Above: Pro-Russian separatists march Ukrainian prisoners through Donetsk in response to the Independence Day celebrations in Kiev.
In mid-July Denis Pushilin resigned as chair of the Supreme Soviet of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). In early August Alexander Borodai resigned as Prime Minister of the DPR.
In mid-August Valery Bolotov resigned as head – he was always simply referred to as “the head” – of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Igor Strelkov-Girkin resigned as Minister of Defence of the DPR.
According to Boris Kagarlitsky (a longstanding Russian socialist turned cheerleader for the separatists), the latter resignations were the result of pressure by the Kremlin, in preparation for a deal with the Kiev government at the expense of what Kagarlitsky calls “Novorossiya”.
Kagarlitsky is particularly concerned about the pressures which Strelkov-Girkin – who, he claims, did the most to “aid the radicalisation” of the “revolutionary crisis” – must have suffered:
“How Strelkov was lured to Moscow, and what was done to him there in order to extract from him his ‘voluntary’ resignation (if, in fact, he signed such a statement at all), we can only guess.” (1)
(Donetsk inhabitants such as Alexander Chornov who had the misfortune to be interrogated, threatened and beaten up by Strelkov-Girkin after their ‘arrest’ by separatists probably do not share Kagarlitsky’s concerns. (2))
In theory, Kagarlitsky might be right to argue that the Kremlin is preparing to do a deal with Kiev. But there is an alternative, and much more straightforward, explanation for the resignations.
The fighting in Donetsk and Lugansk – according to the separatists, the Putin government, the state-controlled Russian media, and Boris Kagarlitsky – is a mass popular uprising.
But the fact that the key separatist leaders (Strelkov-Girkin and Borodai) were fascist in their politics, Russian in their citizenship, auxiliaries in Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and directly linked to the Russian security services, made a mockery of such claims.
Replacing them by lesser-known locals removed that problem. Paradoxically, it also underlined the degree of Russian involvement: as Kagarlitsky himself admits, in however emotional a form, the decisions about the resignations emanated from Moscow.
Whereas Borodai and Strelkov were White-Russian imperialists who looked forward to the restoration of Tsarist “Novorossiya” on the territory of Ukraine, the new separatist leaders prefer to live the fantasy that they are fighting a re-run of the Great Patriotic War against fascism.
According to a statement issued last week by the Supreme Soviet of the DPR, instructing the Council of Ministers of the DPR not to accept a convoy of humanitarian aid organised by the Kiev authorities:
“In recent days the propaganda machine of fascist Ukraine has announced certain humanitarian aid which the Kiev junta is supposedly distributing on the territory of the DPR.
This propaganda action by Ukrainian fascists has been inspired by those who openly finance and support the mass elimination of the people of the DPR and its infrastructure – the USA, the European Union, and its other allies.
The people of the DPR will not accept the so-called humanitarian aid from the hands of the fascist punitive forces.” (3)
Last Sunday (24th August – Ukrainian Independence Day) the DPR authorities staged what they called the “Parade of Shame”, as they marched around 90 captured Ukrainian soldiers through the centre of Donetsk:
“At exactly two o’clock the person chairing the rally declared the anti-fascist meeting open and said a few bitter words: ‘Now you will see people who kill us and bombard our city. These people have also killed the Ukrainians in us. From now on we are Russians!’” (4)
The event was consciously ‘modelled’ on a parade of 57,000 German prisoners-of-war, organised by Stalin’s henchman Beria in Moscow in July of 1944. Beneath the headline “March of the Captured Fascists”, an article on a pro-separatist website explained the event as:
“A revival of the tradition of the Red and Soviet Armies of the time of the Great Patriotic War. Captured fascists marched through Leningrad and Moscow, so let them do the same here. In Novorossiya the militia are fighting extreme dregs lacking moral principles or constraints.” (5)
Underling the theme of Ukrainian soldiers being fascist filth and vermin, and not really even human, vehicles from the local authority’s cleansing department followed the parade, washing the streets along which the Ukrainian soldiers had been forced to march.
Elsewhere in Ukraine, Independence Day celebrations were used to whip up enthusiasm for the war from the other side.
Speaking at a Soviet-style military parade in Kiev – ironically, the first since 2009, when the annual event had been scrapped by the now ousted Yanukovich – President Poroshenko summoned up visions of permanent war-readiness:
“According to foreseeable historical perspectives, Ukraine will constantly be threatened by war. And we not only have to learn how to live with this, we also have to constantly be ready to defend the independence of our state.” (6)
Poroshenko also announced that the military budget would be increased by $3 billions in the period 2015-17. So, just when Ukraine’s workers will see massive attacks on their living standards, jobs and working conditions, in line with the strings attached to IMF loans, the government will be massively increasing the military budget.
Against such a grim background, socialists internationally need to step up their support for the beleaguered Ukrainian left in its fight for working-class unity and against all forms of militarism and national chauvinism.
And we should have no truck with those on the left, like Kagarlitsky, who deny Ukraine’s right to self-determination (and its very existence) and continue to hail the forces of “Novorossiya”:
“This (Ukrainian) state no longer exists and it will not be restored. It may be that after a time we shall again see a Ukrainian state that is not divided by the fronts of a civil war. … The road to founding such a state lies through civil war. Ukraine will again be united only if the forces of the insurgent south-east raise their banner over Kiev.” (7)
Not for nothing is Kagarlitsky now rightly denounced as “the ‘left wing’ of the Putin regime.” (8)
8) Comments in ibid.