Ukraine, Syria and Power Politics


map of gas pipelines running through Ukraine

The British newspaper the Guardian recently reported on how Corporate America has been intervening in Ukraine ever since the days of the Bush administration. They have been giving billions of dollars to support “democracy” in Ukraine. As they point out, US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Newland has said:

“Today, there are senior officials in the Ukrainian government, in the business community, as well as in the opposition, civil society, and religious community, who believe in this democratic and European future for their country. And they’ve been working hard to move their country and their president in the right direction.”

The US has been unequivocal in its praise of the Euro Maidan movement, despite the fact that this movement includes outright fascists (that is, supporters of Hitler), real anti-Semites (not simply those who make legitimate criticisms of Israel, but those who firebomb Jewish synagogues), and extreme anti-woman bigots.

What is happening here?

As competition heats up for access to the remaining oil deposits around the world, so does the rivalry between the major capitalist powers and capitalist blocs. Ukraine, whose name means “border land” in the Ukrainian language, is exactly on the border between Western and Eastern capitalism (the European Union and Russia). As that same Guardian article reports:

‘A more recent US State Department-sponsored report notes that “Ukraine’s strategic location between the main energy producers (Russia and the Caspian Sea area) and consumers in the Eurasian region, its large transit network, and its available underground gas storage capacities”, make the country “a potentially crucial player in European energy transit” – a position that will “grow as Western European demands for Russian and Caspian gas and oil continue to increase.”‘

While the previous Yanukovich regime started tilting towards Russia, it should also be noted that back in November he had signed a $10 billion deal with Chevron to explore for shale gas (fracking) in Ukraine. Yanukovich had already signed a similar deal with Shell the previous January.

Meanwhile, US Senator John McCain – the Republican candidate for President in 2008 – when asked about the possibility of direct US military intervention commented  “I’d love to tell you that there is (that possibility)… but frankly I do not see it. I wish that there were. … I do not see a military option and it’s tragic.” Again: The reason that there is none is the fact of a nuclear armed Russia. This fact is not lost on regimes such as the Iranian regime, as well as others. This is not to support the spread of nuclear weapons but simply to point out that such a spread is inevitable under capitalism, especially as the rivalries heat up.

Nor does the role of Western capitalism mean that the Russian intervention in any way will benefit workers – not in Crimea and most certainly not in Russia. It is calling forth the most right-wing nationalist and bigoted forces in Russian politics and is leading to increased repression in Russia itself. This intervention will also be used to repress the Tatar minority in Crimea.

There is a similarity between the situation in Ukraine and that in Syria, as was pointed out in the previous article on this site on Ukraine. We don’t know to what extent workers as workers were involved in the original protests in Ukraine, although they certainly were in Syria. But in both cases, it has ended up with totally reactionary forces on both sides representing the interests of major capitalist powers outside the country – wars by proxy, in other words.


There are now reports of protests against the new regime in the Donetsk region of Ukraine. There are also reports that the new government has sent in mercenaries from the infamous private “security” company formerly known as Blackwater (or Iraq fame). In fact, below is a video of them as they are chased out of the town center by local residents.

Putin may have planned a “surgical” operation in which he sent in a limited number of troops to hive off Crimea, but this may get out of control. If there is a general uprising in eastern Ukraine against the new regime, then the new regime may feel forced to try to put it down, either with their military or with informal militias (really just armed thugs), possibly combined with mercenaries like these. If that happens, then Putin will very likely feel forced to send in troops. This could get very much uglier.

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