Truths and lies about fascism in Ukraine

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By ALBERTO HANDFAS*

Neither Putin, nor Zelensky, nor the Russian oligarchies, let alone NATO, can resolve the struggle against fascism. They are responsible for the murderous war

Did Russian troops invade Ukraine for a “denazification” as Vladimir Putin says? From the war propaganda allegations, this one seems to have convinced some political sector, albeit a very minority one, in society and in progressive public opinion in Brazil. But is it true?

It is a fact, yes, there is in Ukraine a significant performance of fascist, racist and xenophobic nationalist groups. And it's not today. For at least two decades, such groups have been active and act as armed militias. But look closely to see that Putin's unilateral invasion is not aimed at tackling the problem. On the contrary, it can intensify it.

 

Post-Soviet oligarchies and fratricidal diversionism

Ukrainian ultranationalism, as in other parts of Eastern Europe, notably in Russia itself, revived after the end of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991.

The privileged caste at the top of the single party, existing since Stalin as social parasites, aimed to transform itself into a capitalist class. Even before the Soviet dissolution, members of the Office Politician (BP) of the CPSU already accumulated, via looting, on the huge black market. This, existing for decades, gained very expressive contours while Gorbachev prepared the capitalist restoration – finally finalized by his successor and final gravedigger of the USSR, Boris Yeltsin (whose government, Vladimir Putin would come to compose and co-manage).

The leaders of the CPSU and the CPs of the republics, regions and municipalities, in addition to the high nomenclature of the state, finally became capitalists: “mafiosi” in the beginning, by appropriating illegitimate wealth (black market, where differences were resolved with bullets). ; and “oligarchs” later, by legalizing their wealth, albeit in illegitimate and corrupt/fraudulent privatization schemes. Overnight, they became multibillionaires on a planetary scale just by appropriating (theft, so to speak) the former and extensive social property of the Soviet republics as if they were legatees of state assets, each leader of “their” republic, region, etc. And so, members of the CPSU BP – as well as the CPs of each republic – magically turned into radical bourgeois nationalists.

With mass privatizations and the destruction of public services and labor rights, unemployment, poverty and social and income inequalities increased.

In the absence of true mass political parties committed to the interests of the working class and the peoples of the former USSR, as well as representative, independent and grassroots union centers, the working people found themselves defenseless. This is despite numerous and powerful (some heroic) strikes and wage struggles. The enormous political confusion created by this situation among the working masses opened fertile ground for adventurism and opportunistic nationalist demagoguery.

Thus, the oligarchs and their government representatives, in each republic and in each region, began to use and abuse such nationalist demagoguery as an instrument not only in disputes for regional political-economic control, but also to distract the masses and, above all, to divide of the (ex-) Soviet working class. By the way, in another way, this is what the bourgeoisies in the rest of the world also do, creating division among the common people.

In Ukraine, in particular, as a republic with economic resources (military, political, etc.) much smaller than “Mother Russia”, local oligarchic groups tended to associate with external powers, depending on their interests and connections. political-economic; either to the great capital of the USA or the European Union (EU), or to the neo-capitalists of Russia. So much did the direct connections with the “Western” powers (via joint ventures, financing, etc.), and with the oligarchs of the Russian Federation, a huge neighbor and main trading partner. Through such mechanisms, such powers began to influence, finance and even manipulate not only Ukrainian institutional politics, but also ultra-nationalist militias. Both anti-Russian fascists and pro-Russian fascists – depending on who pays the band.

 

euromaidan

At the end of 2013, by refusing to sign EU membership, President Yanukovych (linked to the more Russophile sector of the Ukrainian oligarchy) drew the ire of the middle class, deluded with becoming “part of Europe”. Also unhappy with the social situation, hundreds of thousands of different social strata took to the streets in protest and clashed with the police in a movement that came to be known as “Euromaidan”.

Although very much in the minority in society and even among protesters, anti-Russian extreme right-wing groups, including neo-Nazi militias, financed by part of the opposition oligarchy and by pro-US agents, took advantage of the situation to dispute the leadership of the mobilizations, increasingly violent. In February 2014, the president was overthrown in an articulated coup at the US State Department. Days later he goes into exile, of course, in Russia.

In response, Vladimir Putin sent Russian troops by sea to invade and take over Crimea (see map), a rich and strategic region in the south of Ukraine – a peninsula on the Black Sea, a kind of ancient Russian Mediterranean.[I] At the same time, especially in the Russian-speaking eastern region of the country, parts of the population attacked by pro-coup fascist militias resisted the coup in street demonstrations. Taking advantage of this spontaneous movement, militias also of a fascist type – financed by the pro-Yanukovych part of the oligarchy and directly by the Putin regime – self-proclaimed the creation of two “people's republics” (Donetsk and Luhansk) in Donbass – southeast of the country .[ii] In addition to being a region with a high concentration of heavy industry, intense in capital and technology and with qualified labor, Donbass has coveted mineral wealth. The known reserves of lithium in the Donetsk Mountains alone (key metal for the electric car), which Russia currently buys from China and Afghanistan, are valued at $300 billion.[iii] (New York Times, February 22, 2022).

The creation of these “people's republics” was a conscious attempt to fracture the Ukrainian nation by the Russian government and its operators and militiamen within Ukraine (something different from the aforementioned occupation of Crimea). As a result, violent conflicts between anti-Russian and pro-Russian militias multiplied, and between them and demonstrators (mainly Russian speakers, but not only). In May 2014, the fascist anti-Russian militia “Right Sector” (“Pravy Sector”) massacred dozens of anti-coup activists in the Black Sea port of Odessa.

In the same month, new elections brought Porochenko, a billionaire and anti-Russian right-wing nationalist, to the presidency. Already at the beginning of his term, his interior minister incorporated the main anti-Russian ultranationalist militia into the National Guard, the Azov Battalion (with about a thousand soldiers organized by the neo-Nazi Andriy Biletsky) which – now with state resources – started to operate a war reconquest of Donetsk and Luhansk from Ukraine against pro-Putin separatist militias. Between 2014 and 2020, militias on both sides were responsible for the deaths of around 14 people in this region of Donbass, most of them civilians – most of whom did not even take part in the conflict, but who, because they live in the region, were caught in the cross-fire. After the massive outflow of refugees (both to Ukraine and Russia) in almost a decade, it is unknown how many original inhabitants still remained in the enclaves in February 2022.

 

Pro-NATO fascists, pro-Putin fascists

In 2019, tired of this bloody conflict, 73% of the population rejected the re-election of the ultranationalist Poroshenko, bringing Volodymyr Zelensky to the presidency. But Zelensky, an actor who represents oligarchs, including those in the media, has not changed his predecessor's policy. About him, by the way, accusations began to abound in the last period about the ties of the ruling circle of Kiev, the country’s capital, with banking activity in cryptocurrencies – a State policy with, let’s say, a kleptocratic bias.

Neither of these two presidents, nor their “pro-Western” Ukrainian oligarch sponsors, much less the fascist militias (Azov Battalion, Right Sector and other followers of Stepan Bandera, a fascist nationalist who supported Hitler in World War II), actually advocates self-determination national of Ukraine. What they really advocate is entry into NATO and/or the EU. They defend the economic interests of big international capital and the Ukrainian oligarchy associated with it. All of them are leading the country to a dead end.

On the other hand, the Putin regime and its militia representatives in the self-proclaimed “republics” in Donbass (“New Russia”, the name given to the region by tsarist colonialism and now rescued by the Putin government) do not fight against imperialism, nor fight nazi-fascism. They are just instruments of the Russian oligarchy, as criminal as the Ukrainian one – both arising from the restoration of capitalism by the Stalinist bureaucracy that dismantled the USSR. The fratricidal war promoted by both the ruling oligarchies, Ukrainian and Russian, tries for its own benefit to divide the peoples. Although, remember, it was Russian troops that unilaterally, without warning, coldly and premeditatedly invaded Ukraine in this 2022.

By the way, Donetsk's separatist militias are themselves right-wing extremists and nationalists with obscure ties to the Kremlin and right-wing movements in Moscow. The first governor of the “Donetsk People's Republic” (DPR) was Pavel Gubarev, leader of the pro-Russian movement in Ukraine. He is a member of the neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic organization Russian National Unity and leader of the New Russia Party (PN), which has among its illustrious supporters the exponents of the Russian extreme right Alexander Prochanov and Alexander Dugin (ideologues of the Putin regime).

But the DPR imitates Putin's Russia even in the role it attributes to its Communist Party (PCRPD), which is communist only in name: made up of Stalin's widows, in fact Putin's puppets - which the people call "red-browns". ”: brown inside, red only on the packaging. Boris Litvinov, main leader of the PCRPD was one of the co-authors of the self-proclamation of the RPD, composing its ministry. In a July 2014 interview, he advocated full “respect for private property” and praised Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine's wealthiest oligarch (owner of the privatized Donbass coal mines) for “understanding business concerns; ideally, politicians should not intervene in business structures”.[iv]

The 2014 DPR defense minister, Igor Girkin is a Russian FSB (formerly KGB) employee with assignments in Transnistria (under Russian separatism in Moldova), Bosnia and Chechnya. Back in Moscow, he created the far-right, neo-imperialist Russian party "Russian National Movement", whose goal is "to unite the Russian Federation, Ukraine, Belarus and other Russian lands into a single state of all Russia". Former DPR Prime Minister Aleksandr Borodai is a Russian nationalist ideologue. In addition to the official members of the “government” of the “republics” of Donbass, several ultra-right militias financed by the Kremlin also operate there. One of the best known is the Wagner Group, a network of ultra-rightist mercenaries, considered a private guard directly linked to Putin. They rose to prominence assisting separatist forces in Donetsk/Luhansk in 2014 and 2015.[v]

With the total invasion of Vladimir Putin this year, the war turned Ukraine into a Mecca for fascist groups, and mercenaries from various corners, who pilgrimage there to “train” with their Ukrainian or Russian extremist counterparts, on both sides.

 

Ethnic conflict is artificial

The immense majority of the Ukrainian population and working class does not see any sense in this fratricidal war and does not feel committed to it. For decades, the various ethnic groups that make up Ukraine – particularly Ukrainian-speaking Ukrainians and Russian-speaking Ukrainians (majority, respectively, in the north / west and east of the country) – coexisted fraternally and harmoniously, claiming equally the Ukrainian nation.

Of course, there is animosity against imperial oppressions, such as the “great Russian”, the glory of the Empire, denounced as “prison of peoples” by Vladimir Lenin. It has existed since the times of the tsars, but it was reversed in the initial period of the October Revolution, when Lenin managed to approve the right to a socialist and independent Ukrainian republic. Until the “Great Russian” spirit returned with Stalin. The dictator ordered the massacre of millions of peasants through forced collectivization, transfers imposed on millions of his territories, and starvation (not only but above all) of Ukrainians in the 1930s[vi]. Now, the “great Russian” attitude is back with Putinist neo-tsarism. If it is true that NATO takes advantage of this to legitimize itself and meddle in Ukraine's internal politics, Vladimir Putin has been doing the same since before the 2014 coup, without any legitimacy.

The fact is that the ethnic conflict in Ukraine was largely artificially manufactured against even national self-determination. So much so that even the Russian-speaking population did not welcome Russian tanks with flowers, even in regions where they are an ethnic majority such as Donbass, Kharkov, Kherson – quite the contrary: Popular demonstrations multiplied against Putin's invasion.[vii]

The fight against fascism and the war can only take place based on the popular and working class struggle for respect for the national self-determination of peoples, with the immediate withdrawal of the invading Russian troops. What does not diminish, on the contrary, it magnifies the popular demand in Western Europe (and in the USA) for the dissolution of NATO, a bellicose organization (responsible for recurrent crimes against humanity) that should not exist.

All this requires internationalist political mobilization against capitalism. Neither Putin, nor Zelensky, nor the Russian oligarchies, let alone NATO, can solve this. They are responsible for the murderous war.

*Alberto Handfas é professor of economics at UNIFESP.

Notes


[I] Crimea has a different history from Ukraine, including its geography and language, which do not fit within the limits of this article. It was part of the Russian Republic in the USSR, until Khrushchev, Stalin's successor at the head of the party and state, in 1954 decided to give Crimea to the Republic of Ukraine in the USSR, in order to accommodate conflicts in the Soviet bureaucracy. On the other hand, there are several small Russophone (non-Russophile) “enclaves” in various regions of the former tsarist empire, not only in Ukraine -such as the Donbass region – but also on the coast of the Baltic Sea – Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Kaliningrad – or in Moldova – Transnistria.

[ii] The respective populations in 2014 of Donetsk and Luhansk were 2,5 and 1,3 million inhabitants. That of Ukraine, in all, was 45 million.

[iii] https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/02/climate/ukraine-lithium.html

[iv] https://profile.ru/politics/pod-vneshnee-upravlenie-7418/

[v] https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2022/03/07/what-is-the-wagner-group-russias-mercenary-organisation

[vi] Hunger caused by the forced extraction of surplus scorching from peasants to be exported to Hitler's Germany (with which Stalin was already preparing an alliance).

[vii] No video, Ukrainian demonstrators in the city occupied by Russian troops, shout at Putin's tanks: "Russian soldiers, fascist invaders!"

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