This website published eight years ago, following the 2014 pro-U.S. coup d’etat in Ukraine, an article analysing what the consequences would be. This article was based on an analysis, made years previously, of the situation in the Ukraine and Russia. Eight years later not a single word needs to be altered – the article is republished in full below. But regrettably, not everyone in progressive politics paid attention to studying Ukraine or understanding its significance. The result was therefore that some were taken by surprise by the outbreak of the 2022 Ukraine war, which helped lead to them taking a wrong position on it.
Among progressive, and even not so progressive, forces the external causes of the war in Ukraine are well understood. Put in popular language, in an unexpected source to quote in a socialist publication, it was well put by the Pope that NATO was “barking at Russia’s door”. Put more precisely the aggressive attempt to expand NATO into Eastern Europe, and finally into Ukraine, was a direct military threat to Russia which could place US missiles a few minutes flying time from Moscow, making defence almost impossible. The US had already shown decades before, in the Cuban missile crisis, how it would respond to any similar military threat to itself – if necessary, the US was prepared to wage world nuclear war to prevent it.
But if the external threat from NATO was well understood among progressive forces what was not so well apprehended was the interrelation of this with the domestic situation in Ukraine. The core of mistakes on this followed from not understanding the key fact set out in the article below – that is the binational, more strictly multinational (taking into account smaller minorities), character of the Ukrainian state: “Ukraine’s population is politically divided between a west that predominantly favours integration with the EU and an east that is mainly ethnically Russian, is economically highly integrated with Russia and wishes to remain close to Russia.” The reason for this multinational character of the Ukrainian state was deep and historical – as is analysed in the article. Given that the policies of the new Kyiv government destroyed the basis of the multinational Ukrainian state then, as analysed below, by peaceful means: “The most equitable political solution in the current  crisis… is through a process of self-determination that allowed the separation of the country into two states.”
From the creation of the Ukrainian state in 1992, up until the 2014 coup d’etat, the different regions within Ukraine agreed to the existence of a multinational state because the rights of different regions and groups were defended – Russian was recognised as an official language as well as Ukrainian, Ukraine pursued a foreign policy relatively neutral between the West and Russia etc. The 2014 coup d’etat overturned this – with the new post-coup government beginning systematic oppression of the Russian speaking population (abolition of the use of Russian as an official language), declaring the intention to enter NATO etc. As the article noted: “The anti-Russian chauvinism of this new ‘government’, and its inevitable dynamic towards dividing the country, was seen most clearly in its rapid decision to abolish Russian as the second official language, despite almost half the county being Russophone.” These policies destroyed the bases of a multi-national Ukrainian state thereby making the division of the country virtually inevitable.
What was involved was the self-determination of the Russian speaking population of the East of Ukraine and Crimea. This theoretically could be exercised by a decision to remain within a multi-national state, as was the case before 2014. But in practice the post-2014 oppression by the Kyiv government, by destroying the basis of the multinational state, made separation inevitable.
As the policies of the post-2014 Kyiv government in practice made the division of Ukraine unavoidable by far the best solution, as the article argues, was that this should take place peacefully. “The most equitable political solution in the current crisis… is through a process of self-determination that allowed the separation of the country into two states…. The solution to the current crisis that offers the greatest popular sovereignty is one that respects the different orientations of western and eastern Ukraine and allows the populations in all the regions the right to self-determination. This would result in two separate states that would organise their own relations with each other and with the EU and Russia. There could be a peaceful dissolution just as was achieved between the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Referendums should be held in each region to determine which state they join.”
But, as the article noted: “The US imperialists oppose such a democratic solution.” Having secured control of the government in Kiev the US wanted it to consolidate its control across the east and south of Ukraine where the Russian speaking, and pro-Russian, population was a majority.
The reason for this US policy, as the article noted, was that: “The confrontation playing out in Ukraine is however not fundamentally about the rights of the Ukrainian people but is the site of a massive attempt by the US to drive back Russia and destroy the capacity for any force to challenge it at a global level. Russia may not be a second superpower anymore, but recent events on Syria have shown that – especially when in alliance with China – it is still powerful enough to obstruct the US’s plans. US imperialism will not tolerate any challenge to its global hegemony, however weak and vacillating. It demonstrated that recently in Iraq, in Libya, in getting rid of Morsi in Egypt, its sanctions on Iran and its offensive against Syria.”
By not analysing this real situation in the Ukraine parts of progressive forces have got themselves into the appalling situation that they are aligned with an attempt by the Kyiv government to reimpose unity on the Ukrainian state by violence – something which, since the events of 2014, can literally only be secured by military and fascist terror against the population of the East of Ukraine and Crimea. The fascist terror was seen clearly in the burning to death of 46 Russian speakers in Odessa on 2 May 2014 and the military terror in the repeated attacks by the Kyiv regime on the Donbass in 2014-2021 in which 14,000 people were killed. It is a terrible error that a wrong analysis of Ukraine, the failure to analyse the historically created multi-national Ukrainian state, led sections of the left to be on the same side as an attempt by the Kyiv government to terrorise the population of the East of Ukraine and Crimea to submit.
This path occurred because, tragically, of course, the Kyiv government refused to follow the route of either peacefully dissolving the multinational Ukrainian state or of embarking on policies (e.g. Russian becoming an official language again) designed to persuade the population of the East of Ukraine to remain within the Ukrainian state. Instead, military offensives and sustained shelling were used in an attempt to terrorise the Russian speaking population of Ukraine to accept rule by the Kyiv government.
Consequently, the inevitable post-2014 separation of Ukraine into two states took place not by the desirable peaceful means, the Czechoslovak model, but by violence including by the intervention of external forces (NATO, Russia). But the fact that truly tragic, as opposed to peaceful, means are so far settling the issue does not alter the core of the matter. In the famous words of Clausewitz, which is the key to understanding all wars, “war is the continuation of politics by other means”. Progressive forces are still faced with the same fundamental political choice. Do they support the policy of the Kyiv government to enter NATO, which is a direct military threat of Russia and is a policy unacceptable to the Russian speaking population of East Ukraine? And do they support Kyiv’s policies of suppression of the rights of the people of East Ukraine, an attempt by Kyiv to impose its rule on Eastern Ukraine and Crimea by military terror and fascist violence? Or do they oppose these policies? Progressive forces should clearly oppose these policies and support the rights of the people of East Ukraine to determine their own future and which state they wish to belong to – that is to support their right to self-determination..
When the article below, analysing the fundamental forces in Ukraine, was written eight years ago there was still a slight chance that there could be a peaceful outcome to the right of the Russian population of East Ukraine to self-determination. This attempt at a peaceful solution was the basis of the Minsk agreements of 2014 and 2015. These agreements would actually have maintained a single Ukrainian state but with a high degree of autonomy and rights for the people of East Ukraine. But the Kyiv government made clear that it had no intention of implementing the Minsk accords despite having signed them – as Oleksiy Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, has openly claimed it was “clear for all rational people that it’s impossible to implement those documents.” The fact that the Kyiv government refused to implement any peaceful solution, either based on recognition of rights within Ukraine or the separation into two states, in practice inevitably opened the road to war.
The article below written in 2014, analysing the fundamental forces in Ukraine, had the self-explanatory title “After the coup – let Ukraine’s regions determine their future”. Instead of a peaceful solution to the inevitable split of the Ukrainian state which this article hoped for instead a violent one is taking place. This is a terrible tragedy. But it does not alter the core of the issue. The splitting of Ukraine was made inevitable by thepost-2014 policies of the Kyiv government, urged on by the US.
The more peacefully this separation of the Ukraine into two states takes place, that is the exercise of the right of self-determination, the better. Some progressive forces understand this. Taking a similar position to the 2014 article, Noam Chomsky has written recently “something has to be done about Donbas, the proper reaction… would be a referendum, an internationally supervised referendum to see what the people of the region want.” What certainly should not be supported by any progressive force is the policies of the Kyiv government which were to attempt to terrorise the population of East Ukraine and Crimea into submission. Also, progressive forces have to study the real character of Ukraine, which was not done in some cases after 2014, and stop a pretence that Ukraine was not a multinational state – which results in a reactionary denying of the Russian speaking population of East Ukraine to the right to self-determination.
The fundamental forces in Ukraine were analysed in this article of eight years ago and there is no need to alter anything in its analysis – even if the working out of these forces has taken a tragic form rather than the peaceful one it argued for.
After the coup – let Ukraine’s regions determine their future
By Paul Roberts (March 2014)
The Western backed parliamentary coup in the Ukraine was a significant advance for the US-led project of advancing its sphere of influence and pushing Russia further back in Eastern Europe. The US’s goals in the country have nothing to do with greater self-determination for Ukraine and are all about bringing it under imperialist control. Moreover this objective is not new, but has been the long-term aim of the US since the collapse of the USSR in 1991, to which end, aided and abetted by the EU, it has been funding and orchestrating pro-Western movements and organisations in Ukraine.
The US and EU have nothing to offer that can benefit Ukraine’s population. EU plans are to subordinate its economy to the interests of Western European capital, whilst the US hopes to integrate it into NATO’s military alliance.
Ukraine’s population is politically divided between a west that predominantly favours integration with the EU and an east that is mainly ethnically Russian, is economically highly integrated with Russia and wishes to remain close to Russia. The most equitable political solution in the current crisis – and the only one that would be acceptable to all – is through a process of self-determination that allowed the separation of the country into two states.
However, the core geopolitical consideration driving US and west European policy on Ukraine is the strategic issue of Russia.
Russia is Europe’s greatest military power with its largest population. It is the second greatest military power on the planet by nuclear capability and other military assets. Without the installation of missile defence, the US is unable to challenge it frontally with any certainty of success. This creates a constant potential challenge to the US being able to pursue its global aims unilaterally, which the US is determined to drive back. For example, since Putin came to power – unlike the pure Western cat’s-paw Yeltsin – Russia has sometimes been a significant political obstacle to the US at the UN. Most recently Russia’s UN veto denied international support for Western attacks on Syria, and its diplomacy forced an unwilling US into negotiations instead.
Stopping this means weakening Russia sufficiently so that it cannot stand up to the US. Since 1991 NATO (and EU) expansion eastwards has been the main mechanism for this. Most of central and eastern Europe has been integrated into the EU and NATO. Russia raised limited objections to this, but thought it had an understanding the process would stop at the borders of Ukraine. Instead Ukraine became the next target. The US already maintains a huge military arsenal directed at Russia. The US’s eventual aim would be to install NATO bases on Russia’s western borders, tightening a western military noose around it. Allowing NATO to move to its borders would so weaken Russia that it inevitably has to resist, or accept eventual subordination to the West. This is why the Russian parliament upper house unanimously approved deployment of Russian troops to Ukraine.
The territory that forms the current state of Ukraine was historically divided between Russia in the east and the Austrian empire in the west. The Crimean peninsula in the south was not traditionally part of Ukraine at all, and was integrated into Russia from the 18th century. It was administratively transferred within the wider USSR from Russia to the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954. Its port of Sevastopol remains the home base of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. In World War II, fascist elements in western Ukraine fought for Germany and supported the Nazi occupation of the country – the origins of today’s fascist movements seen at the heart of the recent upheavals in Kiev. At the same time more than four million Ukrainians fought in the USSR’s Red Army against the German occupation.
This history is reflected today in the division of the country between the Russian-speaking east and Ukrainian-speaking west. The voting pattern in elections reflects this political and cultural divide, with pro-Western candidates strongly supported in the west and pro-Russian candidates in the south and east.
At the level of its economy, Ukraine was devastated by the impact of the IMF’s shock privatisation ‘therapy’ after the dissolution of the USSR and has not yet recovered. Its economy is still smaller than it was in 1991, having experienced over 22 years of net negative growth. It also suffered a steep fall after the 2008 financial crisis, contracting 14.8 per cent in 2009. Its foreign exchange reserves have dropped to a level that raises fears it may default on its sovereign debt.
This was a significant factor in the recent events. The proposed Association Agreement with the EU – eventually rejected by Yanukovich in November 2013 – required that Ukraine meet the IMF’s terms for a new loan, including increasing energy prices to consumers and devaluation of its currency. This would have offered no solution to its problems, instead the IMF ‘structural adjustment’ package – arranged under the auspices of the US – would have squeezed more life out of the already struggling economy. The EU powers’ longer-term plan is to open up Ukraine’s economy to free competition from the more advanced countries of the EU, which would destroy Ukraine’s less competitive industry.
Yanukovich was willing to go along with the EU’s proposals, but with an election looming next year he knew that its terms would badly hit the population and therefore his re-election chances. With the negotiations not delivering any concessions from the IMF’s terms for a loan the Association Agreement looked unattractive as an immediate option. At the same time, Ukraine is heavily dependent on Russia economically, which supplies and subsidises its energy (at the cost of an estimated $4 billion a quarter). More than 60 per cent of Ukraine’s exports go to other post-Soviet states, with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan the most important. Russia offered to loan $15 billion, without any damaging ‘reforms’, and also agreed to reduce the price of natural gas it supplies to the Ukraine by one-third.
The pro-Western demonstrations that took place in response to these developments exploited growing popular dissatisfaction at the state of the economy and anti-Russian chauvinism in Ukraine’s western regions. But they were also the direct fruit of the political interventions of the US and EU in the Ukraine since 1991. In December, rabid Russophobe, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland publicly admitted that the US had spent $5 billion over the last 20 years on building anti-Russian organisations and movements aimed at toppling the government in Ukraine. This is an extraordinary admission and a clear indication of the crucial strategic importance that the US places on advancing in Ukraine and weakening Russia. If you scale up that $5bn spent on intervening in Ukraine to the size and wealth of Brtain that would be like spending $75bn or $2.8bn a year on trying to influence politics here.
In her now notorious leaked phone call, Nuland also made explicit the US’s coup goals and its preferred new government for Ukraine should these plans succeed. Her anger at the line of the EU was a reflection of the US’s far more confrontational approach to Russia and to Ukraine’s pro-Russian currents. Hence why, when on 21 February the EU brokered an agreement for a power-sharing government between Yanukovich and the parliamentary opposition, the US torpedoed it. The US was looking for total ‘regime change’ and so covertly backed the armed protesters breaking the truce and attacking the police lines in Kiev.
The US’s tactics were successful. With sufficient guns among the protesters to ensure that only a bloody crackdown could force them to accept the deal, government forces faced mounting chaos. At least 70 people, mainly demonstrators were killed. It is disputed whether these were victims of the state security forces or whether – as is widely claimed – some at least were shot by far-right snipers deliberately seeking to create a bloody mayhem that could be blamed on the government. But irrespective of the truth, the political consequences were decisive. A section of Yanukovich’s parliamentary support became convinced there was no way out and that it should switch sides.
Sufficient deputies from Yanukovich’s Party of Regions crossed over and joined the pro-US/EU opposition group to assemble a new majority. This grouping then carried out a ‘parliamentary coup’, claiming the right to change the constitution, impeaching the directly elected President Yanukovich and replace him with their own unelected acting President. The US-preferred candidate, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was installed as prime minister. The anti-Russian chauvinism of this new ‘government’, and its inevitable dynamic towards dividing the country, was seen most clearly in its rapid decision to abolish Russian as the second official language, despite almost half the county being Russophone. This was not the act of a government seeking to take Ukraine in a new unified direction, but an announcement of a brutal confrontation with its own Russian-speaking population.
The most extreme anti-Russian components of the pro-Western forces are the neo-fascist far-right groups, which were a highly visible part of the anti-government mobilisations. In the parliament a neo-fascist party, Svoboda, holds 36 seats of 450 seats. The US has been more than happy to work with this party and be photographed with its leaders. When Svoboda formed in 1991 it called itself the Social-National Party, intentionally identifying itself with the former German Nazi party. On the protests an umbrella group that organises street fighting, the Right Sector, is made up of Ukraine’s various armed neo-Nazi groups. Its paramilitary activists have been armed with rifles, small arms, Molotov cocktails and bulletproof vests. They led the attacks on the police.
The ideology of Svoboda and the Right Sector is vehemently anti-Russian, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and anti-gay. Hence a plethora of white supremacist banners, Nazi SS symbols and ‘Sieg Heil’ salutes evident in the movement on the streets and in the Square. Not only statues of Lenin, but war memorials to those who fought German occupation and synagogues have been attacked.
With US military resources limited by current budget constraints (as explained in an earlier article here) the US is turning to more covert tactics of destabilisation and forging violent oppositions to pursue the overthrow of what it sees as opponent regimes. Even $5bn on the opposition in Ukraine is cheap compared to the approximate $3trn the US spent in Iraq and similar amount it spent in Afghanistan. And it avoids the consequences in political unpopularity of the deaths and injury of US personnel.
The US is an experienced practitioner of this type of destabilisation, using a variety of tactics. In Ukraine it meant encouraging the most extreme wings of the opposition – which were also tied to the neo-Nazi right –as these can be relied on to disrupt all efforts for dialogue and keep peaceful, compromise solutions off the agenda. These forces use sufficient violence to try to force government to choose between a politically unacceptable deadly crack down or allowing chaos to go unchecked and eventually lose all credibility.
Outside of western Ukraine the new regime lacks popular legitimacy. In Crimea the provincial government has taken control within its own borders and military forces loyal to it have reinforced security on the peninsular. The Russia deployment is supporting the provincial government. The US describes this as that ‘Russia’ has effectively taken control of the Crimea – without a shot being fired and with the support of the overwhelming majority of the population. An alternative perspective might suggest that Russia is defending that majority from takeover by a hostile Kiev. A referendum on Crimea’s status is planned for 30 March.
In the rest of eastern Ukraine, including in the main cities of Kharkov and Donetsk, there have been significant demonstrations rejecting the legitimacy of the new Kiev government and supporting ties to Russia. Attempts by the far right to mount provocations have been small and easily overwhelmed. It remains to be seen whether these regions push for separation from the rest of Ukraine and whether Russia comes to their aid. In such a struggle the sovereignty and right to self-determination of all the regions in Ukraine should be defended, including any assistance that Russia extends to ensuring that.
The solution to the current crisis that offers the greatest popular sovereignty is one that respects the different orientations of western and eastern Ukraine and allows the populations in all the regions the right to self-determination. This would result in two separate states that would organise their own relations with each other and with the EU and Russia. There could be a peaceful dissolution just as was achieved between the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993. Referendums should be held in each region to determine which state they join.
The US imperialists oppose such a democratic solution. Having secured control of the government in Kiev they want to consolidate the authority of its illegitimate regime across the east and south, including into the Crimean peninsular forcing Russia out of its Black Sea base.
The EU also wants to maintain the unity of Ukraine – the better to exploit it economically in the future – but its economic interests in Russia and reliance on it for one-third of its gas and oil consumption means it is less willing to engage in a frontal confrontation with Putin and would prefer to ease back and resume the search for a compromise solution.
The confrontation playing out in Ukraine is however not fundamentally about the rights of the Ukrainian people but is the site of a massive attempt by the US to drive back Russia and destroy the capacity for any force to challenge it at a global level. Russia may not be a second superpower anymore, but recent events on Syria have shown that – especially when in alliance with China – it is still powerful enough to obstruct the US’s plans. US imperialism will not tolerate any challenge to its global hegemony, however weak and vacillating. It demonstrated that recently in Iraq, in Libya, in getting rid of Morsi in Egypt, its sanctions on Iran and its offensive against Syria. Therefore it has decided Russia must be fatally weakened.
The US is not interested in ‘democracy’ in the Ukraine – if it was it would not team up with fascists. The people of Ukraine are just a tool in its attacks on rivals and challengers, which in this case is Russia. Defending the rights of the people of Ukraine means defending the rights of the east to resist the imposition of a US puppet government over it, defending the right to self-determination even to secession for all regions that want it, and defending the right of the Russian army to come to the aid of the eastern regions to prevent Kiev enforcing its control.