Russian soldiers killed that family, just … because

April 7, 2022

By ANATOLY DUBOVIK in Dnipro, eastern Ukraine

On social media people are arguing about the reasons for the massacres at Bucha, Irpen and other places in Kyiv region. They are not asking why, so much as “for what reason”, with what aim? I have my opinion, as follows.

At the beginning of March, I heard a woman, who had been able to get out of occupied Melitopol with her family, talk about it. I’ll tell the story, as I remember it – so it’s not a documented record, of course, but my re-telling, albeit directly from the witness. As far as I understood, she lived somewhere in the suburbs of the city, in a private house.

The Russian army arrived in Melitopol on 26 February. There was no battle for the city. For several days we sat at home and watched an endless stream of Russian military vehicles. It was too frightening to go out – and there was no reason to: the Russians had looted all the shops on the first day.

And then [so, on 1 or 2 March, AD] our neighbours for some reason set out for their allotment, to plant something. One of the military vehicles stopped. Two Russian soldiers got out and killed the whole family, our neighbours. Husband, wife and two children. Then the soldiers got back into their vehicle and left.

After this we had no doubt. We collected all the things we could, and half an hour later left the city in our car. It took 24 hours to get to Zaporozhya [it is a 133 kilometre journey, AD]. There were Russian checkpoints all along the way. We were constantly stopped, they examined the car, and searched us. But all the same, we made it.

What are the explanations? Why, for what reason, was that family killed?

This was right at the start. The Russians who killed that family had only been on Ukrainian territory for a day or two. Melitopol was already in the rear, from their standpoint. So it’s highly unlikely that these soldiers had been in a firefight or lost close colleagues. Furthermore, there was practically no battle for Melitopol: the Ukrainian army had left the city. So it was not revenge.

Refugees in Lviv

And it did not seem like they were carrying out orders, either. In the case of an order to “kill civilians”, even “under such-and-such circumstances”, things would not have been limited to killing one family, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. This was not carrying out an order; it was the “living creativity of the Russian masses”.

The murdered parents, of course, could have had pro-Ukrainian views. Or they could even have been signed up to a territorial defence unit. But none of this was known to the Russians who shot them. It was not even known to their neighbours. What’s more: underaged children, murdered together with their parents, could not possibly have been in a territorial defence unit.

Moreover, this was not the result of a breach of curfew rules or anything of that kind. These people were literally in front of their home, in their own country, in broad daylight, no kind of threat to anyone at all.

But they were killed.

Isn’t it really obvious, that these murders had no purpose whatever? That the Russians killed that family not “for a reason”, but just … because.

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UK trade unions make ‘solidarity with Ukraine’ call

April 7, 2022

UK trade unions will demonstrate in London on Saturday, calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine.

“We send solidarity to the trade unionists of Ukraine who have been engaged in humanitarian assistance and resistance to the invasion”, the organisers say. “We will support in whatever way we can the brave people demonstrating in Russia for an end to the war.

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“We call on the UK government to welcome refugees seeking to come to the UK without imposing any restrictions.”

The demonstration, which assembles at Parliament Square in London at 12.0 noon, is backed by the GMB general union, one of the UK’s largest, as well as unions representing civil servants (PCS), rail workers (ASLEF), communication workers (CWU), bakers and food workers (BFAWU) and mine workers (NUM).

The three main Ukrainian union federations, and two rail workers’ unions, have also declared support for the event.

The Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine has appealed to trades unionists internationally to call on governments to send military and humanitarian aid to Ukraine.

“The bombing of hospitals and homes, executions, atrocities and rapes are part of Russian inhumane tactics”, Mykhailo Volynets, the confederation’s chair, wrote. “Russian forces continue to purposefully destroy the people of Ukraine and do not stop even at the time of the negotiation talks.

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Solidarity appeal for Ukrainian victims of Russian army abductions

April 4, 2022

Local councillors in the UK have launched an appeal demanding “an end to the use of kidnapping, arbitrary imprisonment and other violence” against elected officials, journalists, civic activists and others in the Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine.

The statement condemns “attempts by the Russian army and security services to destroy elected local government structures and replace them with their own appointees”.

Demonstration against the Russian occupation in Kherson, Sunday 3 April

The appeal was drafted after mayors and elected officials in Enerhodar, Melitopol, Kherson, Berdyansk and other towns in south-eastern Ukraine were abducted, often in the course of Russian army attempts to force local administrations to collaborate.

The abductions in the occupied areas are part of the same terror campaign whose cutting edge – summary executions, mass graves and wholesale terror against civilians – has been exposed in Bucha, Irpin and other areas near Kyiv from which the Russian forces withdrew last week.

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Ukraine: filtration in Russian-occupied areas is “a way of terrorising civil society”

April 4, 2022

Some insights into the situation in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine, where “people’s republics” were set up by Russian-supported armed militia in 2014, are provided in these excerpts from an interview with PAVEL LISYANSKY of the Eastern Human Rights Group. It was published on 25 March by Tribun, a Luhansk-based news group

Q: Do you think that the Kremlin’s aims have changed in the month since the invasion started?

PL: I am convinced that Putin’s aims remain the same. He wants to destroy Ukraine, having split it into pieces. Now, for example, he is trying to set up a “Kherson people’s republic”, which he would then recognise in future. Then, I reckon, they will try to set up something like a “union of people’s republics”. Putin will not touch the territories that border Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, for the simple reason that the Russian federation needs an external enemy in the shape of the regions that stay within Ukraine. Putin’s main aim is that the Ukraine of 2014-2022 – the free and independent Ukraine – should disappear.

Q: You have spoken before about the danger of the Russian federation issuing passports to Ukrainians. How actively is this policy being pursued now?

PL: It’s more operational than ever. Now that the Donetsk and Luhansk “people’s republics” have been recognised by Russia, no-one now has to travel to Rostov region [of southern Russia, to apply for a passport]. “Migration departments” have been set up in the occupied territories for passports to be issued. And now they [the Russian authorities] are increasing the numbers on account of the areas of Luhansk and Donetsk they have recently seized [i.e. areas that remained under Ukrainian government control between 2014 and 2022].

Demonstrators gathering in Enerhodar. Zaporizhiya region, on Saturday 2 April to protest at the Russian occupation. After this photo was taken they were violently dispersed by the occupation forces

And the approach has changed. Now those who refuse [a passport] are intimidated on account of it being war time, and threatened with legal cases for “collaboration with Ukraine”. A little more than a million such passports have now been issued.

Q: Now the Russians are “evacuating” citizens of towns they have occupied in Starobelsk and Svatovo. What are their aims?

PL: They need to create a “picture” for domestic consumption in the Russian federation, showing that “our brave army is saving peaceful civilians”. Unfortunately there are cases where they have evacuated people from Rubezhny and Svatovo to Rostov region. Where they go from there, we don’t know. Communication breaks down.

I suspect that our citizens could be sent, for example, to Vorkuta [a mining town north of the Arctic circle] or to the Far East [of Russia]. Remember that the Russian federation has a big problem of a great deal of territory that is sparsely populated. This is one way of trying to address it, where the “fellow countryman” programme of the Russian foreign affairs ministry failed. No-one really wants to move to those places voluntarily.

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Russians revolt against Putin’s war

February 28, 2022

The stream of protest against Russia’s war on Ukraine has turned into a river. Demonstrations in every major Russian city have been broken up by the police, with more than 4000 arrests, but people have returned to the streets again and again. There were anti-war demonstrations in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, yesterday, the first street actions since the 2020 crackdown.

Trafalgar Square, London, Sunday: “Russians against war” at a demonstration called by the Ukrainian community

Tens of thousands of Russians have signed letters against the war by professional and civic associations – that’s what this post focuses on. There is a list, summarised from an article yesterday on The Insider, and the texts of letters by medical staff, teachers and local government officials.

The Insider’s introduction stated: “Professional associations in Russia, and also representatives of civil society – municipal deputies, NGOs, human rights defenders – are publishing open letters and petitions against the war in Ukraine. Some of them have been signed by dozens of people, some by thousands.

“The examples included here have been signed by more than 60,000 people – and that does not include the anti-war petition started by the human rights defender Lev Ponomarev on Change.org, which was signed by 880,000 people in three days.” [English text of petition here.]

If you are reading this in the UK, or wherever, and you believe in building international solidarity against war, and you work in any of the professions mentioned – you know what to do. Get in touch with your Russian colleagues today.

Professional associations

Animators. “We are convinced, that war can bring nothing but death, hurt and destruction.” Signed by more than 390.

Architects and town planners. “War can not be an instrument of politics in the 21st century.” Signed by more than 5000.

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COP26 politicians give thumbs up to oil and gas

January 11, 2022

No sooner had politicians signed the Glasgow Climate Pact in November, than the US government paved the way for new oil and gas output, by selling $191 million of new drilling licences.

ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP, Shell and 29 other companies bid at an auction for blocks in the Gulf of Mexico, in an area twice the size of Florida.

The sale came after the Joe Biden administration’s moratorium on new drilling was overturned in the courts. Earthjustice said the sale was a “climate bombshell”: if all that production goes ahead, an extra 600 million tonnes of carbon dioxide goes into the atmosphere.

On the plus side, the UK’s biggest new oil project, Cambo, suffered a blow, as Shell pulled out, after forceful mobilisation by climate campaigners. Siccar Point Energy, which owns 70% of the project, then said it is pausing work.

Extinction Rebellion in London, September 2020. Photo by Steve Eason

Cambo could still go ahead, though, and if it does, that will be thanks in part to the UK’s lavish tax breaks for North Sea producers. Siccar Point says the project is “not forecasted to pay taxes for many years”.

The company-friendly tax regime means that in 2020 the treasury collected a paltry £255 million from oil and gas producers, while handing rebates of £39 million to BP and £110 million to Shell. 

These tax breaks are just one part of a multi-billion-dollar mountain of subsidies for fossil fuel producers from rich countries’ governments.

And those subsidies form the background to COP26’s failure to tackle global heating, and to the decisions made there, which Climate Action Tracker estimates will lead to 2.1-2.7 degrees of warming, far above the 1.5 degree target.  

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Revolt and repression in Kazakhstan

January 9, 2022

The Kazakh government has unleashed ferocious repression against the uprising that exploded last week.

Security forces opened fire on demonstrators. “Dozens” died, according to media reports, but on 7 January president Kasym-Jomart Tokaev let slip that “hundreds” had been killed. Tokaev also said he gave the order to “shoot to kill without warning” to suppress protests.

There are no accurate figures, because the government has cut off internet access for almost the whole country and imposed an information blockade.

The internal affairs ministry has said that more than 4400 people have been arrested, and warned that sentences of between eight years and life will be imposed. The Kazakh regime has used torture against worker activists before: its forces may be emboldened by the 3000 Russian and other troops flown in to support them.

From social media via The Insider. The security services facing demonstrators in Almaty

It’s difficult, in the midst of this nightmare, to try to analyse the wave of protest and its consequences. Anyway, here are four points, based on what I can see from a distance.

1. The uprising began as a working-class revolt against inequality and political repression.

The protests started in Zhanaozen in western Kazakhstan, an oil-producing city with a long history of struggle for union organisation. They were sparked by a doubling of the price of liquefied petroleum gas, used for home heating and transport, to 120 tenge (about £0.21) per litre from 60 tenge. (See note.)

But this economic demand was very rapidly joined to political demands.

On Tuesday 4 January, before the internet was blocked, the human rights activist Galym Ageleuov wrote on social media:

The Zhanaozen people’s demands, that could well be taken up in Aktau [the largest city in the Mangystau region] tomorrow, are:

1. Gas for 50 tenge.

2. The resignation of the government.

3. [Former president Nursultan] Nazarbayev to get out of political life.

4. The release of political prisoners (Erzhan Elshibayev and others).

5. The return of the stolen money. [Surely a reference to the Kazakh elite’s ill-gotten gains.]

In making these demands, working people in Zhanaozen no doubt had in mind their own recent history. In 2011, the city was the scene of the most significant workers’ struggle of the post-Soviet period – an eight-month strike by oil workers, that ended with a police massacre in which at least 16 died and 60 were wounded.

After that strike, the state used repression on the one hand, and substantial regional investment and pay rises in the state-owned oil companies on the other, to fashion a new social compromise. But the effect of the pandemic on the oil industry has effectively wrecked that arrangement.

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Kazakhstan: an eyewitness to the uprising in Almaty

January 9, 2022

□ This text was written by Aidar Ergali on Thursday 6 January in Almaty. It has been circulating on Russian-language social media (e.g. here and here) and was translated into English yesterday. Please copy and paste, please circulate

THIS WILL BE A LONG READ, BUT PLEASE READ IT

This is what happened yesterday [Wednesday 5 January] in Almaty’s main square. Please tell the whole world what has been happening in KAZAKHSTAN.

Brothers and sisters!

The traitor [president] Tokayev has brought armies into the country, and as of yesterday we are under the Russian occupation. Don’t believe the foul propaganda Tokayev spouts, his voice breaking with fear.

The provocateurs and marauders had been brought in by the government, in order to discredit the protest movement, and to drown it in blood. The people who had come out into the streets of our cities are not extremists and marauders, not terrorists, as the government claims. These are the people of Kazakhstan, robbed and driven to fury by a gang of cowardly traitors and scoundrels.

In the streets, I spoke with huge numbers of all sorts of people. These were young lads, who had answered their heart’s call and have come from all corners of our country. These are ordinary city folk, young people, the elderly, women, who can no longer suffer this constant shame, lies and humiliation.

Photos of Almaty from The Insider and social media

The fault for everything happening in our country now lies with the government. With Nazarbayev and his clique. While suppressing their own people, the authorities have lost the time to negotiate. The time for negotiations has now passed. Specifically, it passed yesterday, when the people took to the streets en masse for a PEACEFUL rally, in support of our brothers in western Kazakhstan. If the people had not come out as one across the country, they would long ago have drowned the Zhanaozen strikers in blood, just as it happened ten years ago. Because the same cannibals and butchers are still in power. Our lives are not worth a penny to them.  That time we permitted that slaughter to happen, through our inaction and cowardice.

On 4 January, instead of starting an open dialogue with the people, the government set up cordons, and its guard dogs, the karabets [armed security forces], were let loose on peaceful protesters.

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Energy, capitalism and social justice: a discussion

January 5, 2022

Two articles published today on People & Nature continue a written discussion about about energy, capitalism and social justice that began last year. For readers who want to follow it so far, these are the items, in chronological order:

How energy was commodified, and how it might be decommodified, by Simon Pirani, 18 November 2021.

And if energy itself is unjust? by Larry Lohmann, 17 December 2021.

Thermodynamics: a metaphor or a science? by David Schwartzman, 5 January 2022.

Disentangling capitalism and physics, ‘energy’ and electricity, by Simon Pirani, 5 January 2022.

Advancing discussion of this kind is right at the heart of what I want to do with this site. I am grateful to Larry and David for writing. I welcome contributions from others, too. If you want to talk about it first, email peoplenature[at]protonmail.com. SP, 5 January 2022.


Disentangling capitalism and physics, ‘energy’ and electricity

January 5, 2022

Larry Lohmann’s comments, “And if energy itself is unjust?”, about my article on energy commodification, are really welcome. There is much we agree on: that we have to question whether there is, was or could be such a thing as “energy” that was not commodified and is therefore somehow OK; that the relationship of thermodynamic energy and labour is somehow at the bottom of all this; and that there is much wrong with the way issues such as “energy democracy” and “energy justice” are framed on the “left”.

(Actually I don’t like the term “left”, either, (a) because it obscures the fact that, whatever it might be, it certainly isn’t the motive force of history in the way many of its adherents think, and (b) because it implies that I am part of some entity that doesn’t include most working people, but does include people who think Putin is doing fine in Ukraine and Bashar al-Assad is an “anti imperialist” hero. But I digress.)

One way to take our discussion forward is to focus on four parts of it, where we don’t see things in the same way, or haven’t understood each other. Here goes.

1. How do we define “energy”?

When I read Larry’s comments, I looked back at the introduction to my book Burning Up, where I first used the definition of energy he is questioning. In the introduction, I proposed to use the word “energy” in a way that does not include human labour, as “work done by physical or chemical resources, mobilised by people for that purpose”.

Part of the reason I went for this approach was to try to deal with an issue that Larry raises, that thermodynamic energy and capitalist labour (I’d say, labour under capitalism) are not the same, can not substitute for each other, and are not additive or mergeable as capital would have us think. I would have had to write the book very differently if I wanted not to use the word “energy” at all, or not to use other words, such as “democracy” and “socialism”, that can be inscribed with different, indeed opposite, meanings by people who use them.

Protestors from the Canada Real shanty town in Madrid, saying “light is not a luxury, it’s a right”

It could be said that my definition missed out the way that the concept of “energy” has been imbued with meanings by the social process during which it was first used, i.e. the work of physicists, and the philosophers, economists and others whose work influenced them, at the heart of 19th century British empire-building. And that process has not stood still: the way that the term has been used in the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century has added further layers, in particular in terms of “energy” as an extractivist process embedded in imperialist and neo-imperialist relationships. And Larry has said a great deal about the role of “energy” in the battles between capital and labour.

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