Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Origins of the Ukrainian Crisis (Part II)

The Maidan

[Part I of Marko Bojcun’s text is here: https://lifeonleft.blogspot.com/2023/04/origins-of-ukrainian-crisis-part-i.html]

By the time Yanukovych uttered these words, the protesters on Kyiv’s Maidan had grown to several thousand. No-one was paying attention to the very real shortcomings of the Agreements, or that the EU was not prepared to offer more than ten million euros to help the government service a debt in the billions. The protesters simply saw in Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the Agreements a rejec­tion of the EU as a result of the pressure coming from Moscow. In the night of 29-30 November students camping on the Maidan were brutally beaten by riot police and dozens of them were imprisoned. Their treatment caused outrage in the capital and the numbers on the Maidan the following day swelled to tens of thousands.

Maidan protest 2014

Yanukovych went to Moscow again on 17 December. On that occasion the two sides agreed a loan of $15 bn to Ukraine, a lower price for natural gas and easing of some restrictions on cross-border trade in 2013-14. No agreement was reached concerning Ukraine’s participation in the Customs Union. Putin insisted that it was not even an item of discussion at the talks.[29] If that was meant to placate the protesters then Putin and Yanukovych were poorly advised. That evening the crowds on the Maidan were bigger than ever, cov­ering the entire square and spilling over into neighbouring streets.

Their demands grew in response to the government’s ham-fisted brutality against them. Initially they were limited to demand­ing that Yanukovych sign the Association Agreement and hold a public inquiry into the beating and imprisonment of the students. However, then the Party of Regions and the Communist Party in the Rada voted through laws on 16 January 2014 that criminalised public assembly and criticism of the government. Hundreds were arrested, charged and held in prison. The protesters put up barri­cades on Hrushevsky Street—which leads from the Maidan to the parliament — on 19 January. They now began to demand the release of all detained demonstrators, Yanukovych’s resignation and im­mediate presidential elections. So began a month of violent con­frontations between the riot police and the demonstrators.

The authorities escalated the conflict several times more: by recruiting thousands of thugs (titushky) from across the eastern and southern oblasts and deploying them against demonstrators in Kyiv; by kidnapping protesters right off the streets and from hos­pitals where they had been taken for medical attention, and in some cases torturing and murdering them; and finally by replacing rub­ber bullets and stun grenades with live ammunition.

As the confrontation in Kyiv grew to the brink of a shooting war, government buildings across the country came under siege. By the end of January protesters had seized Oblast State Admin­istration buildings in ten regional capitals in western and central Ukraine.[30] In six other regional capitals they were surrounded by mass demonstrations, defended by Interior Ministry troops and gangs of titushky. These mobilisations spread to other cities in east­ern and southern Ukraine where army barracks, offices of the Pub­lic Prosecutor and the State Security Service came under siege.[31] From the beginning of February the government made prepara­tions to introduce martial law in Kyiv. However, on 18 February the State Security Service announced a more targeted “anti-terrorist operation” to dismantle the barricades, reclaim the occupied buildings and disperse the Maidan.

The pivotal moment

On 19 February the fighting in Kyiv reached its peak: for the first time demonstrators on the Maidan responded to the attacks by the riot police with gunfire, and themselves came under sniper fire. Seventy-seven people were shot dead, by far the single largest number of fatalities in a day.

A ceasefire ensued overnight and on 20 February President Yanukovych entered into negotiations with leaders of the three op­position parties mediated by the foreign ministers of Germany, Po­land and France. Russia’s ambassador to Ukraine and later Putin’s special envoy were present at the negotiations. Agreement was reached on the same day, signed by all present except Russia’s representatives. It was not made public.

The Ukrainian signatories agreed: to restore the 2004 constitu­tion within 48 hours, which would abolish the president’s executive powers to form the government; to restore the parliamentary re­public; to form a coalition government of national unity within ten days; by September to undertake a further constitutional reform of the division of powers; to hold presidential elections immediately afterwards, at latest by end of year 2014; to set up a commission of Ukrainian and Council of Europe representatives to investigate the violence and killings; to refrain from the introduction of martial law; and to ensure the return of all illegally held arms to the authorities.[32]

This agreement was made public in the morning of 21 Febru­ary. It was put to the Council (Rada) of the Maidan, who accepted it by 34 votes to 2. The opposition party leaders then put the agree­ment to the mass assembly of the Maidan, which rejected it and adopted a single demand instead: Yanukovych’s immediate resig­nation. All this took place in the presence of embalmed bodies of demonstrators laid out on the stage before the assembly.[33]

During the day practically all Interior Ministry troops and Se­curity Service left the government quarter in convoys that were es­corted out of the city for their own safety by parliamentary depu­ties. Yanukovych’s support crumbled further as 16 Party of Regions deputies in the parliament quit, so denying it and the Communists their majority. Some were reported leaving with their families for their home towns or out of the country altogether.

That evening President Yanukovych left the capital for his mansion compound at Mezhyhiria. He claimed later that his car was shot at as he left. At the compound his aides destroyed thou­sands of files, throwing some into the artificial lake from which they were later retrieved. The documents included detailed records of bribe taking over several years. They loaded all the valuables that two helicopters could carry and flew Yanukovych to Donetsk air­port.

The parliament convened on 22 February and restored the parliamentary republic under the 2004 constitution. It resolved that Yanukovych had abandoned his office. Electing Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president, the parliament called new presi­dential elections for 25 May. It then started to elect a government from its own ranks.[34]

Outside the parliament building an angry mob attacked dep­uties from the Party of Regions and the Communist Party. Deputies from the Banivslichyna Party and stewards from the Maidan shielded them from the mob and escorted them in and out of the building. On the same day the Communist Party headquarters in Kyiv were ransacked, and that night a country house belonging to the son of Vasyl Symonenko, the Communist Party leader, was burned down.

Yanukovych responded to these developments, still from in­side Ukraine, claiming he was the victim of a coup d’etat, and that he would refuse to leave Ukraine or the presidency.[35] However, on 22 February he tried to fly out of Donetsk airport for Russia, but his helicopter was denied clearance by air traffic controllers. Days later he appeared in Crimea and from there he left by sea for Russia.

Finally, on 22 February members of the Party of Regions con­vened a meeting of several hundred people in Kharkiv that in­cluded deputies from the Crimean Autonomous Republic, Sevasto­pol City Council and several eastern and southern oblast councils. The meeting accused the parliament in Kyiv of dishonouring the 21 February accords and declared its decisions illegitimate in view of what it described as a climate of terror in the capital. The govern­ments these deputies claimed to represent resolved to take consti­tutional order and power into their own hands.

Vadym Kolisnychenko, Party of Regions deputy and one of Yanukovych’s close allies, rallied the delegates in the Kharkiv hall with cries of “For friendship with Russia — economic, spiritual, re­ligious!” The delegates responded “Russia! Russia!”[36] The meeting clearly had a more far-reaching agenda than its resolutions re­vealed. It was launching the separatist movement across the eastern and southern oblasts.

On the same day Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov told US Secretary of State John Kerry that the Ukrainian opposition par­ties had broken the 21 February accords. While Russia demanded they return to the accords, it began preparing immediately to oc­cupy and annex Crimea, and to promote the separatist movement in the eastern oblasts.

A coup?

Does the claim that Yanukovych was overthrown by a coup stand up to the available evidence? He had signed an accord that stripped him of executive powers and denied him the right to form the gov­ernment. His Party of Regions could no longer muster a majority in the parliament. He would be investigated by a commission looking into the fatalities, disappearances and tortures. His continuation in office was rejected by the assembled thousands on the Maidan, and he fled Kyiv along with the Berkut, Alfa and Omega squads — spe­cial forces which had protected him — as they, too, headed for Cri­mea and the Donbas.

All three opposition parties stood by the accords and earnestly recommended them to the Maidan, as did the foreign ministers who mediated the talks. Yet after the troops and special forces left the government quarter and the now armed Maidan refused to move until Yanukovych stepped down, his position was indeed bleak, if not impossible. He lost his nerve and fled.

No doubt, members of his party and their Communist allies were also intimidated and in some cases terrorised by the angry mob and armed vigilantes. However, to their credit, the Maidan’s stewards and members of the other opposition parties gave them protection as they continued to sit in parliament and vote in the new government. Except, of course, those deputies like Oleksandr Tsariov and Vadym Kolisnychenko who quit Kyiv immediately for Crimea, Kharkiv, Donetsk and Luhansk to organise the separatist movement.

Was it an American-inspired coup? Those convinced that the Americans were behind the Maidan and the overthrow of Yanukovych have pointed out that US politicians visited the Maidan, the US State Department pushed for Yatseniuk over Klychko as Prime Minister, that Victoria Nuland was recorded uttering “Fuck the EU” to the US ambassador in Kyiv, and that CIA director John Bren­nan visited Kyiv in April 2014. These acts hardly amount to a case that the USA inspired a coup to overthrow Yanukovych. Russian state actors had considerably more influence than their American counterparts over the unfolding events through their agents in the SBU, diplomatic corps, armed forces general staff, interior ministry and the President’s administration. Andrii Parubii, who com­manded the Maidan’s self-defence brigades and served later as Sec­retary of the National Security and Defense Council, recalls:

We were working in a state where the SBU [State Security Service] and all the power ministries had been crammed full over two years with FSB agents [Russia’s Federal Security Bureau] ... The power ministries in Crimea went over fully onto the side of the occupier ... A lot of weapons were removed. That is to say, formally we had our own power structures, but in reality they were working for our opponent.[37]

A fascist junta?

Another claim made soon after these events by Russia’s leaders and repeated ever since by their Western supporters was that Kyiv after Yanukovych came to be ruled by a fascist junta. This claim does not stand up to the evidence either. Made up of 21 ministers, the new government was elected by an elected parliament. These ministers were put before an assembly of the Maidan for approval, which it gave with some reservations.

The UDAR party of Vitalii Klychko declined to take any port­folios, so the government was dominated by the Bat’kivshchyna party. Four of the government’s ministers were from the far-right Svoboda party: Oleh Makhnitsky as Prosecutor General, Oleksandr Sych, deputy PM, Andrii Mokryk, environment minister and Ihor Shvaika, agriculture minister. In addition, Andrii Parubii, a Batkivshchyna deputy who in his youth was a founding member of the far-right Social National Party, was made head of the National Security and Defense Council. Dmytro Yarosh, leader of Right Sector, which played a big part in the Maidan’s self-defence was offered the post of deputy to Parubii, which he declined.

There was justifiable concern that the far-right and fascist paramilitaries who had stood on the Maidan would either pose a threat to public order if they were not disbanded, or might merge with state structures. Members of these paramilitary groups turned quickly towards the eastern oblasts after Yanukovych fell and the separatist movement emerged. For its part the government actively drew these militias into the eastern oblasts once the Anti-Terrorist Operation began. In May, the Maidan’s self-defence forces were officially disbanded, but various groups continued to function ei­ther on their own or as recognised units of the army or interior min­istry.

The presence and influence of fascists in Ukrainian politics, the volunteer battalions in the east and in the state structures was greatly exaggerated by Russian state actors to try and discredit the opposition to the Yanukovych regime and later those who replaced him in government.[38] After Russia intervened in the south and east, the far right lost its claim to the nationalist mantle as a sense of na­tionalist resistance spread across practically the entire Ukrainian political arena. In the May 2014 presidential elections won by Petro Poroshenko, the Svoboda candidate Oleh Tiahnybok took 1.2 per­cent and Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh 0.7 percent of the votes. The September elections to the Verkhovna Rada saw Svoboda’s share of the vote fall by more than half compared with the 2012 elections. They failed to clear the 5 percent hurdle needed to take any seats by proportional representation. Svoboda took six seats in constitu­ency contests in Western Ukraine. Its three surviving ministers re­signed from the Cabinet.[39]

The Ukrainian crisis internationalised

Russia turned the struggle for power inside Ukraine into an inter­national crisis. As Yanukovych’s position in Kyiv grew more tenu­ous, the Russian leadership deployed military forces to its border with Ukraine and reinforced its positions in the leased Crimean na­val bases. Immediately after Yanukovych fled Kyiv, Russian forces began taking control of the Crimean government, the peninsula’s communications and the urban centres, laying siege to Ukrainian military bases there.

By seizing Crimea Russia violated the Budapest Declaration, which it signed along with the USA and the UK in 1994. In exchange for Ukraine giving up its nuclear weapons—which were sent to Russia, no less — the signatories had promised to respect Ukraine’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty. Russia also violated the Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Partnership it had signed with Ukraine in 1998. It violated the UN Charter by chang­ing international borders by force, offering as its only defence the fact that the Western powers had done the same by upholding the separation of the Kosovan statelet from Serbia. Putin acknowl­edged much later that he ordered the occupation and annexation of Crimea.[40] In addition, the Russian FSB agent Igor Girkin-Strelkov, who served in Crimea at the time before being dispatched to the Donbas, described on the Neiromir TV channel how Russian armed forces, and not the local authorities, organised the so-called referendum.[41]

Putin’s plans were far more ambitious than what he actually achieved. Eight oblasts were targeted for separation from Ukraine. If successful, this would have given Russia a land bridge from its western border through to Crimea and across to Transnistria, thereby cutting Ukraine off completely from the Black Sea.[42] In the end, Russian and Russia-backed Ukrainian forces took only parts of two oblasts, Donetsk and Luhansk. Although initially constitut­ing about 4 percent of the territory of Ukraine in 2014, and 5 percent after the separatist offensive in January 2015, they accounted for a quarter of its GDP and around 30 percent of export earnings.

The separatist movement was launched by members of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions when it became clear that their power in Kyiv was broken. Renat Akhmetov, a prime beneficiary of Yanukovych’s patronage whose businesses are concentrated in the Don­bas, provided the initial finance for its armed detachments.[43] The separatists’ declared aim was to protect the region’s Russian speakers from Ukrainian “fascists and banderites” allegedly coming from Kyiv to ethnically cleanse them. However, their real aim was to pre­vent the spread of the Maidan into the east where the oligarchs’ industrial assets and power were concentrated. The ousted fragment of the oligarchic regime clung to this separatist platform in the east and started to rock it so as to upend the Kyiv government.

The separatists were reinforced by Russian nationalists, fas­cists, mercenaries and soldiers “on leave” from across the Russian border. Russian nationals took over the leadership of the Donetsk People’s Republic (Aleksandr Borodai) and its Sloviansk military head-quarters (Igor Girkin-Streltsov), side lining the original Ukrainian leader (Pavel Gubarev, member of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity).[44] As the Kyiv government stepped up its military campaign against these militias and their declared republics, Russia increased both the calibre and supply of personnel and weaponry to them. The so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics did establish a certain social base and a professional cadre drawn from the region itself, but their military, diplomatic and financial capac­ities were almost entirely dependent on the Kremlin.

Russia’s principal motive in seizing Crimea and backing the separatist movement in the east was not to gain territory, but above all to suppress the Maidan and to restore Russia’s influence over the government in Kyiv that Yanukovych had previously guaran­teed. The Maidan threatened Russia’s interests not only in Ukraine: it showed that oligarchic-capitalist states in the region could be overthrown by a sustained popular uprising.

Russia aimed to prevent Ukraine’s further incorporation into the Atlantic alliance through an association agreement or a free-trade regime with the EU or a path to NATO membership. It was alarmed at the economic consequences for itself of an EU-Ukraine free-trade regime and at the possibility that the EU association agreement might become a back door for Ukraine to get into NATO. It sought guarantees for Russian capitalists’ access to Ukraine’s markets and their protection from competition by EU in­vestors and producers. It wanted a government in Kyiv that would instead align its economic and security policies with Russian re­gional and global strategies, and that would eventually join the Eur­asian Economic Union and a Russia-led security alliance.

Russia’s timing and calculations

Why did Russia choose this moment to seize Crimea and intervene into the eastern oblasts? Russia was weaker militarily than the USA, but only in an abstract comparative sense. In the real disposition of their forces Russia was stronger than NATO in its own near abroad. Its immediate neighbours were militarily weak and NATO was un­able to project and sustain its power in the region. It could not fulfil its commitments to mutual defence of members in Eastern Europe for strictly logistical reasons — it had no forward bases there of any significance and could not establish them quickly. As the Estonian defence minister Sven Mikser put it on 24 June 2015, “Putin believes that he enjoys regional superiority”.[45]

Most important to Putin’s calculations were the political divi­sions between the USA and its European allies over relations with Russia. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Cen­ter, the leaders of Germany, France and Italy were not prepared to come to the defence of East European member states like Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia if they were attacked by Russia.[46] And there was a growing resistance among the American public to more mil­itary campaigns abroad that placed real restraints on the American administration.

All of these factors emboldened Russia to intervene in Ukraine at the moment of opportunity, for which it had been preparing. Russia was rebuilding its military capabilities and placing them for­ward across its own borders. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, the Russian Federation held onto military bases in Belarus, Transnistria in Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. After Putin became president, they were augmented with new bases and addi­tional forces at existing ones in Belarus, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine. In 2014, after annexing Crimea, Moscow annulled its pre­vious agreements with Ukraine on its bases at Sevastopol, Kerch and other Crimean locations. In January 2015 the Russian defence ministry issued a new military doctrine and announced plans to spend 20 tr roubles ($310 bn) by 2020 to upgrade its military capa­bilities in Crimea, Kaliningrad and the Arctic.[47]

Into the arms of the Western powers

If Putin’s aim was to dissuade the Ukrainian state from seeking closer ties with NATO then his actions had the opposite effect. The Verkhovna Rada revoked the country’s non-aligned status and urged the government to seek NATO membership again. The gov­ernment sought lethal military equipment from NATO, which was refused. The attitude of the population towards NATO member­ship also made a historic shift from a majority consistently opposed since 1991 to a majority in favour. Throughout this period the official position of NATO states, including the USA, was no more than stating that Ukraine had a right to seek NATO membership and to actively discourage any such application. This was their re­sponse in a period when Russia stepped up deliveries of heavy weapons to the separatists, including the BUK missiles that shot down Malaysian passenger airliner MH17, and sent in its own trainers and political advisors, helping them to halt the Ukrainian offensive in the summer of 2014, return to the offensive themselves and take more territory and population. Poroshenko walked away from the NATO summit in Wales in August 2014 without the weap­ons he had asked for. Then he was obliged by his Western allies to send ex-President Kuchma to negotiate the Minsk Accords in Sep­tember with the leaders of the separatist republics, by which they were recognised as parties to an interstate agreement.

So what is the evidence that in 2013 and 2014 it was NATO encroaching further into Russia’s traditional sphere of influence that provoked Putin to react by intervening militarily into Ukraine? The available evidence suggests otherwise: Putin was the proactive side in the confrontation that ensued. He calculated correctly that NATO would not respond in kind to Russia’s attack on Ukraine if that attack was decisive and rapidly attained its objectives.

In part, that is what happened, at least with regard to the Cri­mea. The Western powers took it as a fait accompli. However, the ongoing crisis did not play out like the Russia-Georgia shooting war that lasted for only four days in August 2008. Putin miscalcu­lated on the readiness of Ukrainian government forces to resist the separatist insurgency in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and to sup­press his efforts to widen it to the other oblasts. Putin had planned a rapid advance deep into the country, seeking to envelop eight eastern and southern oblasts (Kharkiv, Kherson, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, as well as Donetsk and Luhansk) and thereby acquire an unassailable position from which to dictate his terms to the Kyiv government. He failed to achieve that position and the pro-Russia separatist forces were contained in the eastern reaches of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts. The Russians’ advantages in speed and geographic proximity diminished as the conflict dragged on, leaving them with superiority only in firepower. The war of movement became a war of position, and the longer it dragged on the more it encouraged NATO member states in the re­gion to seek reinforcements of their own borders with Russia from their Western allies.

The balance of power

Framing the Ukrainian crisis is the changing balance of power between Russia, the USA and Germany as the leading EU state. Russia’s economic and military expansion places it on a collision course with US hegemony over Western and Central Europe. This collision is all the more destabilising the weaker the USA’s capacity to pro­ject its own power into Eastern Europe becomes.

As noted above, Russian capital is investing and diversifying its portfolios in Western and Central Europe, and its government has long sought and secured bilateral co-operation with separate EU member states. It has done so deliberately to avoid negotiating with the EU as their collective representative. Germany is the most important such partner for Russia. It has the biggest investment in Russia of any country in the world, and Germany has admitted significant Russian inward investment in return. Corresponding to that mutual economic relationship there was a political axis of EU (Berlin)-Kyiv-Moscow in the making when the Ukrainian crisis broke open. The imposition of Western sanctions against Russia has created huge uncertainty as to its future.

This axis passes through a specific faction of the ruling class in Ukraine grouped around the tycoon and key Russian point of con­tact Dmytro Firtash, his ally Serhii Liovochkin, former head of Yanukovych’s presidential administration, and the Opposition Bloc in the Ukrainian parliament. This group is trying to build an EU-Kyiv-Moscow axis to compete with the existing Washington-Kyiv-Moscow axis. Its international platform to build this axis is the Agency for Modernisation of Ukraine, created in Vienna in March 2015. Its European participants include a range of prominent public figures.[48] Its two main pillars of support in Ukraine are the Employers Federation, headed by Firtash himself, whose members’ busi­nesses accounted for 70 percent of the country’s GDP in 2014, and the leadership of the Federation of Trade Unions. The faction of Firtash, Liovochkin and the Opposition Bloc has been preparing to challenge the current government. The likelihood that they will do so depends on at least two things: whether Poroshenko and Yatseniuk succeed in crushing Firtash first by destroying his busi­ness empire (as part of the current campaign to “de-oligarchise” the state), and whether the Western powers and Russia agree between themselves that the current Ukrainian leadership needs replacing in order to impose a settlement to the war on all sides.

The second political axis passing through the Ukrainian ruling class is a Washington-Kyiv-Moscow axis, which in Kyiv passes through the Poroshenko-Yatseniuk faction. This faction has been trying hard to discipline the biggest oligarchs Renat Akhmetov, Thor Kolomoisky and Dmytro Firtash to its pro-Western course. However, all three oligarchs have powerful interests in maintaining ties with both Russia and the EU states, and this political axis does not have as powerful an economic chain at its foundation as the EU (Germany)-Kyiv-Moscow one has because the USA does not have a vital economic relationship with either Russia or Ukraine. Rather, its main underlying motive is to demarcate and discipline the Eu­ropean region over which the USA exercises hegemony. The war between Russia and Ukraine has become the issue through which Washington tries to contain German ambitions and marshals all of its European allies to oppose Russia, rather than allowing them to work out deals with Russia behind the USA’s back. The USA’s ap­proach is fundamentally different from Germany’s, which is to get Russia to uphold a common rules-based regional order that is also economically productive for both of them. Has the Ukrainian crisis, then, become a lightning rod for the further bifurcation of the West­ern alliance that places Germany on a tightrope between the USA and Russia?


I have not ventured into the period since the start of the war in the east. It has been marked by many thousands dead and injured in the fighting, more civilians than soldiers, a humanitarian crisis in the occupied territories, an exodus of a million now internally and externally displaced people, a deepening economic and social crisis throughout the country, the imposition of Western sanctions against Russia, rising nationalisms in Russia and Ukraine, military exercises and mobilisations by Russia and NATO across Eastern Europe. They amount to further escalation and widening of the conflict.

In this article I have tried to show it is not enough to examine the actions of the big powers in order to understand how this crisis began. Its tap root grows out of the historical experience of Ukrain­ian society and their state. This is the first and necessary condition for the activation of all the other roots. So too will the solution to the crisis grow out of Ukraine. It will have to confront the failure of the contemporary ruling class to fulfil the popular expectations arising from the attainment of independence in 1991 for prosperity, social justice, democracy and national self-determination. While the first three of these expectations were denied by the Ukrainian rul­ing class, the present war with Russia shows that this same class is also incapable of defending its country’s national independence. The current situation powerfully echoes the two previous attempts in history — in 1648 and 1917 — when a new social class tried and failed to build an independent state centred on Kyiv and the Dnipro River basin. Will the same happen again? Will Ukraine be reduced again to territory contested by the Great Powers?

The social forces mobilised by the Maidan in 2013-2014 also failed, in their case to offer up an alternative, revolutionary leadership and a way out of the crisis. This particular failure belongs to the Ukrainian and the international left as much as it does to anyone else. Until the left gets involved with these social forces on the ground the nationalist right will continue to dominate the political terrain on which the Ukrainian question is contested.

What happens inside Ukraine is far too often deemed irrele­vant or of secondary importance by people on the left who proffer their own solutions to the present crisis. I can understand why John Mearsheimer does not even want to know about the internal situa­tion. What states do to each other is all that matters to realists like him. However, when Professor Stephen Cohen and Jeremy Corbyn MP take the position that the USA is primarily responsible for the crisis and that Russia’s claims to Ukraine as its “traditional” and “historic” sphere of influence are justified, they do exactly the same thing as Mearsheimer: they see the solution to the crisis in restoring a balance between the Great Powers. They admit no role in it for the Ukrainian people. This is not simply a failure of analysis, but a fail­ure to uphold these people’s democratic right to national self-deter­mination. That leaves them and many avowedly left-wing organi­sations and individuals standing in the camp of Russian imperial­ism.

Russia, the USA and the West European states all bear respon­sibility for their parts in this crisis. I have tried to show here that the political economy of Ukraine is stretched across a re-knitted trans-national capitalist economy in which Russia on the one hand and the Western powers on the other are vying to draw Ukraine’s ruling class, national market and productive assets into their respective integration projects. Despite trying for a quarter-century, the Ukrainian state has been unable to gain membership in the political and military-security institutions of the Western, Euro-Atlantic project. Over the same period it has been refusing to join equivalent institutions of the Russia-led project.

My findings draw attention to the revival of Russian imperial­ism since 2000, the divisions in the Western alliance over policy to­wards Russia, and the diminished capacity of the USA to project its own power into the region. These three factors steadily altered the balance of power in Eastern Europe between these competing re­gional integration projects. The collapse of the Yanukovych regime gave Russia’s leaders the opportunity to exploit the changing bal­ance, return to the initiative and try to draw Ukraine back into its own sphere. Russia militarised and internationalised the crisis. It provoked the Western powers to respond with economic sanctions and strengthening the capacity of NATO member states bordering Russia and Ukraine. Both the Western powers and Russia have pressed the Ukrainian leadership to engage with the separatist movement and seek a negotiated solution with them. The harder it is pressed, the less room exists for its manoeuvre between them.

Whether it is Russia or the Western powers who claim Ukraine as part of their own sphere, this can only be an imperialist claim. One or another faction of the Ukrainian ruling class may submit to such a claim, or even to a joint Russian-Western tutelage over the country. Sooner or later their common class interests will lead them to it, but it will not be accepted by the Ukrainian people, nor should it be by those who want to support them.

[29] Andrii Vyshynsky, “Yanukovych lih pid Moskvu”; http://www.epravda.com.ua/publications/2013/12/17/409320/. Accessed 17 December 2013.

[30] Oblast State Administrations are institutions of direct presidential rule that override all elected local and regional governments.

[31] “Khronika povstannia: 25 sichrtia”; http://tyzhden.ua/News/100053. Accessed 26 January 2014. “Narodna Rada obrala prezydiu”; http://dt.ua/POLITICS/narodna-rada-obrala-prezidiyu-Idichko-tyagnibok-i-yacenyuk-135971_.html. Accessed 22 January 2014. “Na pivdni i shodi barykaduiut´ ODA”; http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/ 2014/ 01/30/7012104/. Accessed 30 January 2014.

[32] “Avtobusy z VV proikhaly uriad.ovoho kvartalu”; http://ukrtpravda.com.ua/news/ 2014/02/ 21/7015500/. Accessed 21 February 2014.

[33] “Liudy postavyly ul´tymatum”; http://www.pravda.com.ua/news/2014/02/ 21/7015590/. Accessed 21 February 2014.

[34] “Rada skynuIa Yanukovycha”; http://www.pravda.com.ua/new5/2014/02/ 22/7015777/. Accessed 22 February 2014.

[35] “Yanukovych: ya ne zberaiusia u vidstavku”; http://www.pravda.com.ua/ news/2014/02/22/7015766/. Accessed 22 February 2014.

[36] “Deputaty zi ziizdu u Kharkovi perebyraiut´ vladu”; http://www.pravda. com.ua/news/2014/02/22/7015713/. Accessed 22 February 2014.

[37] “Andrii Parubii: Koruptsia ne maie prizvyshch i imen”; http://www.Pl’av da.com.ua/articles/ 2015/03/24/7062545/. Accessed 24 March 2015.

[38] Anton Shekhovtsov, “The Spectre of Ukrainian Fascism: Information Wars, Political Manipulation and Reality”; http://euromaidanpress.com/2015/06/24/ spectre-of-ukrainian-fascism-information-wars-political-manipulation-and-reality/. Accessed 1 July 2015.

[39] Marko Bojcun, “Return of the Oligarchs: The October Parliamentary Elections”; https:/ /ukraines olidaritycampaign.org/2014/11/19/ ukraine-return-of-the-oligarchs-the-october-parliamentary-elections/. Accessed 1 November 2014.

[40] “Putin reveals secrets of Russia’s Crimea takeover plot”; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-31796226. Accessed 9 March 2015.

[41] “I. Strelkov vs. N. Starikov”; https://www.youtube.cOm/ watch?v=G04tXnvKx8Y. Accessed 22 January 2015.

[42] See the English translation of the full text of the Kremlin policy paper that set out these plans, originally published by Novaia gazeta on 24 February 2015, http://www.unian.info/ politics/1048525-novaya-gazetas-kremlin-papers-art icle-full-text-in-english.html. Accessed 25 February 2015.

[43] “Nariad muchenika primeriat´ ne khochu”; http://www.rg.ru/2014/05/12/gubarev.html. Accessed 5 December 2014.

[44] See Zbigniew Marcin Kowalewski, “Russian White Guards in the Donbas”, https://peoplearidnature.wordpress.com/2014/07/06/ukraine-russian-white -guards-in-the-Donbas/. Accessed 10 July 2014.

[45] “Baltic states to receive heavy military equipment from the US”; http://www.thenews.p1/1/10/ Artykul/ 211359,Baltic-states-to-receive-heavy-milita r y-equipment-from-US. Accessed 23 June 2015.

[46] Financial Times, 24 June 2015.

[47] “Russia to boost military capabilities in Crimea”; http:/ /rt.com/news/222371-russian-defense-plan-2015/. Accessed 16 January 2015. As a percentage of GDP, Russian defence spending grew from 3.9 percent in 2010 to 4.2 percent in 2013. Over the same period the USA’s defence spending fell from 4.6 to 3.8 percent.

[48] Prof. Rainer Lindner, head of the German-Ukrainian Forum; Karl-Georg Wellmaim, Bundestag Member; Bernard-Henry Lévy, French public activist; Lord Risby, British MP; Gunther Verheugen, European Commissioner for the EU in 1999-2004; Peer Steinbriick, architect of the Euro protection programme during the 2008 economic crisis; Laurence Parisot, ex-President of the French Employers Association; Lord Mandelson, formerly European Commissioner for Trade; Rupert Scholtz; Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the Prime Minister of Poland in 1996-1997; Lord McDonald, Prosecutor General of England and Wales in 2003-2008; and Bernard Kouchner, ex-Foreign Minister of France and founder of the international organization Médecins sans Frontières. “Agency for modernisation of Ukraine founded in Vienna”; http://www.fru.org.ua/ en/events/ international-events/u-vidni-predstavnyky-frantsii-nimechchyny-ta-velykobry tanii-stvoryly-ahen tstvo-z-modemizatsii-ukrairty-iake-cherez-200-dniv-predstavyt-chitkyi-plan-v yvedennia-ukrainy-iz-kryzy. Accessed 9 March 2015.