Russia, Ukraine, Syria
—Lichtenberg, 12 March 2014
Nobody disputes that Russia has some investments in Ukraine. It is also clear that the trade balance between Russia and Ukraine is in Russia’s favor. If Russia is really the nation with the highest FDI into Ukraine, as Josh suggests by including Cypriot FDI flows into Ukraine as Russian, is unclear. Which nations actually make up for FDI’s from Cyprus is unclear. The same source that Josh cites also shows USD 6 billion FDI from Ukraine into Cyprus: http://ukrstat.org/en/operativ/operativ2013/zd/izu/izu_e/izu0413_e.htm
In fact, the economy of Ukraine has suffered significantly since they turned away from Russia and towards the west after the “Orange revolution”:
“From 2000 to the ‘Orange Revolution’ of 2004 Ukrainian per capita GDP actually rose compared to the GDP of its then CIS neighbors, from 61% to 68%. From 2004 forward, however, it declined precipitously, from the 68% to a low of 57% in 2013. In 2013 the Ukraine economy was in recession. That recession is about to accelerate in 2014, with some reports predicting the Ukrainian economy will experience a 5%-10% drop in GDP terms in the coming year. That’s not a recession. That’s a ‘Greece-like’, bonafide depression.”
The above seems to suggest that Ukraine may have actually benefitted from its close links with Russia. If so, this certainly is not the norm for dependent countries that come under the influence of the rule of finance capital/imperialism.
Furthermore it is not possible that Russia can play the role of an imperialist country in the Marxist sense (through the export of finance capital and gain of super profits) due to its weak domestic economy. Barbara, Josh and Bill acknowledge that the Russian economy is weak, often with the qualifier “in many respects”, but it does not seem to have any bearing on their political conclusions. If we agree that large parts of the Russian economy are non-competitive, that labor productivity is low and that technological innovation is lacking, and if we agree that the high value sector in Russia has high percentages of foreign investment while Russia’s GDP largely comes from energy export, how can we place it in the same category as the US? We cannot unless we change the category of what an imperialist country is.
Barbara made a case for Russia as a “late arrival”, one that was excluded from the imperialist “club”:
“Can we agree that if Russia was an imperialist power or became an imperialist power at some time in the future, it would not be immediately welcomed into the Western club? It is quite plausible that a newly imperialist power would be isolated from (“stand alone against”) the US and EU. Yes, it is clearly the weaker side, and, no, I can’t think of other examples – there is no other country that holds the Soviet military legacy and such a large proportion of the world’s land mass with rich natural resources; Russia became an imperialist power in rather unusual circumstances, and is therefore something of an unusual imperialist power.”
Here once more we have the recognition of reality in the statement that Russia is “clearly the weaker side” (vs US and EU). I presume that the weakness referred to is of an economic nature. This is, however, compensated for it seems by its “military legacy” and “rich natural resources”. As Marxists we must maintain that a high number of stockpiled weapons is not synonymous with imperialist status, although military capacity is of course useful for imperialist countries. Likewise, the existence of “rich natural resources” is not a prerequisite for an imperialist country, in fact, many imperialist countries obtain their raw materials from dependent countries (under exploitative circumstances).
It might also help the debate if what Barbara hints at (“Russia became an imperialist power in rather unusual circumstances”) could be given further detail. We know that the Soviet Union collapsed, and with it, a good part of the economy, that asset stripping was rampant etc. Russia certainly did not build up an imperialist status through military conquests of various countries. By which process has Russian finance capital evolved to an imperialist level and how can Russia be an imperialist country when its economic competitiveness is ranked as 64th in the world?
Josh points out that Ukraine is strategically important to Russia because of the pipelines that run through it. This is not disputed. However, having a strategic interest does not render a country “imperialist”. Turkey has a strategic interest in at least parts of Kurdistan but this does not amount to an imperialist Turkey. Nor does its military occupation of parts of Kurdistan, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Inter-imperialist conflicts have traditionally been seen as those situations where imperialists come into armed confrontations with each other, e.g. WWI, WWII (excluding the USSR). In the past we did not define armed conflicts within a state, where the contestants where backed by different imperialists, as inter-imperialist. The Spanish civil war, where Germany backed one side, and France/Britain the other, was not seen as an inter-imperialist conflict but as a civil war – one in which revolutionaries had a side.
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Russia is not imperialist, it is simply a completely new definition of inter-imperialist conflict if Syria and Ukraine are presented as examples of these. There is no direct military confrontation between imperialist states, not even between imperialism and Russia.
Russia has increased its presence in the Crimea, an area that allows for the presence of Russian troops due to the ports it has at the Black Sea. It also seems clear that Russia is supporting the local population who are likely to vote for re-joining Russia in the referendum on March 16, and who elected a pro-Russian parliament in their autonomous region. As Marxists we defend the right of the population of Crimea to choose affiliation with Russia. It therefore seems legitimate on more than one level that Russia has a military presence in the area. It certainly does not fit the category of imperialist conquest and annexation.
If Crimea were to secede from Ukraine, and if Ukraine were to attempt to forcibly retain Crimea under their rule, we would side with those forces (Crimean militia, Russian military) that would support the democratic wishes of the population. If this situation came to pass we would side with Russia/Crimea against Ukraine. This would be an application of the rights of nations to self-determination.