards Russia today resembles something from the days of the Dulles brothers during the 1950s Cold War era, with the vilification of Russia a theme constantly reiterated by both US media and politicians. But the US imperialists’ hostility to Russia is no longer about overthrowing the collectivised property relations that were established by the 1917 October Revolution. Rather, it is an expression of “great power” politics.

Seven decades of a planned economy transformed Soviet Russia from a largely peasant country to a mainly urbanised one, with rough military parity with the US, a skilled workforce and a very substantial number of highly trained scientific and technical personnel. Thanks in great part to the high price of oil and gas in recent years, the Russian economy has recovered from the catastrophe of “shock therapy” that came with capitalist counterrevolution. Russia is the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas, and it still has a sizable nuclear weapons arsenal. It also has a permanent seat on the UN Security Council and the power to at times be a thorn in the side of the US, as when Obama threatened to attack Syria last year.

In its constant drive for world hegemony, the US has been trying to curtail Russia’s strength as a regional power, continuously expanding NATO into Eastern Europe and attempting to install pliant regimes through a series of colour “revolutions” in former Soviet republics. The US has also established bases across Central Asia and elsewhere on Russia’s periphery. This military extension is aimed at the encirclement not only of capitalist Russia but also of China, the largest and most powerful of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states. For its part, Russia has numerous times gone along with American imperialism. For example, since 2009 Russia has allowed the US to transport troops and weapons to Afghanistan through its airspace, having previously limited transport through its territory to “nonlethal” supplies.

With breathtaking hypocrisy, the US and EU — with their media mouthpieces in tow — condemn Russia for “interference” into Ukraine’s affairs. It is, in fact, the imperialists who have their dirty hands all over Ukraine. When a telephone conversation was leaked last month between Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, the US ambassador to Ukraine, all the focus in the media revolved around her statement, “Fuck the EU.” Disappeared was the fact that this was a dispute over who should take power after Yanukovich, with Nuland outright rejecting the prospect of former boxer Vitali Klitschko, who was being promoted by German imperialism (Klitschko actually pays taxes in Germany). As professor Stephen Cohen aptly described the phone call in a 20 February Democracy Now! interview, “The highest-ranking State Department official, who presumably represents the Obama administration, and the American ambassador in Kiev are, to put it in blunt terms, plotting a coup d’état against the elected president of Ukraine.”

In the recent coup, the EU — with Germany, France and Poland taking the lead — has played a prominent role as a battering ram for IMF austerity. The EU is an imperialist trade bloc dominated by Germany, and its “offer” of partnership would spell even deeper poverty for the Ukrainian working class. The IMF loan tied to the EU agreement stipulates that Ukraine cannot accept any financial support from Russia. It requires the slashing of gas and oil subsidies for Ukrainians, making it impossible for many to heat their homes in the frigid winter, and demands further and far more drastic privatisations of public services and industries. In short, it would ensure massive economic privation for Ukraine’s working people, east and west.

Ironically, Yanukovich, who had been more than willing to work with the EU, probably turned down the loan agreement because he feared he would not politically survive the social consequences of the austerity package accompanying it. Ukraine needs some $35 billion [£21.2 billion] just to meet its debt obligations over the next two years. But not much is actually on offer from the EU and US imperialists.

Pro-imperialist socialists

The Western bourgeois media has been working overtime to pass off the reactionary demonstrations in Kiev as a “fight for democracy” and to cover up the role of open neo-Nazis. In this they have been aided by the reformists of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). An article by party leader Alex Callinicos titled “Putin raises the stakes in imperialist Crimea crisis” (, 22 March) describes the protests that ousted Yanukovich as “a genuine popular movement against the now exiled president”. The SWP acknowledges that what it coyly calls “the far right” has “played a significant role in the ‘Euromaidan’ occupation in Kiev” but asserts that “those who claim Yanukovych’s overthrow was a ‘fascist coup’ are parroting Moscow propaganda”.

Nowhere does the SWP recognise the right of self-determination of the Russian population of the Crimea. Rather, parroting British capitalist propaganda, the SWP insinuates that the massive vote for rejoining Russia was illegitimate “confirming the existing reality with Russian troops on the ground”. The SWP denies the threat posed to Ukraine’s minorities, claiming that “beyond a parliamentary vote in Kiev to strip Russian of its status as an official language, there is little evidence of any real threat to Russian speakers.”

In its theoretical journal, the SWP seeks to put a more “Marxist” gloss on its opportunism. Acknowledging “the role of fascist forces in the events” in the Ukraine, the SWP claims: “Ukraine's Euromaidan protests illustrate the contradictory nature of movements, which in the context of a social crisis can either be pulled to the left or to what Leon Trotsky called the ‘counter revolutionary politics of despair’” (Socialist Review, March 2014). The SWP habitually tails every mass movement, no matter how reactionary its leadership and programme, and ends up in bed with the worst enemies of the proletariat, from Khomeini in Iran in 1979 to the Muslim Brotherhood and then the bonapartist generals in Egypt today.

The Socialist Review article claims “When the unrest began last November there was a progressive element within the demonstrations with many workers and students joining.” Naïve left-wing groups, trade unionists and gay activists who tried to join the protests were expelled from the square by force of arms and beaten. The SWP is used to the company of arch-reactionaries. From its inception in the 1950s, the SWP’s international tendency has always sided with “democratic” imperialism. At the outbreak of the Korean War, the SWP abandoned Trotskyism by refusing to defend the Soviet Union, China and North Korea, going on to support any and all forces arrayed against the Soviet workers state in the name of “anti-Stalinism”. This included prettifying General Andrey Vlasov, the leader of the Russian fascists who fought on the side of Hitler’s Nazis during the Second World War.

The Russian Revolution and the national question

The Bolshevik party that led the October Revolution of 1917 steadfastly stood for the equality of all nations, peoples and languages. The Bolsheviks opposed any form of national inequality or privilege. This enabled them to rally the working people — Russians, Jews, Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Ukrainians, etc — to overthrow the rule of the capitalists and landlords.

For the first several years after the October Revolution, the Bolsheviks assiduously defended the rights of the various peoples and nationalities in the country. For example, the Crimean Autonomous Republic was established in 1921 within the Russian Federation; about a fifth of its population were Crimean Tatars. In the first years of Soviet power there was a marked development of Crimean Tatar national culture: the Tatars founded national research centres, museums, libraries and theatres. However, with the triumph and consolidation of a Stalinist bureaucracy beginning in 1923-24, Great Russian chauvinism began to flourish. Within years, teaching of the Crimean Tatar language and literature was ended, and all publications in the language were banned.

When the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union in 1941, a section of the Tatars welcomed them as liberators. But many other Tatars fought in the Soviet Army against Germany. Stalin then vindictively visited collective punishment on the Crimean Tatar population. In 1944, some 180,000 Tatars were deported to Central Asia and other parts of the USSR. The Chechens and Volga Germans received similar treatment. Almost one-half of the Tatars died on the way to exile. It was not until 1967 that Soviet authorities began the “rehabilitation” of the Tatars. Only two decades later were they allowed to begin returning to Crimea, creating great bitterness among the Tatars.

However, it would be a mistake to view national relations in the Soviet degenerated workers state as a simple continuation of the tsarist prison house of peoples. The policies of the Stalinist bureaucracy had a contradictory impact. The existence of a socialised economy with central planning provided the material basis for developing more backward areas of the USSR, such as Soviet Central Asia. Ukraine underwent substantial industrialisation and development. The achievement of full employment, medical care for all and other gains undercut the most virulent forms of bourgeois nationalism and anti-Semitism that are fuelled by the discontents of capitalist society. The Red Army smashed the Nazi invaders during World War II, liberating Ukraine from the fascist scum.

With the restoration of capitalism in the former Soviet Union, all the “old crap” returned, leading to a sharp intensification of communalism and a proliferation of national hatreds pitting working people against each other in a dog-eat-dog struggle for survival. As we have noted in the past, the breakup of the Soviet Union revealed a situation of considerable interpenetration of peoples and of economic production units that were inherited from and geared to a bureaucratically centralised planned economy. That is the situation with Ukraine, particularly in the eastern regions.

The future under capitalism is bleak. Further economic immiseration could well lead to increased bitterness and strife among differing ethnic groups, with a bloody “resolution” of the national question. As we noted in concluding our article on Ukraine in Workers Vanguard no 1038 (24 January): “The crucial task is to forge Leninist-Trotskyist parties that will wage a thoroughgoing struggle against all manifestations of nationalism and great-power chauvinism as part of patient but persistent propaganda aimed at winning the proletariat to the programme of international socialist revolution.”
The Risk of a Ukraine Bloodbath
11 Jul 2014
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Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko – by thumbing his nose at the leaders of Russia, Germany and France as they repeatedly appealed to him to renew the fragile ceasefire in eastern Ukraine – has left himself and his U.S. patrons isolated, though that’s not the version of the story that you’ll read in the mainstream U.S. press.

But the reality is that an unusual flurry of high-level conference calls last weekend from key European capitals failed to dissuade Poroshenko from launching major attacks on opposition forces in eastern Ukraine. Washington was alone in voicing support for Poroshenko’s decision, with a State Department spokeswoman saying “he has a right to defend his country.”

s Ukrainian air and artillery strikes increased on Tuesday, so did diplomatic activity among the Europeans with the U.S. playing no discernible role in the peace efforts. There was no sign, for example, that Secretary of State John Kerry was invited to a hastily called meeting in Berlin on Wednesday involving the foreign ministers of Germany (Frank-Walter Steinmeier), France (Laurent Fabius), Russia (Sergey Lavrov), and newly appointed Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

This marginalization of the U.S. is a consequence of a well-founded suspicion that Poroshenko’s fateful decision to “attack” came with Washington’s encouragement. The continued provocative behavior of Secretary Kerry, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland and other U.S. hardliners comes despite the fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin still holds the high cards in this regional standoff.

Putin has at his disposal a range of alternatives short of sending in tanks to protect the ethnic Russians of eastern Ukraine, many of whom had voted for President Viktor Yanukovych who was ousted in February by violent protests. The uprising was led by western Ukrainians demanding closer ties to Europe but was turned into a “regime change” on Feb. 22 through a putsch spearheaded by neo-Nazi militias contemptuous of the ethnic Russians living in the east and south.

Yanukovych’s ouster was strongly encouraged by Nuland, who handpicked Arseniy Yatsenyuk to be the leader of the interim government, while at least four ministries were awarded to the neo-Nazis, including the office of national security, in recognition of their key role in the final attacks that forced Yanukovych and his officials to flee for their lives.

Though hailed as “legitimate” by the U.S. State Department, the coup regime was rejected by many ethnic Russians in eastern and southern Ukraine. In Crimea, the population voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, a development that U.S. officials and the dutiful mainstream media characterized as a Russian “invasion.”

Similarly, in the east, in the so-called Donbass region, ethnic Russians rose up and asserted their independence from the Kiev regime, which then deemed them “terrorists” and launched an “antiterrorist” campaign that incorporated some of the neo-Nazi militias as National Guard units deployed as shock troops to crush the uprising. Several bloody massacres of ethnic Russians followed in Odessa and other cities.

In May, the election of Poroshenko – in balloting mostly conducted in western and central Ukraine – held out some hope for a negotiated settlement with guarantees to respect the ethnic Russian population and greater autonomy granted to the eastern regions. However, Poroshenko had trouble getting control of his hardliners and he refused to negotiate directly with the rebels, leading to the failure of a shaky ceasefire.

A Fateful Decision

While the focus over recent days has been on Poroshenko’s decision to end the ceasefire and go on the offensive, Putin has continued to rely on diplomacy as his primary tool, especially with European officials fearful of the economic consequences of a full-scale confrontation between Russia and the West. Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has made considerable headway in getting at least Berlin and Paris to join Moscow in trying to restrain Washington in its apparent eagerness to stoke the fires in Ukraine.

Speaking on Russian TV on Saturday, Lavrov said, “Peace within the warring country [Ukraine] would be more likely if negotiations were left to Russia and Europe,” adding, “Our American colleagues … according to a lot of evidence, still favor pushing the Ukrainian leadership towards the path of confrontation.”

That evidence is increasingly evident to Europeans. What is new is their apparent willingness to slip softly out of their accustomed lockstep subservience to the U.S. in such matters.

Washington is losing support elsewhere in Europe as well. Last Thursday, Kerry declared it “critical for Russia to show in the next hours, literally, that it is moving to help disarm the separatists,” and on Friday the European Union leaders set a Monday deadline for Russia to take a series of steps to avoid further sanctions.

Alas, Monday showed the Europeans putting off any action for at least another week. This delay has driven the editors of the neocon flagship Washington Post to distraction; in Wednesday’s edition they pouted that such lack of resolve amounts to “craven surrender” to “Russian aggression.”

Putin, meanwhile, is maintaining a determined coolness in his public remarks. In a major speech on Tuesday, he noted, in a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger tone:

“Unfortunately, President Poroshenko has resolved to resume military action, and we failed – when I say ‘we,’ I mean my colleagues in Europe and myself – we failed to convince him that the road to a secure, stable, and inviolable peace cannot lie through war. … Mr. Poroshenko had not been directly linked to the orders to begin military action, and only now did he take full responsibility, and not only military, but political as well, which is much more important.

“We also failed to agree to make public a statement approved by the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine on the need to maintain peace and search for mutually acceptable solutions.”

Focus on Europe

Putin reminded his audience of Russian ambassadors that “Europe is our natural and most significant trade and economic partner.” Adding a gentle reminder about Europe’s dependence on natural gas from Russia, Putin noted that Moscow had developed a reputation as a “reliable supplier of energy resources.” He also explained why Russia has put Ukraine on a pre-payment system for the delivery of natural gas, noting that Kiev had not paid its bill for several months.

Putin also took a dig at economic “blackmail” in referring to “the pressure our American partners are putting on France to force it not to supply Mistrals [helicopter carrier ships] to Russia.” Russia bought two Mistral-class ships from France for $1.6 billion in what was Moscow’s first major foreign arms purchase since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Appearing on French TV last month, Putin said, “We expect our French partners to fulfill their contractual obligations” and held out the prospect of future orders, an important enticement given France’s struggling economy.

Toward the end of his speech Putin also drew attention to the spread of “radical, neo-Nazi” elements not only in the fledgling states of the former USSR, “but also in Europe as a whole.” He warned that “social contradictions … can be a breeding ground for … the growth of extremism.”

Putin added that even in seemingly stable countries ethnic and social contradictions can suddenly escalate and become ripe for external players “to seek illegitimate, non-democratic regime change, with all the ensuing negative consequences.”

Putin seems to be challenging the Germans and French, in particular, who have had direct experience living under fascism (and who now have their own home-bred fascists to deal with), to decide whether they really wish to acquiesce in the brutal suppression of southeastern Ukrainians with the help of admirers of the late Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera and other Ukrainian fascists who helped Hitler cleanse Ukraine of Jewish and Russian “vermin.”

There is serious question as to whether Poroshenko can now rein in these Frankenstein extremists even if he seriously tried to do so. The ultra-nationalists and other hardliners in western Ukraine have made it clear to Poroshenko that they expect him to fulfill his promises about rapidly crushing the eastern Ukrainian uprising.

Meanwhile, the neocon-dominated Western mainstream media has consistently downplayed the role of fascists and neo-Nazis in the Putsch of Feb. 22, in the subsequent violence in other key cities like Odessa, and now in southeastern Ukraine. Mentioning Ukraine’s “brown shirts” destroys the U.S. media’s preferred narrative of Washington-backed “white hats” vs. Moscow-backed “black hats.”

The Russians, of course, have their own violent history with fascists and seem intent on waking other Europeans to the dangers – with the coup in Kiev a very recent reminder. Professor Stephen F. Cohen of New York University provides an excellent wrap-up of the evidence on this issue in a new article, “The Silence of American Hawks About Kiev’s Atrocities.”

Taking the Ukrainian Army Seriously

Nastupat is a strong word in Ukrainian and Russian. It means “attack” – and Poroshenko hit the word hard in announcing he had ordered his forces to “attack and free our lands.” He seemed intent not only on snubbing his peace-seeking telephone partners from last weekend, but also on channeling John Kerry’s hawkish buddy John McCain.

There were even hints of Bandera’s old attitude about ethnically purifying Ukraine in Poroshenko’s warning that Kiev’s new attack would rid Ukraine of “parasites.” The Ukrainian defense ministry quickly announced the launching of attacks “from the air and land,” and the violence has escalated sharply.

It struck me, though, as I watched the short clip from Reuters that the Washington Post and Huffington Post ran before the footage of Poroshenko’s solemn “nastupat’” announcement, that the segment did nothing to burnish the image of the Ukrainian troops he is sending off to battle.

The clip shows a ragged line of soldiers applauding two comrades as each approaches the corpulent, fatigue-clad, Poroshenko for an award that looks like a small box of chocolates – presumably from Poroshenko’s own candy factory.

The choreography was not the best. Nor has been the performance of Ukrainian troops sent to the east so far. But it would be far too easy to underestimate the kinds of casualties that elite Ukrainian units are capable of inflicting on lightly armed opponents – not to mention the highly trained Right Sektor and other fascists. A bloodbath may be in the offing.

Will Good Sense Prevail?

In his speech on Tuesday, Putin expressed the hope that “pragmatism will eventually prevail.” He tucked in one short paragraph relating directly to Russia’s relations with the U.S., stating merely, “We are not going to shut down our relationship with the United States,” while conceding that relations “are not in good shape” and blaming Washington for ignoring Russia’s “legitimate interests.”

And there is some reason to hope that, as the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine gather in Berlin, they will be able to reinstate the ceasefire and move the conflict off the battlefield and onto the negotiating table.

If Poroshenko chooses the path of bloodshed, however, Putin will react strongly. Russia can be counted on to supply arms to those under air and artillery attack from the Ukrainian military. If this proves to be not enough support, Moscow may decide to do even more, possibly adopting a favorite American strategy of declaring a “no-fly zone” and shooting down attacking aircraft.

But any overt or even covert Russian government assistance to the rebels would, in turn, be sure to add fuel to the fiery hysteria in Official Washington about “Russian aggression.” There would be demands on President Barack Obama to retaliate. Who knows where this madness would end?

In the first part of his Tuesday speech, Putin was upfront about the possibility of a Russian intervention to stop any Ukrainian military slaughter of ethnic Russians. He said he “would like to make clear” to all that Moscow might feel compelled to protect “Russians and Russian-speaking citizens of the Ukraine. … I am referring to those people who consider themselves part of the broad Russian community; they may not necessarily be ethnic Russians, but they consider themselves Russian people.”

Putin said, “This country will continue to actively defend the rights of Russians, our compatriots abroad, using the entire range of available means – from political and economic to the right to self-defense envisaged by international humanitarian law.”

Putin’s reference to “international humanitarian law” sounds very much like the “Responsibility to Protect” so favored by some of President Obama’s foreign policy advisers, though apparently not when the people doing the killing are being supported by the U.S. government.

If an even more dangerous crisis is to be averted, the Russian leader’s words need to be taken seriously. To stanch bloodletting in eastern Ukraine and to protect those on the receiving end of Poroshenko-authorized attacks, I would not expect Putin to let himself be mouse-trapped into invading Ukraine – at least not until he had exhausted all other alternatives.

More likely, he would impose a no-fly zone in an attempt to shield the opposition in the east and save it from being decimated. But that itself could represent a dangerous escalation. Poroshenko and his supporters should realize that such matters can get quickly out of hand. Putin has his own tough-guy John McCains to deal with.

Someone might remind Poroshenko of the embarrassingly bloody nose that the Russians gave Georgia’s then-President Mikheil Saakashvili in August 2008 when he sent Georgian forces to attack the city of Tskhinvali in South Ossetia. Moscow justified its military retaliation as necessary to prevent the killing of Russians as well as the Ossetians in the area.

Ultimately, President George W. Bush and then-Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who had encouraged Saakashvili’s adventurism, were powerless to protect him.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Savior in inner-city Washington. During his 27 years as a CIA analyst, he served as chief of CIA’s Soviet Foreign Policy Branch as well as preparer/briefer of the President’s Daily Brief. He is now on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

(Reprinted from