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NATO, USA, EU, Russia, Ukraine: Background to the Propaganda War

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Revolutionary communists must not be taken in by the propaganda of rulers, especially not those of the imperialist countries. Already powerful enough to oppress and exploit other countries, their only aim is to do this more effectively than their competitors.

It is especially important to expose the lies of the rulers in one's own country. In Germany, for example, the fact that both left and right bourgeois media, from the Tageszeitung to Der Spiegel to the Frankfurter Allgemeine and Die Welt, take the same line and use the same words does not prove their truthfulness. It just shows unanimity across all wings of German imperialism.

Lies and falsifications
One way of lying is to say nothing, so, while Russia's troop movements are reported, NATO's are not. For example, the Tagesschau on 22 December 2021: "In view of the Russian troop movement on the border with Ukraine, NATO has apparently reacted with a first concrete military measure. The readiness of the rapid reaction force has been increased, the 'Welt' reports, citing a senior NATO diplomat."

This is a lie. It was not the "first" measure: NATO had already met in Riga in early December and held the first of 5 planned manoeuvres in Latvia. So much for "a first concrete military action"! It was NATO that had started "troop movements on the border" weeks before.

The obvious question is: why would Putin actually want to invade Ukraine? Not only is this question not answered, it is never even asked. Instead, it is suggested that this has always been his aim, proved by the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and support for the "separatists". History, it seems, only started in 2014.

The media, politicians and military do not talk about how the "separation" in eastern Ukraine, or the annexation of Crimea came about. The propagandistic half-truths and quarter-truths reinforce the assumption that the current geostrategic confrontation is just about cleaning up the situation in eastern Ukraine.

The 2014 coup ...
At the end of 2013, a diffuse protest movement emerged in Ukraine, then as now one of the poorest countries in Europe. It was started by right-wing activists and pro-Western NGOs who wanted a new edition of the "Orange Revolution" of 2004, which had brought the neoliberal, pro-Western president, Viktor Yushchenko into office. In the 2010 election, however, he was defeated, and the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych took office. The brutality of his government's response to protests sparked a real mass movement that also raised social issues. The central square in Kiev was occupied, giving the movement its name: Maidan. Very quickly, nationalist, right-wing radical and fascist forces took over the leadership of these actions.

The movement became politically right-wing. Social demands were marginalised and at best given a right-wing populist form. Otherwise, hopes in the EU as a free market that would allow individual advance dominated. Broad solidarity declined and right-wing political structures established themselves, especially in the west of the country.

The Maidan succeeded in overthrowing the politically weak Yanukovych government with provocations and a lot of support from the USA, which had thrown US$5 billion into the battle for Ukraine, but also from Germany and, in its wake, the EU. A central point of conflict had been Yanukovych's reluctance to ratify a treaty with the EU that would have secured investments and, therefore, exploitation from the West. Russia, on the other hand, wanted to keep Ukraine as its satellite and offered favourable loans.

After seizing power, the new government tried to implement its programme. In order to secure the state budget and the war against the East, it needed loans from the IMF and aid from the EU and the USA. With the EU, the Association Agreement was decided in two steps. The social costs of these measures had to be borne by the working class and peasant masses, and not only in the East.

At the same time, the Kiev government pursued an aggressive course to assert its claims to power in the east of the country: a nationalist language policy, that is, banning the Russian language, replacing governors, legitimising the new government through a coup by the "new" parliamentary majority and via street actions.

After the seizure of power by the "Maidan", all those leftists who resisted the government and the fascists were brutally attacked. The Communist Party of Ukraine and socialist organisations like Borotba were banned. On 26 June 2014, for example, the fascist "Right Sector" brutally attacked a trade union meeting, the police looked on. This repression against leftists, trade unions and social movements has continued. Recently, 5 radio stations were banned for not being sufficiently compliant with the government, which did not provoke any criticism from the democratic western media.

... and the counter-movement
The Maidan was never a nationwide movement and most of the working class was reserved towards it, for understandable reasons. Ukrainian nationalism formed the ideological cement of the Maidan from the beginning, this inevitably repelled the Russian-speaking population, especially in the east and south of the country.

A counter-movement arose in the East, which not only opposed Ukrainian nationalism, the suppression of the Russian language, and the terror of the fascists, but also correctly understood that a Ukraine under EU imperialism would have its industry and mining in the East, as well as the shipyards on the Black Sea, smashed, suffering the same fate as other EU newcomers.

In contrast, the continuation of the close industrial division of labour with Russia promised these industries, if not a golden future, at least their continued existence.

This led to a referendum in Crimea, with a turnout of over 80 percent, annexation to Russia won with a vote of 96.7 percent. At the same time, Russian troops without insignia occupied all the power centres there.

Ukraine and the UN consider the annexation of Crimea illegal, while the coup in Kiev and the removal of the Crimean parliament by the Kiev government are legal. (Remarkably, they consider the comparable procedure of Kosovo's secession from Serbia to be legal, while Russia in turn considers that to be illegal under international law).

The popular democratic movement in the east did not accept the coup government's removal of their elected local representatives. They rightly feared the pogroms of the nationalists at a time when the "democrat" Yuliya Tymoshenko was talking about "wiping out all Russians with her own hands".

There were occupations of town halls in almost all cities in the east and southeast. In most of them, government troops, police and fascists managed to put down the uprising. In Lugansk and Donetsk, however, the insurgents managed to hold on. In the ensuing fighting, there were around 10,000 deaths on both sides, including many civilian casualties at the hands of government forces.

At the same time, at least 43 people fell victim to the horrific pogrom in Odessa. The perpetrators were hit squads closely linked to the coup government in Kiev. They attacked a camp of the people's movement, many fled from there to the trade union centre. The fascists set fires, people were burnt or beaten to death. Neither the fire brigade nor the police intervened.

Lugansk and Donetsk constituted themselves as "people's republics". They were able to defy Kiev's apparent superiority, for several reasons: The government's conscript army was unsuitable for a civil war, many deserted. An elite force, the National Guard, had to be built up first. The fascist units on the government side, financed by Ukrainian oligarchs and international sources, tended to provoke resistance with their actions. There were many volunteers from Russia, but also from other countries, and military supplies, with at least the agreement of the Russian government.

Minsk Agreement
When the fronts had solidified to some extent, a ceasefire was agreed under Angela Merkel's leadership. The Ukrainian central government, the people's republics, Russia and France as well as the OSCE were involved. Two agreements established the military status quo, which was subject to change until the very end: The government wanted to capture Donetsk airport, the insurgents tried to win back Mariupol and were ultimately successful by encircling the government troops near Debaltsevo. The threat of defeat there ultimately led to Kiev giving in. In addition to establishing the status quo, there were vague formulations for the future that allowed both civil war parties to save face, but which could not be implemented.

The years since the Minsk Agreement have changed the situation in the Donbass. In 2014/15, there were also left-wing, progressive initiatives in the people's republics. The nationalisation of mines and industry was discussed and partly implemented, agricultural cooperatives emerged - partly out of military and economic coercion, partly from petty-bourgeois-left ideological initiatives. Today, these leftist initiatives have flagged and been destroyed, some of the left populist leaders such as Mozgovoi and Bednow have been assassinated. In the republics themselves, there are certainly questions about how to proceed, and conflicts between prospective leaders over these.

In 2014, the Russian Federation refrained from a direct, state integration of eastern Ukraine, even though it would have been militarily easy. On the one hand, this had to do with the uncertain internal conditions at the time. On the other, the uncertain status of the Donbass republics serves as a diplomatic bargaining chip. For Putin and Russian imperialism, they represent small change in the struggle for the reorganisation of the region.

USA against Germany
In addition to the civil war within Ukraine and the global conflict of USA versus Russia, there was a third front - within the Western alliance. German imperialism, and in its wake the EU, wanted to draw Ukraine into its orbit, as they had done with other countries in Eastern Europe: Flooding the commodity market, integrating them into the overall division of labour, (closing down large parts of industry, buying up the interesting parts, and developing production at low wages) and establishing a reservoir of cheap labour. Ukraine is also particularly sought after for its large, very fertile agricultural areas, which German agribusiness is greedily eyeing.

At the same time, Germany has striven and continues to strive for good relations with Russia on an economic level: importing oil and gas, exporting machinery and cars. Shortly before the Ukraine crisis in 2014, the EU and Russia were almost ready to ease each other's visa regime.

US imperialism harboured and still harbours other interests. Its economic relations with both Ukraine and Russia are weak. Its priority is breaking Russia's military power and preventing Russian imperialism from getting in its way in all possible corners of the world.

Secondly, for the USA, the EU and Germany are also competitors so disrupting economic cooperation with Russia is at least as important to them. Today, the USA's fight against "Nordstream 2" shows this. It was also always in their interest to keep the EU disunited or, rather, to make it as difficult as possible for French and German imperialism not only to dominate the EU economically, but to form it into an independent imperialist bloc. Encouraging conflicts in Eastern Europe is always likely to mobilise the Baltic countries, Poland or Hungary against Germany and the EU.

In 2014, in Kiev, this conflict presented itself like this: Germany's Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, had agreed a joint transitional government to include Yanukovych and the "Maidan spokespersons". The USA disrupted this by calling on the right-wing nationalist and fascist gangs of the "Right Sector" to storm parliament. Yanukovych fled. The (intercepted) words of the US envoy Victoria Nuland in this context famously clarified the position: "Fuck the EU".

The Minsk agreements, as an attempt by Germany to normalise relations with Russia, were always rejected by the USA. Again, Nuland was clear on the issues at the time: "They fear damage to their economy, counter-sanctions from the Russians" and "We can fight the Europeans, rhetorically fight them ... "

Today, this front is still visible, for example, when CDU leader Friedrich Merz opposes Washington's proposed sanction of barring Russia from the international money transfer system "SWIFT", which would be highly disruptive for the EU. Moreover, the antagonisms within the EU ultimately show up as internal conflicts within ruling classes, in government as well as in the parliamentary opposition. In Germany, the Liberal FDP and the Greens are the biggest pro-US warmongers, while both the SPD, and the CDU/CSU are divided - see Markus Söder's rejection of arms deliveries to Ukraine.

The working class should not support either side in the great global struggle between the US/NATO-led Western alliance on the one hand and Russia, with China's backing, on the other, the different wings within the German political establishment only represent different strategic orientations within the ruling class.

The working class and the left should rather use these internal contradictions to build a powerful anti-war movement, based on Karl Liebknecht's motto: The main enemy is in our own country!