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Vol. 77/No. 46      December 23, 2013

Ukraine conflict grows as Moscow
vies for influence with US, ‘Europe’
(front page)
In one of a number of recent foreign policy setbacks for Washington, the Russian government, led by President and former KGB secret police leader Vladimir Putin, pressured the Ukraine government of President Viktor Yanukovich Nov. 21 into reversing its decision to sign a set of U.S.-backed political and trade agreements with the European Union.

This development follows Moscow’s success in shoring up the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria through a September agreement to dismantle his cache of chemical weapons. Putin has also gained advantage from ongoing leaks about U.S. spying by Edward Snowden, a former contractor at the U.S. National Security Agency who is now in Russia.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent breakaway of former Soviet republics in eastern Europe and Asia, Washington and the EU have sought to turn them away from Russia.

Out of 28 regimes in the former Soviet bloc, 10 joined the EU in 2004 and 2007, including the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia and Slovakia.

Russia has threatened to cut off the flow of oil and gas through some of these former republics. Skirmishes with Moscow have broken out in Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and Georgia.

Putin forces Ukraine into bloc

The biggest prize Washington and European imperialist powers are sparring with Moscow over is Ukraine. The largest of the former Soviet republics with 46 million people, Ukraine is the historic breadbasket for Russia and a key source of steel, coal and access to warm-water ports on the Black Sea.

With Washington’s backing, the EU in 2009 set up what it called the Eastern Partnership program to court the governments of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia and Ukraine to integrate into the EU market, with removal of tariffs on imports and exports.

The deal required the four governments to rewrite their laws to incorporate “large chunks of EU legislation,” including “increased participation of the private sector.” The regimes would have to “risk economic pain until they complete reforms” — attacks on their working class — the Financial Times said Nov. 29.

Ukraine faces severe economic difficulties. Following the 2008 world financial crisis the country’s industrial output fell 34 percent. Ukraine needs $18 billion by March 2014 to roll over government debt and pay Russia for outstanding gas and oil bills.

In 1995, figures in the former government bureaucracy in Ukraine launched a “Mass Privatization Program,” seizing big hunks of it for themselves.

Conflicts between different factions exploded around the 2004 presidential election. Yanukovich, who emerged from the government-run eastern coal industry that had strong ties to Russia, claimed victory. Those around Viktor Yushchenko, who came out of the state banking apparatus and oriented toward Washington, protested.

Hundreds of thousands of people — mainly from the western part of the country — took to the streets, backing Yushchenko and a break with Russia, the so-called orange revolution.

The rule of the oligarchs around Yushchenko lasted six years. Growing disgust with their thievery and corruption lay the basis for Yanukovich and his gang to take the election in 2010.

Yanukovich tried to play Moscow and Washington against each other. Last year he announced he would sign the Eastern Partnership, hoping to parlay it into desperately needed aid and leverage. But Putin’s threats to shut off Russian gas and promises of cheaper gas prices and aid scuttled the deal.

Protests against the sudden shift mushroomed after police attacks on a small group of student demonstrators. Hundreds of thousands marched against the Yanukovich government in Kiev Dec. 1.  
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