In Ukraine an alliance of far-right parties has used their private armies to coerce the government into adopting their blockade of separatist-held territory as official state policy. The threat of force has allowed them to gain influence despite low electoral support, imposing a policy which presents serious risks for the Ukrainian economy.
The release of a USD$1 billion tranche of aid by the IMF was delayed from March 19 to April 3 in order to analyse the effects of the blockade. Despite a go-ahead by the IMF, a Reuters poll of analysts predicts Ukraine’s industrial output growth to slow from 2016’s 2.8% to 1.8% in 2017. Industry accounts for about a third of Ukraine’s GDP. In February, the blockade caused output to fall by 4.6% after having grown 5.8% in January. Overall economic growth should fall to 2% from a previously predicted 2.5%. Ukraine’s balance of trade is expected to fall by USD$ 2 billion. The government has yet to lift the state of emergency declared on February 15 over the loss of coal supplies from the separatist-held territories to the nation’s power stations.
While the world remains fixated on accusations of Russia’s meddling abroad, far-right neo-Nazi groups with their own private armies have broken the state’s monopoly on violence and blackmailed it to follow their agenda. Their growing power threatens to sideline the electoral process and establish far right rule by dictat, undermining the pro-Western reforms sought by the Maidan revolution and posing serious danger to ethnic minorities in Ukraine.
According to Professor Ivan Katchanovski at the University of Ottawa, “The government cannot use force against the far right. The far right in in alliance with oligarchic Maidan parties had a crucial role in the violent overthrow of Yanukovych. My study found that the special armed Maidan companies were involved in the Maidan massacre of the police and the protesters. Now the far right has ability to overthrow the Maidan government.”
Professor Katchanovski is the author of a study on the shootings of protesters on February 20th, 2014 during Kiev’s Maidan protests. Widely blamed on the police, the shootings led to the immediate overthrow of President Yanukovich, abandoning a recently negotiated settlement between Yanukovich and the protesters for early elections and reduced presidential power. Katchanovski’s study found that the protesters were shot from the rear, from buildings controlled by activists from the Right Sector and Svoboda, two far-right parties involved in the subsequent overthrow. Katchanovski’s findings are gaining increasing credence in the ongoing trial of police officers for the shootings, due to reconvene April 18th. The Right Sector has repeatedly disrupted the trial.
Right Sector, Svoboda, and a third party, the Azov National Corps, which was formed shortly after the overthrow of Yanukovich, each control their own volunteer battalions. More highly motivated and better equipped than the regular military, these have formed Ukraine’s spearhead in the conflict with Russia-backed separatists in the Donbass region. In January these battalions, their veterans and volunteers imposed a blockade on the separatist-held territory, preventing coal and steel from reaching power stations and factories in the rest of Ukraine. Until that point, Ukraine had benefited from trade and taxation from heavy industry in the separatist-held territory, little impeded by the conflict. On March 1 the separatists began nationalizing the heavy industry under their control after Kiev failed to respond to the separatists’ ultimatum to dismantle the blockade by that date. Most of the nationalized factories belonged to Ukraine’s richest man, Rinat Akhmetov, who has lost an estimated USD$1 billion in assets in the process. Unwilling to take on the volunteer battalions with the demoralized national army, Poroshenko adopted the blockade as state policy on March 17.
The far right parties involved in the blockade trace their roots back to the early days of Ukraine’s independence. The Svoboda party was founded in 1991 as the Social-National Party of Ukraine by current Chairman of the Verkhovna Rada Andrii Parubiy and Oleh Tyahnybok, ranked by the Simon Wiesenthal Center as one of the world’s top anti-Semites. In 2004 they changed their name and abandoned their Nazi SS wolfsangel logo in order to appeal to a broader audience. Yet as recently as January, the Simon Wiesenthal Center has condemned Svoboda’s participation in an antisemitic torchlight march.
Former close associate of the Social-National Party Andrii Biletsky carried on the unambiguous terminolgy and SS wolfsangel symbolism as leader of the Social-National Assembly. In the years leading up to the Maidan protests, Biletsky built ties with the Governor of Kharkiv Region, Arsen Avakov through far-right football fan groups, used during the Maidan protests to subdue local Russia-sympathizers. Also during the protests, the Right Sector were formed out of members of these and other far-right organizations. In the wake of the Overthrow of Yanukovych, Biletsky formed the Azov Battalion from remaining members of the Social-National Assembly to fight the separatists. The battalion received support from Avakov who was appointed Minister of the Interior, and remains in office to this day. Chief Rabbi of Ukraine Yaaakev Bleich has condemned Avakov’s appointment of “neo-Nazi” Azov Battalion deputy commander Vadim Troyan as Kiev police chief. Troyan was removed and made Deputy Interior Minister. Azov leader Biletsky carries the nickname “white chief,” and promotes a medieval prince Svyatoslav, conqueror of the Jewish Khazar Empire, as Ukraine’s national hero. In opposing funding for training the Azov Battalion in June 2015, US Congressman John “Conyers called representatives of Azov “repulsive neo-Nazis,” stressing that they are described this way by a number of American and international media: Foreign Policy Magazine, Reuters, The Telegraph, The Washington Post” Euromaidan Press reported.
Svoboda, Right Sector and the Azov National Corps signed a joint manifesto on March 16. Artem Skoropadsky, speaking in broken English on behalf of the alliance, noted that the allied parties refuse to make any compromise with the separatists and demand Donbass and Crimea be reunited with Ukraine unconditionally. They believe in a military solution rather than negotiations. The alliance doesn’t support President Poroshenko, Skoropadsky says, “because he is a Liberal, and we are for a Social-National Ukraine.” But when asked if they plan to get rid of Poroshenko, Skoropadsky reiterated Ukraine’s election cycle. The manifesto also calls for a Union of East European states separate from the EU and Ukraine to open a nuclear weapons program. Skoropadsky claims the alliance has no major financial backers, garnering mainly grassroots support.
Dr. Efraim Zuroff, Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center – Israel office and Eastern European Affairs offers the following statement:
“Simon Wiesenthal Center has consistently spoken out about the dangers posed to Ukrainian democracy and the well-being of the minorities in the country posed by right-wing extremists such as Svoboda, Right Sector and the Azov Brigade. These groups, whose fascist ideology is reminiscent of regimes which collaborated with the Nazis and which is racist, xenophobic and oblivious to minority rights have in the past threatened the government and continue to wield undue power and influence in Ukraine politics, which they did not achieve legitimately in democratic elections, where they have consistently failed to garner significant public support. We urge the government to refrain from adopting the policies of such groups and making all the necessary efforts to safeguard democracy and equal rights for all residents of Ukraine.”
With this far right alliance already too powerful for the government to challenge, unless something is done soon, Ukraine’s revolution of dignity is set to take on a very ominous overtone.