The Minsk Agreement and the Civil War in the Ukraine

By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 20.2.2015, www.thecommunists.net

 

The second Minsk Agreement, which was the result of intensive negotiations between Merkel, Hollande, and Putin, is neither the first nor will it be the last agreement that attempts to resolve the civil war in the Ukraine. This agreement does nothing more than codify the present military and political relation of forces characterized by a substantial advance of the pro-Russian Donbass republics and a chronic weakness of the pro-Western Poroshenko regime.

This development is reflected in Kiev’s catastrophic loss of the strategically important town of Debalcevo which connects the capital cities of the two Donbass republics Donetsk and Lugansk. While President Poroshenko initially boasted that Debalcevo had become a “Ukrainian Stalingrad,” the forces he stationed there – about 8,000–9,000 soldiers – had to capitulate after only a few days of fierce fighting during which 1,200–1,500 pro-Kiev soldiers were killed, many more were wounded, and up to 500 were taken prisoner. The Kiev forces in the inferno at Debalcevo had to abandon all of their artillery, the majority of their armor, as well as significant stores of ammunition. [1]

 

US and EU Imperialism Utilize the Reactionary Euromaidan Movement to Expand their Sphere of Influence

 

Let us first briefly recapitulate the developments which led to the present situation. In the summer of 2014, Ukraine’s right-wing Kiev government launched a massive offensive against the so-called “people republics” in the eastern Donbass region. These republics emerged as a result of the local popular uprising against the pro-Western Euromaidan regime – a coalition of neoliberals, right-wing chauvinists, and fascists – which came to power in late February. US and EU imperialism actively promoted this takeover in order to replace the former pro-Russian Yanukovych government with a loyal pro-Western regime.

This development is hardly surprising. On the backdrop of the accelerating rivalry between the great powers in the West and the East (mainly the US, EU, Japan, Russia and China), all imperialists try to advance their area of influence and to weaken those of their rivals.

The currently ruling regime led by President Poroshenko and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk is a right-wing neoliberal, pro-US/EU regime which – primarily – represents the oligarchs. In fact, Poroshenko himself is one of the richest oligarchs of the country and is widely known as the Chocolate King because of his large-scale confectionery business. His regime has a bonapartist-authoritarian character while nominally preserving a limited bourgeois democracy. While this government is not fascistic, it has integrated a number of Nazis in the state apparatus, since the latter played a key role in the Euromaidan takeover in the spring of 2014.

The Kiev regime is a complete lackey of Western imperialism. It is dutiful in subordinating the Ukraine to the dictates of the IMF and has applied for membership in NATO and the European Union. It is in the process of selling off the country’s industry to Western corporations. Symbolic for this is the appointment in 2014 of Robert Hunter Biden, the son of US Vice President Joe Biden, to the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma Holdings.

Another manifestation of the Kiev government’s pro-Western colonial character is the fact that three of its ministers were not even Ukrainian citizens until their appointment in December 2014. Natalie Ann Jaresko is a US investment banker who currently serves as Ukraine's Minister of Finance. Another US lackey is Alexander Kvitashvili, a former Minister of Health in the republic of Georgia under the pro-Western president Saakashvili. Finally, Aivaras Abromavičius, Kiev’s Minister of Economy and Trade, is a Lithuanian-Ukrainian manager and investment banker.

Naturally, the current regime has a number of contradictions and faces several obstacles as a result of its latest military defeats in the civil war and the pressures by the US and EU imperialists. These defeats and the resulting need for the Poroshenko regime to sign humiliating agreements strengthen the extreme right-wing and fascist war party on the Ukrainian side. In addition, the tremendous social crisis resulting from the country’s economic collapse accelerates the political tensions. As a result, there have been a number of conflicts inside the government as well as clashes between the government and fascists. Fascist forces led by Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Pravy Sektor and the Azov Battalion, have already called for the creation of a parallel General Staff commanding military units disloyal to President Poroshenko. It is said that up to 17 battalions, of albeit limited military strength, are already obeying them. [2]

Given the continuing military setbacks of the Kiev regime it is likely that the internal tensions and conflicts will substantially increase in the coming period.

 

A Popular Uprising in the Donbass Region which was Hijacked by Russian Imperialism

 

As we have outlined in previous documents, the uprising in the Donbass region in the spring of 2014 started as a spontaneous reaction to the right-wing takeover in Kiev. It was a democratic uprising because it was driven by the justified fears of the people in the east that they would be discriminated against by the new regime because of the latter’s hatred for the Russian-speaking population in the east of the country. This hatred was manifested in one of the new regime’s first acts: the abolition of Russian as an official language. These legitimate fears of oppression were reinforced by the fact that the new regime included a number of open supporters of the Nazi-collaborator in WWII, Stepan Bandera. In addition, given the fact that the Donbass region is the industrial heartland of the Ukraine, the uprising had a proletarian character from the start.

Given the popular and democratic character of the uprising, the RCIT supported it during its first phase. We combined this support with sharp criticism of the petty-bourgeois leadership of the Donbass republics and a socialist program for expropriation of the oligarchs, national self-determination for all minorities, and working class power.

However, from the beginning the popular insurrection was hampered by the lack of significant revolutionary party which could have provided the masses with a socialist perspective. As a result, the Donbass leadership became dominated by Greater Russian chauvinists (including many Russian politicians and militia leaders). They worked to transform the Donbass republics into territory controlled by Russian imperialism. This process was contradictory because the uprising had a spontaneous character and remained chaotic and decentralized for a long time. One wing of Russia’s monopoly capital, the “Eurasians” – who advocate an aggressive foreign policy to expand the Russian empire – supported the uprising as much as they could from the beginning and actually pushed for a full military Russian intervention. However, the Putin government, as such, did not follow a consistent line in its foreign policy.

The situation changed qualitatively when, in July-August 2014, the Ukrainian army gained huge military advances and brought the Donbass republics close to defeat. At that moment the Putin government decided to massively intervene. Moscow replaced the leadership of the People’s Republics and put in charge Russian as well as pro-Russian politicians from the Donbass region who had a history of being loyal instruments of Moscow. In addition, the Putin government deployed thousands of troops in the eastern Ukraine thereby tipping the balance of forces and helping the Donbass republics regain substantial ground. In early September, Moscow imposed a ceasefire. The August intervention of the Russian imperialist state marked a qualitative turning point, as we have outlined in the RCIT’s analysis of these events. [3]

From that moment on, the uprising has been transformed into one which is predominantly a tool of an imperialistic Russian foreign policy. This change has had important consequences for revolutionaries. From then, Marxists must continue the struggle for democratic rights, against the austerity attacks of the Kiev regime, and against the fascist threat without making a military bloc with the Donbass separatists. Instead, they have to pursue a dual defeatist position, i.e., to wage a struggle on two fronts: against the imperialist bourgeoisie of the US and EU and their Kiev marionette, as well as against Russian imperialism and their stooges at the head of the Donbass republics. Today, socialists have to combine the struggle for democratic and social rights and against the oligarchs and imperialist interference in the Ukraine and Donbass with an internationalist perspective for creating independent workers’ republics and a voluntary federation between them.

 

The Minsk Agreement Reflects the Status of Forces on the Ground

 

The Minsk Agreement and the subsequent developments fully confirm the RCIT’s analysis. It showed that while the US and EU imperialists basically share the same interests, there are also some contradictions between them. The EU’s core powers – German and French imperialism – want a pacification of the civil war (a) in order to ensure an effective economic exploitation of the Ukraine and (b) in order not to damage too seriously the interests of the European monopolies which are already suffering from the escalation of economic sanctions against Russia. US imperialism on the other hand, whose economic stakes are much smaller in Eastern Europe and Russia, has a vested interest in exploiting the Ukrainian civil war in order to exacerbate the conflict with Russia. This, again, will make the European Union more dependent and subordinate to Washington given the EU’s relative military weakness. In contrast to the US, neither Germany nor France could take on Russia militarily. So while Berlin and Paris hope to pacify the civil war via the Minsk Agreement, Washington wants to escalate the civil war and threatens a massive arming of the pro-Kiev Ukrainian forces.

In the short term, the fall of Debaltsevo does not necessarily annul the Minsk Agreement. Already during negotiations, Putin and the separatist representatives called upon the encircled Ukrainian troops to capitulate. [4] However, Poroshenko refused and even denied that his troops were encircled. As a result, the separatist forces, with the consent of Moscow, continued to advance towards Debaltsevo and finally succeeded in taking over the city. At the same time, until now the ceasefire has mostly been observed in the other areas along the front.

For several reasons, the Minsk Agreement was also a tactical success for Putin and the Donbass leadership. First, Kiev had to accept the international recognition of a line which reflects the rebel advances since the first Minsk Agreement was concluded in September 2014. Second, while the agreement does not recognize the formal independence of the Donetsk and Lugansk republics, it obliges Kiev to undertake constitutional reforms until the end of 2015 which would lead to widespread autonomy of the Donbass within the framework of nominally unitary Ukraine. It also includes the participation of the Donbass local self-governments in the nominating process for the office of prosecutor general and the courts in these regions. In addition, under the most recent Minsk Agreement, the currently existing Donbass militia is recognized as a law enforcement organization. Furthermore, Kiev recognized cross-border cooperation between the Donetsk and Lugansk regions with regions of the Russian Federation. [5]

 

Proxy War of Great Powers

 

In addition, the Minsk Agreement demonstrates once again the character of the military conflict in the eastern Ukraine as a proxy war of rival Great Powers. It is not the separatist leaders and the Kiev government which negotiated the agreement, but rather the leaders of the two biggest Western European imperialist nations opposite Russian imperialism on the behalf of the former. As we have elaborated in our study of the civil war, this very fact demonstrates that the nature of the Donbass republics has been transformed and that their leadership has become agents of Russian imperialism – while the leaders in Kiev were agents of Western imperialism from their first day in power.

The RCIT has been criticized by various pseudo-Marxists for its analysis of Russia as a great imperialist power. (See the documents listed in the appendix.) Our opponents claim that Russia is a semi-colonial capitalist country. However the Ukrainian civil war shows once more how absurd this criticism is. As a matter of fact, Russia – with the support of imperialist China and their BRICS bloc – has been able to withstand the combined pressure of US and EU imperialism for more than a year. It was able to annex Crimea and to bring the east Ukraine under its control. Naturally, we can’t know what future developments in this conflict will bring and – as has happened many times in history – great powers can also loose such conflicts and proxy wars. However, the past 12 months have shown that this is not a conflict between a weak country and the combined forces of world imperialism but rather a conflict reflecting the rivalry between two blocs of great powers.

 

Perspectives

 

Finally, it is important to recognize that, after nearly a year of discrimination, following the fascist massacres and the brutal war of the Kiev regime, it is extremely unlikely that the Donbass population will want to remain part of the same state. [6] Under such conditions, it is necessary to combine the struggle for working class power in the Ukraine, Donbass, and Russia with the call for the right of national self-determination for the Russian-speaking regions in the eastern Ukraine, including the right to form their own state.

It is very likely that the current situation following the latest Minsk Agreement will only last for a short period. One likely possibility is that it will be superseded by a new outbreak of civil war. However, this development could take a few months, since the Kiev forces, which are pathetically organized, whose soldiers are suffering from low morale, and which have to make good their massive losses of heavy arms, need some time to once again become battle-ready. In addition, one can assume that the separatist forces will also need time to recover from the very heavy fighting during the last two months. Another possibility, advocated by Moscow, is a resolution by the UN Security Council and a possible stationing of UN troops in the puffer zone.

Whatever will be the course of future developments, it is decisive that revolutionaries in the Ukraine and internationally take an independent, working class position in this conflict. They should fight both against Western as well as Russian imperialism as well as their proxies. They should combine this struggle with a socialist perspective of independent class struggle culminating in a program for workers republics.

We can summarize the RCIT program in the present situation in the following main slogans:

* Down with the reactionary, pro-Western imperialist regime in Kiev! Down with the Putin regime and its puppets in the Donbass republics!

* For the right of national self-determination for the Russian-speaking regions including the right to form their own state! For a voluntary socialist federation of workers’ republics!

* Build workers’ and popular councils and militias to defeat the reactionary regime in Kiev and Donetsk!

* Down with US/EU imperialistic expansion towards the East! No to Russian imperialism!

* Expropriate all oligarchs! For the nationalization of industries and the banks under workers’ control!

* Neither Brussels nor Moscow! For an independent workers’ republic!

 

Appendix:

 

For our analysis of the civil war in the Ukraine, we refer readers to:

Michael Pröbsting: The Uprising in East Ukraine and Russian Imperialism. An Analysis of Recent Developments in the Ukrainian Civil War and their Consequences for Revolutionary Tactics, 22.October 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/ukraine-and-russian-imperialism/

RCIT: After the Fascist Pogrom in Odessa: Advance the Struggle against the Counterrevolution in the Ukraine! Commemoration for the Fallen Fighters in the Struggle against the Counterrevolution! All Out for the International Day of Antifascist Solidarity on 8 May! 6.5.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 23, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/after-odessa-pogrom/

RCIT: Counterrevolution and Mass Resistance in the Ukraine, 17.4.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/mass-resistance-in-ukraine/

Joint Statement of the RCIT and the Movement to Socialism (MAS, Russia): Ukraine: Rivalry between Imperialist Powers escalates after Right-Wing Coup: Stop the Imperialist Saber-Rattling! 2.3.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/ukraine-war-threats/

MAS: Ukraine/Russia: The victory over the imperialist colonialism is impossible without the proletarian revolution! in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/mas-declaration-5-3-2014/

RCIT and MAS: Right-Wing Forces Take Power in the Ukraine: Mobilize the Working Class against the New Government! 25.2.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 19, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/right-wing-coup-in-ukraine/

MAS: No to the Terror of the Bandera-Fascists! Stop the Repression against the Communists of Ukraine! 22.2.2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 19, http://www.nuevomas.blogspot.co.at/2014/02/no-to-terror-of-bandera-fascists-stop.html

RCIT: “Ukraine: Neither Brussels nor Moscow! For an independent Workers’ Republic!” 18.12.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 18, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/europe/ukraine-neither-brussels-nor-moscow/

 

For an outline of our approach to the complex issues of progressive struggles and imperialist interference see:

Michael Pröbsting: Liberation struggles and imperialist interference. The failure of sectarian “anti-imperialism” in the West: Some general considerations from the Marxist point of view and the example of the democratic revolution in Libya in 2011, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 5, September 2012, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/liberation-struggle-and-imperialism/

 

On imperialism in general and Western imperialism in particular, we refer readers to:

Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, 2013, 448 pages, (The book has 448 pages and includes 139 Tables and Figures), http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/; in March 2014 the publishing house PROMEDIA published a shortened German-language translation of this book (see: http://www.mediashop.at/typolight/index.php/buecher/items/michael-proebsting---der-grosse-raub-im-sueden; The title is: Der Grosse Raub im Süden. Ausbeutung im Zeitalter der Globalisierung). A summary of the book can be read here: http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-summary/

Michael Pröbsting: Imperialism, Globalization and the Decline of Capitalism, Originally published in the Book Richard Brenner, Michael Pröbsting, Keith Spencer: The Credit Crunch - A Marxist Analysis (2008), http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-and-globalization/

 

On Russian imperialism:

Michael Pröbsting: Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism and the Rise of Russia as a Great Power. On the Understanding and Misunderstanding of Today’s Inter-Imperialist Rivalry in the Light of Lenin’s Theory of Imperialism. Another Reply to Our Critics Who Deny Russia’s Imperialist Character, August 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialism-theory-and-russia/

Michael Pröbsting: Russia as a Great Imperialist Power. The formation of Russian Monopoly Capital and its Empire – A Reply to our Critics, 18 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 21, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-russia/

Michael Pröbsting: Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Summary of the RCIT’s Analysis, 28 March 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/imperialist-china-and-russia/

Michael Pröbsting: More on Russia and China as Great Imperialist Powers. A Reply to Chris Slee (Socialist Alliance, Australia) and Walter Daum (LRP, USA), 11 April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/reply-to-slee-on-russia-china/

 

On inter-imperialist rivalry:

In addition to the publications on imperialism listed above, we refer readers to:

RCIT: On the 100th Anniversary of the Outbreak of World War I: The Struggle against Imperialism and War. The Marxist Understanding of Modern Imperialism and the Revolutionary Program in Light of the Increasing Rivalry between the Great Powers, Revolutionary Uprisings, and Counterrevolutionary Setbacks, 25.6.2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/struggle-vs-imperialism-war/

RCIT: Escalation of Inner-Imperialist Rivalry Marks the Opening of a New Phase of World Politics. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, April 2014, in: Revolutionary Communism (English-language Journal of the RCIT) No. 22, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-april-2014/

RCIT: Aggravation of Contradictions, Deepening of Crisis of Leadership. Theses on Recent Major Developments in the World Situation Adopted by the RCIT’s International Executive Committee, 9.9.2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 15, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-september2013/

RCIT: The World Situation and the Tasks of the Bolshevik-Communists. Theses of the International Executive Committee of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, March 2013, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 8, www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-situation-march-2013

Michael Pröbsting: China‘s transformation into an imperialist power. A study of the economic, political and military aspects of China as a Great Power, in: Revolutionary Communism No. 4, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/revcom-number-4

Michael Pröbsting: No to chauvinist war-mongering by Japanese and Chinese imperialism! Chinese and Japanese workers: Your main enemy is at home! Stop the conflict on the Senkaku/Diaoyu-islands in the East China Sea! 23.9.2012,in: Revolutionary Communism No. 6, http://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/no-war-between-china-and-japan/



[1] See Colonel Cassad: The Debalcevo encirclement. Details, 19 February 2015, http://cassad-eng.livejournal.com/121733.html

[2] See Colonel Cassad: Yarosh and war, 13 February 2015, http://cassad-eng.livejournal.com/117396.html

[3] See Michael Pröbsting: The Uprising in East Ukraine and Russian Imperialism. An Analysis of Recent Developments in the Ukrainian Civil War and their Consequences for Revolutionary Tactics, 22.October 2014, http://www.thecommunists.net/theory/ukraine-and-russian-imperialism/

[4] See e.g. Ian Traynor: Ukraine ceasefire aims to pave way for comprehensive settlement of crisis. If fragile agreement holds, ambitious political measures including a new Ukrainian constitution and special status for rebel-held areas should follow, 12 February 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/feb/12/ukraine-ceasefire-aims-pave-way-comprehensive-settlement-crisis; see also Ivan Nechepurenko: Debaltseve was fatal flaw in Minsk agreement on Ukraine, The Moscow Times, 18. February 2015, http://www.themoscowtimes.com/news/article/debaltseve-was-fatal-flaw-in-minsk-agreement-on-ukraine/516193.html

[5] On the content of the Minsk Agreement see e.g. Russkiy Malchik: Minsk-2 ceasefire: Preliminary analysis, 12. February 2015, http://newcoldwar.org/minsk-2-ceasefire-preliminary-analysis/; Marko Bojcun: Minsk II: Land for a ceasefire, but not for peace, 12.2.2015, http://observerukraine.net/2015/02/12/minsk-ii-land-for-a-ceasefire-but-not-for-peace/; Gleb Bazov: Minsk Agreement 2.0, News.Kremlin.Ru, 12. February 2015, http://slavyangrad.org/2015/02/12/minsk-agreement-2-0-february-12-2015/#more-4940

[6] See e.g. Courtney Weaver: School lessons and shelling forge new identity in east Ukraine, Financial Times, 13 February 2015 http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/e53188e8-b392-11e4-9449-00144feab7de.html

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