The Monster, Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley.
When marines from Russia’s Black Sea fleet removed their insignia and began to besiege Crimean military barracks loyal to Kiev, international condemnation quickly followed. John Kerry, William Hague and Catherine Ashton fronted the parade of press conferences, tweets and hurried statements, all making it clear that ‘the West’ is not prepared to let Russian annexation go unanswered.
They spoke of ‘territorial integrity’ and how the unilateral redrawing of a nation’s borders was ‘a 19th century approach’ in a 21st century world. Fine sentiments all, and they may have had some meaning had they not been hollowed by the hypocrisy of the still flaming wreckage of Libya or the drone impact craters of Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.
Yet the true hypocrisy of the NATO allies is not only that they once applauded Vladimir Putin as he used those Black Sea forces to crush Chechnya, but that the Russia he leads is the creation of the shock economics they are so keen to export to Ukraine.
Today the White House conjures the spectre of unspecified sanctions in answer to Russian aggression, yet in 1994 Boris Yeltsin enjoyed U.S backing when he sent troops into the breakaway province of Chechnya. While that war ended in humiliation and defeat, Russian troops would return in 1999 and this time Yeltsin’s successor was to be gifted more than just the weaponry and finance given to his predecessor. Russia was given a just cause.
In 2001 Vladimir Putin stood alongside George W. Bush to be hailed as a staunch ally in the War on Terror. Following the September 11th attacks Putin had reframed his war. No longer was it a war to reclaim lost Soviet territory and quell separatism; a second front in a global war on terrorism had been opened in the Caucasus.
This may have only been a year into his Presidency, but Putin’s aggressive imperialist ambitions were hiding in plain sight. As the west looked on, Putin razed Grozny, and installed warlord Ramzan Kadyrov to rule over the embers of his Pro-Moscow thiefdom. Lest it be forgotten, those who did speak out, such as journalist Anna Politkovskaya, were found murdered in Moscow apartment blocks.
Today Bush’s war is over and American and European leaders decry Russian press restrictions, the homophobic legislation, the rigged elections, the unrestricted mafia, the imprisonment of riotous musicians and the invasion of more breakaway provinces. However, far from being a temporary ally, those same governments actively created the conditions which gave rise to Putin and his authoritarian state.
In December 1991, Boris Yeltin walked into a Kremlin meeting room to declare that he had completed an historic task, the restitution of capitalism and the formal dissolving of the Soviet Union. Amongst his audience sat the man the New York Times referred to as ‘the most important economist in the world, Dr. Jeffery Sachs.
Heralding from the Neo-Liberal ‘Chicago School’ of Milton Friedman, Sachs was an advocate of the economic ‘reforms’ first tested with grisly effect by General Pinochet in Chile. Sachs called it ‘shock therapy’ and he arrived in Russia from Poland where he had advised the Solidarity government of Tadeusz Mazowiecki how western aid, rapid privatisation, asset stripping and complete deregulation could make Poland a land fit for capitalism.
Yet Russia, the centre of the USSR’s planned economy and the largest country on earth, dwarfed Poland and Chile both. It was the largest laboratory imaginable for Sach’s shock treatment and as Solidarity found to their cost, it was an economic experiment which ended in social catastrophe.
Sachs was the most prominent of a large group of economic advisers to the Kremlin from the United States and Western Europe and under their guidance Yeltsin created his own team of ‘Young Reformers’ to dismantle the planned economy.
While they worked, Sachs returned to the U.S to be appointed President of the Harvard Institute for International Development. With funding from the U.S government, the institute sent a small army of advisers to support the reforms, draft legislation and build a ‘New York style’ stock exchange.
As Naomi Klein explains in The Shock Doctrine, such rapid economic change can not happen without political and social upheavals and, as Pinochet had found before him, Yeltsin needed to carry his reforms through at gun point.
Not content with restoring capitalism, Yeltsin used tanks and troops to clear the way for a profit bonanza for the rich, unfettered by the restraints of democracy or accountability. In the wake of his reforms oil companies, gas utilities, telephone companies, nickel mines and the majority of the 225,000 state owned enterprises were sold off as cheaply as possible.
The result was the sudden emergence of a new class, the Oligarchs, who made their money by picking apart the carrion of the Soviet state. In 1989, Russia could boast having no millionaires. By 2003 it had seventeen billionaires.
Yet this profiteering had an inevitable social consequence. In 1989, 2 million Russian people lived in poverty. By the end of Yeltsin’s reforms 74 million people ended up below the poverty line, existing on less than $4 a day. Such desperate poverty brought with it the scourges of homelessness, alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide, the rate of which doubled between 1992 and 1994.
Twenty years later, it is no small historical irony that within hours of President Yanukovych’s flight from Kiev, Foreign Secretary William Hague declared the need for urgent economic reform in Ukraine following a meeting with the IMF. This was followed by European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso announcing an £11 billion ‘aid’ package for Ukraine, on the condition of economic reform and a deal between Kiev and the IMF.
The era of misrule by Yanukovych and other oligarchs has resulted in an economy over $30 billion in debt and Kiev’s westward looking government, busy draping itself in nationalistic rhetoric against Russia, has little choice but to accept these conditions.
While the protesters of Maidan have fought for a Ukraine which embraces Europe in the hope of emulating its (relative) prosperity, these conditions will result in a shock doctrine of austerity and mass privatisation on a scale familiar to the people of Athens, Lisbon, Madrid and Dublin.
Yet, even this shock doctrine, will not represent a rite of passage into the European Union. As the Troika fight to hold together the Eurozone through unrelenting austerity in Greece, there will be no appetite for admitting a crisis ridden country that is over four times larger in both geography and population.
Instead Ukraine will find itself adrift. Riddled by ethnic tensions as its border guards stare down the barrel of Russian tanks, the Ukrainian people will be forced to watch as their politicians hand over the economy to the administrators of shock doctrine economics. Industry will be ‘opened up’ to Western corporations, public services will be sold off and provided the profits aren’t entirely siphoned abroad, Ukraine will find itself at the mercy of a new generation of oligarchs.
The one force which can prevent Ukraine from further following its Eastern partner towards gangster capitalism is the organised working class. However, in Eastern Europe the official workers’ movement, represented by the trade unions and the Communist Party, have been inherently compromised by their ties to the fallen regime.
Yet this is far from unique. Across the nations of the Arab Spring the trade union leaderships have been tied to dictatorships in Cairo, Tunis and Damascus. Yet this did not stop working people from joining the fight and for the first time we are beginning to see independent working class organisations coming to the fore, such as the Egyptian ‘Independent Trade Union Federation’ whose industrial action has sent Cario’s military backed government into crisis.
In Ukraine as in Greece and the austerity ravaged countries of the Mediterranean, the working class will be forced into battle as the IMF and the European Union try to force them to pay for decades of misrule. From this fight will emerge new organisations, new trade unions, new political parties, and from these platforms the working class can re-enter a stage from which they have too long been absent.