On 20 June Petro Poroshenko, the recently elected President of Ukraine, announced a 15-point peace plan.
This included a seven-day ceasefire in the fighting in the south-east of the country, subsequently extended for another three days.
On Monday 30 June Poroshenko called off the ceasefire. In the course of this ceasefire separatists had carried out 108 attacks, killing 27 Ukrainian soldiers and wounding another 69.
It seems that Poroshenko had hoped that the European Union would pressurise Putin into pressuring the more politically-minded elements amongst the separatists into pressurising the armed factions to agree to a real ceasefire.
But the EU is still mulling over whether to introduce sanctions against Russian businesses. A Ukraine weakened by internal conflicts suits Putin’s political goals. And it is far from clear whether the armed separatists would take their lead from the “political wing” of the separatist project.
(Tsaryov and DPR “Prime Minister” Borodai took part in “consultative” talks in the first week of the ceasefire. But for the likes of Gubarev, Strelkov and Bolotov, the conflict is primarily a military one. And DPR “head of government” Pushilin has been sidelined, at least for the time being.)
Although Poroshenko has left the door open to a restoration of the ceasefire, his stated goal is to defeat the armed separatists in a military conflict. But, thanks to imports from Russia, the separatists are well armed and well organised. And they are based in centres of population.
Large-scale use of heavy artillery, which is what the Ukrainian forces appear to be relying on, will cause civilian casualties and fatalities and the destruction of civilian infrastructures (and has already done so).
The separatists will exploit such death and destruction in order to step up their propaganda about the “fascist” government in Kiev and their calls for Russia to send in a “peacekeeping” force.
So too will all the other forces of reaction which have adopte’ south-east Ukraine as their political cause of the day: Russian White-imperialists, Russian ultra-nationalists, Eurasians, Stalinist nostalgics, and Russian-Orthodox fundamentalists.
As a result, issues which could unite workers throughout Ukraine — falling living standards, growing inequality, corruption, deteriorating social services — will continue to be sidelined, along with the voices of those socialists who could present a political alternative to the descent into a prolonged and bloody military conflict
During the initial seven-day ceasefire separatists shot down a Ukrainian helicopter, periodically bombarded Kramatorsk and Donetsk airports, launched a series of attacks on roadblocks manned by Ukrainian troops, and seized the National Guard barracks in Donetsk.
During the early part of the ceasefire the separatists issued statements claiming that their military actions were in response to Ukrainian aggression. By the end of the ceasefire the separatists’ statements simply cited their activities as examples of their supposed military prowess.
In addition, there was the usual daily diet of apparently random killings, railway lines being blown up, abductions of newspaper editors and others, stolen cars, plundered shops, and miscellaneous occupations of buildings and workplaces.
Just two hours before the expiry of the seven-day ceasefire, Strelkov (the Russian commander of the separatist forces) issued a statement rejecting an extension of the ceasefire: “We will not observe a ceasefire under such conditions.” (Strelkov wants the complete withdrawal of all Ukrainian forces from the south-east.)
At the same time Gubarev (self-proclaimed “people’s governor” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”) issued a statement of his own, rejecting any further talks on the grounds that they would be “pointless”. The Donbas, he wrote, “is the heart of Russia! Thus it was, thus it must be, and thus it will be.”
On the “political front”, the separatists were no less active during the initial ceasefire (which Poroshenko had linked to proposals for: separatists to lay down their arms; Russian fighters to return to Russia; local militia to be amnestied; government powers to be decentralised).
The “Supreme Soviet of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR)” and the “Supreme Soviet of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR)” both voted unanimously to create a “Union of People’s Republics” (UPR).
The UPR’s initial affiliates are the DPR and the LPR, but membership has been declared open to the (six) other Ukrainian regions which constituted historical “Novorossiya”.
Two days later, the first meeting of the Parliament of the UPR — 30 delegates from the DPR, and 30 from the LPR — unanimously elected Oleg Tsaryov (former businessman and former Ukrainian MP for the Party of the Regions) as President.
(Not that any members of these “Soviets” and “Parliament” had actually been elected by anybody. And to add a further layer of confusion: the proclamation of the UPR contradicted the proclamation by DPR and LPR leaders in mid-May of the creation of a new and unified state of Novorossiya.)
Halfway through the ceasefire the DPR and the LPR proudly announced that their sovereignty had been officially recognised by South Ossetia (whose own “sovereignty” is devoid of international recognition).
The DPR also announced no less proudly that it had created its own KGB and a “Mobilising Department” within its “Ministry of Defence”, in order to recruit more people into its armed forces and promote a more patriotic education amongst the local population.
The LPR had no need to resurrect the KGB. In mid-June it had already announced the creation of “Smersh” (Russian shorthand for: Death to Spies), the name of the counter-espionage organisation created by Stalin in 1943.
On the ideological/propaganda front, the separatist leaders continued throughout the ceasefire to try to build a popular base of support through a combination of political absurdities and political reaction.
Phosphorous bombs and poison gas, they claimed, had been used by the Ukrainian military. Concentration camps were being planned. 250,000 inhabitants of western Ukraine were to be re-settled in the south-east. And the proposed creation of a buffer zone with Russia would result in five million people being driven out of their homes. (1)
Just one day after the start of the ceasefire DPR/LPR leaders issued statements calling for Russian intervention on the basis that:
“What real genocide means is now visible – the elimination of a people because of its ethnicity… In Ukraine the Banderite authorities are striving to resurrect fascism in Europe. Ukrainian Nazis have promised to wipe us from the face of the earth. … In such a Nazi Ukraine we cannot live any longer.” (2)
At a DPR rally held in Donetsk on 22 June — mostly attended by “pensioners, neo-Stalinists, and Russian chauvinists and nationalists”, according to one local report – the crowd chanted: “Russia! Russia! Death to the Nazi Occupiers! Victory Will be Ours! Let us Fertilise Our Land with the Corpses of the Ukrainian-Fascist Occupiers!” (3)
Speaking at the same rally, Gubarev claimed: “They (the militia) are ready to take up weapons and go to their deaths for the freedom of our land from fascism, which has again raised its head.” (3)
Alongside the theme of Kiev fascism and genocide ran the historical revisionism that Ukraine was a fiction:
“There is no Ukraine. It is a soap bubble, thought up so that Slavs fight against one another. Ukraine has burst, it does not exist, because something created artificially cannot exist for long. But we remember our history, handed down to us from our ancestors in our genes.” (4)
The ceasefire also saw ongoing attempts to rally support on the basis of anti-gay bigotry — for the pro-Russia separatists, legal protection for gay rights in the EU is “proof” that Ukraine should not join the EU — and a ramping up of attempts to equate the separatists’ cause with defence of the Russian-Orthodox Church
Under the headline “In Ukraine the Sodomite Anti-Russian Gay Parade ‘Kiev-Pride 2014’ Will Be Taking Place” the ideologists of the DPR/LPR explained the linkage between homosexuality and (Ukrainian) fascism:
“The anti-Russian Sodomite parade is a natural continuation of the major anti-Russian campaign launched this week by the US President Joe Biden. Many people in Russia still do not know that homosexuality and fascism are related phenomena. …”
“The civil chaos underway in Ukraine in recent months clearly demonstrates that fascism and sexual perversions are based on the same values and are of the same pathological nature. The phenomenon of Euro-gay-fascism has deep roots in the ritualistic sodomy of the German SS. …” (5)
Or, as an article on another pro-separatist website put it more bluntly: “As if the one thing the leaders of the genocide need is the support of homosexuals — the sick will cure the sick! Our traditions allow such ‘people’ to be sent to Siberia, to work on the virgin lands!” (6)
More noteworthy than this deranged but “opportunistic” attack on Kiev-Pride 2014 was the equating of the pro-Russian separatism with a “holy war” in defence of Russian-Orthodoxy.
According to the LPR “Minister of Education”, Lesya Laptevya, speaking at a rally in Lugansk last Sunday:
“This war which has come into our home is also cultural and religious. The lords in Kiev have declared today that they want to transform the Russian Orthodox Church into the (Ukrainian Catholic) Uniate Church and subordinate it to the Vatican. They don’t just want to take our land from us but our religious faith as well.” (7)
The same day armed separatists explained in a widely posted recruitment video clip: “This war is a religious war. For Banderist money, agents of the Vatican, splitters, heretics fight against us, all of them traitors to Christ. And that’s why this war is a religious one.” (8)
In the separatists’ stronghold of Slaviansk, three flags now fly above the occupied regional administration offices and on roadblocks around the town: the flag of the DPR, the Stalinist “Victory Flag” (commemorating the victory of 1945) and the “Flag of Faith”. (9)
The latter dates from the seventeenth century and portrays the face of Christ. The full version of the flag carries the slogan: “For Our Faith. For the Tsar. For Holy Triune Rus.” ((10) Triune Rus refers to three parts of Russia (Great, Little and White) being united in a single Rus.)
Whatever backroom deals and double-dealing may be in the process of being cooked up behind closed doors, in the south-east of Ukraine it is people who live some four centuries in the past who are now setting the pace.
9. See 1.32, 2.30 and 3.13 at: http://rusvesna.su/news/1404078960
10. For pictures of the full version of the flag being paraded through Slaviansk by Strelkov, see: http://www.unian.net/politics/934240-strelok-s-terroristami-proshli-po-…