The demonstrations that followed November's presidential election in Ukraine have been acclaimed as the latest example of 'people power'. Following the Czech 'velvet revolution' of 1989, and last year's 'rose revolution' in Georgia, the protests in favour of Viktor Yushchenko have been marketed as a new 'chestnut revolution', against a rigged election and Russian influence. Meanwhile, support for Prime Minister Yanukovich is described in the western media as being 'bussed in' from the east of the country, with people provided with free accommodation, food, generous spending money and supplies of vodka.
In reality, whether intoxicated by free alcohol or Ukrainian nationalism and democracy, the people participating in the spectacles in Kiev and elsewhere, whether workers, students or petit-bourgeois, have been drawn into a dispute between factions of the Ukrainian ruling class, each backed by powerful imperialist powers. This is not 'people power' but a conflict over what direction Ukrainian capitalism should go.
The EU, NATO, leaders of European countries, and senior figures in the US all found that the election results that gave an initial victory for Yanukovich were unacceptable and marked by massive fraud. There were no inhibitions about 'interfering in the internal affairs' of another country, although the Russian ambassador in the US was summoned to be told off for Putin's open support for Yanukovich.
The opposition lodged 11,000 complaints about electoral practices that didn't favour them. A team of 563 observers that had been sent by various international and European bodies produced a catalogue of electoral practices that it didn't approve of. These included the role of the media, intimidation, mysterious extra votes appearing so that more than 100% voted in some areas, and votes open to tampering after the election.
The divisions within the Ukrainian ruling class, and its lack of experience in running elections, do seem to have lead to rather inept attempts to ensure a favourable result for Yanukovich. But, for the working class, all capitalist elections are frauds. They can only offer the continuation of exploitation, impoverishment and war, while claiming that bourgeois domination of our lives is given validity through the electoral charade. In the US, for example, we have just witnessed an election where millions of workers (and others) voted for Bush, who has presided over a decline in employment and living standards, while millions others voted for Kerry, despite his clear commitment to advancing the interests of American imperialism. Of course the US election was played as the 'most important of a generation', but that's the sort of spiel you'd expect from any huckster selling you something dodgy.
In Ukraine the hype round Yushchenko is also part of the fraud. Trained as an accountant he made his way to senior posts in the banking system of Ukraine when still part of the USSR. Not long after 1991's Ukrainian independence, he became head of the national bank in 1993, directing monetary policy and having a major role in economic policy until 1999 when President Kuchma made him Prime Minister.
The testimony of a pro-Yanukovich demonstrator is possibly of limited value, but The Times (26/11/04) reported a miner as asking "What did Yushchenko do for us when he was Prime Minister? I'll tell you what - he tried to cut our salaries and pensions, to close the mines, to destroy our lives". It's widely believed that Kuchma was grooming Yushchenko as his successor, and no one doubted the then Prime Minister's loyalty.
In addition to Yushchenko's past, his current backers include a handful of millionaires, even billionaires. They have acquired their fortunes and influence in the period since 1991, but were clearly well placed before the break-up of the USSR. Yuschenko has a 'sweep out corruption' slogan that draws attention to the infighting, corruption and dubious dealing throughout the ruling class. This is only for public consumption as he has every reason to turn a blind eye to the business habits of his friends and allies. Far more important are those outside Ukraine who back his presidency.
Not a 'revolution', but a moment in the conflict between imperialist powers
The French paper Liberation (2/12/04) described events in the Ukraine as "a new illustration of the power of the European dream of liberty and prosperity". But beyond the platitudes about democracy and freedom, Liberation sees a Cold War by proxy between Putin's Russia and Europe. In fact, even the less sophisticated press in Britain has had no problem in seeing the big power vultures circling over Ukraine.
They paint a crude picture of Ukraine divided between a pro-Russian south and east with a pro-European west, based on certain material particularities. The east has heavy industry and mineral resources, and, while Russia has the ports of Taganrog and Novorosiisk, guaranteed access to Black Sea ports such as Odessa and the Crimea is still important. The oil pipeline from the Caspian Sea to the heart of Europe goes from Odessa to Brody in northwest Ukraine.
However, these details do not explain the insistence from the US and European powers that they can't accept the November election or Russia's complaints about others interfering with its neighbour.
If you look at the actual state of the Ukrainian economy and social infrastructure there is little to covet. In the words of Le Monde Diplomatique (October 04) "The past decade has been disastrous for Ukraine. Between 1990-2000 per capita income dropped by 42%, life expectancy shortened by two and a half years, and the population fell from 51.6 million to 48.2 million." Many serious accidents show the run-down state of the industrial infrastructure. In 1996 Ukraine meekly agreed to hand over its nuclear arsenal to Russia, although in March the Defence Minister had to place an ad in a local newspaper saying "We are looking for several hundred missiles. They have already been decommissioned, but we cannot find them." To get a clear idea of the state of the Ukrainian infrastructure, just recall the 1986 disaster at the Chernobyl reactors, 60 miles north of Kiev, and then add on the years of subsequent decline.
The fundamental reason that Russia, the US and various European powers have explicitly stated their positions on Ukraine can only be understood as part of the period that opened up with the end of the two big imperialist blocs dominated by Russia and the US. Since the break up of the American bloc the US has been trying to ensure that no European power emerges as a rival. One of its strategic concerns is the encirclement of Europe. If the US gains a position in Ukraine, as it did last year in Georgia, it will not only have an important piece in its array against Europe, it also has a forward position toward Russia. For the major powers of Europe, as well as Russia, the struggle for the Ukraine is against US attempts to advance its interests. The difficulty for the different imperialist powers promoting Yushchenko is that they use the same democratic propaganda, so the post-election battle is only one step in a conflict that will not be over if the opposition's man becomes president.
The moves toward a breakaway Crimea, which already has a certain amount of autonomy, or the splitting off of south and east Ukraine, maybe with a linkup with Russia, might turn out to be empty threats from elements backed by Putin, but they do show the dominant tendencies in decomposing capitalism. We have, after all, already seen the break-up of Czechoslovakia, the USSR and Yugoslavia. Russia is desperate to combat any threat to its own territorial integrity - most clearly seen in the war in Chechnya - but is implicitly posing the break-up of Ukraine if it can't guarantee the domination of a pro-Russian faction in the country.
There is no 'revolution' in Ukraine. Whoever wins the December 26 election, the bourgeoisie can only offer the perspective of exploitation, disaster and war.Car, 5/12/04.