from The Guardian
I have little doubt that Russian security services were in some way involved in the recent escalation of violence in several towns in eastern Ukraine.
The seizures of administrative buildings on 12 April were well co-ordinated between different towns, the armed men were well equipped and showed high levels of military training. This does not necessarily mean that Russian special operations units are directly taking part; those men could be former Ukrainian riot police officers, many of whom fled to Crimea and Russia to escape punishment from the new government. But all of this does not preclude the fact that the planned provocation happened in the context of mass, grassroots, self-organised social protests which started against the new government in eastern Ukrainian regions after former president Viktor Yanukovych was toppled.
The Maidan movement has never had majority support in eastern and southern regions in Ukraine. After it succeeded in toppling the government, many people were scared and outraged with the exaggerated pictures they saw on television of violent clashes in Kiev, armed paramilitary groups including many far right elements controlling the streets, attacks on Lenin’s monuments, and the far right Svoboda party included into the new government. Many people in the east call it the “Kiev junta” and disapprove of its actions.
Of course, there is a large degree of irrational fear driving the protestors, especially concerning the overstated problem of Russian language discrimination. But it would be hypocritical to employ double standards. Just as Maidan was not a “revolution”, anti-Maidan is not a “counter-revolution” either. Maidan was called a “revolution of dignity” but people in eastern Ukraine are also proudly talking about their dignity, regional identity, historical memory, Soviet heroes and language.
The anti-Maidans in the east are no more irrational than Maidan protestors who were hoping for the European dream but gained (quite expectedly) a neoliberal government, IMF-required austerity measures and increasing prices. In the eastern Ukrainian protests, “Russia” – with its higher wages and pensions – plays the same role of utopian aspiration as “Europe” played for the Maidan protestors. The economic situation in Ukraine continues to deteriorate and the national currency has lost more than 50% of its value in two months, so the protestors in the Donetsk region are talking more about the socio-economic problems the Ukrainian state was not able to solve for 23 years: collapsed enterprises, unemployment and low wages. They demand nationalisation and decent rewards for their labour.
It will sound paradoxical for those who celebrated grassroots self-organisation in the Maidan, but the anti-Maidan protests in eastern Ukraine are even more grassroots, decentralised, network-type and leaderless at the moment. Neither the Party of Regions nor the Communist Party of Ukraine play the same role of political representation for anti-Maidan as the three former opposition parties did for Maidan. The so called “representative of south-eastern Ukraine”, the former Kharkiv region governor Mykhailo Dobkin, whom Russia was going to invite to the negotiations with the EU and US on an equal basis with the Kiev government, was violently booed by protestors in Lugansk. Equally, they do not trust the oligarchic elite of eastern Ukrainian origin; or the wealthiest person in Ukraine, Rinat Akhmetov, who has taken on a peacemaker role; or the new Donetsk governor Serhiy Taruta. And they do not want the discredited and corrupt Yanukovych back.
The social base of the protest seems to be more plebeian, poorer and less educated than on Maidan; we see more workers and pensioners and not so many intellectuals and higher-educated professionals who would help to formulate clear demands and defend them in the media.
This is precisely why these protests can be so easily influenced from the outside. It is not difficult to intervene, provoke and manipulate a decentralised revolt of scared people to serve Russian interests.
The anti-Maidan protests cannot be supported wholeheartedly and without reservation. Like Maidan they are diverse. Some people support joining Russia, some support more local autonomy within the Ukrainian state. Russian far-right nationalists, who are no better than the Ukrainian nationalist Svoboda or Right Sector, participate in the protests together with leftist organisations. The public in eastern and southern Ukraine is split. Simultaneously, with anti-Maidan rallies and seizures, demonstrations in support of the new government and a united Ukraine take place.
Even if from an abstract point of view a demand for federalisation and the direct election of the region’s governors sounds democratic, in Ukrainian reality it would instead give more powers to local “big men” rather than lead to a vivid local self-government. And like in western Ukraine during the final stages of the Maidan rebellion, the local Donetsk police is now sabotaging the government’s orders and is often allowed to take control of the buildings and weapons without much resistance, sometimes even taking the side of the protesters.
Rather than constructing necessarily hypocritical justifications as to why military suppression of some armed protestors is better than military suppression of other armed protestors, why the pro-Ukrainian far right is better than the pro-Russian far right, why the Ukrainian neoliberal government is better than the Russian neoliberal government, or why we are ready to fight Russian imperialism but ready to accept western imperialist interests in Ukraine, it would be better to support progressive wings of both Maidan and anti-Maidan, and try to unite them against the Ukrainian ruling class and against all nationalisms and imperialisms on shared demands for social justice.