FEAR AND HOPE IN UKRAINE

We publish below the observations of Maksym Kazakov in Kyiv about the demonstrations in October against President Zelensky’s attempt to restart the peace process and bring the war in Eastern Ukraine to an end. Kazakov. Maksym is a historian and activist in Social Movement (Соціальний Рух) Translation by Marko Bojcun

President Zelensky visiting the war zone in Donbas, East Ukraine

8 October 2019

The most recent events in Ukraine leave us in fear and hope at the same time. The new authorities carry on the neoliberal reforms of their predecessor. We did not expect anything else from them because we read very carefully the programme of Zelensky and the Servant of the People party. However, in its foreign policy the government has seriously taken to a peaceful settlement, a matter that was put aside by Poroshenko in 2016. A peaceful settlement of the conflict in the Donbas is an incredibly difficult endeavour, for which there are not readily available recipes or answers.

The start of peace negotiations evoked mass protests under slogan of “No capitulation!” Those taking part can be divided into three groups:

  1. Veterans and volunteers of different political persuasions, people who personally put a lot of effort into the military front. They held the front but now they are worried that in the worst case scenario Ukraine could lose territory along the front that is still under its control and that those who openly deny Ukraine’s statehood will be legitimised.
  2. The ultra-right, for whom the war has become a step on the way to the pinnacle of political power, and for whom making peace will lead to a diminution of their strength and popularity.
  3. Poroshenko’s supporters, conservative right wing nationalists, who want a revanche by the previous president, even by way of a putsch. Petro Poroshenko himself demonstrates an unbelievably Machiavellian attitude. While he was president he signed the Minsk Accords, confirmed them at the international level, ushered the Law on Special Status of the Donbas through the Verkhovna Rada [parliament], but is now organising protests against the Minsk Accords and the Special Status.

Reintegrating the Donbas raises a host of questions which must be resolved in the coming months. Events could develop in all kinds of directions, from the actual return of the Donbas, the revival of production chains and healing of the social and political climate (the optimum) to a deep crisis and the start of a full blown civil war (the most pessimistic). Between these two poles there are quite a few variants, for example: a Transdsdnistrian kind of freezing of the conflict; drawn out negotiations for the whole period of Zelensky’s presidency; re-enforcing the blockade of those parts of the Donbas not under Ukrainian government control and Ukraine de-facto turning its back on them.


The likelihood of one of these scenarios becoming a reality depends on the positions and actions of different groups in Ukrainian society, though not only on them. In the conflict between the government and its opponents, we have not yet heard the voice of the left. But the start of a discussion on war and peace, which was silenced under Poroshenko, signals that times have changed and a window of opportunity is opening for a certain period of time for the left to return to the public arena.

14 October 2019

A big scandal erupted yesterday here in Kyiv. Prime Minister Honcharuk attended a concert organised by the C14 organisation and stood on the stage alongside the openly Hitlerite and neo-Nazi rock group Perun’s Axe. https://twitter.com/BcatMonitoring

Demonstration of the National Corpuse


Massive far right marches passed through Kyiv today to mark the day the Ukrainian Insurgent Army’s was founded [in 1942]. There were fears there might be an attempt at a nationalist putsch today, but in fact it has been relatively calm. Unfortunately, Honcharuk’s visit to C14 shows that the government has “calmed down” the far right not by way of restoring the state’s monopoly of the means of violence; the new authorities are assuming the sponsorship of the neo-fascists from the old one.

17 October 2019

14 October has passed. Several nationalist actions took place in Kyiv, but all of them ended practically without excesses. Beforehand there were fearful expectations – after all, the first actions “against capitulation” which occurred at the beginning of October provoked concern among many commentators that there might be an escalation in violence and a possible “putsch”. On the one hand, we can only be pleased that the domestic situation in the country has calmed down. On the other hand, its worth looking more closely at why these concerns were raised in the first place.

There are enough hotheads among Poroshenko’s sympathisers who are calling openly on Facebook and in the streets for an armed overthrow of Zelensky’s government. Of course Poroshenko and the decision makers who ally with him understand perfectly well the obstacles in the way of mounting a successful Maidan or the state’s overthrow:  first, support for the president by a considerable majority of the population, including the western regions; and second, an absence of support for the protesters from the leaders of the EU and USA.

  However, you can’t deny that that the “anti-Steinmeier” protests have achieved their purpose. Andriy Biletsky, leader of the National Corps, the most powerful of the far-right parties, came to Zolote (Luhansk oblast) together with his armed  associates on the eve of the planned withdrawal of armies [from the front line in the fighting in the Donbas]. Before that, the police tried to prevent Biletsky and Co. getting past the guard posts, but eventually let them through.  So the withdrawal of armies did not take place. Biletsky’s presence in Zolote was not the only factor that caused the withdrawal to be abandoned. Both sides continued to fire at each other. The Ukrainian government utilised this fact as the formal reason for postponing indefinitely the withdrawal of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

There was a growing fear that separatist forces might occupy the “grey zone” after a withdrawal. The local population is split between two strategies of survival: to remain there under cover of the Ukrainian army but also facing regular gunfire, or to get rid of the gunfire and then depend on the protection of the Ukrainian police, in whom there is very little trust in our country.  

The disruption of the planned separation of armies could have happened even without the ultra-rightists arriving on the scene (which happened more than once during 2016-2018). However, the behaviour of Biletsky and Co. showed that the new authorities, like the old, are not ready to confront the paramilitary structures directly, and that gives the paramilitaries the chance to dictate their own order of the day.
Biletsky, they say, is tied to Arsen Avakov who was at odds with Poroshenko and remained in place as minister of the interior under Zeloensky. Conspiratorial gossip circulates that the National Corps’ actions are agreed with Avakov and the Office of the President for the purpose of channelling the nationalist protest, to “let off the steam”. That is an oversimplification of the actual political scene. Wherever they be, the far right in Ukraine are subjects in and of themselves. In reality, the National Corps, because of its close contacts with Avakov, are more acceptable nationalists for Bankova St [where the President’s Administration is sitated] than is the Right Sector, which is clearly working for Poroshenko.

The National Corps has its own interests, logic and convictions. Continuing the war lies at the heart of them. The government does not have such warlike sentiments; peace would be good for it would improve its rating and it would stimulate the economy. Yet the peace process cannot be implemented by one side alone. All the parties involved have to conduct difficult negotiations, to take concrete, if initially small, steps and to seek agreement about the next ones. As for the sincerity of intent of all sides about their desire for peace, they remain deeply suspicious of each other.


We will try to reconstruct the logic of the Ukrainian government with the help of a cost-benefit analysis. The peace process promises something good only after it is completion, while concrete steps towards peace call forth here and now the active resistance of the ultra-right and the nationalists in a wider sense, which threatens to destabilise Ukraine internally. The Ukrainian government is not especially sure that the Russian government and the separatists will take steps to meet it halfway and that the peace process is being implemented on terms that are acceptable to Ukraine. In that kind of situation the Ukrainian government would be more rational in choosing not “a crane in the sky”, that is a long, contradictory, wasteful and uncertain peace process with lots of risks and traps, but “a tit in the hand”, that is the absence of confrontation with the far right and Poroshenko’s internet bots. There’s nothing new in this, for Poroshenko himself went through the same kind of process in 2015-15.  

As for mass sentiments, the results of a sociological survey were published at the beginning of October.

http://ratinggroup.ua/research/ukraine/otnoshenie_ukraincev_k_resheniyu_voprosa_okkupirovannyh_territoriy.html

What do we see there? Society is highly polarised on the question of war and peace. There is a clear regional divide: there are more adherents to variants of peace in the south and east than there are in the centre and west. Some critically important initiatives needed for a peaceful settlement, like an amnesty for members of illegal armed formations, face more opposition than enjoy support across the whole country. The average citizen doesn’t understand some things – 60% of survey respondents could not say what their position was towards the Steinmeier formula.

  At the same time we must remember that we are getting such results in the conditions of propaganda put out by the mass media, which are reproducing the nationalist narrative: that is, Russians are fighting against Ukraine in the Donbas, its not the Armed Forces of Ukraine who are firing on the population centres of the ORDLO [Separate Districts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts, currently under control of the separatists], but Russians for the sake of “provocation”. If the new government authority deliberately conducted a different information campaign there would be more supporters of a peaceful settlement.  

The most recent events have shown that the existing civil society is nationalist and mainly in support of the policy of “war until final victory” (collapse of the Russian Federation or the start of World War Three). The majority of citizens, on the other hand, are opposed to a military solution to the conflict, but they are a “silent majority” who have practically no civil society structures of their own or mass media to communicate their position. In such circumstances the authorities will shift their positions in the direction of the nationalists’ demands. One of the essential tasks of Ukrainian leftists in the coming years is to build a parallel non-nationalist civil society.

There needs to be more than just steps taken by the Ukrainian side for there to be peace in the Donbas. However, peace in the Donbas is impossible without steps being taken by the Ukrainian side. No central authority will take steps such as withdrawal of armies, changing linguistic and historical policies, or the restoration of state social benefits for the ORDLO residents if it remains alone with the nationalists of all stripes in the political arena between elections.

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