UKRAINE: AGAINST RUSSIAN IMPERIALISM AND THE UKRAINIAN OLIGARCHS

Interview with Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski

originally published in French in the Swiss socialist, feminist and ecologist fortnightly SolidaritéS, no. 253, September 4, 2014.

Our editorial board talked with our comrade Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski, adjoint editor-in-chief of the Polish edition of Le Monde diplomatique, specialist of Ukraine and author of several works on the history of the Ukrainian national question.

In your last article published in French you highlighted the role of the Donbass oligarch Rinat Akhmetov in the pro-Russian separatist movement. You especially emphasized the weakness of the social base of the „Donetsk People’s Republic.” Can you remind us of some elements of this analysis?

Donbass is the central base and the hard core of oligarchic power in Ukraine. The separatist rebellion in the Donbass early was from the beginning instigated by two allied forces: the apparatuses of the Party of Regions, linked directly to the most powerful oligarchic interests, and the state apparatuses of Russia.
For the first force, the rebellion was a reaction of panic to the fall of the regime of Yanukovych and his party, toppled by the Maidan popular uprising. It was a question of saving oligarchic power in its central base, relying on Russian imperialism.
For the second force, Russian imperialism itself, it was a question of destabilizing and disintegrating Ukraine, which, with the victory of the Maidan uprising, and turning towards the European Union, was likely, this time definitively, to break the centuries-long colonial relationship tying it historically to Russia.
That is why they created the two puppet republics and moved on quickly from some very minority „mass” actions (rallies of about two thousand people each time) to military action. The Party of Regions in the Donbass has a mass base, representing approximately 30 per cent of the population, but it is a very passive mass, only mobilizing, in the best of cases, to vote.
Thus, for the separatist „referendum” vote, only half of this base mobilized: about 15% per cent of the population. A mass separatist movement has never existed in Ukraine.

The leaders of the movement, like Colonel Igor Strelkov and Aleksandr Borodai have an activist past and an ideology that does not fit in completely with a simple function of „puppets of the Kremlin.” When talking about them you used the term „Russian White Guards”. Can you clarify this?

Having come from Russia, Strelkov and Borodai represented a current of the Russian far right – ultranationalist, monarchist, Orthodox fundamentalist – whose aim is the restoration of the old Tsarist Empire in its 1913 borders and its expansion throughout the Slavic and Orthodox world.
They were never the leaders of the whole of the separatist movement. They held very important formal positions in the Donetsk „republic”, and they really did lead sectors of the separatist movement in this republic and also in the Luhansk one. They were forced to share power with the „Akhmetovites”, that is to say with those who had the trust of Rinat Akhmetov, the biggest oligarch of the Donbass, and other oligarchs and barons of the Party of Regions. The „Akhmetovites” had their own armed forces, including the „Vostok” (East) battalion which, in fact, did not obey Strelkov, despite the fact that he was, formally, „minister of defence” in Donetsk.
Strelkov and Borodai were not „puppets”, but far-right activists pursuing their own political agenda. It is for this reason that, despite all the efforts of Borodai to seek the support of Putin, they lost out in the factional struggles in the top leadership of the rebellion.
They were eliminated in favour of trusted supporters of Putin who had been sent there. The formation of this new alliance of the „Putinists” with the „Akhmetovites” was cemented by a strong increase of Russian military aggression.

Do the present events in Ukraine invalidate the position of the internationalist left, which took a position for an antiwar front?

This war is, on one side, the armed rebellion of part of the Ukrainian oligarchy, combined with the war of aggression, increasingly direct and massive, of Russian imperialism. On the other side, it is a war of national defence, that is to say, conducted in defence of the national independence – won just 23 years ago – and national unity of a people desperately seeking a way out of centuries-long national oppression.
It is not possible to find this way out in the framework of a bourgeois regime subject to Western imperialism. Ukraine has an urgent need of a socialist programme of national defence. The international left has done nothing to contribute to the working out of such a programme. Quite the opposite: we are witnessing a neo-Stalinist and neo-campist degeneration of a large part of this left, which has gone over to the side of Russian imperialism.
If it is a question of a front against the imperialist war of Putin, then let us go for it. On the other hand, a front against the war of national defence of the Ukrainian people would be a front of support to Russian imperialism and the oligarchic separatist rebellion.

This interview was conducted by Daniel Süri

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