Newsclick discusses with Aijaz Ahmad, senior political analyst, about the recent developments in Ukraine, where there is a civil war like situation in the Eastern and Southern parts of the country. Ahmad feels that in the days to come, as the IMF conditionalities begin to bite, there is going to be a conflict in Western Ukraine also. Attacks from the Kiev regime on the east, many of which are war crimes - has increased significantly, specially after the election of Petro Poroshenko as the President of Ukraine.
Prabir Purkayastha (PP): Hello and welcome to Newsclick. Today we have with us Professor Aijaz Ahmed and we'll discuss the developments in Ukraine. We have done this earlier but obviously certain events have taken place. There is almost a civil war situation in the east and south of Ukraine and we now have Poroshenko who has been elected the president of this rump government in Kiev. Aijaz, it does appear that after Poroshenko's election, things have worsened in the south and east of Ukraine and the attacks seem to have increased.
Aijaz Ahmed(AA): Very much so, in fact it has been a great surprise for very many people because Poroshenko was supposedly pro-Russian or at least neutral between the two and partly because he has had industrial interests and as well as markets in Russia and so on, which by the way the Russians have taken over sometime ago and the speculation was, that after becoming the president he would negotiate with Russia in such a way that being an oligarch his primary interest will be protecting his own interests but it seems to me that what he has done is, having captured the power he has thrown all his chips in the baskets of USA. So, as soon as he was elected, he ordered a much broader escalation in terms of the military attacks in eastern Ukraine and he owns a television station which has been leading the propaganda campaign against what he calls the terrorists.
PP: This is the other interesting part that those who have been protesting basically started as arguing for self determination, that also for a limited purpose autonomy, they weren't really talking about separating from Ukraine, they really talked at that point of time for more autonomy, regional autonomy, federated state of Ukraine and so on. Now this has become a demand for independence and separation. This seems to have happened after the attacks started, not only with Poroshenko but also what we saw in Odessa.
AA: I think the Odessa killings were probably decisive. I think you are right. I see the eastern provinces as having sympathies with Russians and so on but not necessarily ultra Russian nationalists of any kind, and their own cultural make up. I think they felt very vulnerable by the idea of EU coming and taking over Ukrainian economy which would actually mean the destruction of Ukraine's own industries and one of the ways Russia has been subsidising Ukraine and everyone talks about the subsidy, you know, gas subsidy and so on but one of the massive ways Russia has been subsidising Ukraine is to buy industrial products including military hardware. From these industries, to keep them alive, Russia has actually been upgrading its own industrial base for the same kind of products and it could very easily not buy them.
PP: They have in fact twin sources for all the military products so they don't actually need Ukraine essentially for military products.
AA:Yes, they could actually replace it with all that, it has been there subsidised. So these people in the east, partly have sympathies towards Russia because thats where the money comes from, that's where they make these things and they sell their production. So it was fear of EU and opposition to this whole thing about EU and IMF and so on opposition has come very largely from the east for that reason. Then theses people, these fascists came to power and started banning Russian language and so on and all of that made them very nervous.
PP: Also Russian TV stations being taken off.
AA: Then came Crimean vote and got integrated back into Russia and created some sort of a stir there, but I think the decisive moments were the unleashing of that violence because by the time Odessa happened, two things had happened. One is that some 400-600 American soldiers are known to be operating all over the east and that number has been verified by the Germany television services, the number may be higher...
PP: It could also be Blackwater.
AA: Who knows; Blackswater has been serving that kind of operation in Iraq on a massive scale where part of the American forces have camouflaged as contractors and so on. That and the right sector as the national guards or whatever but also through their own independent militia, they spread all over the place and that came to a head after Odessa and after Odessa there has been a move to, you know, federalisation project really got going. They are going to have autonomy, maximum autonomy and so on and then came these escalations, the ones the we have been talking about earlier. So it is actually in response to this immense violence that now there is a mood to look to pass independence; two new legal entities have now come into being and you have to deal with it, whether you want to talk about it as unified states or separate ones.
PP: Donetsk and Luhansk regions, these two have come together. It's also interesting if you look at the linguistic map of Ukraine, you will find that about 75% of the people in these two regions actually have the mother tongue, who basically speak Russian, which of course a large part of Ukraine does, even if ethnically they don't think they are Russians but this is really who are ethnically and linguistically Russian and then as you go down, for instance, Odessa the numbers actually decrease. So these are the two, really centres of Russian language and ethnicity in Ukraine.
AA: You see, it is a very mixed picture. In eastern Ukraine there are people of Polish origin, Hungarian origin, various kinds of origins of that kind, for whom Russian is the first language.
PP: Even Yulia Tymoshenko doesn't speak in public, Russian but that's her first language .
AA: Yes, that's the other part. Ultimately, Russian is also the language of culture and knowledge. So people may speak Ukrainian at home and call themselves Ukraine speaking and so on. They can also be Ukrainian nationalist and so on but there language of culture and sophistication and entertainment is Russian. Fact of the matter is the whole of the Ukraine was part of Russia and it's with the collapse of the Soviet Union and this was quite artificially separated out from Russia to make Russia as small and as weak as possible.
PP: Two things that I think are important and I think we need to think about in the Ukrainian scenario, that you now have the situation where the NATO wanted to take over Ukraine; one of the things which was the centre of the controversy of Ukraine joining NATO like Georgia earlier wanted to join NATO, and in that of course loss of Crimea and Sevastopol which Russia really could not accept because that's their access to Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea, only where war water port they have so that's no way they were going to give it up; but geopolitically NATO's expansion that is one issue we have discussed earlier which is I think is one of the threats Russia faces. And the second one, Ukraine is not a small country, it has got 40+billion people and this economy is difficult for anybody to subsidise. So European Union if it wants to take over Ukraine, which is what it seems to be the project or that's a US project which will be funded by Europeans, its a huge bill that they are looking at. Do you think it is physically possible for them to do that?
AA: Prabir, I believe it is perfectly possible for them to throw away $300billion or $500billion or whatever it takes. There is excess capital in Europe but EU and Bundestag and all of these are not in the business of building up countries. They are in the business of turning Ukrainian workers into cheapest possible labour and Ukrainian women into prostitutes. That's what they are really into. So, whether they have the capacity? Yes, they do. Whether they have any such intention? No, they don't and that is what a lot of people in the east saw very very clearly and as time passes and as these austerity begins to bite...
PP: IMF austerity programme
AA: IMF austerity programme begins to bite, which is the price of whatever little funding they are going to give. This is going to become clearer to people in western Ukraine also, so you are going to have a great mess. On the other hand these oligarchs and upper layer of the Ukrainian society, all they want to do is get that money from EU or where ever it comes from, World Bank or whatever, put it in their pockets and when it becomes too hot just run away and live in...
PP: Lot of them did so. For example Kolibowski, one of the architects of the massacre is an oligarch who stays in Switzerland, who is the governor of one of the oblasts in south east Ukraine.
AA: Some of the oligarchs live in London, some of them live in Germany, some of them have dual nationality.
PP: The other interesting issue that comes up is that Russia with Putin has had some control over the oligarchs over the last ten years, it's not that he has ended the reign or the economy of the oligarchs; but he has controlled them and the state has regained some of its pre-eminence.
AA: That is what is resented about Putin by everybody including the west who were working with those oligarchs, that he has put all of them under the control of the Russian state.
PP: This is not true for Ukraine. Ukraine still continues total loot, whether its Yanukovych or the current prime minister.
AA: It may well be that one of the reasons for whatever sanctions the Americans have imposed is that it's not going to hurt the Russian economy but it may hurt particular oligarchs and they then can be recruited into the bid to replace Putin or whatever, get rid of him in one way or the other. Some measures can be more extreme than others.
PP: The other and the last important question, I think that the fact that this kind of pressure is coming on Russia, there is also on China side an equal desire to have some rapprochement with Russia which they have been building up for sometime because of the kind of events taking place in South China Sea and the US role over there, pivot to Asia as Hillary Clinton said and Obama has repeated. Do you think Russia and China coming together and signing the gas deal, talking about how they can come together, this is an important development because the Americans have sea power, obviously, they have power over outer-space, over Internet; but Russia and China coming together is really a huge land power and Iran is not too far from there.
AA: It's a major shipping structure of global power. The way I would put it is, you know when the Americans invaded Iraq, I remember writing an article for Frontline, in which I talked about imperial over-reach. Now having done what they have done in Middle East and having made a complete mess of it, geopolitical mess of it and having done what they have done in Libya and so on, I think they have instead of stepping back, they have escalated to a level which is completely beyond their control. So you really have an imperial power which is desperate to hold on to its primacy in the world in whatever way possible and see that China and Russia separately are both challenges to them and taking actions which force them virtually not only to just come together but integrate. The Chinese are saying that the development of Western China and Asian Russia is a single project which we are going to pursue together. This is something historically unprecedented.
PP: This is kind of closeness never existed before.
AA: Except for American belligerence of this order in which they are building an immense military power around China and around Russia and they think they can just encircle them and some how smash them and that some sort of fantasy.. This is forcing them – the country that has the greatest resource of energy in the world and the country which has the greatest resource of productive power and excess capital and hunger for energy – bringing the two of them together, is an extraordinary event and meanwhile in Ukraine they have no clue of what's going to happen; because I believe that whatever is going to happen is that in Western Ukraine there is going to be a conflict between the real fascists who are very much in power and they are not going to give up their power without fight, they are armed and these other jokers who have little militias of their own, each one of those oligarchs. So I actually believe that down the line there is going to be a conflict inside Western Ukraine. So they will mess up Ukraine as they have messed up Syria and other countries, destroy countries as sort of experiment.
PP: Aijaz, we'll come back to this topic some day but not today, which is that America has enormous military power today, the ability to smash other countries, but their ability to retain other countries and hold them economically or politically, this seems to be weakening. We have this peculiar mix of situation which makes life for all of us around the world much worse, in fact.
AA: The world is going to suffer a lot as a result of this uncontrolled military power, which is hollow from inside and getting hollower and hollower day by day as it goes around destroying various parts of the world in order to hold on to their dominance.
PP: Thank you very much. We'll come back to this topic because I think Ukraine now needs to be watched in the future. Important developments – price of officially fascism politically taking political power in a country which is not a small one and then the geopolitical significance of this Russia-China coming together, what the NATO and the European Union want to do; all this will lead to...
AA: I remember the last time we were discussing Ukraine, it was before the European Union election and I remember us saying that this coming to power of fascism in major European countries is going embolden such forces in the rest of the continent and the elections have shown that.
PP: Thank you Aijaz. I think that's an important issue that also needs to seen – what' s happening to the larger EU project and the rise of fascism in European Union itself. Thanks. We'll come back to these topics again when we meet next time.