Alex Foti on Mon, 5 May 2014 13:31:33 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> putin, the odessa lynching, and the left

dear net-timers,

sorry for writing again so soon. I'm doing so because I wrote my post on
mayday 2014 several hours before almost 50 people were burned to death in
Odessa during the siege of the Trade Unions Building by pro-Ukraine soccer
hooligans and Right Sector thugs eager to settle scores with pro-Russia
protesters (a minority, apparently, unlike the regions in the East of the
country). The symbolism (torching a union building!) and the atrocious
determination to burn political opponents at the stake has deeply troubled

This event was a shocking development in what could be the point of no
return for civil war in Ukraine, with the US (and more reluctantly) the EU
arming and funding the post-euromaidan ukrainian government, and Russia
intensifying its destabilization of the country by sending special security
forces to enforce the de facto secession of the east, after the annexation
of Crimea.

I've been suprised by the extent of the support Putin and his recent
actions enjoy among the Italian left, and indeed in the euroleft in general
(although few would go to the lengths of Schroeder or Berlusconi in their
unconditional love for Russia's strong man since year 2000). Since the war
in Georgia (but one could add the cyberwar with Estonia), I've had no
illusions about the revanchist nature of the Putin regime. Also, as a
supporter of Pussy Riot (and Femen) I've always found the homophobic and
nationalist authoritarianism of Putin and his clique of cekists something
to be strongly opposed.

The fact is that many Western European leftists (North Americans seem more
muted in this respect; I wonder about the Latin American left) harbor a
nostalgia for the USSR and an a priori distrust of the USA (the imperialist
power). Putin seems to vindicate the 20th-century defeat of actual
communism, when the red flag covered half of Europe, most of Asia, and
several African countries before the Soviet Union was militarily outspent
by the US in the 1980s. Too many see Putin's Russia as a bulwark against
western imperialism, nato expansionism etc. It was incredible to read how
many approved of Crimea's anschluss right after the Sochi Olympic games
(Putin is no Hitler, but the nazi chief waited for two years after the
Berlin games before annexing Austria, not two weeks!). Somewhat
incongruously, they argue Crimea had been Russian all along (the Ottomans
notwithstanding), in spite of the fact that is was a communist party
secretary, Krushev, who had given it to Ukraine after Stalin's death. For
the upcoming EU elections, the Italian left rallies around slogan: for
another europe, vote tsipras - one lefty retorted on twitter: for another
europe, vote putin.

After Crimea, Putin has seized many cities in the east, prompting an
ill-advised military reaction by the Kiev government, which has exposed how
weak it is on the ground outside the capital. It was in this context that
the unforgivable mass lynching of Odessa took place. This once Jewish city
is a major port on the Black Sea for all sorts of legal and illegal
traffic. After the loss of Sevastopol to the Russians, losing Odessa would
mean for Ukraine to turn into a rump state with no economy. Friday's
horrific events and their aftermath have shown that the real front is
Odessa rather than Slavyansk or Donetsk.

The situation reminds me of the early stages of the Yugoslav war. As ethnic
rivalries and secessionism in contended areas increase, political
polarization occurs, favoring the right-wing faction of either antagonist.
Although parallelisms are always imperfect and prone to manipulation, I'd
say that Putin is the equivalent of Milosevic, whose actions in Krajna and
Vukovar, managed to reawaken the ustasha ghosts and put Tudjman in power in
Croatia, who would fight to the end against the rival nationalism. Odessa
is a bit like Sarajevo: cosmopolitan, it would hate to be dragged into war,
but it is the focus of civil war for this very reason - because you have to
choose which side you are on: with JNA and Mladic on the hills with snipers
and artillery, or with the bastard people of Sarajevo who, like assimilated
Jews, thought they had no religion until people started to assassinate them
because they were "muslims". Likewise, the euromaidan protesters who were
mostly middle-class and pro-EU (like otpor) have been sidelined by
ultranationalist and neonazi organizations (descendants of those who were
not only genocidal collaborators of the nazis, but also engaged in the
ethnic cleansing of Vohlinya and Galicia targeting the Polish population).
In a civil war, those who are militarily able and ready to fight inevitably
prevail on more moderate elements that push for a political compromise.

So how should the left react to the escalation of events in Eastern Europe?
In fact, Putin is no communist. His project is russian, nationalist,
eurasian expansionism (like Peter and Catherine the Great) not
international anti-imperialism. Unlike Stalin, who never questioned the
post-WWII status quo, Putin is geopolitically aggressive. I'd argue that
the only tenable position from the point of view of radical democracy is to
oppose all authoritarian governments, particularly those bent on external
aggression (bushism fits the bill - but it was voted out of power, to me
proof that the US is no dictatorship). I'd go as far as arguing that by
appeasing Russia over Syria, Obama has given Putin the idea that he can
invade as much as he wants. Transnistria is already his. Belarus could
easily be. Russian minorities are strong in Latvia and Kazakhstan, and
Putin has given them citizenship, and thus an excuse to intervene, should
something happen to them. Nobody will intervene on the side of the Crimean
Tatars (the veritable historical heirs of the peninsula) who have seen
their lot worsen considerably under new Russian management.

What will happen now? It's by now clear that the May 25 elections in
Ukraine won't be decisive in any meaningful sense - the vote will be an
ethnic referendum, not a veritable democratic vote: the west will vote for
Kiev, and the east will vote for Moscow. And Odessa would split in two.
Much depends on Germany's stance. The US are not spoiling for a fight. They
have already said sanctions is all they will do. Is a proxy war fought by
NATO and Russia on Ukrainian soil about to occur? The ominous crime
committed in Odessa on May 2 makes it more likely.

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