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Issue #1641      June 4, 2014

Union condemns US role in Ukraine

The three top officers of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) issued a statement on May 27 condemning the actions of the current coup government in power in Kiev and the role of the United States and its Western allies in fuelling the crisis in that nation. The full text of the statement follows:

On February 22, the elected president of Ukraine was overthrown in a coup which was supported by the Obama administration. Since then, the country has been torn apart and violence has escalated. On May 2, in the southern city of Odessa, supporters of the new unelected Kiev government, including members of the violent extremist Right Sector party, surrounded peaceful, unarmed anti-government protestors who had taken refuge in the city’s main union hall. The right-wing crowd then set the union hall on fire, and 46 people died by being burned alive or jumping to their deaths trying to escape.

A protester throws a petrol bomb at the trade union building in Odessa.

We are troubled by this horrific atrocity, and by the fact that mass murder was committed by burning a union hall. We are concerned about the conflict in Ukraine, by the massing of Russian troops near Ukraine’s eastern border and US and NATO troops and planes in neighbouring Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which signal the return of the Cold War and the threat of a much hotter war.

A defining period in the history of UE was our union’s courageous opposition to the Cold War. At the end of World War II there was great hope among union members and other Americans for a continuation of President FDR’s New Deal, with progressive social and economic policies including national healthcare, expanded Social Security, and progress against racial discrimination in employment. What we got instead was the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act and the Cold War. Military spending, including the nuclear arms race, continued to trump all other priorities.

Local conflicts all over the world were treated as global showdowns between the US and the USSR In the name of “fighting communism,” the US sided with the French and British colonial empires against independence movements, and backed many brutal dictators against their own people. The 40-year-long Cold War included some very hot wars – notably Korea and Vietnam. The CIA organised coups that overthrew democratic governments that dared to disagree with the US government or corporations. On the domestic front, the Cold War was a massive attack on civil liberties and an effort to wipe out organisations, including UE that refused to enlist in the Cold War.

UE said the US government should direct its resources toward making life better for its own people. UE favoured negotiations to resolve differences between the US and the Soviets, and to end conflicts such as Vietnam. UE said the arms race robbed human needs on both sides of the Cold War divide. As UE president Albert Fitzgerald often said, “You can’t have guns and butter.”

The Cold War supposedly ended with 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, which had been composed of the USSR and its Eastern European allies. A key event was the 1990 agreement between the US, West Germany and the Soviet Union allowing the reunification of Germany. In those negotiations, President George HW Bush promised Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev that NATO – the US-led anti-Soviet military alliance – would not expand any further east than Germany.

Yet despite that promise, and despite Russia and its former allies no longer having communist governments, NATO has moved steadily eastward toward Russia. NATO now includes the former socialist states of Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as three former republics of the USSR which border Russia – Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. Two more former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Georgia, have been promised eventual NATO membership. NATO is now clearly an alliance against Russia, sitting on Russia’s doorstep.

In late 2013 the US began expressing hostility toward Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and sympathy with the often violent anti-government protestors in Kiev. Yanukovych was not an exemplary leader – we now know that he’d been feathering his own nest – but he was elected in a fair election, and the US supports many governments that are more corrupt and undemocratic than his.

What made Yanukovych a target for regime change was his decision in November to reject harsh loan terms from the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) – including the kind of pension cuts and austerity that have driven Greece into poverty. Yanukovych instead accepted a more favourable offer of economic aid from Russia. His proposal that Ukraine have good economic relations with both Russia and the EU was rejected by the EU and the US, which wanted a Ukrainian government hostile to Russia.

US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland met in December 2013 with Oleh Tyahnybok, head of the far-right Svoboda Party. In a 2012 resolution, the European Parliament had called Svoboda “racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic” and appealed to democratic parties in Ukraine “not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with this party. In May 2013 the World Jewish Congress labelled Svoboda “neo-Nazi” and called for the party to be banned. Svoboda leader Tyahnybok has called for ridding Ukraine of the influence of “the Moscow-Jewish mafia”. Svoboda is also anti-gay, anti-black, and hostile to equal rights for women.

But since the overthrow of Yanukovych, Svoboda holds four cabinet ministries in Ukraine’s “provisional government” (including deputy prime minister.) In a February 4 conversation caught on tape, Nuland and the US ambassador to Kiev discussed who would get which positions in the new government, including cabinet seats for Svoboda.

In Europe since the end of World War II, there has been a political taboo against allowing fascist and neo-Nazi parties into any government. The Obama administration has now broken that taboo and allied our country with fascists in Ukraine. According to German media reports, about 400 elite mercenaries from the notorious US private security firm Academi (formerly Blackwater) are taking part in Ukrainian military operations against anti-government protesters in south-eastern Ukraine.

News that Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden has joined the board of directors of Ukraine’s largest private gas company adds the element of conflict of interest. Obama’s policies toward Ukraine and Russia have significantly increased the chances of military confrontation between the US and Russia, the world’s two nuclear superpowers. This threatens world peace.

We reaffirm UE’s historic position. We favour peace and friendly, equitable economic relations between nations. We favour negotiations rather than military confrontation to resolve disputes, including this one. We believe the countries that defeated Nazism in World War II, including the US and Russia, should work together against any resurgence of racism, anti-Semitism and fascism in Europe.

People’s World

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