Interview with Dmitry Kovalevich, from the Ukrainian communist organization "Borotba" (Struggle) to Panagiotis Tselepis, member of OKDE-Spartakos (held on 14 February 2022)

  • Print

P.T. What is the reason for the current crisis in Ukraine? Does Putin want to invade? If he wanted that, why didn't he attempt to do it, when the Ukrainian army suffered a crushing defeat at the battle of Ilovaisk and considerable part of Ukrainian troops, including the notorious Nazis of "Azov" and Right Sector battalions, were encircled in August 2014? Contrary to taking advantage of that situation, Putin intervened to save Ukrainian troops and guarantee a safe passage.

 

D.K. I can’t know for sure their reasons and motivation. We can only guess. Some of our experts suppose that Ukraine favour war against Donbass. And Kiev began a build-up in that region – Ukraine’s troops there outnumber Russian troops along Ukraine’s border and some 70-80% of Ukraine’s troops are concentrated in Donbass, leaving almost the entire border with Russia and Belarus undefended.

 

In 2014 the coup known as “Euromaidan” took place during the Olympics in Russian Sochi. In February 2014 Ukrainian nationalists were in a hurry to complete it before the end of the Olympics, while the Russians were restricted to some measures to confront it. Now there are Winter Olympics in China, which is a close partner of Russia. West media claim that Russians should invade finally this week – before the end of Olympics – actually pushing Kiev to start a provocation before February 20th.

 

 

The Russians continue to claim they are not going to invade. They say the noise around Ukraine is a sort of distraction from their demands about world security system which implies guarantees of the NATO non-expansion. The Russian top militaries say that the West delays for the time trying to put Russia into endless talks, while focusing on issues which are of no priorities for Russia, including the Ukrainian crisis.

 

The Russians say they are not interested in occupying Ukraine. But the US/UK profit from the panic cultivated by the media: 1) by consolidating their European allies; 2) making capital to flee from Ukraine and Eastern Europe to support US/UK economies; 3) making a barrier against Chinese trade routes.

 

Last week, Yegor Chernev, Chairman of the Permanent Delegation of Ukraine to NATO, stated [1] that "the United States are conducting one of the largest informational special operations in history against Russia, the aim of which is to “demonize the Russian Federation” and “inflict the greatest losses on the Russian economy without a war” in order to “finally oust Russian President Vladimir Putin from Europe and make it impossible to create a single Eurasian space ”from Vladivostok to Lisbon" and China's global project "One Belt, One Road".

 

P.T. What it the reason of the intense mobilization of Russian troops near the Russo-Ukrainian borders? To counter the presence of NATO troops at the Russian borders and demand a guarantee that Ukraine won't be admitted to NATO or, even more, that NATO will be limited to its 1997 size - in accordance with the US promises in early 1990's that NATO would not expand eastwards, as they actually did? If so, why did the Kremlin leadership chose to demand something that is quite unlikely to be accepted now and not previously, when the Kiev regime was weaker and its army was in disarray? Some analysts claim that it is due to the problems that Putin encounters in domestic affairs and the loss of his popularity, but I think that it is rather an inadequate explanation.

 

D.K. Kiev regime is really not weaker now than in 2014, when Russians could easily take the entire country. The Ukrainian troops have been trained and supplied by the West, though only some 10% of them (far-right nationalists) are motivated. The Russians realize that Ukraine is a burden for their economy. I think even in case of Kiev provocation against Donbass they are going to act like in Georgia in 2008: strike at the troops and some military bases and then step back.

 

And the current mobilization is rather a warning against provocation. That’s why the US and the UK are so insistent demanding from Moscow to withdrew troops from Russian western regions, because Kiev is afraid of assaulting Donbass. Kiev has been dreaming for years about repetition of the Croatian operation against Serbian separatist region in 1995 (Oluja operation) openly preparing for such an operation. In 1995 Serbia was convinced by threats of sanction not to intervene.

 

What also made the Russians more daring towards the West? In 2014, according to some analysts, the visit of the President of Switzerland made Putin not to interfere. Switzerland is the Iron Bank from the Games of Thrones. But during the next 8 years Russia was making its economy lesser dependant on USD and Western banks, replacing imports with domestic goods/services. They also promoted cooperation with non-western countries, like India, China, Latin American and African countries, so as not to be non-isolated. Currently, Russia often speaks on behalf of the entire Third World against the First World on international platforms. Reducing dependence from Western banks and securing their economy made them more confident. But this requires time.

 

P.T. Is the Kremlin willing to annex the Donetsk and Lugansk self-proclaimed republics, as the Western media say? If so, why hasn’t the Russian Federation recognized these republics yet?

 

D.K. I’ not sure about their willingness to annex the republics. This would require a lot of investments into rebuilding their infrastructure. Another issue is that both republics claim the entire territories of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, while so far they control only half of the territory.

 

Russia, like many other post-Soviet republics and Eastern Europe countries faces depopulation. In recent years, people from Russian provinces tend to migrate to big cities and southern regions (for e.g. from Siberia). The Russians are interested not in new territories (Russia is the largest country, by the way) but rather in loyal people – educated migrants and skilled labor force. At most they may recognize the republics like Abkhazia and North Ossetia continuing to support them.

 

P.T. The US government seems to be adamant and has already turned down all Russian demands. At the same time they send more and more arms to the Ukrainian army, stating that they stand firmly on the Ukrainian side, but if Russia invades, they will answer with heavy sanctions, but not any kind of direct military intervention. Does it sound reassuring to the Ukrainian government and encouraging, so as to be more aggressive on the Donbass front?

 

D.K. The West supports Kiev government with arms - but actually dumping here the arms with expired terms of usage. I believe also that the decision to attack Donbass can be given even beyond president Zelensky – that’s a result of our dependency. Once Zelensky may wake up at night and learn that he “ordered”’ to start an offensive.

 

The Russians are already trolling the US, as they see Washington's behavior as a kind of "invitation" to finally invade Ukraine. According to a joke, the Russians may demand money from the US to invade Ukraine or even the stake of Alaska.

 

P.T. When Zelensky was elected as President of Ukraine in May 2019, many Ukrainians believed that he would change the situation to better, as far as peace, democratic rights and economics are concerned. However, after almost three years, his government has failed in all aspects. Ukraine keeps violating the Minsk agreements, bombing Donbas regularly, there is no sign of recovery in economy and the Ukrainian state remains oppressive against the left parties and organizations, which are outlawed, and maintains the post-Maidan ultra-nationalist rhetoric and the glorification of the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, who has been officially recognized as a "national hero", since the coup in Kiev in February 2014. Why has Zelensky failed so utterly to carry out any of his pre-election promises? Is it just a matter of false promises or he had no means to reform a state apparatus, where key positions are held by Nazis and far-rightists, and pursue a different policy in the framework of pro-Western orientation?

 

D.K. He realized that the far-right has real power and they threatened to overthrow him in case of stepping aside from the previous politics. Zelensky was also convinced to continue the same policy after a visit to UK intelligence head (Richard Moore). The policy of Ukraine is determined outside Ukraine and there is only a competition inside the country who exactly (Poroshenko or Zelensky) is to conduct that policy. The dependency of Kiev government reminds somehow the dependency of former governments of Afghanistan or Iraq under US occupation. Zelensky can’t decide on economy issues, given our large foreign debts. He is forced to continue the same neo-liberal reforms – Kiev rulers have the ‘freedom’ only to find justifications for those reforms. And this regards also support for neo-Nazis and Banderites – without them there will be no support in the society for pro-NATO policy and neo-liberal reforms. At next elections Ukrainians may elect a porn actress or a person claiming he’s pro-Soviet, but those persons wouldn’t have real leverages of power and will remain just talking heads.

 

In recent years, in Ukraine, even miners who demand to being paid their salary debts or sailors demanding to cancel restrictions for their jobs, tend to rally in from of the US embassy, as they know where the real power which may decide about their problems is. Even our provincial officials in their conflicts for positions or money in a village council tend to appeal directly to the US embassy. That’s also the reason why the Russians refuse to talk with Zelensky – they say he doesn’t decide anything and there is only sense to talk with his masters. Common Ukrainians just watch Ukrainian politics as a sort of TV reality show.

 

P.T. What is the real power of fascists and the far-right in Ukraine? The mainstream narrative in the Western Europe, which has been adopted by some leftists as well, is that fascists are few and their representation in the Ukrainian parliament has fallen, since the Svoboda party has achieved a 10% vote in 2012, but after the Maidan has fallen to 4,71% in 2014 and 2,15% in 2019, hardly retaining only one seat. As of the armed fascists in the battalions, are dismissed as thugs with no popular support, though their military formations have been incorporated in the National Guard. Is fascism still a force to be reckoned with in Ukraine or it is only a marginal force used in certain circumstances? Namely, as storm troops during the Maidan coup and combat reliable units on the Donbass front? What is the potential and the role of fascist organizations in Ukraine?

 

D.K. Ukrainian fascism and far-right nationalism is a policy imposed by the West circles to make Ukrainians enemies with the Russians. Therefore, almost every Ukrainian politician adapts to it and starts to promote the Banderite ideology and myths about our ‘Aryan ancestors’.

 

Ukrainian armed far-right gangs were largely incorporated into the National Guard and regular army but they still enjoy a sort of independence (like “Azov”). They are used for assaults on opposition media or just common people who dare to speak out something against current policy. That was the case of a teenage female blogger who commented something against nationalism. Then the gangs persecute her, assault, beat and finally make her to migrate. They regularly assault offices of opposition parties, like the terror against A. Sharij supporters, or TV-channels which dared to give platform to some critics of the official policy.

 

The Police and the National Guard stands usually behind them, just watching and arrest only their opponents. However, their power rests on violence and support from police and army. Inside the society their support is still not large – it is not relied on voting. In order to assault the opposition, they still have to organize into a sort of ‘”traveling circus” – the same armed groups of far-right nationalists moving from region to region, from city to city pretending they are present everywhere in the country. While their opponents are not organized and in case of attempts to unite, they are prevented from gatherings by the police, who just stop them and do not allow their buses or vehicles to move among regions.

 

P.T. The US and EU countries declare that they stand on the side of Ukraine". Is Ukrainian society united now? What is the stance of Ukrainians during the current crisis? Are they afraid of a Russian invasion? Are they willing to fight?

 

D.K. Ukrainian society has never been united in history. We were put together amidst so-called nation-building from various backgrounds and cultures. There have always been internal divisions, sub-ethnic, cultural, linguistic, religious etc.

 

The politics of Euromaidan is imposed by the bourgeoisie and the elites – it is profitable for them to be anti-Russian or anti-communist, the West pays for that. Our working class has largely migrated working in Russia and the EU. Those common people who remained in Ukraine don’t discuss political issues at all, at least publicly. Even now the rumors about a possible invasion do not produce any influence. Our propaganda has been telling us for the last 8 years that we were allegedly fighting a Russian invasion. Even comparing with 2014, there are no signs of preparations to war: no roadblocks, no marching military columns, no checks of documents – nothing has changed within the country from the last year.

 

Common people lament only about prices and high tariffs, the lack of well-paid jobs or access to healthcare. In the public narrative there are no talks about Russian invasion at all. Some British media like to publish picture how Ukrainians are being trained to confront the invasion – these are staged pictures especially for West journalists. Top-officials call to provincial officials demanding to organize that show to inspire West journalists and make the West to allocate more money for Ukraine. I’m sure that even in case of real Russian invasion there cannot be a significant resistance – even our far-right neo-Nazi battalions will prefer to defect and quickly migrate.

 

P.T. What is the situation of the Ukrainian left after the ban on leftist parties and organization and the so-called “decommunization” crusade declared by the post-Maidan Kiev regime? How have the events affected “Borotba” since the coup in Kiev eight years ago? Is the left capable to fight back?

 

D.K Ukrainian Left was completely purged from the legal politics. Communist party was banned. Borotba was banned. Last year even a TV-channel, 112.ua was banned for airing an interview with communist party head V. Simonenko. Numbers of the Left have migrated. Those who remained can act only illegally in small groups of trusted comrades on the level of a city or neighbourhood. There is for instance the “Working Front of Ukraine”, uniting former communist party activists and trade unionists. Illegal Left groups attack monuments of Banderites and Nazi-collaborators on daily basis – even in West Ukraine – therefore, the authorities have to guard them day and night. They print and disperse antifascist leaflets. Some militants attack known neo-Nazis. There are more Ukrainian neo-Nazis killed in clashes inside Ukraine than in Donbass frontline – both from their infighting and attacks of antifascists.

 

In the parliament, the party ‘Opposition platform – For Life’ tries to act like social-democratic party, criticizing NATO, neo-fascism and neo-liberal reforms. But the US has sanctioned their leaders, some are on trial in Ukraine, accused of high treason, all their media outlets have been banned, too. This means that even populist toothless social-democracy cannot survive in Ukraine legally.

 

There can be only small marginal groups of pro-EU liberal Left – like the ‘Left Opposition” or the “Social Movement” – uniting with Ukrainian nationalists to show to the Western Left that they exist - but they are only about a dozen persons.

 

The Western instructors shape Ukraine’s political system which should be a sort of two-party system changing in power, and both parties are pro-NATO and neo-liberal.

 

P.T. What is the political situation in the Donetsk and Lugansk Republics (DNR and LNR)? The original leadership of the 2014 anti-fascist revolt has been weakened, as many political and military leaders, including Zakharchenko and Mozgovoi, were assassinated and oligarchs continued their business unhindered. Is there anything left from the anti-fascist and anti-oligarchic spirit of the 2014 revolt? Has the Kremlin managed to fully control the DNR and LNR republics, as the only actual support to them comes from Russia? What is the influence of the left there?

 

D.K. Ukrainian security forces recently recognized again that they murdered the leaders of Donbass antifascist uprising, including Mozgovoi and Zakharchenko. Although, I’m not sure this could happen without the involvement of Western special forces. The official policy of the republics officially remained the same, but there is lesser instability, lesser initiative from people’s leaders. Many found themselves at a disadvantage by that prolonged low-intensity war in trenches, without changes for 8 years. Last year Russia began to provide passports for republics’ residents and they voted on Russian elections. The republics still lose population as many people prefer to migrate to Russia. The Left there became largely a shadow of the Russian KPRF (Gennady Zyuganov's Communist Party of the Russian Federation), which supports them financially and with other aid.

 

P.T. Is there any hope of reviving class struggle in a country ravaged by civil war and affected by the NATO advance eastwards and the inevitable intensification of confrontation with Russia?

 

D.K. As I said, a large part of our workers have migrated, especially the young ones. Those who remain are mostly elderly workers trying to work until retirement age. Inside Ukraine there are problems to find an electrician or locomotive driver.

 

At the same time, the state apparatus survive mostly on West financial aid. When there is no money in public budget, no arms, no vaccines, no electricity, no oil, no medicine for hospitals, no toilet paper for offices – the authorities just ask the US/UK/EU/IMF and they offer it, in exchange for Ukraine’s anti-Russian stance.

 

Class struggle in its classic form doesn’t produce any results. Recently, Ukrainian miners in Western Ukraine went on strike, because of non-paid salaries. The authorities of the state-owned coal-mines openly told them: ‘Why are you still here? Resign, there are many jobs in Poland!’

 

As a result, workers are in despair and do not believe in their own strength. Our official unions - which are yellow - regularly organize miners' gatherings with a request to pay the due salaries. Each time, the authorities promise to pay "next week" and each time they break their promises. However, this is enough for the union leaders, who are threatened by the security forces with legal prosecution in case of "sabotage" in the midst of “Russian aggression” that lasts 8 years.

 

Ukrainian workers may be involved in the class struggle in other countries, where they work. However, in Ukraine we can only have spontaneous outbursts and riots at the moment, due to the impoverishment of a large part of the domestic working class. This prospect is more plausible at the moment.

 

 

[1] https://www.liga.net/politics/opinion/bez-paniki-proishodit-samaya-masshtabnaya-informatsionnaya-spetsoperatsiya-ssha-v-interesah-mira