This is worth stating, not to minimise the tragedy, but to expose much of the western response to this event. Contrast this with what happened in the same region just a few months ago when a right wing Ukrainian mob attacked a trade union centre with firebombs burning to death more than 60 ethnic Russians trapped inside. The incident hardly registered in the western media or with western governments. Nor was the Ukrainian government’s responsibility for the incident exposed. Western governments, rather than contributing to a genuine peace process are actively supporting the Ukrainian government in its conflict with predominantly Russian areas of the country; their efforts enthusiastically supported most of the western media.
It is worth recalling how we got here. In February the elected President Vicktor Yanukovych was overthrown in a coup which causing alarm in Moscow and among the predominately Russian population in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Russia believed its security was being seriously undermined and responded by annexing Crimea and giving support to the eastern provinces. In these provinces ethnic Russians felt increasingly threatened by events in Kiev and the rise of an overtly Ukrainian anti-Russian nationalist movement; often with strong fascist undertones. Their response varied from demands for autonomy to splitting with Ukraine and joining Russia. Several hundred thousands have fled across the border while pro-Russian militias seized control of key areas. The response from Kiev has been to launch a major military offensive against the rebels with the bombing of civilian areas, large numbers of fatalities and the fleeing of entire communities. Much has been made of Moscow’s role in the conflict with the assertion that they are directing operations. This is far from the truth.
The reality is that there is a great deal of mutual suspicion between the rebels and Moscow; the rebels fearful that Moscow will sell them out in an negotiated settlement that trades international acceptance of Moscow’s annexation of Crimea with abandoning east Ukrainian Russians to their fate. Moscow fears that the actions of the rebels will scupper such an international settlement. Supported by western governments the Kiev government has adopted a belligerent approach launching a major military offensive against the East. Thousands have died or been injured while hundreds of thousands have been turned into refugees. In part this has been driven by the need to placate right wing Ukrainian nationalist forces in Kiev and a belief that there are limits to what Moscow is prepared to do in defence of Ukrainian Russians. If there is to be a political solution to this crisis; the end game must be the creation of a federal structure within the country that recognises the rights and concerns of minorities and moves the country away from an agenda driven by competing nationalities.While seeking to strengthen Ukrainian sovereignty it needs to recognise that this sovereignty impacts of the security concerns of Russia; irrespective of the nature of the regime in Moscow.
Above all else a recognition that much of the crisis in post-Soviet Ukraine is driven by a social and economic crisis which has driven millions to look for ethnic and nationalist solutions to their problems instead of laying blame where it belongs; the complete failure of post-independence capitalism. This has produced a society characterised by poverty, inequality, collapsed social services, corruption and the destruction of state institutions. It has created an environment where national and ethnic divisions have festered driven by reactionary nationalist movements and an international situation where western and Russian strategic interests are clashing. Resolving these social and economic issues and by extension challenging the failed Ukrainian capitalist state is central to any long term solution.