In Class struggle, Stefania Fusero, Ukraine

Image: La Citta Futurà

By Stefania Fusero,

Published on New Cold War, Feb 13, 2023:

Originally published in Italian on La Citta Futurà, Feb 11, 2023:

The collective West, increasingly becoming more directly involved in the conflict in Ukraine, has been vague about the objectives of its participation in the war and has repeatedly contradicted itself on the nature and number of weapons to be sent to Ukraine. From another standpoint, however, it has maintained clarity and constancy over time: the total dedication to a neoliberal project for a Ukraine open to Western corporations in which workers have no guardianship or protection.
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It cannot be said that the Western powers – the USA, NATO and the EU – have maintained a linear, unequivocal and steady standpoint on the management of the conflict in Ukraine, if not a vocal partisan support for one of the parties involved (the post-Maidan Ukrainian government), the demonisation of the Russian Federation and a disdainful rejection of the ancient art of diplomacy.

While French president Macron, a week after the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine stated, “we are not at war against Russia”, after less than a year the German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock declared in front of the EU parliamentarians “we are fighting a war against Russia.” On the other hand, if at the beginning of the Russian military operations Biden pledged to avoid a direct conflict between the US and Russia, US intelligence officials have recently revealed that not only have the CIA and US special forces been conducting clandestine military operations in Ukraine, but that the CIA, together with a spy agency of another NATO country, is engaged in sabotage operations within the Russian Federation itself.

Not to talk about the escalation in arms shipments to Ukraine by Western countries – the most striking example is certainly Germany, which at the beginning of the conflict reluctantly announced that it would just send helmets and a field hospital, then, amid the indignation expressed by various allied countries and subjected to ever stronger pressure, after less than a year announced it would send tanks, no less. Thus, in a few months, Germany reneged on the principles of foreign policy pursued after the defeat of Nazism, one of which required Germany not to send weapons to any conflict zones, a policy which can be summed up in the German pledge ‘never again’. Which amounts to a complete reversal of the policy of peaceful coexistence with Russia and Eastern Europe pursued by such statesmen as Willy Brandt, having major implications for the entire European continent, not just Germany.

Just a few years have passed – but it feels like centuries – since, on 7 May 2015, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier solemnly celebrated in Volgograd the 70th anniversary of the end of WW2. “Here in Stalingrad, these people brought about the first decisive turnaround in the war. Here in Stalingrad, these people began Europe’s liberation from Nazi dictatorship. In doing so, they made immeasurable sacrifices. As a German, I bow before these victims in sorrow. And I ask for forgiveness for the infinite suffering that Germans inflicted on others in the name of Germany, here in this city, all over Russia, in the parts of the then Soviet Union that are now Ukraine and Belarus, and all over Europe…”.

No one has described such escalation better than former Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov as of October last year. “When I was in D.C. in November, before the invasion, and asked for Stingers, they told me it was impossible. Now it’s possible. When I asked for 155mm guns, the answer was no. HIMARS, no. HARM, no. Now all of that is a yes. Therefore, I’m certain that tomorrow there will be tanks and ATACMS and F-16s.”

Along with the nature of the arms being supplied, so have the objectives changed, at least the stated ones. We started, so it seems, to help Ukraine defend itself against Russian invasion, then we began talking about a “Ukrainian victory” to inflict a “strategic defeat” on Russia that would leave it “weakened”, with the fall of the Putin government. We have now reached the point that a former Polish foreign minister, currently a MEP, organised a meeting in the European Parliament on January 31, 2023 to “discuss the prospects for decolonisation and de-imperialisation of the Russian Federation” (i.e., the dissolution of the Russian Federation).

On the other hand, it is not the first time that a plan to dismantle the Russian Federation has been openly talked of, under the guise of an improbable anti-imperialist struggle – see for example a conference organised on June 23, 2022 in Washington by the CSCE, a US government agency otherwise known as the Helsinki Commission. If anything, such initiatives can now be officially held at the institutional seat of the EU parliament.

Whereas the trajectory of Western military involvement in the Ukraine conflict has apparently been confused and cobbled together, the stance on the economic, social and political future of Ukraine has instead remained clear and constant over time.

The table is laid

4-5 July 2022, Lugano: Ukraine Recovery Conference.

Representatives of Western governments and corporations (US, EU, UK, Japan and South Korea) met in Switzerland to plan a series of tough neoliberal policies to be imposed on post-war Ukraine, with calls for cutting labour laws , “opening markets”, lowering tariffs, deregulating industries and “selling state-owned enterprises to private investors”. The URC (Conference on the Recovery of Ukraine) was not a novel initiative, but a continuation of the “Conference on the Reform of Ukraine”(URC) started in 2017. Same acronym, same spirit, i.e., to urge “strengthening market economy”, “decentralisation, privatisation, state enterprise reform, land reform, state administration reform” and “Euro-Atlantic integration”.

September 6, 2022: Volodymyr Zelensky virtually opens the New York Stock Exchange by symbolically ringing the bell via video streaming.

On the same day he had an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which he launched the neoliberal ‘Advantage Ukraine’ program.  Zelensky invited foreign companies to come and exploit its abundant resources and cheap labour and offered Wall Street “a chance to invest … in projects worth hundreds of billions of dollars”.

January 23, 2023: Zelensky delivers a video speech to the US National Association of State Chambers of Commerce meeting at Boca Raton, Florida, entitled After the War, American Business Can Become a Locomotive of Global Economic Growth.

A transcript of the speech is published on the institutional website of the Ukrainian presidency: “And – when we’ll be able to end this war by throwing out the occupiers – in the same manner together we’ll be able to start the difficult work of rebuilding Ukraine – our cities, our economy, our infrastructure. It is already clear that this will be the largest economic project of our time in Europe. It is obvious that American business can become the locomotive that will once again push forward global economic growth.

We have already managed to attract attention and have cooperation with such giants of the international financial and investment world such as Black Rock, J.P. Morgan and Goldman Sachs. Such American brands as Starlink or Westinghouse have already become part of our, Ukrainian, way… And everyone can become a great business by working with Ukraine. In all sectors -from weapons and defence to construction, from communications to agriculture, from transport to IT, from banks to medicine.”

Disaster capitalism

As to now, no one is able to predict what will remain of Ukraine at the end of the war, but the project of the Western actors involved is very clear and has already begun to be put into practice.

Ukraine was already the poorest country in Europe and if, like all the others in the former Soviet Union, it suffered from the brutal shock therapy* that had turned them into market economies, the neoliberal shock therapy imposed was not as devastating to Ukraine as it was to Russia. And there are still some state-owned assets in Ukraine to appeal to Western corporations. Last August Zelensky effectively eliminated the right to collective bargaining and union representation for the majority of Ukrainian workers, thus making them even poorer.

As economist Michael Hudson argues, Ukraine may well be the poorest country in Europe, but it is so for 99% of citizens; for the remaining 1% – the corrupt kleptocrats of the most corrupt country in Europe – it will instead become the richest country. And of course, the invitation to exploit the country’s riches is being extended to investors on the New York Stock Exchange. “Come on in and join the party! Someone’s loss is turned into somebody else’s gain. And that’s what happens in a class war. It’s a zero-sum game. There is no attempt at all to raise living standards.”

Class war has long been declared on the lower classes in the entire collective West, not just in Ukraine, suffice it to recall what French President Macron said last August: “What we are currently living through is a kind of major tipping point or a great upheaval…we are living the end of what could have seemed an era of abundance…”

Professor Michael Hudson comments: “When he said the ‘end of abundance’, what he really meant was the beginning of an IMF austerity program applied to Europe. And the end of the abundance for the 90% is a bonanza of abundance for the 1%, for the financial sector. They’re making huge, huge gains in all of this… Austerity for the population means we’re now going to put the class war in business here…It’s lower wages, enabling higher profit opportunities for the companies. It’s going to be the end of abundance for wage earners, but it’ll be a bonanza for the monopoly owners and for the banks.”

It is class warfare in Europe and the USA, but in Ukraine it is simultaneously a vicious, cynical proxy war that has been mercilessly shredding hapless Ukrainians into cannon fodder.

* the so-called shock therapy was inaugurated in Pinochet’s Chile, then it was implemented in Russia and in the other USSR countries after the end of the Soviet Union to turn them into market economies. Prices were liberalised while eliminating any social guarantees for citizens, causing an increase in excess mortality and a decrease in life expectancy, together with growing economic inequality, corruption and poverty. Assets and companies were sold out at bargain prices to local and foreign speculators who became enormously rich, while the social fabric unravelled causing an exponential increase in disease, suicide and crime. 

Sources:

Mission Creep? How the US role in Ukraine has slowly escalated,
Branko Marcetic in Responsible Statecraft, 23 Jan 2023

The dissolution of the Russian Federation is far less dangerous than leaving it ruled by criminals, Anna Fotyga, 27 Jan 2023

German tanks in the Ukraine. Again (Maria Zakharova, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman)

Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Volgograd to commemorate the end of the Second World War 70 years ago, Federal Foreign Office 7 May 2015

Decolonizing Russia – a moral and strategic imperative, CSCE 23 June 2022

President of Ukraine’s address to the participants of the meeting of the National Association of State Chambers, President of Ukraine 23 Jan 2023

West prepares to plunder post-war Ukraine with neoliberal shock therapy: privatization, deregulation, slashing worker protections, Ben Norton in Geopolitical Economy, 28 July 2022

Zelensky is literally selling Ukraine to US corporations on Wall Street, Ben Norton in Geopolitical Economy, 9 Sept 2022

Ukraine’s Zelensky sends love letter to US corporations, promising ‘big business’ for Wall Street, Ben Norton in Geopolitical Economy, 25 Jan 2023

Economist Michael Hudson on debt relief, inflation, Ukraine disaster capitalism, petrodollar crisis, Ben Norton in Geopolitical Economy, 8 Sept 2022

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