Ukraine-Russia: a troubled history

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By OSVALDO COGGIOLA*

The reason for the war is not Ukraine's independence; the current one is a war for the international political reconfiguration of a world in crisis

Is Ukraine a “Bolshevik invention” (or “Lenin's”) as Putin claimed when he announced his intention to intervene militarily in that country? Hasn't Ukraine always been more than a region or territory of Russia, which would mean that the current war would be a Russian civil war? In the midst of the war, Pope Francis praised XNUMXth-century Russian emperors, whom President Vladimir Putin invoked as models for his territorial annexations in Ukraine, sparking an international wave of protests.[I]

However, the Russo-Ukrainian question goes back centuries before the symbols of modern (and Christian) Russian absolutism evoked by Bergoglio. Ukraine is the second largest country in Europe by area after Russia, with which it borders to the east and northeast. It also borders Belarus to the north; Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the West; Romania and Moldova to the south; and has maritime coastlines along the Sea of ​​Azov and the Black Sea. It covers an area of ​​more than 600 km², with 41,5 million inhabitants (immediately before the war).

Historically, contrary to Putin, it could be said that it was Russia that emanated from the primitive Ukraine, not the other way around. The first Slavic (or “Russian”) state in the region was Rus' from Kyiv:[ii] From the XNUMXth century onwards, it was in the orbit of Byzantium, with its “mystical” Christianity (called Orthodox) and its liturgy in the Greek language, different from the “Neoplatonic” and Latin Christianity of Rome. Shortly thereafter, the first code of laws in the region was introduced, the Russian Pravda.

Byzantine Christianity became the religion of the three peoples who originated from the kingdom of Kiev: the Ukrainians, the Russians and the Belarusians. In 1240 the city of Kiev was devastated by the Mongol invasion: the majority of its population had to flee to the North. The Mongols annexed the Volga River region to their domains, which precipitated the fragmentation of Russia; the conquered area became an integral part of the “Golden Horde”, as the northwestern portion of the Mongol Empire was called. It was divided into several principalities, some of them autonomous.

The invaders built a capital, Sarai, on the lower Volga near the Caspian Sea, where reigned the supreme commander of the Golden Horde, which dominated most of Russia for three centuries. The Mongols made punitive raids against the remaining Christian principalities; the Kiev principality never recovered as a state center from its defeat by the Mongols. In the region corresponding to the current territory of Ukraine, the principalities of Galicia and Volhynia succeeded Kievan Rus, later merged into the State of Galicia-Volhynia.

In the mid-XNUMXth century, the state was conquered by Casimir IV of Poland, while the core of ancient Kievan Rus – including the city of Kiev – came under the control of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The marriage of the Grand Duke of Lithuania to the Queen of Poland brought most of the Ukrainian territory under the control of Lithuanian sovereigns. At that time, the southern part of Ukraine (including Crimea) was ruled by the Crimean Khanate, while the lands west of the Carpathians had been dominated by the Magyars since the XNUMXth century. In the XNUMXth century, the Ukrainian people distinguished themselves from other East Slavic peoples by being the ones who inhabited the border region with the Poles.

From the second half of the XNUMXth century, and especially in the first half of the following century, there were systematic peasant revolts in the western regions of ancient Russia against the Polish landlords and administrative officials who dominated Moscow. An important role in the fight against the nobles in Ukraine was played by Cossacks from the region around the Dnieper. The peasant community consisted of Ukrainians and Belarusians fleeing the oppression of lords, dvoryane and its employees.

Around 1640-1650 a large-scale popular uprising broke out across Ukraine and Belarus. The peasants, headed by Bogdan Khmelnitsky, had the support of the Cossacks and poor townspeople; war broke out in the spring of 1648. Peasants began to settle accounts with Polish nobles and local Ukrainian landlords: soon the revolt spread throughout Ukraine and Belarus. After some time, the Russian state supported the Ukrainian peasant struggle against the Polish overlords. Detachments of Don Cossacks and townspeople took part in it.

The Russian government helped the Ukrainians by sending them food and weapons. Khmelnitsky turned to Tsar Alexis asking him to make Ukraine a part of the Russian State. A Rada of Pereyaslav in 1654 decreed that Ukraine and Russia should be united into one state, a fact of great importance in later history.[iii]

At the end of the 1793th century, between 1795 and 1796, the division of Poland between Prussia, Austria and Russia was defined, which took the territories located east of the Dnieper River, while Austria stayed with Western Ukraine (with the name of the province of Galicia). In XNUMX, Russia also began to dominate territories west of the Dnieper, the "New Russia". Ukrainians played an important role in the Russian Empire, participating in the wars against Eastern European monarchies and the Ottoman Empire, as well as rising to the highest posts of Russian imperial and ecclesiastical administration.

Subsequently, the tsarist regime implemented a harsh policy of “Russification”, banning the use of the Ukrainian language in publications and publicly. In the 25th century, “Pan-Slavism” developed throughout Russia as an ideology of “conservative modernization”, favored by tsarism in its relations with the West: in the mid-1870th century, in Russia, which had the highest absolute index of of production in Europe, France took the lead in foreign investment in the country. Russia accounted for more than 1914% of its foreign investments in the period between 3 and 8, against just over XNUMX% for Great Britain and just under XNUMX% for Germany. The economically dependent tsarist autocracy, however, did not renounce its imperialist policy.

Russian expansionism was one of the factors that provoked the Crimean War, which lasted from 1853 to 1856 in the peninsula of that name (in the Black Sea, south of Ukraine), in southern Russia and in the Balkans. The war involved the Russian Empire on one side and, on the other, a coalition comprising the United Kingdom, France, the Kingdom of Sardinia – forming the Anglo-Franco-Sardin Alliance – and the Ottoman Empire. The coalition, which also had the support of the Austrian Empire, was created in reaction against Russian expansionist intentions.

Since the end of the 1853th century, the Russians had been trying to increase their influence in the Balkans. In XNUMX, moreover, Tsar Nicholas I invoked the right to protect the holy places of Christians in Jerusalem, which were part of the Ottoman Empire. Under this pretext, his troops invaded the Ottoman principalities of the Danube (Moldavia and Wallachia, in present-day Romania). The Sultan of Turkey, with the support of the United Kingdom and France, rejected the Tsar's pretensions, declaring war on Russia. The Russian fleet destroyed the Turkish fleet at the Battle of Sinop, causing an international political uproar.

The United Kingdom, under the government of Queen Victoria, feared that a possible fall of Constantinople to Russian troops could strip it of strategic control of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles straits, cutting off its communications with India. On the other hand, Napoleon III of France was anxious to show that he was his uncle's rightful successor by seeking external military victories. After the naval defeat of the Turks, the two nations, France and England, declared war on Russia, followed by the Kingdom of Sardinia.

In return, the aided Ottoman Empire would allow in Western capital. The conflict began in March 1854. In August, Turkey, with the help of its western allies, expelled the Russians from the Balkans. The allied fleets converged on the Crimean peninsula, disembarking their troops on September 16, 1854, starting the naval blockade and land siege of the fortified port city of Sevastopol, headquarters of the Russian fleet on the Black Sea.

Although Russia was defeated in several battles, the conflict dragged on with Russia's refusal to accept peace terms. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in March 1856. By its terms, the new Tsar, Alexander II of Russia, returned southern Bessarabia and the mouth of the Danube River to the Ottoman Empire and Moldavia, renounced any claim to the Balkans and was prohibited from maintaining bases or naval forces on the Black Sea. On the other hand, the Ottoman Empire was admitted into the community of European powers, the sultan having pledged to treat his Christian subjects in accordance with European law.

Wallachia and Serbia came under Franco-English “protection”. This strengthened English ambitions in the Near East. The military industry and the numerous Russian army had not prevented Russia from being defeated by the Franco-British expeditionary bodies, which prevented it from reaching Constantinople and having access to the Mediterranean, to the “warm waters”, the main reason for its expansionism, which became presented with an ideology of Christian reconquest of the holy places.[iv]

The Crimean War highlighted the Russian mismatch with Western civilization: Tsar Alexander II was able to assess the weaknesses of his empire and understand that mere inertia was incapable of providing the victories he dreamed of. The first major failure of Russian expansionism had strong internal repercussions. Czarism, impressed by Western military efficiency, began to import foreign technicians and specialists in the military art, until it began to train them locally in the XNUMXth century, as well as importing cadres for the growing state bureaucracy. The material resources for this were extracted from the country itself, which meant the imposition of huge taxes on the bourgeois classes in the process of being formed, and mainly on peasants and small traders, who were forced to choose between hunger and flight.

State antisemitism, one of the instruments of domination of Russian absolutism, had a main theater in Ukraine throughout the 1903th century and the beginning of the XNUMXth century. In April XNUMX, in the Ukrainian portion of the “Jewish residence zone” in Bessarabia, the largest anti-Semitic pogrom ever seen to that date took place. The Jewish neighborhoods of Kisinev were destroyed, houses were devastated, hundreds of Jews were injured and killed. O "pogrom of Kisinev” shocked the whole world and naturalized the Russian term, pogrom, massacre, for all languages.

The massacre was incited by Tsarist police agents and the Black Hundreds; the mass of the pogromists were workers, as were the Jews they persecuted. Russia in 1904, the largest continuous land empire in the world, had at that time more than 145 million inhabitants, and stretched from Poland to the Behring Strait, including Finland, the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and several other eastern countries.

Economic backwardness and the oppression of the peasant population (the mujiks), the tsarist autocracy added the yoke to the alien populations subjected by Russian expansion, which were part of the Empire, some of which, however, had known in the past an autonomous state development. At its height, the Russian Empire included, in addition to ethnically Russian territory, the Baltic countries (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia), Finland, the Caucasus, Ukraine, Belarus, much of Poland (the former Kingdom of Poland), Moldova (Bessarabia) and most of Central Asia. It also had zones of influence in Iran, Mongolia and North China. The Empire was divided into 81 provinces (guberniyas) and 20 regions (oblasts).

The labor movement of the tsarist Empire developed vigorously in the last decades of the 1889th century and the beginning of the 1917th century, under the hegemony of the social democrats (linked to the Socialist International, founded in XNUMX). The most important competition of the socialists in the “Russian” labor movement was represented by the anarchists, who criticized all ways of doing “politics”. European anarchism was limited to some regions of Italy, France and Portugal, Ukraine (which would have importance in the civil war after the October Revolution of XNUMX) and, to a lesser extent, in other areas of tsarist Russia.

Russian capitalism, however, progressed, at the mercy of strong foreign investment: the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway and the economic changes carried out by Minister Sergei Witte attracted foreign capital and stimulated rapid industrialization in the regions of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Baku, as well as as in Ukraine, prompting the formation of an urban working class and the growth of the middle class. The wealthier nobility and the Tsar himself sought to keep Russian absolutism and its autocracy intact.

In the wake of the first world conflict, one of the strategic issues was that Russia could not maintain control over the western industrialized part of its empire – Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states and Finland – if Austria humiliated its Serbian ally; Russia depended on these provinces for the bulk of the taxes its absolutist government collected. When it exploded, in February 1917, amidst catastrophes and warlike defeats of the Russian army, the revolution against the czarist autocracy, in Ukraine, a rudimentary nationalist movement (basically reduced to the intelligentsia) proclaimed in June 1917 an autonomous republic under the authority from the Rada, a National Assembly.

In October of the same year, as is known, a new revolution proclaimed the “Soviet government”, emanating from the soviets (workers', soldiers' and peasants' councils). After the October Revolution, which brought the Bolsheviks to political power and removed Russia from the world war, the belligerent countries that had been Russia's allies supported the government of the Ukrainian Rada, hostile to Bolshevism, the country being divided with the proclamation of a Ukrainian Soviet government (with Rakovsky and Pyatakov) and with the passing of the Rada (with Petliura)[v] into the German orbit. The Soviet revolution granted the full right of independence to the alien nationalities of the old Tsarist Empire.

Georgia dominated by Menshevism (a moderate fraction of Russian social democracy) escaped the fate of Armenia and Azerbaijan, crushed by the Ottoman Empire shortly after independence, allying itself in May 1918 with Germany. The Soviet resolution of the national question provoked the protest of Rosa Luxemburg, German socialist leader: “While Lenin and his companions manifestly hoped, as defenders of the freedom of nations 'until separation as a State', to make Finland, Ukraine, Poland, from Lithuania, from the Baltic countries, from the populations of the Caucasus, faithful allies of the Russian Revolution, we witness the opposite spectacle: one after another, these 'nations' used the newly offered freedom to ally themselves, as mortal enemies of the Russian Revolution, to imperialism German and to take, under their protection, the banner of the counterrevolution to Russia itself”, criticized Rosa Luxemburg, for whom “the illustrious 'right of nations to self-determination' is nothing more than hollow petty-bourgeois phraseology, nonsense…”.

The quoted text was not intended for publication, hence the ease with which its author described Ukrainian nationalism “(which) in Russia was completely different from Czech, Polish or Finnish, nothing more than a simple whim, a frivolity of some dozens of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, without roots in the economic, political or intellectual situation of the country, without any historical tradition, because Ukraine never constituted a state or a nation, it had no national culture, except the romantic-reactionary poems of Chevchenko” .[vi]

Needless to say, Ukrainians then, and those of today, would be delighted to read those words. For Bolshevism it was a question of making the national movement not an end in itself, but a link with the socialist struggle of the working class: the policy put into practice by the Soviet government (the independence of oppressed nationalities by the Russian Empire) was not , however, a mere circumstantial tactical resource (harmful, according to Rosa Luxemburgo, to the interests of the social revolution) but based on strategic and principled reasons.

As a result, Soviet Russia relinquished control over Finland, the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Poland, Belarus and Ukraine, as well as the Turkish districts of Ardaham and Kars, and the Georgian district of Batum. Imperial Russia was an agglomeration of nations that historically assumed the form of an absolutist state under pressure from other powers. The Bolshevik revolution tried to overcome these contradictions by creating the USSR, as a free association of nations, and pushing forward the international revolution. With the exception of Finland, Poland and the three Baltic countries, the peoples of the tsarist empire decided to stay with the new state founded on the basis of the October 1917 revolution.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed between the Soviet government and the Central Powers (German Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire) on March 3, 1918, made possible the immediate exit of Russia from the first world conflict. The Bolshevik government also annulled all of the Russian Empire's agreements with its World War I allies. The terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were humiliating for Soviet Russia. Lenin, defending his signature, called the treaty a "disgraceful peace".

The territories granted to the Germans contained a third of Russia's population and 50% of its industry. Most of these territories became, in practice, parts of the German Empire. The Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets examined the Treaty, which was opposed by the Left SRs ("esserists") and by the "Left Communist" fraction of Bolshevism, headed by Bukharin and Kalinin, advocates of a revolutionary war against Russia. Germany which would combine, they hoped, with the proletarian revolution in the West. Supporters of this policy were defeated at the convention of the Bolshevik faction of the Soviet congress.

However, after the German revolution started on November 9, 1918, which overthrew the monarchical regime in that country, the Central Executive Committee of the Soviets declared the Treaty annulled. At the same time, Germany's defeat in the war, marked by the armistice signed with the allied countries on November 11, 1918, allowed Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland to become independent states. On the other hand, Belarus and Ukraine became involved in the Russian civil war and ended up being annexed again, through occupation, to Soviet territory.

Due to the civil war, at the end of 1918 Soviet Russia found itself surrounded by de facto protectorates governed by local leaders allied with Germany: Ukraine with Skoropadsky, Finland with Mannerheim, the Don with Krasnov; the Japanese occupied the frontier of Chinese Manchuria. In the civil war, the “white” counterrevolutionary groups were led by tsarist generals and supported by “liberal republicans” (the “cadets”); the Red Army was led by the Bolshevik government; there were also anarchist militias (the “Makhnovist Insurgent Army”, also known as the “Black Army”) in Ukraine, ally or opponent of the Red Army depending on the circumstances; the peasant “Green Armies” and the foreign intervention troops, sent by France, United Kingdom, Japan, United States and ten other countries.[vii]

Taking advantage of the military and political confrontation, the belligerent allied nations of the First World War decided to intervene in the Russian civil war in favor of the White Army, which was divided. English, Dutch, American and Japanese troops landed both in the western regions (Crimea and Georgia) and in the eastern ones (with the occupation of Vladivostok and Eastern Siberia). Its objectives were to overthrow the Bolshevik government and install a regime favorable to Russia's continuation in the war, with its previous alliances; his main objective, however, was to prevent the spread of communism in Europe.

In 1919, with the war over, the whites, led by Kolchak, threatened the very center of Soviet power, with Kolchak in the Urals, Denikin in the south, Yudenitch moving from Estonia to the capital. Between the whites and the reds, local governments moved from one camp to another: they traded in Central Asia with the British, divided Ukraine between supporters of the nationalist Petliura and those of the Ukrainian anarchist leader Makhno, while the population, terrified by the changes and violent battles (Kiev was taken and retaken 16 times by the various belligerent camps) hid in the forest. Kolchak, the “white” military leader, did not hide his desire to reconstitute the old Russian Empire.

There was a consensus among the Bolsheviks that the main mistake of the Red Army during the civil war was the offensive on Warsaw, in 1920, in the expectation that the Polish proletariat would rise with the arrival of the “Reds”. None of this happened, and Soviet Russia had to withstand the Polish military counteroffensive led by the nationalist and anti-Bolshevik Pilsudski regime, which even took Kiev and part of Ukraine to extend Poland's ethnic borders.

Despite this, the lack of unity, coordination and common strategy among the various “white” leaders, were the main causes of the defeat of the Russian anti-Bolshevik reaction, which came to have strong external support (mainly from France, Great Britain and Japan) during the first year of the conflict. With Allied support gone, the Red Army was able to inflict defeats on the White Army and the remaining anti-Soviet forces leading to the collapse of the internal counterrevolution. During external intervention, the presence of foreign troops was used effectively as a means of patriotic propaganda by the Bolsheviks, even winning the support of parts of the former imperial officialdom; some former imperial officers, like Tukhachevsky, made a brilliant career in the new revolutionary army.

The international crisis added to the majority support of the poorest peasant population determined the “red” victory in the civil war. There were even mutinies in the external interventionist troops, like the sailors of the French fleet in the Black Sea, carried out by exhausted troops and opposed to the continuation of the world conflict.

Who was Rakovsky, the main Bolshevik leader related to Ukraine? Christian Rakovsky (Krystiu Gheorgiev Stanchev, 1873-1941), Romanian-Bulgarian revolutionary, was a physician, from wealthy background. Since 1890, he was active in political organizations of the Socialist International, in Romania, Bulgaria, Switzerland, France and Germany, having become the main leader of the Social Democratic Party of Romania. In 1914, he described the First World War as imperialist, and from September 1915 he was part of the “Zimmerwald Left”, with Lenin, Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg.

Imprisoned by the Romanian government in August 1916 for his activism against the war, he was released by Russian soldiers on May 1, 1917. Moving to Russia, he began to be persecuted by the provisional government of the February Revolution, for oppose the war. Helped by the Bolsheviks, he managed to leave the country, arriving in Sweden, from where he returned with the October Revolution. He was president of the Ukrainian Soviet (1918) and leader of that republic until 1923, when he was appointed ambassador of the USSR to the United Kingdom, and then to France (1925). He was the inspiration-drafter of the Treaty of Rapallo (between Germany and the USSR, proclaimed in 1922). His political career, which had a tragic ending, did not end there.[viii]

Nor did it conclude, with the world war and civil war, the “Ukrainian drama” of the Bolshevik revolution. The striking fact of the warlike conflict in Ukraine was the performance in it, relatively independent of the parties in dispute, of the “Makhnovist army”, led by anarchists. The Ukrainian anarchist movement began in the village of Gulai-Pole, under the leadership of Nestor Makhno (1888-1934), and spread through the neighboring regions of Aleksandrovsk until reaching Kiev.

During the Russian revolution, Makhno was elected president of the soviet in Gulai-Pole, Makhno's birthplace, in August 1917, and he organized a small militia to expropriate the landed estates and divide them among the poorest peasants. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ceded Ukraine to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, a “Makhnovist” militia formed and successfully carried out guerrilla actions against the invading army. With the armistice of November 1918, foreign troops withdrew. The Makhnovist militia turned at that moment against the Ukrainian nationalist leader Petliura, a reactionary and ally of the Germans.

Then Petliura was defeated by the Red Army; during the clash between “reds” and nationalists Gulai-Pole came under the rule of Makhnovists. Makhno took advantage of the temporary lull to convene peasant congresses with the aim of implementing a “libertarian communism”: their discussions turned mainly to the defense of the region against other armies.

Local power remained with Makhno's group, which strove to create a free exchange economy between countryside (Gulai-Pole, Aleksandrovsk) and city (Kiev, Moscow, Petrograd). The relative lull ended on June 15, 1919, when, after minor skirmishes between the Makhnovist army and “Red” armed groups, the IV Gulai-Pole Regional Congress invited soldiers from the Red Army base to send their representatives. This was a direct challenge to the command of the Red Army. On July 4 a Soviet government decree banned the congress and made the Makhnovist movement illegal: its troops attacked Gulai-Pole and dissolved the "anarchist communes". A few days later Denikin's white forces arrived in the region, forcing both factions to ally once again.

During the months of August and September, Denikin advanced steadily towards Moscow, while Makhnovists and Communists were forced to retreat, even retreating to the western borders of Ukraine. In September 1919, Makhno, whose troops numbered twenty thousand, surprised Denikin by launching a victorious attack on the village of Peregonovka, cutting off the white general's supply lines and sowing panic and disorder in his rear; at the end of the year the Red Army forced Denikin to retreat to the shores of the Black Sea.

The climax of the “Ukrainian revolution” came in the months following this victory. During the months of October and November, Makhno was in power in the cities of Ekaterinoslav and Aleksandrovsk, his opportunity to apply the anarchist conception in an urban environment. Makhno's first act after entering these cities (after emptying the prisons) was to announce to the citizens that they were henceforth free to organize their lives as they pleased, without recognizing any authority. Freedom of the press, speech and assembly was proclaimed; half a dozen newspapers immediately sprang up in Ekaterinoslav representing a wide range of political trends. Makhno, however, dissolved the Bolshevik "revolutionary committees", advising their members to devote themselves to "some honest work".[ix]

For the “new landlord” peasants of Ukraine, the policy of complete freedom of trade was the fulfillment of their aspirations. The conflict with the economic-military centralization advocated by the Bolshevik government was inevitable and grew. The Makhnovists adopted the principle of direct election of military commanders, which the Bolsheviks had already rejected. In their propaganda and proclamations, the agrarian anarchists (anarchists in the big cities, in general, did not participate in the movement) even equated the Bolsheviks with the former ruling classes.

The Ukrainian working class did not respond to the Makhnovist movement with the same enthusiasm as the peasants. By refusing to abandon its independence from the Red Army, the Makhnovist movement, described by Bolshevism as a variant of banditry, was again declared illegal in 1920 by the Soviet government. The Red Army returned to fight him; during the next eight months both sides suffered heavy casualties.

In October 1920, Baron Wrangel, Denikin's successor in command of the whites in the south, launched a major offensive from the Crimea towards the north. Again the Red Army asked the help of the Makhnovists, and again the fragile alliance was reformed: “For the Makhnovists it was only a military agreement, absolutely political, because the Bolsheviks continued to be their opponents. For Moscow, the point of view was different: from the moment there was a military alliance, there was automatically political dependence, official recognition of the authority of Soviet political power in Ukraine. These two opposing interpretations were at the base of a latent conflict”.[X]

A conflict that would lead to the (often tragic) end of attempts at an agreement between both sectors (interviews were even held between Lenin and Makhno in the Kremlin, during his visit to Moscow, where he became disillusioned with Russian “urban anarchism”, proclamatory and scarcely active) and the flirtations, which included Trotsky, head of the Red Army, about the possibility of a lasting agreement between Bolsheviks and anarchists in Ukraine, where Bolsheviks were scarcely active.[xi] A problem that was far from over with the civil war: Soviet power and Bolshevism in Ukraine found themselves systematically squeezed, in the coming years, between urban nationalism and “peasant anarchism”, largely in the majority, and the Bolshevik central government.

The Ukrainian “Soviet power” practically did not understand Ukrainians by birth or nationality; it was initially, as we have seen, headed by a Bulgarian, Christian Rakovsky. The Makhnovists, on the other hand, lacked good and sufficient armament, which the Bolsheviks provided them to fight against the “whites”.

With the civil war practically won by the “reds”, the anarcho-Bolshevik alliance was once again dissolved, and mutual hostilities, very violent, were restarted: “Maknho and his companions shot only the leaders, soldiers of the highest rank of the Bolsheviks, freeing all the rank and file soldiers[xii] which, evidently, was not considered a magnanimous attitude on the part of the leadership of the Red Army, a potential candidate for the beheading. On November 25, leaders of the Makhnovist army, gathered in Crimea on the occasion of the victory over Wrangel, were arrested and executed by the Cheka. The next day, on Trotsky's orders, Gulai-Pole was attacked and occupied by the Red Army. Clashes with supporters of the makhnovitchina became widespread, and the Cheka (Soviet political police) did not hesitate to carry out executions, without any type of process, typical of civil war.[xiii] Makhno managed to escape and go into exile in France, where he continued to defend anarchism and, above all, his role in the Russian revolution, before dying poor, still young and relatively forgotten.

What was the political logic of this conflict? Nestor Makhno's troops in Ukraine allied themselves with the Red Army in the fight against the "whites", but maintained a confrontation with the leadership of the Red Army on the issue of a single military command for the civil war and against foreign intervention, the which also happened to military units commanded by the SRs, the revolutionary socialists. According to Leon Trotsky, “the peasants had approved of the 'Bolsheviks', but were becoming more and more hostile to the 'Communists'… (Makhno) blocked and looted the trains destined for the factories, the factories and the Red Army… anarchist struggle against the state. In reality, it was the struggle of the exasperated small proprietor against the proletarian dictatorship… These were convulsions of the peasant petty bourgeoisie that wanted to get rid of capital but, at the same time, did not accept submitting to the dictatorship of the proletariat”.[xiv]

Soviet Russia concluded the economically exhausted civil war: “In the case of agriculture, in 1921 cattle were less than two thirds of its total, sheep 55%, pigs 40% and horses 71% (compared to 1913), while the arable area was cut in half, which led to a significant decrease in the harvest of various crops. Not to mention an extreme drought in the lower Volga region (as well as the plains of the Urals, Caucasus, Crimea and parts of Ukraine) between 1920 and 1921, which wiped out five million people (intense migratory movements, with several cities losing good amount of skilled labor, was also another phenomenon of that moment; only Petrograd, the largest industrial center, had lost 60% of its population)”.[xv] In 1921, the economic situation and living conditions of the population were more than worrying.

Soviet industry accounted for only 20% of 1914 production. Iron production 1,6% and steel production 2,4%. The coal and oil sectors, less affected by the war, reached 27 and 41% respectively. 60% of the locomotives and 63% of the tracks were out of use. The extent of cultivated surface had receded by 16% and exchanges between countryside and city had been reduced to a minimum. The better-off workers received between 1.200 and 1.900 calories a day out of the 3.000 needed. The industrial proletariat was undone. In 1919 there were three million workers, a year later that number had dropped by half, and in 1921 there were no more than 1.250.000. Internal revolts were overcome more by hunger (which caused three million deaths in the countryside in 1920-1921) than militarily: between March 20 and April 12, 1921, seven thousand Tambov insurgents, including an entire regiment, surrendered without firing a shot in front of a division of 57 Red Army men, led by General Tukhachevski.

The famous Kronstadt revolt of 1921, according to Karl Radek, "had been the echo of the peasant uprisings of Ukraine and Tambov". Therefore, the NEP (New Soviet Economic Policy, which included liberalizing measures), adopted in 1921 by the Tenth Congress of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks), “coincided with the signing of the Anglo-Russian trade agreement and with the crushing of the Kronstadt rebellion ( with which) it had an internal, structural link”.[xvi] In the following years, internal shortages and external isolation determined the bureaucratization (in practice, annulment) of Soviet power, which was identified with the political rise of Stalin and his fraction of the Communist Party, Stalinism, which from the end of the decade of 1920 imposed a policy of forced collectivization of the agro and industrialization at the box.

The “forced collectivization” of the countryside promoted by Stalin was obviously not voluntary, nor could it be: industry was incapable of providing the machines that would convince the peasant to join collective farms. Therefore, despite a certain enthusiasm on the part of poor peasants and working youth with agrarian collectivization, it was not possible to speak of an “October of the countryside”.

The “collectivization of the countryside” begun in 1929 was administrative, bureaucratic and violent: Ukrainian peasants killed their cattle in order not to hand them over to the Soviet authorities, the losses were enormous, there were approximately ten million deportees; the famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933 caused approximately 4,5 million deaths, in addition to three million victims in other regions of the USSR.[xvii] The brutality of the forced collectivization of the agro included the “great famine” in Ukraine and was complementary to the social violence of the Five Year Plan of the industry against the factory workers.

In the agrarian collectivization, in total, about 2,8 million people were deported: 2,4 million, of which 300 thousand Ukrainians, in the context of the dekulakization campaign (1930-1932) – fight against kulaki, supposedly wealthy peasants; 340 due to repression during forced grain requisitions carried out by state agencies. In many cases, the victims were abandoned in distant and inhospitable territories: approximately 500 deportees, including many children, died from the cold, hunger and strenuous work. the term Holodomor was applied specifically to events that occurred in territories with an ethnic Ukrainian population.

The heaviest part of the consolidation of the Stalinist regime was paid by Ukraine, where the grain requisitions were destined for export, which was supposed to provide the necessary currency for the import of industrial machinery, one of the bases for the accelerated industrialization of the country. Ukraine was initially obliged to contribute 42% of its cereal production. In August 1932, the law on the “theft and squandering of social property” (“law of the five ears”) came into effect, which declared this crime punishable by ten years in a forced labor camp, or with capital punishment, difficulties in reaching the tonnage planned by the gosplan.

In several Ukrainian districts, Soviet authorities recorded cases of cannibalism and necrophagy in the spring of 1933. Ukraine suffered a higher death rate than other republics (the death rate per thousand inhabitants in 1933 was 138,2 in Russia and 367,7 in Ukraine), which caused a decrease of 20% to 25% of the ethnic Ukrainian population, with the birth rate falling from an average of 1.153.000 births (1926-1929) to 782.000 in 1932 and 470.000 in 1933, across Russia.

The process was guaranteed by the actions of the military and the Soviet political police in the repression of opponents and the dispossessed population: those who resisted were arrested and deported. Ukrainian peasants were forced to deal with the devastating effects of collectivization on agricultural productivity and demands for increased production quotas. Since members of collective farms were not allowed to receive grain until they had completed their impossible production quotas, hunger became widespread.

Some sources claim that 25% of the Ukrainian population died of starvation: “A current demographic survey suggested about 2,5 million deaths from starvation in Soviet Ukraine. A number very close to the officially registered figure of 2,4 million. This last number seems low, many deaths were not recorded. Another calculation, carried out for the authorities of independent Ukraine, gives the figure of 3,9 million. It seems reasonable to assume 3,3 million deaths from starvation and related illnesses in Soviet Ukraine in the period 1932-1933.”[xviii] Just in two years...

Around the same time, Soviet leaders accused the Ukrainian political and cultural leadership of "nationalist deviations" when preceding nationality policies were reversed in the early 1930s. Two waves of purges (1929-1934 and 1936-1938) resulted in of Ukraine's cultural elite. The “cleansing” of political opponents reached the Party and the Communist International: entire leaderships of various communist parties were executed, severely affecting Ukrainian communism. Leopold Trepper (future chief of Soviet espionage in the West during World War II) reported that, when he was a student at the University for Foreigners in Moscow, 90% of the foreign communist militants residing in the city perished.

Stalin signed condemnation lists that sometimes contained thousands of names. The communist parties of Ukraine and Belarus and the Communist Youth (Komsomol). The Ukrainian figures affected and were part of the demographic problems of the USSR as a whole. "Creative accounting" was used by Soviet planners for demographic makeup: the actual number of deaths between 1927 and 1940 was, for the entire USSR, an estimated 62 million, not the 40,7 million (21,3 million less) declared ; the total population growth was therefore overestimated by 4,6 million for the indicated period.[xx]

Historian Stanislav Kulchytsky's calculations, based on Soviet archive sources, indicate a number of between 3 and 3,5 million deaths in Ukraine in the first five years of the 1930s. It is estimated that 1,3 to 1,5 million died in Kazakhstan (wiping out between 33% and 38% of Kazakhs), in addition to hundreds of thousands in the North Caucasus and in the regions of the Don and Volga rivers, where the hardest hit area was the territory of the German Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Volga, totaling between five and six million famine victims between the years 1931 and 1933. During the purge of 1936/1937 almost 100% of the political leaders of Ukraine were replaced by people unknown to the local population, almost none of them Ukrainian. How could one be surprised if, during the Second World War, there were to exist an important Ukrainian anti-Nazi guerrilla with a nationalist base?

In May 1940, in Trotsky's last published text, exiled, The Imperialist War and the World Proletarian Revolution, declaration of the Fourth International at the outbreak of the Second World War, read:[xx] “Stalin's alliance with Hitler, which raised the backdrop of the world war, led directly to the enslavement of the Polish people. It was a consequence of the weakness of the USSR and the panic of the Kremlin in front of Germany. The only person responsible for this weakness is the same Kremlin, for its internal policy, which opened an abyss between the ruling caste and the people; for its foreign policy, which sacrificed the interests of the world revolution to those of the Stalinist clique. The conquest of eastern Poland, gift of alliance with Hitler and guarantee against Hitler, was accompanied by the nationalization of semi-feudal and capitalist property in Western Ukraine and Western White Russia. Without this the Kremlin could not have incorporated the USSR into the occupied territory. The October Revolution, strangled and desecrated, showed signs of still being alive”.

There was important initial support from sectors of the Ukrainian population for the Nazi invasion of 1941, after the rupture of the “Hitler Stalin Pact” by Nazi Germany. At the beginning of the invasion in June 1941, German troops were welcomed as liberators in Ukraine, until the Germans began burning the villages, expelling the women and children and executing the men.[xxx] When it became clear that Hitler's plans were to "naturalize" (sic) Russia and Ukraine, transform them into a vast granary based on slave labor, Russian patriotic mobilization was immense. But it would have achieved little without “the transplantation of industry in the second half of 1941 and the beginning of 1942, and its reconstruction in the East (which) must rank among the most stupendous achievements of work organized by the Soviet Union during the last war.

The rapid growth of war production and its reorganization on new bases depended on the urgent transfer of heavy industry from the western and central zones of European Russia and Ukraine to the far rear, beyond the reach of the German army and aviation”.[xxiii] Such a feat would have been impossible in a country where large-scale industry had private ownership.

In October 1941, when the operational objectives of the Nazi troops in Ukraine and the Baltic region were achieved (only the sieges of Leningrad and Sevastopol still continued), the great German offensive against Moscow was renewed. After two months of intense fighting, the German army almost reached the outskirts of the Soviet capital, where the exhausted German troops were forced to call off their offensive. Large territories had been conquered by the Axis forces, but their campaign had not achieved its main objectives: two important cities remained in USSR hands, the Soviets' capacity for resistance had not been eliminated; the Soviet Union retained a considerable part of its military potential, albeit at an enormous human price.

Total civilian losses during the war and the German occupation of Ukraine are estimated at between five and eight million people, including over half a million Jews. Of the eleven million Soviet soldiers killed in battle, about a quarter were ethnic Ukrainians. With the end of World War II and the defeat of the Axis, Soviet Ukraine's borders were extended westwards, uniting most Ukrainians under a single political entity. Most of the non-Ukrainian population of the annexed territories was deported. In the “land of blood” of the Second World War, formerly composed of territories and multiethnic and multinational countries, including the Baltic countries, Ukraine and Poland, there was a return to delimiting borders of political units that coincided with ethnic units, with the expulsion of Ukrainians who inhabited Poland for centuries, as did the Poles of Ukraine.

Ilya Ehrenbug and Vassilij Grossman, leading intellectuals of the Soviet regime, saw, first censored, then unpublished, their long-term work called black book about the atrocities committed by Nazi troops against Jews during the invasion and occupation of the USSR, especially in Ukraine. Hungarian and Polish Jews imprisoned in the USSR (generally in Siberia or Central Asia) with their compatriots, for whom the Soviet “Jewish Committee”, as well as international personalities, asked for freedom, remained imprisoned until they were repatriated in the following years, in virtue of agreements made by their countries with the USSR.[xxiii]

In their countries of origin, hostility awaited them, official and even popular, the same that received Holocaust survivors in Ukraine and Poland, where there were real pogroms in the immediate post-war period; only a minor part of his estate, and none of their property, was restored to them. Historian Timothy Snyder estimated that more than ten million Ukrainians, including Jews, died as a result of political actions (Stalin) or warlike invasion (Hitler) between 1933 and 1945. After the war, Ukraine became an independent member of the United Nations.

In the second post-war period, the “Virgin Lands Campaign”, starting in 1954, put into practice a program of massive resettlement of farmers from the Soviet Union that brought more than 300.000 people to Central Asia, mainly from Ukraine, who were settled north of Kazakhstan and the Altai region, which led to a great cultural and ethnic shift in the region. Khrushchev's economic reforms were oriented towards economic decentralization, with the creation of sovnarkhozes (regional economic councils) in partial replacement of the gosplan (State Economic Council): in 1957, 105 were defined sovnarkhozes (70 for Russia, 11 for Ukraine, 9 for Kazakhstan).[xxv]

The fact remains that the USSR achieved great industrialization and production growth rates in a period devastated by the Second World War and its aftermath, in which the Soviet peoples, especially Ukrainians and Russians, paid the worst price in sacrifice. Despite this, until the 1960s, the Soviet Union managed to remain in relative isolation in competition with the global capitalist market. The forms of integration that took place in COMECON, the economic pact of Eastern Europe and the USSR, were extended to partnerships with Western Europe.

From the 1960s onwards, there were joint ventures, in the Brezhnevist period, as the famous automobile city renamed from Stavropol to Togliatti, where Fiat and the Soviet state started to manufacture vehicles since 1966. State ownership and centralized planning managed to expand the USSR at an exceptional growth rate since the 1930s. XNUMX. This happened because of the social price that was paid by forcibly collectivized peasants, by oppressed nationalities, such as the Ukrainians, who suffered the “Great Famine” and by an oppressive and prison regime that came to have in forced labor camps a significant sector of industrial production.

Post-war industrial growth had all sorts of consequences. A tragic example was what happened on April 26, 1986, when the Chernobyl nuclear accident occurred in Ukraine, 130 kilometers north of Kiev, considered the most serious nuclear accident in history, which severely affected 600 inhabitants. Until 1993, the cause of at least seven thousand deaths was attributed to the high doses of radiation received by the population neighboring the nuclear catastrophe, in addition to which 135 thousand people were evacuated. The reactor was lined with a layer of concrete several meters thick, forming a structure called a sarcophagus.

Chernobyl's radioactive cloud affected Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, Poland and parts of Sweden and Finland. In the following years, foreign researchers in the area registered an increase in cases of cancer and other diseases associated with radioactivity. In the early 1990s, still during Mikhail Gorbachev's "perestroika", the armed forces, still "Soviet", demanded an agreement between, at least, the main republics, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and around this unit the incorporation of the Asian republics. On July 16, 1990, in the midst of the political storm that shook the USSR in its death throes, the Supreme Soviet of Ukraine proclaimed the sovereignty of the republic.

Shortly before that, it was the Ukrainian miners, the same sector of a proletariat that, in the cold peripheral regions of the country, had been the central element of the social and trade union mobilization, who were the protagonists of the great strikes of July 1989, which began demanding the Gorbachev's resignation and ended up resisting the coup attempt of August 1991, which determined the end of the USSR. On August 24, 1991, the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine was approved and a plebiscite was called to ratify it, which took place in December 1991, in which 90% of the votes were in favor of its ratification; on the same day, Leonid Kravchuk (former First Secretary of the Communist Party of Ukraine) was elected president of the new national entity, with 60% of the votes.

On December 8, 1991, the Presidents of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and Belarus declared the end of the USSR and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Until the coup d'état of August 1991, the great powers maintained a policy of preserving the unity of the USSR, but within the framework of a new Union Treaty. An IMF report on the USSR, from early 1991, defended the proposals of centralization in monetary matters – the opposite of what was foreseen in the Treaty whose signature was suspended by the coup. In August of that year, the collapse of the USSR and the transition to the formation of the CIS, Russia and the other 14 countries into which the USSR was divided: Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan , Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan (not to mention anomalous enclaves like Transnistria). In early 1992, the Ukrainian government announced the release of prices, created a new currency and created incentives for foreign investment.

The independence of the former Soviet republics was presented as a revenge against the compulsory centralization imposed by Lenin and Bolshevism, in the revolution of 1917 and in the subsequent civil war.[xxiv] Without going into the detail of this historical problem, it should be noted that the October Revolution granted independence to the nationalities oppressed by the Tsarist Empire, and that Lenin distinguished himself, on this point, by defending it against those who maintained that this was an inadmissible concession to nationalism.

Trotsky, exiled from Stalinism, declared that Great Russian national oppression was a factor in the disintegration of the USSR, and again claimed the independence of the nationalities of the USSR, in particular Ukraine. The issue, therefore, was not “discovered” by Hélène Carrère d'Encausse, who became famous in the 1970s with her book L'Empire Éclaté, about the national question of the USSR.[xxv] Capitalism was established in Russia and Ukraine in a particularly violent form of dispute between oligarchic mafias derived from ex-communist cadres with former positions in the state apparatus.

The Chernobyl plant, in post-Soviet Ukraine, continued to operate despite international protests, due to the country's severe energy crisis, at the gates of winter without enough fuel for heating, with at least fifty other plants similar to Chernobyl operating in the CIS countries. One month after the coup and the “parliament massacre”, miners and other workers in Vorkuta and Nadym are threatening general strikes against the government of Boris Yeltsin, the main agent of capitalist restoration in Russia. On May 5, 1992, Ukrainian Crimea declared independence, but bowed to pressure from Kiev and canceled the declaration in exchange for granting economic autonomy. In June 1992, Russia canceled the 1954 decree, which ceded Crimea to Ukraine and demanded its return, without being met.

In 1993, in Ukraine, in July, miners brought the country to a standstill. Previously, in June, the Ukrainian Supreme Rada decided that the entire nuclear arsenal of the former USSR stationed in that country would belong to Ukraine and, thus, Ukraine became the third nuclear power in the world. At this time of economic crisis, Leonid Kutchma resigned as Prime Minister. In September 1993, Ukraine ceded to Russia part of the Black Sea Fleet corresponding to Ukraine, in payment of debts for the supply of oil and gas. In addition, a cooperation agreement was signed to dismantle intercontinental missiles that Ukraine wanted to keep as a guarantee against possible Russian expansionist projects. The Ukrainian political opposition denounced the Kiev deal.

In June and July 1994, the first Ukrainian presidential elections in the post-Soviet era took place: former Prime Minister Leonid Kutchma defeated then President Leonid Kravchuk with 52% of the vote and confirmed his intention to strengthen ties with Russia and join the CIS economic union. In 1997, Pavlo Lazarenko resigned as prime minister, amid allegations of corruption, and was replaced by Valery Pustovoytenko.

In the March 1998 parliamentary elections, the Communist Party of Ukraine won 113 seats (24,7%), effectively establishing a parliamentary majority for the left and center-left. After a decade of relative internal and external stability, in January 2006 Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine, which refused to accept a 460% price increase. For Ukrainian officials, the increase in the vital input would be retaliation for attempts to become more independent from Moscow and develop closer ties with Europe. In this political climate, parliamentary elections were held in March 2006, in which the Party of Regions, led by Viktor Yanukóvytch won 186 seats out of a total of 450. In second place was the “Bloco Timoshenko”, with 129 seats, while Our Ukraine, led by Yushchenko, won 81 seats. In August, Viktor Yanukovych was named Prime Minister, at the head of a pro-Russian coalition.

In 2013, already president, Yanukovych rejected a negotiated agreement with the European Union and preferred a political and economic rapprochement with Russia, against political pressures that favored better relations with the capitalist West (the European Union) to the detriment of Moscow. The result was a series of street protests in Kiev and other parts of the country, in what became known as “Euromaidan”, and the “orange revolution” of 2014. ,[xxviii] actively and personally supported the actions of neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine, announcing that the “revolution” was only the first step in an escalation that would bring US allies in the region to the gates of Moscow.

With the severe political crisis, and external intervention in Ukraine, extending, Parliament voted to remove Yanukovych from power. In response, the Russian government ordered a military invasion of Crimea and annexed the region to its territory, annulling the 1954 concession.

Western nations, led by the imperialist powers, did not recognize this annexation and imposed severe economic sanctions against Russia. In much of the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine there were large pro-Russian protests in favor of President Yanukovych. The crisis escalated further when two regions in the East declared independence, proclaiming themselves "Donetsk People's Republic" and "Lugansk People's Republic". The Ukrainian government responded by not recognizing the separatist regions and sending troops that started a real war in the Donbass area.

Ukraine, still suffering from the aftermath of the protests and in an economic crisis, was unable to quell the rebellion, which killed more than 2016 people by 2016. From XNUMX, the conflict in Donbass slowed down and a series of ceasefires were signed. You Minsk Accords established a solution to the conflict based on the federalization of Ukraine; the agreements, however, were not respected by the Ukrainian government. With the conflict spreading and internationalizing more and more, with Ukraine approaching NATO, in 2021, Russia began to mobilize troops on the Ukrainian border, starting a huge crisis in the region, which had a warlike outcome.

In February 2022, finally, Russian armed forces started a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. The resulting war, which continues until the present, is not a “local war”, but the expression of the passage of the world crisis from the economic and political terrain to the warlike one, with repercussions, including military ones, all over the world, of which no country it can run away, and no political force washes its hands of declaring itself neutral or defending an “equidistant” position.

Although Russia appears as an “aggressor”, the political climate of the war was carefully prepared by the great Western media, putting pressure on their governments, to the point that an Australian researcher concluded, on the eve of February 24, 2022, that “the script for the invasion has already been it appears to have been written, and not necessarily by the Russian leader's pen. The pieces are all in place: the assumption of the invasion, the promised implementation of sanctions and limits on obtaining funding, in addition to a strong condemnation”. Little or nothing has been said in the Western mainstream media about how the NATO alliance has expanded since the dissolution and collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, ever more threateningly to the Russian Federation, the main successor state to the former federation of nations that made up the USSR.

Let's go back to the sequence of events. The same USA that pushed the extension of NATO to the borders of Russia, aiming, through pressure and military blackmail, the penetration of its capital throughout the former Soviet territory, announced shortly before that a strong resumption of its economic growth simultaneously with the greatest military budget of its history, two closely linked facts. Russian retaliation to the “orange revolution” was the retaking of Crimea, territory ceded by the USSR to Ukraine, as we have seen, in 1954. After the annexation of the peninsula, separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, in regions with a Russian majority, strengthened their independence claim. .

Faced with the possibility of reducing the territory or even autonomy of these regions, the new Ukrainian government, headed by Volodymir Zelensky, recovered his country's project to form NATO. Long before that, thirteen countries, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary (1999), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia (2004), Albania, Croatia (2009) and Montenegro (2017) joined NATO. The encirclement from the West was almost complete, now it was time for the encirclement from the South, with Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan submitting their candidacy. The operation was marking time in the East, with the countries of Central Asia supporting their powerful neighbor, Russia, also serving the interests of their other giant neighbor, China.

Washington accused Moscow, but did not stop moving aircraft carriers and troops to the Russian border. Ukraine's membership of NATO immediately placed the deployment of nuclear warheads on its territory on the geopolitical agenda: a nuclear missile could fall on Moscow within a period of a few minutes, a situation in which a loaded nuclear weapon would be pointed at the heart of Ukraine. Russia. This war machine is what threatens the future of humanity in Europe and Asia. Faced with the Russian attack, The Economist,, historic British spokesman for big capital, suggested that NATO take advantage of the circumstance to occupy all of Eastern Europe, regardless of the limits set by previous agreements.

The responsibility for the military invasion of Ukraine therefore rested with NATO, which had spread from the North Atlantic to Central Asia and militarized all the states around Russia: According to John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, “the United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The main root of the problem is NATO enlargement, the central element of a broader strategy to take Ukraine out of Russia's orbit and into the West. At the same time, the EU's eastward expansion and the West's support for the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine – starting with the Orange Revolution in 2004 – were also critical elements.

Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have been vehemently opposed to NATO enlargement, and in recent years have made it clear that they would not accept their strategically important neighbor becoming a western bastion country. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine's democratically elected, pro-Russian president – ​​an event he rightly labeled a 'coup' – was the last straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.”[xxviii]

The two months of discussions since the start of the mobilization of troops inside Russia, then to Belarus and the Baltic, North and Black Seas, ended in a complete stalemate. The US and the European Union refused to sign a commitment not to incorporate Ukraine into NATO, demilitarize the states that border Russia and reactivate the treaty that contemplated the reunification of Ukraine, in the form of a federal republic. A war broke out as a result, first of all, of a policy of extending NATO to the whole world. The same procedure takes place in the Far East, where the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan have established a political-military agreement on China's doorstep. The escalation is worldwide: NATO occupied Afghanistan, the corridor between the Middle East and the Far East.

It also participated in the bombing and dismemberment of Libya and armed "Islamic" formations to overthrow the government of Syria. NATO governments implemented economic sanctions, including the German government's suspension of pipeline certification. NordStream2, which was supposed to complete the supply of Russian gas to Germany itself.

In the broader, international context, the Ukrainian conflict is the profound expression of the crisis of imperialist policy (not just the US), which was anticipated by the inglorious withdrawal from Afghanistan, the US disaster in Libya (“shit”, in the words of Barack Obama) and, above all, in Iraq. Reducing it to an episode of an international geopolitical reformulation, in favor of a potential China-Russia bloc, against the traditional Western dominants, would be a unilateral approach, incapable of considering the context of the world capitalist crisis and the set of international political factors, and even the historical dimensions involved in the conflict.

Behind the aggressive movement driven by the USA, the precarious conditions of the North American economic recovery were filtered, which barely concealed the crisis conditions of the largest capitalism on the planet. In its resumption of attitudes similar to those of the “cold war”, the US took advantage of the contradictions in the policies of the governments of countries formerly subtracted from imperialist domination by socialist revolutions. China and Russia moved forward on the path of capitalist restoration after the events of 1989-1991. Caught in the contradictions of the restoration process, these countries faced an escalation of imperialist military, economic and political pressure to impose on them, by all means, total subjugation, fragmentation, and to impose on them a new type of colonization, masked as a “change democratic regime”. These regimes are neither able nor willing to defeat the imperialist offensive, they seek an unlikely compromise and an impossible accommodation with the aggressor, in the name of “international cooperation”, “multipolarity”, a “win-win agreement”, all avatars of the old failed formulas of “peaceful coexistence” and “socialism in a single country”.

We are not facing the return of the “Cold War”, recycling its old protagonists and opposing capitalism and “real socialism” (or even imaginary). Comparing Russia’s “ethnic expansion” driven by Putin with Hitler’s “ethnic” expansion towards the Czech Sudetenlands and Austria in 1938, as the mainstream media did, simply means forgetting that the latter was explicitly endorsed by the Western powers at the Munich Conference of the same year. The resemblance is therefore only formal.

Russian resistance to NATO sheds light on the potential disintegration of Russia, covered by its “expansion”. The dissolution of the USSR represented a step towards national disintegration. Russia's integration into the world market resulted in a setback in its productive forces and its economy. Putin faced an international war as a defender of the interests of the Russian capitalist oligarchy, purged of some mafia elements and beneficiary of this process, against world capital. The political regime in Russia is an expression of the dissolving tendency existing in capitalist Russia: a sort of Bonapartism seeking to subdue the social and national contradictions of the Russian Federation in the corset of political repression and militarization.

Russia's Armed Forces could occupy Ukraine, but the Russian system, very weakened, could not resist the pressure of world capitalist imperialism. The fracture of Putin's Bonapartism would restore the alternative of national dissolution. Although carried out in response to the expansion of the imperialist bloc led by the USA, the possible annexation of Ukraine, direct or covert, to integrate the space of the Commonwealth of Independent Nations commanded by Russia, was and is an imperialist operation of the neighboring territory, which would multiply the contradictions of the annexationists.

Ignoring the historical dimension of the crisis, considering it “anachronistic”, in the name of “international geopolitics”, is ignoring that Putin very explicitly referred to it on the eve of the attack on Ukraine, in interviews with Western journalists, who had adopted an aggressive tone in defense of Ukraine's “national sovereignty”: “Modern Ukraine was created entirely by Russia or, to be more precise, by the Bolsheviks, communist Russia. This process began practically right after the 1917 revolution, and Lenin and his associates did it in an extremely harsh way for Russia – separating, cutting off what was historically Russian land. Nobody asked the millions of people who live there what they thought.”

Putin's entire discussion of history, from the establishment of the USSR in 1922 to its collapse in 1991, was an argument for one goal: the refoundation of the Russian Federation based on the borders of Tsarist Russia. Having overcome the trauma of national collapse, the Russian ruling classes turned their gaze to the former borders of the USSR, whose borders more or less corresponded to those of the territory of the tsar's empire. The general territory of Tsarist Russia and that of the Soviet Union were approximately similar. Putin yearns to re-establish the borders not of the Soviet Union, but of historic Russia.

Talking about Putin's desire to re-establish the Soviet Union is a lie, as Putin is explicitly hostile to the USSR and sees it, according to the leaders of Russia's ruling class, as a transitory deviation from the course of Russian history. Putin aspires to a re-edition of tsarist Russia without a tsar: he invented a historical narrative that was limited to relations between Russia and Ukraine, which the Russian establishment will eventually extend to other former imperial territories.

The epicenter of the international crisis provoked by the war was located in the world imperialist system itself, headed by the USA. NATO's growing inadequacy to the strained international relations became evident as its military operations culminated in repeated failures, revealing a more acute historical contradiction. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the opening of China to the world market seemed to announce an exceptional expansion of capitalism, but the successive world crises showed its insurmountable limitations: the contradiction between the financial and military monopoly of the USA, on the one hand, and its systematic retreat in the world market, on the other.

In NATO, US imperialism had more frequent clashes with its allies, its international operations, as in Iraq, could no longer rely on “international coalitions”. On the eve of the Ukrainian war, Russia negotiated with four or five governments separately: the USA, Germany, France and even Turkey and Ukraine itself. The Ukrainian war accentuated, first behind the scenes and then on top of it, the disintegration of the Western politico-military apparatus.

On a more general level, NATO's economic sanctions against Russia were the reverse of the vaunted capitalist “globalization”. The so-called “globalization” provided, in the 1990s, the temporary recovery of the rate of profit, until the end of the last century. From 1997 onwards, this rate began to fall, characterizing a situation of “long depression”. GDP growth slowed everywhere, and 2020 saw the most severe recession since the end of World War II as a result of the pandemic. The economic slowdown has been more pronounced in the main advanced countries and less accentuated in some so-called “emerging” countries. This phenomenon can be observed by comparing the G7 countries (United States, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy and Canada) with the BRICS (China, India, Brazil, Russia and South Africa), both in the period prior to the crisis mortgage, between 1980 and 2007, and in the subsequent period, between 2007 and 2023.

“Exceptional” economic measures, due to the war, were adopted by many countries. The war gave rise to a crisis in international trade and finance, affected by the blow that international production chains received in the context of the pandemic. The Putin government launched military operations under the pressure of a strategic stalemate, just as NATO sought this outcome and insisted on provoking it as a way out of its own. Russia is under the rule of an oligarchy and a bureaucracy with no other title than its recent rise and expropriation of state property, a rastaque capitalism that international capital wants to displace for its own benefit.

The reason for the war is not Ukraine's independence; the current one is a war for the international political reconfiguration of a world in crisis. The objective of the last G-7 meeting was to prepare Ukraine's counter-offensive against the Russian army in the entire eastern strip. The counteroffensive included attacks on Russian territory. US and German spokesmen justified this by the need to target the military supply routes of the Russian occupying army. The drones that attacked the Kremlin or Crimea, or the missiles against Russian cities, however, go far beyond that purpose.

The “western bloc” reaffirmed, in its international meetings, its intention to “support Ukraine in everything that is necessary”, giving rise to a European (potentially global) scenario, after more than a year and a half of hostilities, for a war. NATO's military and economic aid to Ukraine will have to increase, even if the United States enters into a kind of default, determined by its voluminous public debt. Behind the siege of Russia, what is being drawn is an attempt at extreme pressure by the Western imperialist bloc against China, as part of the dispute for the world market, in which there is an increasingly important Chinese participation.

NATO's war in Ukraine is therefore accompanied by strong pressure on China. It is part of the economic war promoted by Biden's USA and the deployment of NATO in Asia, based on agreements between the United States, Japan and Australia. An international warlike escalation thus develops. Considered in all its dimensions, it appears that the crisis of capitalism threatens with an unprecedented humanitarian tragedy. The importance of the international dispute explains the increasingly broad scenario of conflicts. The presence, in this crisis, of an internationalist strategy of the workers, in defense of a peace based on the defeat of imperialist military provocations and the trampling of oppressed peoples, from the perspective of a free association of peoples and nations, depends on an anti-imperialist policy and anti-capitalist, based on the working class and independent of neo-capitalist bureaucracies and oligarchies, unified worldwide. This is the great pending political task.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (boitempo).

Notes


[I] Francis said, addressing young Russians: “Never forget your heritage. They are the children of the great Russia: the great Russia of saints, of kings, of the great Russia of Peter I, of Catherine II, that great cultured empire, of great culture and great humanity. Never renounce that legacy. You are the heirs of the great Mother Russia, carry on. And thank you, thank you for your way of being, for your way of being Russians”.

[ii] The term “Rus'”, which gave rise to “Russia”, probably derives from the Finnish word Swedish and the Estonian rootsi, which in turn derive from rodr, rowers: rus it was the Vikings' way of calling themselves when they lived outside their homeland.

[iii] Paul Robert Magocsi. A History of Ukraine. Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 1996.

[iv] Orlando Figes. Crimea. The last Crusade. London, Penguin Books, 2011.

[v] Symon Vasylyovych Petliura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian politician and nationalist leader. In 1905 he co-founded the Ukrainian Party of Labor, but was a collaborationist with German troops during World War I. Known as the “Supreme Hetman”, he led armed groups, mostly composed of small traders and criminals, responsible for pogroms against Jews, massacres against workers and populations, in addition to being violently hostile to the Bolsheviks during the Russian civil war of 1918-1921. Defeated and exiled, he was assassinated in 1926 in Paris.

[vi] Rosa Luxemburg. The Russian Revolution. Petropolis, Voices, 1991.

[vii] Jean-Jacques Marie. History of the Russian Civil War 1917-1922. Paris, Tallandier, 2015.

[viii] Politically close to Leon Trotsky, Rakovsky was one of the first leaders of the Left Opposition in the CPSU, being deported to Central Asia, in 1928, where he suffered serious illnesses, without medical care. In 1930, together with Vladimir Kossior, Nikolai Muralov and Varia Kasparova, he wrote a letter to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR: “Before our eyes, a large class of rulers has formed which has its own internal interests and which grows through a well-calculated co-option, through bureaucratic promotions and a fictitious electoral system. The unifying element of this original class is a unique form of private property: state power”. After persecutions and arrests, in 1934 Rakovsky “capitulated” to the Stalinist regime, which allowed him a brief period of freedom, during which he held second-ranking posts in the government, at the People's Commissariat of Health. Arrested again in 1937, in 1938 he became one of the main accused in the “Process of the 21”, being sentenced to 20 years in prison. In September 1941, during World War II, Rakovsky was shot. It was rehabilitated in the USSR in 1988, during the government of Mikhail Gorbachev (Cf. Pierre Broué. Rakovsky. La révolution dans tous les pays. Paris, Fayard, 1996).

[ix] Paul Avrich. Les Anarchistes Russes. Paris, Francois Maspero, 1979.

[X] Alexander Skirda. Les Cosaques de la Liberté. Nestor Makhno, le cosaque de l'Anarchie et la guerre civile russe 1917-1921. Paris, Jean-Claude Lattes, 1985.

[xi] Janus Radziejowski. The Communist Party of Western Ukraine 1919-1929. Edmonton, University of Alberta, 1983.

[xii] Nicolau Bruno de Almeida. Makhno, a libertarian Cossack. Moorish nº 12, São Paulo, January 2018.

[xiii] Peter (Piotr) Archinov. History of the Maknovist Movement (1918-1921). Buenos Aires, Argonaut, 1926.

[xiv] Leon Trotsky. A lot of noise about Kronstadt. In: Gérard Bloch. Marxism and Anarchism, Sao Paulo, Kairós, 1981.

[xv] Luiz Bernardo Pericas. Planning and Socialism in Soviet Russia: the First Ten Years. Text presented at the International Symposium “One Hundred Years that Shook the World”, Department of History (FFLCH), University of São Paulo, 2017.

[xvi] Karl Radek. Las Vias y las Fuerzas Motrices de la Revolución Rusa. Madrid, Akal, 1976.

[xvii] Fabio Bettanin. The Collectivization of Land in the USSR. Stalin and the “revolution from above” (1929-1933). Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 1981.

[xviii] Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands. Europe between Hitler and Stalin. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2012.

[xx] Georges Sokoloff. 1933, l'Année Noire. Témoignages sur la famine in Ukraine. Paris, Albin Michel, 2000.

[xx] The Fourth International and War. Emergency manifest. Buenos Aires, Acción Obrera, 1940.

[xxx] Ben Abraham. WWII. Sao Paulo, Sherip Hapleita, 1985.

[xxiii] Alexander Werth. Russia in the War 1941-1945. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 1966.

[xxiii] Antonella Salomoni. L'Unione Sovietica e la Shoah. Bologna, Il Mulino, 2007.

[xxv] Pierre Gilormini. Economic History of the USSR. Paris, Marketing, 1974; Alec Nine. Economic History of the Soviet Union. Madrid, Alliance, 1973.

[xxiv] For example: Catherine Samary and Enzo Traverso. The national question in the USSR: strength and weakness of a Marxist tradition. Inprecor No. 77, Madrid, July 1990.

[xxv] Hélène Carrère d'Encausse. The Nationality Question in the Soviet Union and Russia. Oslo, Scandinavian University Press, 1995. See the article by Zbigniew Kowalewski: The End of People's Prison. In: Osvaldo Coggiola (org.). Trotsky today. São Paulo, Essay, 1991.

[xxviii] Diplomat and lobbyist for the main weapons producing companies in the USA, married to Robert Kagan, a tough and warmongering neoconservative. Between 2003 and 2005, Nuland was an advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney and promoted the invasion and occupation of Iraq, with approximately one million deaths. George W. Bush named her his ambassador to NATO between 2005 and 2008, when he organized international support for the US occupation of Afghanistan. In 2013, Barack Obama appointed her Undersecretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, a position from which she promoted protests by nationalist and neo-Nazi groups against Yanukovych's government, personally participating in the demonstrations that the far right organized on Maidan Square in December of 2013.

[xxviii] John J. Mearsheimer. Why the Ukraine crisis Is the West's fault: the liberal delusions that provoked Putin. Foreign Affairs Vol. 93, No. 5, Washington, September-October 2014.


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