The facts about Ukraine that no one mentioned during the impeachment trial
Volunteers with the right-wing paramilitary Azov National Corps stand to attention during a march in Kiev less than a month before Ukraine's presidential vote, March 2, 2019. | Efrem Lukatsky / AP

As the Senate impeachment trial comes to its preordained conclusion, we need to keep a number of points in mind that no Democrat or Republican has been talking about during all these weeks and months of political drama—points related to the matter of Ukraine.

The overwhelming majority of Americans would not question the competence, honesty, and dedication of the witnesses who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee during its public hearings in November. Every person who testified demonstrated their intelligence and love of country. Only the president, his subordinates, and strongest supporters questioned their sincerity and motives. There is no question that the State Department and other agencies of our government are staffed with first-rate people.

When Trump ordered military aid withheld from Ukraine in exchange for a personal political favor, many public servants spoke out. We should not, however, lose sight of the forest for all the trees. The fact that any of these alleged actions by Trump took place is only possible due to the unique nexus of power relationships among Ukraine, Russia, and the United States.

These relationships, as they currently exist, are largely a result of United States foreign policy since World War II, particularly in the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European socialist countries. There are a number of important facts that can help clarify the issues surrounding the whole affair of supplying arms to Ukraine and keep everything in perspective.

It is generally agreed by scholars and experts that the United States followed a policy during the Cold War whose goal was the containment and ultimate destruction of the USSR. Toward that end, the administration of Harry Truman and those that followed it created NATO and set up a bulwark of military installations that ringed the socialist world.

When the Soviet Union and its socialist allies collapsed in 1989-91, there was a rush by the capitalist powers and their henchmen within those countries to privatize the assets created by the working class and the peasants—primarily the industrial, financial, transportation, and agricultural sectors. One can only call it theft, and as the old expression goes, there’s no honor among thieves.

As a result, we saw the rise of Russian “oligarchs,” an explosion of corruption, and the creation of companies such as Burisma—the Ukrainian gas company at the center of Trump’s allegations against the Bidens and which he wanted President Zelensky to investigate. No one, it is believed, paid one kopeck to the former owners of these enterprises (the working class or the peasants of the Soviet Union).

The Ukrainian economy faced many problems during Soviet times. Much of the fighting along the Eastern Front during World War II took place on Ukrainian soil. The destructive occupation of much of Ukraine by Hitler’s troops had a devastating effect on the country. In addition, there were other negative factors that inhibited economic development—from poorly managed agricultural production in what has been known as the Soviet “breadbasket” to stagnation of the overall economy in later years.

There is no doubt, however, that Ukraine after World War II experienced sustained growth and development. Despite its problems, food and industrial production increased significantly.

After 1991, the new post-Soviet economy experienced major shocks. At times there was growth, at others significant contraction and dislocation. It got to the point that scholars concluded that by 2014, Ukraine was “virtually bankrupt, running wide external deficits and struggling to cover state wages….” The International Monetary Fund provided a “financial lifeline” to the tune of $17.1 billion.

There is much evidence, however, to show that the quality of life for the average Ukrainian declined in many ways after the end of the USSR. According to a study by the AFL-CIO, “Ukraine is a country with great potential wealth. Yet workers and their families struggle to get by. Progress is particularly impeded by corruption and inequality, and freedom of association is under assault: Employers and government officials illegally harass and threaten active unions and other democratic worker rights defenders.”

This anti-worker attitude by the Ukrainian government is common among the ruling elites in the former socialist countries. In Ukraine, however, the situation is compounded by the fact that the government is heavily influenced by the growth of fascist and neo-Nazi forces. When German forces invaded Ukraine in 1941, groups and leaders who hated the socialist government collaborated with the invaders and worked with their German overlords. When the Soviet Union liberated the country these elements were eliminated, though not completely. Some scattered groups remained isolated and quiescent.

With the end of the USSR, these forces took advantage of conditions and became part of the new anti-communist order. They gained new life and influence and worked to reverse all aspects of the socialist system. Ultra-nationalist and fascist leaders were elected to Ukraine’s parliament, gained a foothold in the military, and became a major influence in the local police. Neo-Nazi gangs roamed the country, incited violence, and fanned the flames of anti-Semitism.

One result of the rise of these forces was a court order in 2015 that banned the Communist Party of Ukraine. In the years since, the party has undertaken a heroic struggle to regain full legal status and to advance the interests of the workers and peasantry. It seeks to end the corrupt political and economic system that dominates their country while working with communist parties and progressive groups across the former USSR to restore peaceful relations across borders.

Foremost in Ukraine, this means ending the war with Russia. This is not the place to analyze the causes and course of the fighting; what is important to note is that such a conflict was unthinkable during the days of the USSR. Then, the Soviet peoples lived in peace, with the overwhelming majority dedicated to building socialism and fostering respect among the more than 100 national groups in the country.

Part of the problem today with relations between Ukraine and Russia is the fact that Ukraine has been sucked into the capitalist system and become part of the imperialist order. Its leaders are willing to work with the most reactionary elements of U.S. imperialism. Hence, it is no surprise that we see the president of the United States making telephone calls to the president of Ukraine about weapons. But on July 25, President Trump crossed a line that even some elements of the capitalist class could not accept.

Overall, right-wing forces in the United States are pursuing a goal to weaken and isolate Russia, and they are using Ukraine as a pawn in their game. Rarely mentioned, but still very much on the agenda of the U.S. government is to bring Ukraine into NATO. One need look no further than the NATO website to see confirmation of this: “In June 2017, the Ukrainian Parliament adopted legislation reinstating membership in NATO as a strategic foreign and security policy objective. President Volodymyr Zelensky has underlined his eagerness to give new impetus to his country’s engagement with NATO.”

Therefore, as we watch the impeachment trial come to a close, it’s important to keep in mind that there are important considerations about Ukraine that neither side—not the president’s accusers nor his defenders—have mentioned. It is up to progressive forces to bring them into the light of day.


David Cavendish
David Cavendish

David Cavendish is a retired teacher, active in the union movement, the peace movement (many years in an anti-Iraq/Afghanistan War vigil), and other progressive political activities. He is a longtime contributor to People’s World. David Cavendish es un maestro jubilado, activo en el movimiento sindical, el movimiento por la paz y otras actividades políticas progresistas. Colabora desde hace mucho tiempo en People’s World.