Rebellion in Eastern Ukraine: Separatism or Self-Determination?
Russian political economist Aleksandr Buzgalin discusses the situation in Ukraine after the ceasefire ends and Kiev launches an offensive in the eastern regions
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
The Kiev government in Ukraine has launched air strikes and artillery attacks in the eastern regions after President Petro Poroshenko said he will not renew the ceasefire with the rebel groups. The ceasefire had lasted for over a week but did not bring a pause to violence between Kiev and rebel fighters. Meanwhile, Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin have blamed each other for the continued violence.
Joining us now to discuss this is Aleksandr Buzgalin. Aleksandr is a professor of political economy at Moscow State University. He’s also editor of the independent democratic left magazine Alternatives and is a coordinator of the Russian social movement Alternatives.
Thanks for joining us, Aleksandr.
ALEKSANDR BUZGALIN, PROF. POLITICAL ECONOMY, MOSCOW STATE UNIV.: Thank you, I’m glad to see you and I’m very glad to participate in this discussion.
WORONCZUK: So can you give us an update on the fighting that’s taking place in East Ukraine now after the ceasefire has not been renewed? In what cities is the fighting mostly concentrated?
BUZGALIN: So it’s again nearly in all regions of Donetsk and Lugansk republics. We have new attacks of Ukrainian army. It was attacks organized by [incompr.] of tanks, artillery, airplanes, military airplanes, and so on. And it’s not far from Donetsk, [50?] kilometers from Donetsk–again, Lugansk, Sloviansk (or /ˈslavɨnsk/, as they prefer to say) and nearly all regions. It was also tank battle, because now Donetsk and Lugansk army has three or four tanks, which they, I can say, expropriated from Ukrainian Army and partly restorated two very old tanks from the 1960s, which they had in their territory. But it’s not Russian tanks, as it was said in many news, in many mass media.
So it’s again victims. I don’t have now exact information, but at least ten persons were wounded, and I think there’ll be people who are killed, because when you shoot from heavy artillery, regions in the towns, in the cities, are destroying and citizens are killing.
By the way, now it’s a very difficult situation in many towns where there is no food and water. So it can’t be [still?] catastrophe in a few days if it will be not again peaceful agreement between Donetsk and Lugansk from one hand and Kiev government from another hand.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And The Real News has received some criticism from some viewers for characterizing the rebellion in the East as separatist and that we instead should be labeling the movements as pro-autonomous, that is, in favor of federalization in Eastern and Southern Ukraine. What’s your response?
BUZGALIN: It’s long story. First of all, we must be very careful with words. If I say that Baltic republics were separatists in 1991 when they said, we don’t want to be part of the Soviet Union, and they were supported by all democratic forces in the West, in the United States, in Europe, and so on, can we say or could we say that Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia were supporters of separatism because they wanted not to be part of the Soviet Union further? And it was before collapse of the Soviet Union, by the way. No. We must say that they wanted to have self-determination, they wanted to have their state, and they had the historical backgrounds for this.
The same for former eastern regions of Ukraine. Half [an era?] ago it was territory of Russia, and majority of population are Russian-speaking people. In the beginning, during first months of the conflict, they were supporting program of autonomization and federalism. But Kiev authorities did not accept their proposals.
Then it was escalation of their war. I can say and I must say it is real civil war. And when Kiev government decided to use heavy weapons, airplanes, artillery, tanks against population of these regions, they said, we do not want to have such government, we don’t want to have only Ukrainian language as a state language, we don’t want to have elections where we cannot represent our candidates for presidential elections, for parliamentary elections, and so on and so far. And, finally, we don’t want to have pro-fascist, semi-fascist, and directly fascist Bandera forces who are shooting and killing our friends, our families, our children, our grandsons and granddaughters, our grandfathers and grandmothers. So it was escalation of violence.
And now they want to have their separate state, which can have and want to have peaceful cooperation, trade, cultural–good cultural [incompr.] both with Ukraine and Russia, with West and East. They are more intent on Russia, because Russia is more sympathetic for them from a cultural point of view and they simply hate now Kiev government because they’re killing them. And also they want to have a new state with a new program, and a few days ago really seemed to draft variant of such program where they said that third goal of their republics will be restoration of houses, compensation for all who–which houses and flats, apartments were destroyed, compensation for these families, restoration and rebirth of education, health care, social justice, growth of social spendings, decline from payments for gas, electricity, heat, and all other tariffs, plus nationalization of oligarch companies if their owners will not support their state, and support of small and midsize business, support of industry and agriculture, for a real growth of production, because they have very good potential. This is wonderful–they have wonderful land, so they have old but still working heavy industry. And they can produce a lot of useful commodities for both Russia, Ukraine, and other countries.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And off-camera you were telling me that you had met with a rebel group in Ukraine near the border with Hungary. Can you tell us about them, tell us about what they are demanding?
BUZGALIN: Yes. Alternatives had seminar where they had representatives from Ukrainian, I can say, underground political forces, because all people who are not supporting Kiev government are now are under the pressure. They are arrested, beaten, and can be killed. So one of such persons, leader of so-called People’s Front of New Russia from Kharkiv, he immigrated now to Moscow because he was arrested for one month and he described terrible, absolutely terrible conditions when he was in prison in Ukraine. And he is just a normal deputy of the parliament who was arrested for nothing.
So we also had leader of [incompr.] Carpathia region Rusyn. This is people who are living in the border with Hungary. And this region has both Hungarian population and Russian population, plus Ukrainian Jews, Ukrainians, Jews, and so on. But 70 percent are Russian-speaking people in spite of the fact that they are in the West of Ukraine. And they also want to have their independent state as minimum autonomy. And they are living in the mountains. They said that if any military force will be used against them, they will close–how say?–trips, roads in the mountains. And plus they said that Hungary said that this country will support them even by military forces if Ukrainian government will attack them. So this is also reality.
And a lot of Hungarian people, Romanian people are also not satisfied with the behavior of Kiev of government, and especially semi-fascists. But there are forces who are not only nationalist, but who are in many–pro-Bandera forces; I am sorry–who are in many aspects direct fascists. Of course, not majority of Ukrainians support this far-right pro-fascist or semi-fascist forces; only a few percent. But the problem is that Kiev government uses this right sector and the pro-Bandera forces as, I can say, military piece, which is shooting, which is killing. And people are simply afraid that it will be continuation of such policy, after which real fascists will come instead of Poroshenko.
WORONCZUK: Okay. Aleksandr Buzgalin, political economist at Moscow State University. Thanks for joining us.
BUZGALIN: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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