Volodymyr Zelensky’s latest media stunt, addressing himself directly to corporate America via a video link to the New York stock exchange, plumbed new depths in the humiliation of Ukraine.
Whilst its president clowned about, pretending to ‘virtually’ ring the famous bell which traditionally signals the commencement of the day’s trading on Wall Street, his message was deadly serious: Ukraine is up for sale.
He painted a glowing picture of Ukraine’s future, a future in which state-owned enterprises would be privatised, labour protection laws would be repealed, the economy would be deregulated and monopoly capital could plunder $400bn worth of state sell-offs without hindrance.
In other words, Ukraine is now undergoing another round of the economic shock therapy that was previously imposed on the former republics of the USSR, plunging their populations into misery and enriching the imperialist monopolies. (Zelensky rings New York Stock Exchange bell as Euro dips below dollar by Alexander Rubinstein, The Grayzone, 7 September 2022)
If imperialism could get its way, Russia would also suffer the same fate, one balkanised chunk at a time. That is why, in acting to liberate the Donbass and demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, Russia is not only lending a fraternal hand to Donetsk and Lugansk after they had spent eight years under the cosh, but is fighting for its own independence and very survival. It is a battle that all anti-imperialists should wholeheartedly support.
Back in 2014, imperialism had high hopes that it could lure the then government of Viktor Yanukovych into a European Union accession agreement, promising a glittering future if only it would abandon its policy of neutrality and walk into the EU/IMF debt trap. It was when Yanukovych failed to take the bait that imperialism moved to Plan B, engineering a fascist coup to oust the elected government and win by force what it had failed to secure by guile.
And this imperialist intervention set in train the events that culminated in the present war – a proxy war that the Kiev putschists cannot win, but which their imperialist masters senselessly prolong, pouring weapons and dollars into an insatiable black hole.
Locked in the spotlight, Zelensky is in the unfortunate position of an actor who has accidentally got two different scripts muddled up in mid-performance. One minute he is expected to pose as a plucky national hero, prepared to give up his life to defend his fatherland – a doughty David confronting the Russian Goliath. The next minute he finds himself called upon to ring the stock exchange bell to announce a fire sale of all Ukraine’s national assets – a grubby huckster happy to sell off what remains of his country for a fistful of dollars.
Imperialism has been working on the latter script for a long time. Jake Kallio and Ben Norton have recorded on the Multipolarista website that “Starting in 2017, representatives of western governments and corporations quietly held annual conferences in which they discussed ways to profit from the civil war they were fuelling in Ukraine.
“In these meetings, western political and business leaders outlined a series of aggressive right-wing reforms they hoped to impose on Ukraine, including widespread privatisation of state-owned industries and deregulation of the economy.
“On 4 and 5 July 2022, top officials from the USA, EU, Britain, Japan and south Korea met in Switzerland for a so-called ‘Ukraine Recovery Conference’. There, they planned Ukraine’s postwar reconstruction and performatively announced aid commitments – while salivating over a bonanza of potential contracts.
“New Nato candidates Finland and Sweden committed to assure reconstruction in Lugansk, roughly 48 hours after Russia and separatist forces announced the region had fallen fully under their control.
“But the Ukraine Recovery Conference was not new. It had been renamed to save the expense of a new acronym. In the previous five years, the group and its annual meetings were instead referred to as the ‘Ukraine Reform Conference’ (URC).
“The URC’s agenda was explicitly focused on imposing political changes on the country – namely, ‘strengthening the market economy’, ‘decentralisation, privatisation, reform of state-owned enterprises, land reform, state administration reform’ and ‘Euro-Atlantic integration’.”
So it is that, even with the war in Ukraine still dragging on, the vultures of monopoly capitalism are already picking through the wreckage in search of more loot.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian workers will be the first to feel the icy wind of labour law reforms. “In an explicit call for slashing labour protections, the document attacked the remaining pro-worker laws in Ukraine, some of which are a holdover of the Soviet era.
“The National Recovery Plan complained of ‘outdated labour legislation leading to complicated hiring and firing process, regulation of overtime, etc’. As an example of this supposed ‘outdated labour legislation’, the western-backed plan lamented that workers in Ukraine with one year of experience are granted a nine-week ‘notice period for redundancy dismissal’, compared to just four weeks in Poland and south Korea.” (West prepares to plunder postwar Ukraine with neoliberal shock therapy, Multipolarista, 28 July 2022)
This year, the Ukrainian parliament has already passed a law allowing bosses to suspend collective agreements, and another which simply says that if you are employed by a business with fewer than 200 staff then you are no longer covered by labour laws at all!
A Donbass-based commentator on Telegram, Aleksei Karpushev, posted the following observations on his channel on 19 September:
“Scrolling through the Ukrainian media, I came across interesting data on the current state of the economy of this country. These data are mentioned there somehow in passing, without much emphasis, and now we will understand why.
“The first thing I want to draw attention to is a serious drop in wages. According to the pension fund of Ukraine (other organisations simply do not publish such statistics there now), the decrease in salary in a number of industries as a percentage amounted to double-digit figures. Thus, Ukrainian public utilities now receive an average of 31.5 percent less than in December 2021, workers in the mining industry 17.8 percent, and transport workers 16.3 percent less. And this means nominal wages. And taking into account, again, double-digit inflation, we can conclude that real earnings in many professions have fallen dramatically over the past six months.
“Recently, the ministry of finance of Ukraine prepared a draft state budget for 2023, where the cost of education and healthcare will be reduced by more than 10 percent, social protection of the population by 6.3 percent, and physical development by two times. Also, housing subsidies for the most disadvantaged segments of the population will be reduced by 9.2 percent compared to this year. That is: doctors, teachers, pensioners and disabled people in Ukraine, at best, will become beggars, and at worst, they will simply not be able to live next year.
“Well, and finally, the ‘icing on the cake’. According to the Ukrainian government, two million jobs have already been permanently lost in the country. By the end of the year, the reduction in the number of people employed in all areas will be five million, and the unemployment rate will reach 30 percent! At the same time, most still-working Ukrainians said that they either have begun to receive less money, or are on unpaid leave and do not receive anything at all.
“All this suggests that Ukraine has already slipped into an economic catastrophe, and that next year, if nothing changes, the impoverishment of the population there will become almost total and threaten the elementary physical existence of millions of people. The west, which even this year has not been providing even half of the funding needed to meet Ukraine’s declared minimum needs (which is about $5bn a month), and is at present reducing the allocated amounts, will obviously not help here.
“I can already foresee the question: ‘What do we care about this, because life in the Donbass is also not sugar right now?’
“And indeed, life is not sugar for us for eight and a half years, since Ukrainian troops began to shell our region. Consequently, only the fall of today’s Ukraine, both militarily and economically (and these factors are very interrelated) can bring peace and prosperity to the people of Donbass.
“Now we are gradually approaching the climax of this process.” (Translated from the Russian by Google)