The Ukraine Crisis and the New Cold War
On February 22, the elected president of Ukraine was overthrown in a coup which was supported by the Obama administration. Since then, the country has been torn apart and violence has escalated. On May 2 in the southern city of Odessa, supporters of the new unelected Kiev government, including members of the violent extremist Right Sector party, surrounded peaceful, unarmed anti-government protestors who had taken refuge in the city’s main union hall. The right-wing crowd then set the union hall on fire, and 46 people died by being burned alive or jumping to their deaths trying to escape.
We are troubled by this horrific atrocity, and by the fact that mass murder was committed by burning a union hall. We are concerned about the conflict in Ukraine, by the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine’s eastern border and U.S. and NATO troops and planes in neighboring Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which signal the return of the Cold War and the threat of a much hotter war.
A defining period in the history of UE was our union’s courageous opposition to the Cold War. At the end of World War II there was great hope among union members and other Americans for a continuation of FDR’s New Deal, with progressive social and economic policies including national healthcare, expanded Social Security, and progress against racial discrimination in employment. What we got instead was the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act and the Cold War. Military spending, including the nuclear arms race, continued to trump all other priorities. Local conflicts all over the world were treated as global showdowns between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. In the name of “fighting communism,” the U.S. sided with the French and British colonial empires against independence movements, and backed many brutal dictators against their own people. The 40-year-long Cold War included some very hot wars – notably Korea and Vietnam. The CIA organized coups that overthrew democratic governments that dared to disagree with the U.S. government or corporations. On the domestic front, the Cold War was a massive attack on civil liberties and an effort to wipe out organizations, including UE, that refused to enlist in the Cold War.
UE said the U.S. government should direct its resources toward making life better for its own people. UE favored negotiations to resolve differences between the U.S. and the Soviets, and to end conflicts such as Vietnam. UE said the arms race robbed human needs on both sides of the Cold War divide. As UE President Albert Fitzgerald often said, “You can’t have guns and butter.”
The Cold War supposedly ended with the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, which had been composed of the U.S.S.R. and its Eastern European allies. A key event was the 1990 agreement between the U.S., West Germany and the Soviet Union allowing the reunification of Germany. In those negotiations, President George H.W. Bush promised Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO – the U.S.-led anti-Soviet military alliance – would not expand any further east than Germany.
Yet despite that promise, and despite Russia and its former allies no longer having communist governments, NATO has moved steadily eastward toward Russia. NATO now includes the former socialist states of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as three former republics of the U.S.S.R. which border Russia – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Two more former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Georgia, have been promised eventual NATO membership. NATO is now clearly an alliance against Russia, sitting on Russia’s doorstep.
In late 2013 the U.S. began expressing hostility toward Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and sympathy with the often violent anti-government protestors in Kiev. Yanukovych was not an exemplary leader – we now know that he’d been feathering his own nest – but he was elected in a fair election, and the U.S. supports many governments that are more corrupt and undemocratic than his.
What made Yanukovych a target for regime change was his decision in November to reject harsh loan terms from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) – including the kind of pension cuts and austerity that have driven Greece into poverty. Yanukovych instead accepted a more favorable offer of economic aid from Russia. His proposal that Ukraine have good economic relations with both Russia and the EU was rejected by the EU and the U.S., which wanted a Ukrainian government hostile to Russia.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met in December 2013 with Oleh Tyahnybok, head of the far-right Svoboda Party. In a 2012 resolution the European Parliament had called Svoboda “racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic” and appealed to democratic parties in Ukraine “not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party.” In May 2013 the World Jewish Congress labeled Svoboda “neo-Nazi” and called for the party to be banned. Svoboda leader Tyahnybok has called for ridding Ukraine of the influence of “the Moscow-Jewish mafia.” Svoboda is also anti-gay, anti-black, and hostile to equal rights for women.
But since the overthrow of Yanukovych, Svoboda holds four cabinet ministries in Ukraine’s “provisional government” (including deputy prime minister.) In a Feb. 4 conversation caught on tape, Nuland and the U.S. ambassador to Kiev discussed who would get which positions in the new government, including cabinet seats for Svoboda.
In Europe since the end of World War II, there has been a political taboo against allowing fascist and neo-Nazi parties into any government. The Obama administration has now broken that taboo and allied our country with fascists in Ukraine. According to German media reports, about 400 elite mercenaries from the notorious U.S. private security firm Academi (formerly Blackwater) are taking part in Ukrainian military operations against anti-government protesters in southeastern Ukraine. News that Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden has joined the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest private gas company adds the element of conflict of interest. Obama’s policies toward Ukraine and Russia have significantly increased the chances of military confrontation between the U.S. and Russia, the world’s two nuclear superpowers. This threatens world peace.
It is unclear whether the presidential election conducted on May 25, under conditions of near-civil war, will help to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.
We reaffirm UE’s historic position. We favor peace and friendly, equitable economic relations between nations. We favor negotiations rather than military confrontation to resolve disputes, including this one. We believe the countries that defeated Nazism in World War II, including the U.S. and Russia, should work together against any resurgence of racism, anti-semitism and fascism in Europe.
Bruce Klipple, General President
Andrew Dinkelaker, General Secretary-Treasurer
Bob Kingsley, Director of Organization
May 27, 2014
On June 3, labor radio show WorkWeek Radio on KPFA 94.1, Berkelely, CA featured a discussion on U.S. labor and the Ukraine crisis with UE NEWS Managing Editor Al Hart and two representatives of the San Francisco Labor Council (SFLC) which has also criticized the U.S. role in the Ukraine crisis. The SFLC representatives included a woman from Ukraine, Galina Gerasimova, who offers a personal perspective on events there. Here is a link to the 13-minute discussion. (On the link page click the play arrow in the black bar at the bottom.)