Pop-Left Notes
A Thousand-and-One
Nights of the Ukraine
During recent months Truthout, an internet anthology of the pop-Left, has occasionally posted polemics about events in Ukraine. A typical example by one Roger Annis featured paragraphs like this one:

    A political crisis over the future of Ukraine has exploded in the past two months. It's being driven by the longstanding efforts of the big imperialist countries to assert economic and military domination over the republics of the former Soviet Union and to weaken and marginalize rival Russia. Ukraine is the latest target in the imperialists' sights.

The article, like others of the same kind, uses the noun "imperialist" impartially to refer to NATO, the European Union, western Europe in general, the USA, and such other well-known imperial powers as Canada. Mr. Annis, a Canadian, is particularly incensed over what he imagines to be a Canadian invasion of Ukraine, writing as follows:

    Canada is doing its own "slow motion invasion" of Ukraine. It has sent six fighter aircraft and a large contingent of support personnel to Romania, a warship to the eastern Mediterranean and soldiers to Poland.

Since neither Romania, nor the waters of the eastern Mediterranean, nor Poland are in fact located in Ukraine, Mr. Annis' use of the word "invasion" seems as idiosyncratic as his sense of geography.

The imaginative highpoint of the article, rivaling anything in the tales of Scheherazade, is its rhapsodic fantasy about the politics of the armed pro-Russian separatists. Here are a few examples: "A working class and popular revolution is deepening in eastern Ukraine"; "More and more coal miners and factory workers are entering the struggle on the side of autonomy"; "class struggle in the east can inspire Ukrainians in other parts of the country to join a fight for an anti-austerity and pro-people political path".

Nowhere among these dithyrambs does the article quote a single word from a separatist leader about his group's social program. How, then, does Mr Annis divine that the separatist movement is so proletarian, so progressive, and so pro-people? The answer is that the article is filled with quotes from commentators outside the Ukraine about what they think the armed separatist movement should do or say. He quotes most extensively from a Russian blogger named Boris Kagarlitsky, to wit:

    the movement in the east needs to develop a radical social program and keep up its forward political motion to have a hope of victory.

And further:

    A broadening of the social base of the uprising will depend on its program, on the goals and slogans that it advances. Against the background of an inexorably worsening economic situation, only demands aimed at satisfying the urgent needs of the masses can serve to mobilise the huge numbers of people who now sympathise with the rebel republic, but who are not ready to stand beneath its banner.

And still further:

    Kagarlitsky says the popular revolt does not need a full-blown, anti-capitalist revolution in one swoop to make progress: It is perfectly possible to put forward an anti-oligarchic social program today, and such a program does not even have to be exclusively left-wing or socialist.

In short, Mr. Annis' devotion to the separatist cause is based not on what the separatists themselves actually say, but on what somebody else (in Russia) speculates that they ought to say. It could well be that discontent among east Ukraine workers leads many of them to support the pro-Russian separatists. Discontent in west Ukraine leads some workers there to support the right-wing Ukrainian nationalist parties, just as in west Europe discontent surely underlies the support for such groups as UK Independence Party in Britain or the National Front in France. Political outfits of every kind seek to exploit and manipulate unfocussed discontent. The serious question therefore, unaddressed altogether in Mr. Annis' daydream, is this: just who are the leaders of the east Ukraine armed separatists?

For that information, here is a list of some of the leaders of the Donetsk Peoples Republic in its stronghold of Sloviansk and in Donetsk. The bullet points are copied from Wikipedia, which references all the details to news reports.

  • Denis Pushilin self-proclaimed chairman of the Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) council. Pushilin worked for the 1990s Russian Ponzi scheme company MMM, which has cost its customers millions of dollars.

    A Reuters dispatch of April 23 provides a little more detail on Mr. Pushilin's exploits:

    Born locally, he graduated in engineering. After military service, he drifted from security guard to casino croupier, ad man and candy salesman before promoting new financial products for famed fraudster Sergei Mavrodi - "the most honest man in the world," according to Pushilin. He ran for parliament for a party called MMM, a name notorious for the Ponzi pyramid schemes by which Mavrodi ruined thousands of Russian savers in the 1990s. He won less than 0.1 percent of the vote but was inspired to offer his services as "people's mouthpiece" after pro-Russian militants seized the regional government offices on April 6.

  • Pavel Gubarev, a former member of the neo-Nazi "Russian National Unity" party, who is claiming to be the people's governor of the region. [Note: Russian National Unity used a stylized swastika as its symbol; a photo of Mr. Gubarev in uniform, swastika and all, is posted on the internet.]
  • Ekaterina Gubareva is a minister of foreign affairs of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) and wife of Pavel Gubarev.
  • Igor Strelkov, commander of the Donbass People's Militia in Sloviansk and alleged Russian Military Intelligence Colonel, has denied Russian involvement in the insurgency. According to him his unit was formed in Crimea, and that 2/3rds of its members are Ukrainian citizens. [Note: one wonders what citizenship is held by the other third of his unit formed in the Crimea. Are they, one wonders, Irish or Costa Rican? Who knew that Crimea had so many Irish or Costa Rican military men in it.]
  • Vyacheslav Vladimirovich Ponomarev (also Ponomaryov) (born May 2, 1965 in Sloviansk) is the self-proclaimed pro-Russian separatist mayor of the city of Sloviansk in Donetsk Oblast, a part of Ukraine. He proclaimed himself mayor after leading an assault on the Sloviansk mayor's office on 14 April 2014, as part of the 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine. ...In his private life, he owns a soap production company.

    Another entry in Wikipedia quotes Ponomarev revealingly as follows:

  • Vyacheslav Ponomarev, the self-declared mayor of Sloviansk and a former military veteran, says that he put out an appeal to old military friends to take part in the militia. "When I called on my friends, practically all of whom are ex military, they came to our rescue, not only from Russia but also from Belarus, Kazakhstan and Moldova," he said.

    There are practically no pronouncements on social policy by the separatists, except for one quote from Ponomarev, who is apparently something of a blabbermouth. The Wikipedia report on "the Siege of Sloviansk" quotes him on this subject as follows:

  • Ponomarev promised to prevent presidential elections in Ukraine at any cost. "We will take all necessary measures so that elections in the southeast do not take place" he said, referring not only to Sloviansk, but the whole of Ukraine. Asked how he would accomplish this, he responded, "We'll take somebody as hostage and hang him by the balls." He also promised to destroy dissent, calling it "a harsh truth of life."
It is on behalf of these worthies that Mr. Annis ends his article with the following ringing peroration:

    Revolutionaries in Ukraine and Russia are appealing for solidarity and it is vital that progressives around the world join their appeals for:

    NATO out of Ukraine and eastern Europe!

    No to fascism and extreme nationalism!

    No to the austerity policies of the big capital and finance!

    For international working class solidarity!"

§   §   §

Pushilin, Ponomarev, & Co. are transparently run-of-the-mill adventurers, largely devoid of any ideology except maybe nostalgia for their youthful Russian or Soviet army life, and they are joined by some of their ex-army buddies. Colonel Strelkov, in contrast, is simply a professional soldier doing his job, which is to supervise the first group. The Colonel is joined in this, by his own account, by other colleagues from Russian military units originally stationed in Crimea.

What, exactly, recommends this bunch for such fervent support by western pop-Leftists? First of all, they and NATO are opposed to each other. Mr. Annis & Co. need no more recommendation than this, and their imagination fills in the rest. There are probably two further factors. One is the separatists' charming idea of naming their set-up a "People's Republic". They thus referred explicitly to the systems that the fortunate people of Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia used to enjoy, under the benign supervision of the late-lamented USSR.

Finally, a small element of historical confusion is obvious. The separatists in SE Ukraine took over a few government buildings at gunpoint, and then appointed themselves to be a government. Why, this is exactly what Lenin, Trotsky, & Co. did in Petrograd in October of 1917. QED. However, Lenin & Co. got away with it, providing the inhabitants of Russia with all the delights they experienced during the rest of the 20th century. I suspect that Pushilin, Ponomarev, & Co. are not up to repeating a magic trick of that magnitude.

--- Jon Gallant
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