The danger of renewed Russian military action in Ukraine is growing. The build-up of Russian armed forces on the border, near to the Russian-supported separatist “republics” in Donetsk and Lugansk, is alarming Ukrainians. They have already suffered more than six years of war during which 14,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced from their homes.
Central to the Kremlin’s approach is to keep the western powers guessing. President Putin has raged against NATO, despite senior western politicians making it quite clear that they would not commit troops to defend Ukraine from an invasion.
There are some reasons to believe that Putin is aiming not for war, but for a negotiation with the US – and initial talks have been fixed for January. But the preparations on the border continue nonetheless.
In the face of a possible major land war in Europe, socialists and internationalists across the continent have a responsibility to speak out, to be at the forefront of the anti-war movement. We must act in solidarity both with the Ukrainian communities that face the physical danger of Russian military action, and the so far small number of Russian voices being raised against war.
With this in mind, I have translated these two articles. The first is a statement opposing war, by the Russian Socialist Movement. The second is a blog post by the Ukrainian community activist, trade union organiser and lawyer Pavel Lisyansky.
On 4 December, the Associated Press, citing information from the US intelligence services, reported that Russia was preparing to put 175,000 troops near the Ukrainian border. “[Deploying] Russian armed forces on Russian territory – that’s the legal right of a sovereign state”, responded Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, without denying the build-up of forces on the border.
Along with the migration crisis on the Polish-Belarusian border, these actions are an episode in the cynical and dangerous geopolitical game of Russian and the west, in which millions of working people in Ukraine, Belarus, Russia and other countries are being held hostage. This sabre-rattling is not only an attempt to push other states into retreat. Behind it also stands the aspirations of the elite to “rally the nation” once again around the Putin regime, as it did in 2014, after the annexation of Crimea.
The so-called “hybrid war with the west” is needed to distract the population’s attention from the poverty, inequality, political repression, falsification of elections and the collapse of the fight with the coronavirus. This “hybrid war” serves as a justification for round after round of attacks on the rights and freedoms of Russians, for the continuation of a social and economic policy directed against the majority of people – and for power becoming un-removable.
Militarism and nationalism are lethally dangerous drugs that are being injected into Russian society and, at the same time, are poisoning the consciousness of the ruling clique, which is becoming more and more removed from reality.
The loss of social support, the absence of any vision of the future and the determination to stay in charge by any means have pushed Russia’s rulers towards this terrible step: an attempt to cut the Gordian knot of their problems by dragging Russia into a major war.
In this situation it is essential that the progressive forces in Russian society, including the left, are united in opposition to war. Whatever our attitude to the political situation in Ukraine, or to the policy of the USA or the EU in the region, another military adventure will lead to nothing but a humanitarian catastrophe and the reinforcement of authoritarianism on both sides of the border.
We must not allow a repeat of 2014, when a section of the Russian opposition, gripped by illusions in the supposedly progressive character of the so-called “Russian spring”, in practice supported the Kremlin and its imperial expansion.
It must be axiomatic, that a regime of record-breaking social inequality, of lies, repression and obscurantism, can not bring “freedom” to anyone, including the Russian-speaking citizens of Ukraine.
To put the blog post by Pavel Lisyansky in context: he argues that the situation in eastern Ukraine can not be resolved by implementation of the Minsk accords. These agreements, struck at the end of the 2014-15 military conflict, required (i) an end to hostilities, an amnesty and the disbanding of illegal military formations, and (ii) the granting of special status to the territories controlled by the separatists. (I recommend the excellent summary in this article by Taras Bilous, a Ukrainian socialist.)
From the start, the Ukrainian government pressed for the security and humanitarian issues (i) to be dealt with first; Russia demanded action on the special status of the “republics” (ii). There have been breaches of the agreements on all sides. As time has passed, the armed guards, barbed wire and checkpoints that run through eastern Ukraine have taken their toll. Divisions between the population of the “republics” and other Ukrainians have deepened.
Lisyansky describes the economic and political processes in the areas controlled by the separatists. He represents the Eastern Human Rights Group and has worked as an advocate of labour rights and democratic rights in both the “republics” and in Ukrainian-controlled territory. This is an abridged translation.
At present, the implementation of the Minsk accords would destabilise the social-political situation in Ukraine. There are a number of substantial reasons for this.
First. The “Minsk accords” are agreements reached in 2015 providing for the mutual carrying-out of obligations, signed by the ex president of Ukraine Leonid Kuchma, and leaders of the unlawful armed formations “LPR” [Lugansk People’s Republic] and “DPR” [Donetsk People’s Republic] Igor Plotnitsky and Aleksandr Kharchenko. The intentions of these signatories were that the agreements had to be fulfilled within two years of the documents being signed.
As of December 2021, the situation in the parts of Donetsk and Lugansk regions occupied by the Russian Federation differs significantly from 2015, which must directly influence the regulation of military conflict in line with the “Minsk accords”. In the separate areas [the acronym used is ORDLO (otdelnye raiony Donetskoi i Luganskoi oblastei), i.e. separate areas of Donetsk and Lugansk regions controlled by the Russian-supported separatists, i.e. separatist-controlled areas], the Russian occupation administration has given 813,000 Russian Federation passports to local citizens. The higher education institutions have moved on to the standards and educational programmes of the Russian Federation; in the schools, the Ukrainian language is prohibited; school pupils are educated through a militarised process or, to put it another way, military ideology is propagated and they learn through the conduct of military operations. Young people are asked to join the social-political projects of the unlawful military forces of the LPR and DPR, who promote the principle of the “Russian world”.
Second. The ideological principle of the “Russian world” is promoted in the occupied territories of the Donbass by the Russian Centre organisation, an executive partner of the Russian state fund, Russian World. There were 13 of these Russian Centres in Ukraine (in the regional capitals); after the revolution of dignity of 2014, they remained only at Gorlovka, Donetsk and Lugansk. The Russian Centre in the separate areas, for example, has a permanent project entitled The Russia-Donbass Integration Committee, which is led by Andrei Kozenko, a deputy in the Russian Duma [parliament]. Since 2017, this project has been used to strengthen the integration of the separate areas into the Russian Federation, by means of social-political, academic and cultural projects. All large-scale mass events in the separate areas are run by the Russian Centre. […]
In December 2020 the Russian occupation administration in the separate areas put together the socalled Russian Donbass doctrine. It was presented in January 2021 at a forum of the same name. The doctrine is a 47-page text that portrays the unlawful armed formations of the LPR and DPR as bastions and strongholds of the “Russian world”, on the historic territory of the “Russian empire”. […] In November 2021, the leader of the DPR, Denis Pushilin, announced in Moscow that it is necessary to form a “Russian national state” on the territory of the separate areas.
Third. The political parties of the Russian Federation also influence the integrationist processes. Since 2014, all the parties represented in the Russian Duma have been active in the parts of Lugansk and Donetsk that are occupied by Russia. The parties that have been most active are Just Russia – For the Truth, and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF). Since May 2021, United Russia [the pro-Putin party that dominates the Duma] also became active. In the summer and autumn of 2021, elections to the Duma were organised in the separate areas. In the course of the campaign, virtual polling stations were organised, and also, on election day, the transportation en masse of residents of the separate areas to polling stations in Rostov region [over the border in Russia].
Fourth. One of the key aspects of the integration of the separate areas into the Russian Federation is the labour migration of the working-age population. […] During 2021, 1400 workers from the coal industry went to work in Russia. In 2021 the occupation administration closed 43 coal mines, which had previously been in the Ukrainian state sector. These actions led to an upsurge of unemployment in the separate areas, caused by the pit closures and the systematic non-payment of wages at other enterprises. In Russia this situation was taken advantage of: through the Fellow Countryman programme, they began to encourage Ukrainian citizens living in the separate areas to get a Russian passport and move to distant regions of the Russian Federation.
Fifth. The integration of young people by the occupation administration is being carried out through sports, and clubs for military-patriotic education. Since 2015, the occupation adminstration of the Russian Federation in the separate areas has founded sport federations of the LPR and DPR, and competitors from these federations complete at regional, national and international competitions held in Russia. […]
The policy of the Kremlin, for the integration of the separate areas into the Russian Federation is accelerating at a geometric rate. Accordingly, the government of Ukraine needs to examine all the processes and consider the risks. The implementation of the Minsk agreements at this point would result in the destabilisation of the social-political situation across the whole country, and could result in new losses of territory.
□ I have translated this blog post not to support its view of the Minsk agreements, but because of the information it provides about the situation in the separatist-controlled areas. It highlights the way that the Russian state has, since 2014, established facts on the ground in the separatist-controlled areas, by way of integrating them into Russia.
The blog post shows how the Russian state has worked to deepen divisions between sections of the population on the basis of language and nationality. The Ukrainian state and Ukrainian nationalists have also played a dangerous role here. In April, an alliance of human rights groups warned that sanctions announced by Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky against citizens living in the separatist-controlled areas were unconstitutional, and a “serious threat to human rights and liberties”.
International solidarity means finding ways to support the communities directly impacted by the military conflict. There’s some more about that in a linked article, “Putin’s little helpers undermine solidarity”. SP, 29 December 2021