As Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko dissolves the country's parliament, we look at the role that far-right groups have played in his government – and whose role could increase after October's elections.
The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has seen a significant loss of life. Over 2,000 people have been killed since Kiev launched it's “anti-terrorist” operation in April.
President Poroshenko has received near unconditional backing from NATO, the United States and the European Union, despite the widespread reports of civilian casualties in the eastern regions.
This support continues despite recent press coverage highlighting the uncomfortable presence of far-right and neo-Nazi groups fighting alongside the Ukrainian army in the eastern provinces, raising the possibility of Kiev's tolerance of fascism.
Government depends of the far-right
The pro-European protests – dubbed Euromaidan for taking place on Maidan Square in Kiev – began in November 2013, after President Yanukovich announced Ukraine would not sign a free trade agreement with the EU.
By December the protests became increasingly violent, with visible leaders emerging. By January, the streets of Kiev looked like a war zone.
The key leaders of the Euromaidan movement were former professional boxer Vitaly Klitschko, now mayor of Kiev; Arseniy Yatsenyuk current Prime Minister and member of the Fatherland party and Oleg Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right Svoboda party.
Svoboda, Klitschko's Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR) and the Fatherland party have been the greatest political winners from the ousting of Yanukovich, taking over 36 percent of seats in the Rada – Ukraine´s parliament - and becoming the major political alliance backing President Poroshenko.
In total, 285 out of the 445 deputies backed the government coalition. Most deputies in the recently dissolved parliament did not belong to any major party. But the core government alliance – which was granted key positions within Poroshenko's government – comprises extreme-right wing forces that led Euromaidan.
Svoboda party: rehabilitating Ukraine’s Nazi past
The Svoboda party was originally named the Social Nationalist Party of Ukraine, inspired by Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator. The group characterized itself by wearing Nazi symbols and organizing in a similar fashion. The SNPU renamed itself to Svoboda in 2004.
Bandera, leader of the Nazi collaborators of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) was reportedly directly responsible for killing between 40,000 and 60,000 Poles in the Volhynia Region in 1943 as well as many Jews and Communists. Stepan Bandera's collaboration with Nazi Germany also helped the Nazis to invade Ukraine where they slaughtered 3 million Ukrainians, including 900,000 Jews.
In January 2014, Svoboda led a march of 15,000 people commemorating Bandera and during the Maiden protests the red and black flag of Nazi occupation in the Ukraine was waved.
During the Maiden protests the red and black flag of Nazi occupation in the Ukraine was waved.The party re-branded itself by changing its name to leave behind the Nazi stench. Nonetheless, the inescapable truth is that Oleh Tyahnybok, Svoboda leader, has called for the liberation of his country from the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Whilst Svoboda adviser Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn established a "Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre" in 2005 and wrote a 2010 book citing works by Goebbels. He has has referred to the Holocaust as a "period of Light in history".
Even as the party implemented a series of presentational changes, they lost their main European allies in the European Nationalist Movement – a right-wing bloc of parties with seats in the European Parliament – after Svoboda staged anti-Hungarian demonstrations. A large minority of people of Hungarian-origin live in Ukraine.
uch views led the European Parliament in 2012 to express concerns regarding Svoboda's "racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views” that “go against the EU's fundamental values and principles," and appealed "to pro-democratic parties in the Rada not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with" Svoboda.
From 2009, Svoboda's popularity began to rise. By 2012, the party had rapidly grown, and allied itself with the UDAR party, led by former boxer Klitschko. Klitschko has publicly claimed that his boxing abilities came from his Aryan inheritance.
After Petro Poroshenko's election, the foundations of the new political map were in place. President Poroshenko, whose party did not win any seats in the new Parliament had to ally with UDAR, Svoboda and Fatherland.
Today, for example, Svoboda holds key posts in the Ukrainian government including judicial and security posts. This includes the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Defence, Secretary and Deputy Head of the National Security and National Defense Committee (RNBOU) and the Prosecutor-general.
Far-right forces involved in “anti-terror” campaign in Ukraine
Since the ousting of President Yanukovich in February 2014, the eastern regions of Ukraine – made up of large proportion of people of Russian-descent - rebelled, fearing a crackdown by nationalist forces.
Such fears followed the government's crackdown on Russian speaking television networks, the banning of imports of Russian book and the overturning of a previous law which gave regional rights to minority languages – a third of Ukrainian population speaks Russian, while a sizable minority speak Hungarian.
Furthermore, the new Ukrainian government whipped up fear of attacks on the parties defending the cultural rights of the people in the eastern provinces with the attempt to ban the Communist Party by claiming it was aiding the rebels. The party, which held 33 deputies in the Parliament, was expelled the legislative body following a law approved on July 22. This was celebrated by Oleksander Turchynov, the Rada's head who said “we have corrected a historical error by disbanding the faction”. Turchynov belongs to the Fatherland party, part of the governing alliance.
Against such measures, Crimea voted on rejoining the Russian Federation, a move that was not anticipated by Kiev or the West.
Then Russian speaking people in other eastern provinces demanded greater autonomy with many deciding to hold a referendum in May.
Kiev labeled them “terrorists” and attacked the rebel-held regions creating what has been described as a humanitarian crisis for thousands. The UN human rights office reports that in the first two weeks of August, over 1000 died in the ensuing violence with at least 4,953 others wounded. The UN labeled the figures as “very conservative estimates”.
The so called anti-terrorist clampdown has seen the presence of neo-Nazi paramilitary forces fighting alongside the army to defeat the eastern rebels.
As part of the negotiations for achieving his government coalition in the Rada, President Poroshenko ceded the key posts of the Internal Affairs to the Fatherland party´s Arsen Avakov.
As part of the negotiations for achieving his government coalition in the Rada, President Poroshenko ceded key posts to his right-wing allies.
Avakov opened a volunteer unit in the National Guard, under his jurisdiction, called the Azov Battalion, which use a swastika-like symbol, also used in the Minister's official seal.
The Right Sector – a nother right-wing movement – was incorporated into the battalion, together with ultra-nationalist movement Patriots of Ukraine.
But the neo-Nazi tide is not limited to the Azov Battalion. Dmitry Yarosh, leader of the Right Sector, announced in July the creation of its own paramilitary unit. A new-born party, the Radical Party, created by Oleh Lyashko – who became famous for punching another member of parliament – has become increasingly popular by making raids into the east with his own paramilitary group. His popularity on polls has gone from zero to around 20 percent, making him a new political force.
An article recently published in the English newspaper The Daily Telegraph warned that such battalions “with several thousand men under their command, are officially under the control of the Interior Ministry but their financing is murky, their training inadequate and their ideology often alarming”.
As the same article points out, Adriy Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” and recently stated that “the historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen [sub-human].”
Investigative reporter Robert Parry who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s has described how the Azov battalion waves the Wolfsangel flag, a symbol used by Adolf Hitler’s SS divisions in World War II.
US Backing for Right-Wing Groups
Since 1991, the U.S. government has spent US$5 billion financing opposition parties in the Ukraine under so-called “promotion of democracy” programs. Prominent U.S. politician John McCain – who had played a pivotal role in the ousting of eastern European government during the nineties – addressed the Euromaidan crowds, shoulder to shoulder with Tyahnybok. U.S. State Department Victoria Nuland held a friendly meeting with the Svoboda party leaders in February before the coup.
In a famous leaked call between the US State Department's Victoria Nuland and Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine, Nuland explained which personalities the United State's Department wanted to head the new Ukrainian government. Nuland said that tactically Sbovoda head Tyahnybok should remain “on the outside” of future administration. But she wanted the U.S. Ambassador to consult with Fatherland´s Arseniy Yatsenyuk, “four times a week.” Yatsenyuk, currently the Prime Minister, headed the transitional post-Maidan government.
Even though the issue of far-right involvmeent is now being raised by Western mainstream media, NATO and the EU together with the U.S. continue to support Kiev.
There are real fears that for the first time since the end of the Second World War explicitly far-right groups are playing a preeminent role in a European government – a role that could strengthen further after October´s elections.