Minorities on Maidan: An interview with a Jewish Euromaidan self-defense unit leader

Does your self-defense unit contain other Jews?

In my unit are four Israelis with military experience, who, like me, came to Euromaidan with a desire to avoid useless sacrifice. I would say that our whole group are “blue helmets” (an analogy with UN peacekeepers). The mood is quite nervous at the Independence Square; many people want to avenge the blood of the victims, even more are tired of the inaction of the opposition  all these hotheads are full of illusions about what real battles are like and, accordingly, can’t imagine the consequences. They also don’t realize that on the other side of the barricades are people too, so our actions must not defame Euromaidan with a human face.

Have you encountered, not even outright anti-Semitism, but any condescendence? Do they see you as an outsider?

There was no shadow of such sentiments. I talked since the first days with Right Sector and the UNA-UNSO – with all the people that in peacetime would be unlikely to find common ground. I see myself exclusively as a Jew, and religious. Under my command are dozens of resistance fighters, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Russians – who do not even try to speak Ukrainian – and we have not encountered a manifestation of intolerance towards each other. All of them have respect for my religion – they already know what I eat, what not to eat, etc. and it has not caused any animosity.

Read the full interview (English translation)
Read the full interview (Russian)

Pifer: ‘The EU and the US have leverage’

DW recently conducted an interview with the former US ambassador to Ukraine, Steven Pifer. In it he provides his recommendations to the current crisis and discusses the prospects of Euro-American involvement.

DW: An aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Sergei Glazyev, accused the United States last week of not only financing the Ukrainian opposition, but went so far as to say that Washington was arming “rebels.” Is there truth to these claims or is this hyperbole?

The idea that the US government is financing the protests is utter nonsense. There’s no evidence that I have seen of it. And the idea that Mr. Glazyev says it’s providing weapons is also nonsense. If you go back and look at what Mr. Glazyev has said, he’s been the point person in Russia to try and do everything he can to undermine Ukraine’s effort to do the association agreement with the European Union. And he’s said some things in the past that have had very little credibility.

DW: How would you characterize the US relationship with the Ukrainian opposition and the protest movement?

The US government has reached out and has contacts with the opposition, which I think is appropriate for the embassy and for visiting officials to do. I think the US government would like to find a way to encourage the opposition and President Yanukovych to get a meaningful political dialogue underway. That would be the best way out of the current political situation.

DW: In January, Arizona Senator John McCain met with several Ukrainian opposition leaders, including Svoboda party leader Oleh Tyahnybok, who’s made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. What’s Washington’s relationship with the right-wing groups that are participating in the protests?

I think there actually have been conversations with Tyahnybok since his party became a political force. And I know for a fact that the American embassy has been pretty direct with Mr. Tyahnybok and the Svoboda party about some concerns about some things they have said, including handing over several pages of quotes of things that were seen as anti-Semitic and such.

DW: When we talk about Yanukovych’s inner circle are we talking about people in government or people in the business sector?

The people who have the control of levers of force are in government. You want them to know this. But I think also when you’re talking about the inner circle, you’re talking about business people. Rinat Akhmetov, the wealthiest oligarch, has been fairly close to Mr. Yanukovych. I think it would be useful if Mr. Akhmetov was using his influence with President Yanukovych to encourage him to negotiate in a serious way to find a solution. And if there was some threat that there might be financial or travel sanctions on Mr. Akhmetov, that could be a useful lever.

DW: In the leaked conversation between US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland and US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt, the two US diplomats discuss the roles of the opposition leaders. Is the US laying out a roadmap here for a political transition?

I read that as a conversation between two American diplomats, how they thought things ought to play out from an analytical sense. I did not read that conversation as them saying, “and this is now the roadmap that we will give to the opposition.” First of all, it would be awfully presumptuous for them to assume that they could dictate and provide that kind of roadmap. And there’s no indication that Vitali Klitschko or Arseniy Yatsenyuk or Oleh Tyahnybok are open to that kind of influence.

DW: Why are there conflicting interests between Russia on the one side and the US and the EU on the other side in Ukraine?

For Vladimir Putin, I think that this is a hugely important question. It’s important for his view of Russia as a great power having a sphere of influence in the post- Soviet space. Ukraine is a big piece of that and if Ukraine is not part of it, that leaves a big hole. Second, I think it’s also important to Mr. Putin domestically because he wants to be shown as taking a tough line and bringing Ukraine closer.I don’t think the West – particularly the European Union – has engaged in this in a geopolitical sense. The EU could have had a signed association agreement two years ago, except they said, “no, we want Mr. Yanukovych to demonstrate his commitment to moving toward a more democratic path first.” The European Union put in that case democracy ahead of geopolitics, which was the right decision.The United States for most of the last five years has come to a conclusion that in terms of Ukraine’s engagement with the West, the logical path for Ukraine to proceed is down the path of doing the association agreement with the European Union. So the United States, I think, has been quite comfortable letting the European Union take the lead for most of the past several years.

Read the full interview

Goble: Ukrainian Activism Highlights Russian Submissiveness and thus Infuriates Russians

“Nothing so infuriates a Russian as does indisputable evidence of his own slavish submissiveness both in the east of Ukraine and in the post-Soviet state as a whole,” according to one ethnic Russian commentator, and thus Ukrainian activism has challenged the self-assessments of Russians and driven them out of their “comfort zone.”

What the Maidan has done, Viktor Yadukha says, is divide people not between supporters and opponents of the Ukrainian protest but between “those who believe in the possibility and necessity of ‘achieving liberation by their own hand’ and those who don’t believe in that”

The latter, he continues, generally “believe in conspiracies,” a belief that allows them to feel about not taking action on their own behalf. “The more global this secret behind the scenes action is assumed to be … the greater justification there is [in their minds] for sitting on the couch” rather than going into the streets.

This is an attitude and approach that underlies all assessments of what is going on. “Sooner or later, we Russians,” he says, “will have to become involved with the arrangement of life in our own country,” especially given its problems. “But how will we be able to do this if the archetype of national behavior is [someone] ‘who very much loves to talk back to the TV.’”

It is important to note that ethnic Russians in south-eastern Ukraine haven’t pushed their own agenda or organized their own groups to push either changes within Ukraine or their own social issues. Instead, they have “preferred to wait” for the bosses, any bosses to decide. “For these people as for the overwhelming majority of citizens of the Russian Federation, everything is decided in the capital.”

On the basis of his experience in his native Sevastopol, Yadukha says, he is confident that “if Yanukovych falls, then the authorities and militia of south-eastern Ukraine will raise the black-red flags of the OUN [Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists]” and then be ready to move against those who had supported Yanukovych and been part of the anti-Maidan.

Ethnic Russians wherever they may be are ready to follow orders, he continues, recalling the half-joking comment of dissident writer Aleksandr Zinovyev to a group of Sovietologists 40 years ago that the best way to defeat the Soviet Union was not to organize the population but rather to put their own person in as general secretary of the CPSU.

“I don’t know why we [ethnic] Russians are this way,” he says, and whether the Mongol yoke, serfdom, 1917, 1938 or 1991 are to blame. “But it is obvious that the ‘Russian vertical’ presupposes the submissive subordination to any change of course,” however radical, for the boss is seen expressing “the will of God” and any opposition is “from the anti-Christ.”

Read the full article

The Ukrainian Front: Neo Soviets & Neo Nazis

At recent demonstrations and meetings with the media recently held in Kharkiv, it would have seemed frightening enough that a Ukrainian Front had been created. It may have also been frightening to think that the Russian version of the Hell’s Angels (known to hit the road with Putin himself) had declared itself active in Ukraine for the purpose of “defending” the country. While orthodoxy and hardline pro-Russian sentiment runs through both of these groups, what one did not expect to be at the vanguard of defeating the ‘western fascists in Kiev’ was, well, actual neo-Nazis. Maybe this is a form of fighting fire with fire, or two negatives canceling themselves out (although the propagandized disinformation about their being any sort of fascist movement in the west or kiev should be, again, denounced as false), but the sight of Kharkiv mayor Hennadiy Kernes, himself Jewish, standing beside these men while making a peace gesture is enough to make any observer do a double-take.

Circulated on social media sites in the aftermath of the UF conference was the following:

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nazarneo-Nazis

Nazar Dolitsky is described by Channel 5 as a biker from Sevastopol. (He also received some brief airtime on Russia24 while at demonstrations in the city) Innocuous enough, with his St. George Ribbons and telnyashka, he certainly fits the profile of a neo-Soviet joining rank with the Ukrainian Front, but there remained enough reasonable doubt that the man making the Hitler salute was undeniably the same man. Of course, until the internet did what it’s good at, and found his social media profile to verify the photo in question. This is what one can gleam from his online presence:

If this were a man in the crowd the association could be easily dismissed – but it’s not. This is a leader of a motorcycle club in Russia, an active neo-Nazi and a man taking the stage with political leaders and giving interviews. In a leadership position, whatever the capacity, this is a troubling sign of what the Ukrainian Front is all about, and who will be enforcing their version of justice.