Ukrainians are a nation. The nation includes both those who have Ukrainian as first language, and those who have Russian as first language, just as the Irish nation includes many who have English as first language.
Ukrainians are a nation long oppressed under Russian and other foreign rule. They have a right to self-determination.
Within Ukraine, there is exceptionally sharp class inequality. A few oligarchs are hugely wealthy and pay few taxes. The majority are much poorer even than in neighbouring Belarus or Romania.
The movement which got rid of Ukraine’s corrupt president Yanukovych was against both Yanukovych’s subservience to Russia, and his social policies.
The social revolt can win only by also taking on the new Ukrainian government, dominated by oligarchs. As it takes on that government it will also take on the IMF and the Western banks, which hold Ukraine in hock.
Between oligarchs and inequality, and oligarchs and inequality plus national oppression, Ukrainians, rightly, prefer to be rid of the national oppression.
The duty of socialists and democrats, therefore, is both to support the whole people of Ukraine against Russian threats and possible invasion, and to support Ukraine’s left and Ukraine’s working class against the oligarchs and the banks.
Russian troops out! Demand the Western powers cancel Ukraine’s debts! Support the Ukrainian left in its efforts to create a “third pole” against the oligarchs of all stripes!
On 21 November 2013 the crisis was opened by Yanukovych, under Russian pressure, cancelling a deal with the EU.
After three months of escalating street demonstrations, strongest in western Ukraine but also spreading to the east and centred in Kiev, which has a Russian-first-language majority, Yanukovych fled on 22 February and Ukraine’s elected parliament appointed a new government.
On 27 February Russian troops went on to the streets in Crimea, surrounded the Crimean parliament, and forced the creation of a new Crimean government led by a pro-Russian party which got just three seats out of 100 in Crimea’s last elections.
After 17 days of escalating Russian military intervention in Crimea, that Russian-installed government ran a referendum on 16 March, boycotted by Crimea’s indigenous Tatar people and many Ukrainians, which of course showed a majority for Crimea being reintegrated into Russia.
On 21 March Russia annexed Crimea. The same day, Ukraine’s government signed a deal for links with the EU.
Some socialists describe Ukraine’s deal with the EU as symmetrical with Russian annexation. However bad EU policies are — and in Greece they are despicable — the equation is false. Even a workers’ state would sign trade and association deals with capitalist powers, and have to accommodate, to some degree, to the rapacious rules of the capitalist world market. Being invaded and ruled by a foreign power is different.
The US and EU powers have been hesitant about sanctions against Russia, because some EU countries in particular fear losing Russian gas supplies and profits from trade with Russia; but they have imposed sanctions on some Russian oligarchs.
On 23 March a NATO chief warned that Russia was massing troops on Ukraine’s eastern border. The Russian government denied it. On 24 March Ukraine told all its troops to withdraw from Crimea for their own safety.
Putin’s army may invade eastern Ukraine to secure the areas which supply Crimea, or to annex a strip of land along the south of Ukraine, connecting Russia to the Russian-military-occupied area of Trans-Dniestr in Moldova. Or it may just use its military threats, and its ability to stir up sections of the Russian (not just Russian-speaking) minority in eastern Ukraine, as leverage to pull the whole of Ukraine back under its domination.
On 23 March, surprisingly, Alexander Lukashenko, the thuggish and usually very Russian-aligned president of Belarus, commented ruefully that “a bad precedent has been created” by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Even usually pro-Russian people in the region are alarmed by Putin’s imperialism.