The Militant (logo)  

Vol. 79/No. 4      February 9, 2015

(front page)
Pro-Moscow separatists launch
new assaults against Ukraine

Separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, backed by Moscow’s weaponry and troops, launched a major offensive in mid-January seeking to consolidate territory and advance their front lines. The renewed fighting is exacerbating conditions workers face across the country, sharpening conflicts with bosses and the government over layoffs, cuts in social benefits and nonpayment of wages. In response, Washington and imperialist powers in Europe are threatening to increase sanctions against Russia.

At least 30 civilians were killed and more than 100 wounded Jan. 24 in the pro-Moscow separatist bombardment of Mariupol, an industrial city of half a million on the Sea of Azov, between the Russian border and Moscow-occupied Crimea. Two days earlier, separatist forces overran the Donetsk airport.

There has been heavy fighting near Debaltseve, a key rail junction and the one point still under Ukrainian government control along the road between the two so-called People’s Republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.

More than 900,000 people who have fled the war zone since last spring have taken refuge elsewhere in Ukraine, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This includes nearly 48,000 who left in the third week of January alone. Another 600,000 Ukrainians have left the country, including more than 100,000 who have moved to Russia.

The government plans to conscript nearly 62,000 troops in coming weeks. “Two thousand young workers here just received draft notices,” Yuriy Samoilov, head of the Independent Trade Union of Miners in Kryvyi Rih, told the Militant by Skype Jan. 17. “While their jobs will be held for one year, it’s not clear what social benefits they will receive if they get injured.”

“We’re trying to survive here in a state of war, and at the same time fight the policies of the government toward working people,” Mykhailo Volynets, head of the Confederation of Free Trade Unions of Ukraine, said in a Jan. 27 Skype interview. Many coal miners are owed months of back wages, while “the authorities plan to close more mines without any discussion with the unions and workers, and without a plan to provide jobs for miners who will lose theirs.” The union was planning a protest the next day in Kiev, he said.

The push to close older state-owned mines that are subsidized by the government is part of the “reforms” demanded by the International Monetary Fund as a condition for further loans to Kiev. Volynets said the recent budget adopted by parliament raises taxes on workers’ wages and pensions by 10 to 15 percent.

This is a course toward “a social revolt. This is dangerous in conditions of war,” he said in a Jan. 20 interview with the UkrLife Internet TV channel.

Fight for Ukrainian sovereignty
Hundreds of thousands of working people all across Ukraine took part in protests that toppled the regime of Viktor Yanukovych last February. Central to the mobilizations was defense of Ukraine’s independence and outrage at Yanukovych’s subservience to Moscow. After he fled, Moscow’s troops occupied Crimea and organized a sham referendum to secede from Ukraine and unite with Russia.

In the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, where much of the country’s coal is mined, pro-Moscow separatists seized government buildings, seeking to emulate the Crimea occupation. They won backing from some workers in the area who don’t trust the capitalist politicians in Kiev. While providing arms and some fighters, the Russian government has used these groups to destabilize Ukraine, seeking to win concessions, while opposing a Crimea-style takeover.

President Barack Obama told reporters Jan. 25 that Washington will consider more economic sanctions against Russia in response to the escalation, but said, “It would not be effective for us to engage in a military conflict with Russia on this issue.”

The European Union is planning a meeting of foreign ministers Jan. 29 to discuss stepped-up sanctions.

Banking and trade sanctions imposed by the imperialist powers and the drop in world oil prices have pushed the Russian economy to the brink of recession, with working people hit hardest.

Russian officials have continuously denied that there are thousands of Russian soldiers fighting along with the separatists. But recent statements by Igor Girkin give the lie to Moscow’s credibility.

Girkin, a retired officer of the FSB, Russia’s secret police, led Russian military units in Crimea and later served as minister of defense in the self-proclaimed People’s Republic of Donetsk until August.

Girkin told NeuroMirTV that claims that the overwhelming majority in Crimea wanted to unite with Russia were not true. “I was there since Feb. 20. … We had absolutely no support from the people,” he said. “The only thing that made what we have accomplished in Crimea possible was the presence of the Russian army.”  
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