The “Ukraine crisis” is a long-planned operation

What is now known as the “Ukraine crisis” in the international media is hardly a properly Ukrainian phenomenon. The first uses of this phrase go back to the pro-European protests that started in November 2013 and ended with a revolution that ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014. Yet even if the initial pro-European protests could be considered an internal Ukrainian development, their trigger lay beyond the country’s borders.

It was Russian foreign policy that has always been directed at preventing Ukraine from leaving Russia’s sphere of influence. Since the annexation of Crimea in March, “the Ukraine crisis” seems an increasingly misleading concept. Especially because [highlight]the plans to annex Crimea and support separatists in Eastern Ukraine were designed by the Russian authorities several years ago[/highlight] and have little to do with the defence of ethnic Russians allegedly threatened by the new Ukrainian authorities.

We heard this story before, 75 years ago, when the Soviet Union invaded Poland under the pretext of protecting ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians from the advancing army of the Third Reich. It was only in 1989 when the Soviet authorities admitted the existence of the secret protocol of the Nazi-Soviet Pact that was signed on the 23rd of August, 1939, and implied the division of Poland, Romania, the Baltic States and Finland into Nazi and Soviet “spheres of influence”. It was Soviet expansionism initially supported by the Third Reich, rather than a concern about ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians, that was the first and only reason of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

Nazi-Soviet division of Europe
Nazi-Soviet division of Europe

Russian university textbooks on geopolitics published since the late 1990s routinely questioned the territorial integrity of Ukraine and, especially, the status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. Since the 1990s, Russian top officials regularly visited Crimea and spoke about the republic’s integration with Russia in future. In 2008, then Mayor of Moscow Yuriy Luzhkov was denied entry in Ukraine for his earlier speech about the “return” of Sevastopol, the major port in Crimea, to Russia.

For the Russian authorities, the “colour revolutions” in Georgia and Ukraine that brought to power pro-Western governments in 2003-2004 was a sign that these countries were willing to leave the Russian sphere of influence choosing liberal democracy over semi-authoritarian kleptocracy. President Vladimir Putin perceived these revolutions as a direct threat to his rule: if Russian citizens see that post-Soviet countries such as Georgia and Ukraine can successfully modernize and democratize, then they may want the same for Russia – and this would dramatically undermine the authoritarian regime that Putin and his elites have built. Hence, Putin’s task was to subvert democratic governments in the neighbouring countries to prevent them from successful modernization.

(left to right) Vladimir Yakunin and Igor Sechin, two of the most influential representatives of the siloviki group
(left to right) Vladimir Yakunin and Igor Sechin, two of the most influential representatives of the siloviki group

Most importantly for him was to prevent former Soviet countries from joining NATO. Despite the fear of NATO that Putin and his colleagues from security services (or siloviki) inherited from the Soviet times, the expansion of NATO in the 1990s and 2000s posed a very different threat to what was claimed by the Kremlin. [highlight]It had nothing to do with Moscow’s official line that NATO expansion near Russian borders was a danger to Russia’s national security. Rather, the organization’s system of collective defence secured member states’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, and this made it impossible or, at least, very dangerous for Russia to pursue its expansionist agenda.[/highlight]

Russian expansionism has always been veiled by the rhetoric of concern about “Russian compatriots” in neighbouring countries. A year after the Ukrainian “Orange revolution” in 2004, Putin lamented about “tens of millions of our co-citizens and compatriots” who had “found themselves outside Russian territory”, and claimed that “the collapse of the Soviet Union had been a major geopolitical disaster of the century”.

It was in 2005, when the Kremlin’s siloviki revitalized their support for pro-Russian separatists in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. That year, the organization “Donetsk Republic” – a Russian proxy in the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine – was created. Its leaders went to Russia in 2006 to participate in the summer camp of the Eurasian Youth Union that was established in 2005 with the money from the Presidential Administration of Russia on the initiative of Aleksandr Dugin, major ideologue of the Russia-led Eurasian Empire, and Vladislav Surkov, then deputy head of the Presidential Administration. This summer camp was aimed at further indoctrination of the activists and training for fighting against democratic movements in the neighbouring states. Instructors from security services taught methods of espionage, sabotage and guerrilla tactics. Among the participants of the summer camp was Andrey Purgin, who is now “First Prime Minister” of the “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

(from left to right) Oleg Frolov, currently a member of the "parliament of the Donetsk People's Republic", and Pavel Zarifullin, former leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, in the summer camp in 2006
(from left to right) Oleg Frolov, currently a member of the “parliament of the Donetsk People’s Republic”, and Pavel Zarifullin, former leader of the Eurasian Youth Union, in the summer camp in 2006

A political discussion of possible NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia in 2008 prompted Putin to lift the veil on Russian plans concerning Ukraine. It was at the Bucharest NATO meeting when Putin told then President George Bush: “You don’t understand, George, that Ukraine is not even a state. What is Ukraine? Part of its territories is Eastern Europe, but the greater part is a gift from us”. In his official speech at the same meeting, Putin even suggested that rapprochement with the West might result in Ukraine’s loss of statehood.

For the Kremlin, the ideal “solution of the Ukrainian question” (Plan A) was to integrate Ukraine into the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia that would be transformed into the Eurasian Union in 2015, and, consequently, prevent the country from signing an Association Agreement with the EU. [highlight]If Ukraine did not cooperate in this regard, then the Russian invasion of Ukraine would be Plan B.[/highlight] In September 2013, when the Ukrainian authorities still discussed the prospects of signing the Association Agreement with the EU, Putin’s aide Sergey Glazyev explicitly stated that if Ukraine signed the Agreement, Russia could no longer guarantee Ukraine’s status as a state and could intervene “if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Moscow”. The Ukrainian revolution that set the country on the pro-European course was a signal for Moscow to launch that Plan B.

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“We don’t want to use any kind of blackmail. This is a question for the Ukrainian people,” said Glazyev. “But legally, signing this agreement about association with EU, the Ukrainian government violates the treaty on strategic partnership and friendship with Russia.” When this happened, he said, Russia could no longer guarantee Ukraine’s status as a state and could possibly intervene if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Moscow.

“Signing this treaty will lead to political and social unrest,” said the Kremlin aide. “The living standard will decline dramatically … there will be chaos.”

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The Kremlin and its propaganda machine depict the annexation of Crimea as an act of defending ethnic Russians, and the current conflict in Eastern Ukraine – as a Ukrainian civil war. This narrative cannot be any further from the truth. What has been going on in Ukraine since February 2014 is an operation that Russia developed several years ago for the event of Ukraine willing to become a part of the family of European free, democratic nations.

[hr] Originally published on Anton Shekhovtsov’s blog

Putin’s useful idiots and little ribbentrops in Europe

By Anton Shekhovtsov

The Ukrainian revolution that started from pro-European protests (Euromaidan) in November 2013 and eventually ousted former president Viktor Yanukovych in March 2014 turned Russian president Vladimir Putin’s blood cold. There were two major – political and geopolitical – reasons for Putin to be terrified.

First of all, with his antagonism towards mass protests, which his regime systematically crushes in Russia itself, Putin feared that Maidan – which, after the “Orange revolution” in 2004, has become a name for a successful popular protest – could be somehow transferred to Russia and cause problems to his rule.Second, the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU, which was the initial demand of Euromaidan, could effectively pull Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence. Furthermore, through the rapprochement with the West, Putin feared that Ukraine might wish to join NATO – an organisation that never ceased to strike terror into the hearts of Russian nationalists and military “hawks”.

What happened in March, when Russia invaded and annexed the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, as well as starting its open covert operation in the Eastern parts of Ukraine, was sudden but not entirely unexpected. Have not Russian university textbooks on geopolitics been questioning the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine since the late 1990s? Did not Putin say, in 2008, to former US president George Bush that Ukraine was not “even a state” and that “the greater part” of it had been a “gift” from Russia? Did not Putin, through one of his mouthpieces, Sergey Glazyev, warn, in September 2013, that the signing of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU could lead to the intervention “if pro-Russian regions of the country appealed directly to Moscow”?

American fascist Lyndon LaRouche, his wife and colleague Helga-Zepp LaRouche and current Putin's aide Sergey Glazyev, then Russian parliament chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, June 2001
American fascist Lyndon LaRouche, his wife and colleague Helga-Zepp LaRouche and current Putin’s aide Sergey Glazyev, then Russian parliament chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, June 2001

The Russian invasion and the Kremlin’s support – including arms, money and manpower – ofpro-Russian right-wing extremists in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts have drawn condemnation from the EU, but this condemnation was not unanimous. While the mainstream political forces – conservatives, social-democrats, Greens and liberals – criticised the Russian aggressive interference in Ukraine, the radical right-wing and left-wing parties largely approved of it. The vote in the European Parliament on the 17th of March 2014, when it adopted the “Resolution on Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries and in particular destabilisation of eastern Ukraine”, has been revealing: out of 49 MEPs who voted against the resolution, 20 MEPs represented the far right, 26 MEPs – the left and the far left, and 3 MEPs were coming from generally Eurosceptic parties.

Historically, the strategic alliance between the far right and the (far) left is nothing new, as well as the annexation of a territory of another sovereign state. Thus, the similarities with the late 1930s were too obvious to ignore: the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that divided territories of Central-Eastern Europe into Nazi and Soviet “spheres of influence” and the consequent Nazi and Soviet annexations of these territories. Putin’s appeal to Russia’sCouncil of Federation of the Federal Assembly “to use the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on the territory of Ukraine” reminded of the statements made both by Adolf Hitler following the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939 and by Soviet chief CommissarVyacheslav Molotov on the eve of the Soviet invasion of Poland: all of them invaded these sovereign states on the grounds of protecting co-ethnics.

There are various reasons why the EU-based far right and (far) left are willing to endorse and approve of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.
European left-wingers, who rightly deserve – recalling the phenomenon of Western sympathisers of the Soviet Union during the Cold War – the title “useful idiots”, see in Russia a force that can challenge the alleged geopolitical unipolarity and the domination of liberal political economy. Being unable, due to their marginal role in national politics, to implement socialist and communist ideas in their home countries, they look at Russia as their last hope, despite the fact that Russia is not even a capitalist, but a kleptocratic, state.
Front National's leader Marine Le Pen in Moscow, June 2013
Front National’s leader Marine Le Pen in Moscow, June 2013

The far right’s reasons to support Putin are partly similar. Like the left, most of the EU’s far right parties despise the US as the dominant power in the world. Yet, for the far right, the US is also the “hotbed” of multiculturalism and multiracialism – the ideas and practices which the far right strongly oppose in the EU. Parties like the French National Front, Hungarian Jobbik, British National Party, Austrian Party of Freedom, Greek Golden Dawn and some others also praise Putin for turning Russia into a “truly sovereign” state that does not reckon with any other world power. And, obviously, Russia’s positioning as the last remaining bastion of traditional moral values does not fail to impress the far right who seem to not distinguish between the Kremlin’s posture and the shoddy reality of Russian mainstream culture.

What these little ribbentrops also fail to understand is that Putin is cooperating with them only to undermine and corrupt their countries. Of course, their strategic goal is mutual: theKremlin and the European far right want to weaken or even abolish the EU. The far right cherish the utopic idea of returning to a nation state to bring back a mythic sense of national belonging. Putin, however, wants something very different, something which can be achieved by following a maxim “divide and rule”. Through undermining the EU politically, binding the EU countries to Russia economically, Putin aspires to turn Russia into a super power.

In the world where Russia indeed secures a role of a super power, European countries will become Russia’s economic vassals. When Putin talks about “a unified Europe from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, one may remember the words of Belgian National Bolshevik Jean-François Thiriart who dreamed of the “Euro-Soviet Empire” and “Europe as far as Vladivostok”. These ideas may be attractive to some elements of the European far right, but for Putin, in his own vision of a space “from Lisbon to Vladivostok”, there is no Europe as we know it. This space will be called “Eurasia”, a kleptocracy extended from Vladivostok to Lisbon.

In this ominous reality, liberal democracy, rule of law, human rights, economic freedoms, equal opportunities and progressive values will be eliminated – as they have largely been eliminated in today’s Russia. The Kremlin will not need to invade European countries with Russian tanks: economic and political corruption is a weapon more clandestine, powerful and, eventually, virulent than conventional arms. The EU may be no bowl of cherries, butPutin’s useful idiots and little ribbentrops in Europe do not imagine what Putin has in store for them.

[hr] Originally published on anton-shekhovtsov.blogspot.com, republished with permission

Look far right, and look right again

The Russian political establishment thinks that Ukrainians are ‘traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.’ But it is not only Putin’s Russia that is behind the challenge to democracy in Ukraine.

Russkiy mir

In 2006, Russian nationalist historian Mikhail Smolin condemned former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma’s book Ukraine is not Russia, arguing that Ukraine was a ‘sickness,’ and Ukrainians were ‘South-Russian separatists,’ ‘traitors to Orthodox civilisation and Russian unity.’ To a greater or lesser extent, this view of the Ukrainian people is shared by the entire Russian political establishment and underpins many of the Kremlin’s responses to developments in Ukraine.

The notion of ‘Russian unity’ or russkiy mir (literally, Russian world) would seem to imply the existence of a transnational community of people and societies committed to Russian culture and language. The idea was adopted by Putin as early as 2006, and is obviously imperialistic, but it also reveals a deeper and probably more important insight into Moscow’s domestic and international politics. Since Putin’s regime correctly recognised Western-style liberal democracy as an existential threat to the well being of its elites (not the people), it has crushed democracy in Russia and successfully convinced a large number of Russian people that Western-style democracy is destructive (look back at the 1990s, they say) and essentially alien to them. To compensate for the rejection of liberal democracy and, therefore, becoming part of the West, the Kremlin and its loyal opinion-makers have offered the Russian people the belief that they are a unique civilisation in its own right: you do not need Western values because you are different; Russian culture is not only different but superior to Western culture.

putin-pic4_zoom-1000x1000-9229

Moscow proclaimed the uniqueness of Russian culture to justify both the rejection of Western-style democracy and Western modernisation. But the Kremlin – unlike China – has failed in its attempts at authoritarian modernisation, and Russian culture, as intrinsically understood by Putin’s regime, is about not modernising at all. Russkiy mir is an, ‘unwesternisable’ and ‘unmodernisable’ community. This is why Putin’s Russia is not fascist, as some commentators suggest: both Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany strove for an alternative modernity rather than rejecting the idea of modernisation altogether.

Obviously, no society should be forced to modernise along Western lines unless it so wishes. However, the danger of the Kremlin’s ‘non-modernisation,’ driven by the elites’ urgent need for self-preservation, is that it clashes with Russia’s natural progress towards social modernisation, which is determined by globalisation. Thus, the Kremlin’s ‘non-modernisation’ agenda is not only to conserve the existing traditionalist elements of Russian society, but also to suppress those who embrace Western-style modernisation. This suppression has resulted in almost all the social conservative policies that Putin’s regime has produced so far, showing disdain for – if not openly persecuting – human rights and environmental activists, social, cultural and sexual minorities, progressive artists and musicians, etc.

Another danger of the Kremlin’s refusal to modernise is that the uniqueness of the ‘unwesternisable’ russkiy mir needs constant corroboration, meaning that hindering the progress of Westernisation and democratisation in the countries that are allegedly part of russkiy mir is crucial for continuing to substantiate the ‘non-modernisation’ thesis to the Russians. Putin’s attempts, first to sabotage Ukraine’s democratic revolution, and then to undermine the country’s post-revolutionary development were aimed at Russian citizens, to prevent them from observing Ukraine’s successful democratisation; otherwise, if those Little Russians did it, why can’t we?

Belonging to russkiy mir

It is essential to stress that russkiy mir is not a community of ethnic Russians or societies committed to Russian culture. The Kremlin’s flirtation with Russian nationalism, although convincing, is inherently a means to secure the rule of the political and financial elites in Putin’s Russia. To be part of russkiy mir is to fit their agenda: disdain for liberal democracy, suppression of human rights, and undermining the rule of law. This explains why liberal citizens of Russia, or ethnic Russians in Ukraine who supported the democratic revolution, do not belong to russkiy mir; they are ‘national traitors’ or ‘Russophobes.’ It also helps to explain why the defenders of russkiy mir in Eastern Ukraine are racists and homophobes; and why the best friends of russkiy mir in the West are corrupt politicians and undemocratic political parties.

In May 2014, an ‘epic thread’ appeared on the Facebook page of the Right Sector, a far right Ukrainian movement that emerged at the beginning of the Euromaidan protests in November 2013. A photo of Conchita Wurst, the extravagant Austrian winner of 2014 Eurovision Song Contest, was posted with the comment: ‘Do we need this kind of ‘Europe’? Or would it be better to restore the real Europe at home and build a strong national state that would be free not only from Moscow imperialists but also from Western liberasts?!’. This post became a disaster for the Right Sector, as the overwhelming majority of the commentators – many of them actual subscribers to the Right Sector Facebook page – condemned the homophobia and intolerance of the post. One commentator said: ‘You have Putin’s view of Europe… Europe is different and Conchita demonstrates that people are different… And, with the kind of attitude that you demonstrate, you’d better go to a referendum and join Russia.’ Another comment was no less devastating: ‘If you’re homophobes, then don’t turn on the TV. Go and visit neighbouring fascist Russia – they think the same way you do. Shame on you.’ Apart from comparing the Right Sector to Putin’s Russia, some comments also denounced its isolationism: ‘Do you want Juche [North Korean autarchy) ideas in Ukraine or do you want Ukraine to be a full member of the world community? If you want Juche, then you are enemies of Ukraine; if you don’t, then stop this silly hysteria and talk about self-isolation. Simply put: stop talking nonsense. Glory to Ukraine!’

Written in Ukrainian and Russian, comments like these affirm that Ukraine’s departure (‘South-Russian separatism’) from russkiy mir or the sphere of influence of Putin’s Russia is not about creating an unbridgeable ethno-cultural cleavage between the Ukrainians and Russians. It is about rejecting what Putin’s Russia apparently stands for: intolerance, illiberalism, and isolationism.

Far right… and far far right

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Unfortunately, the annexation of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, and the proxy war that the Kremlin has waged against Ukraine in eastern parts of the country have created the conditions for some elements of Ukrainian society to evolve in the direction of russkiy mir. The natural feeling of humiliation deriving from the loss of territory and military failure, resulted in a psychological need for the deceptive comfort of populism and its simplistic rhetoric and actions. Similar attitudes were to be found in Russia after the defeat in the first Chechen war – attitudes that contributed to the rise of Putin.

After Ukraine’s presidential election in May 2014, many journalists and experts on Ukraine, who highlighted the pathetic results of the two ‘official’ far-right candidates, Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok (1.16%) and Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh (0.70%), completely ignored the strong electoral performance of another presidential candidate, Oleh Lyashko, who obtained 8.32% of the votes and finished third. In his political programme, peppered with 23 exclamation marks, Lyashko presented a textbook example of unabashed populism, while, during his campaign, he postured in a military uniform promising to ‘return Crimea to Ukraine!’ In the run-up to the presidential election, Lyashko praised militarism and bragged about unlawfully questioning a captured separatist. However, not only have the Ukrainian authorities ignored Lyashko’s criminal actions, but society has largely failed to condemn his behaviour.

Social-National Assembly (SNA)

Lyashko worked with Right Sector extremist elements, namely the Social-National Assembly (SNA); and by spring 2014 had effectively managed to lure them away from Right Sector. The SNA is a neo-Nazi movement, which has always been too extreme for the Right Sector. According to its official documents, its ‘nationalism is racial, social, great-power imperialist, anti-systemic (anti-democratic and anti-capitalist), self-sufficient, militant and uncompromising’. Its ideology ‘builds on maximalist attitudes, national and racial egoism,’ while glorifying the Ukrainian nation as part of the ‘White Race.’

Lyashko’s Radical Party nominated several SNA members as candidates in the May 2014 Kyiv city council elections: Oleh Odnorozhenko (its ideologue), Ihor Mosychuk, Ihor Kryvoruchko, and Volodymyr Shpara. It seems plausible to suggest that SNA members will also be included in Lyashko’s party list in the early parliamentary elections possibly taking place in autumn 2014.

The SNA was also behind the formation of the Azov battalion, a volunteer auxiliary police unit that was armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine as part of the Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO) launched against the (pro-)Russia separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The Azov battalion does not consist solely of SNA members (although there are unverified reports that all the volunteers are required to sign up to the SNA before joining the battalion), but the SNA leader Andriy Biletsky is its commander, with Mosychuk as his deputy. The battalion includes members of Misanthropic Division, an international neo-Nazi movement, whose Ukrainian ‘branch’ – mostly based in Kharkiv – is affiliated with the SNA. The Division considers that, rather than liberating Eastern Ukraine from illiberal and undemocratic (pro-)Russia separatists, their ‘black squadrons are fighting in the ranks of the pagan battalion Azov against the residues of modern society represented by khachi [racist slur for natives of the Caucasus region], chavs, communists, liberals, Asians and other Untermenschen.’

Media coverage

The SNA’s participation in the ATO in Eastern Ukraine, and Lyashko’s cooperation with the neo-Nazis, run in parallel with mainstream Ukrainian media according the SNA a degree of legitimacy by proclaiming them ‘defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.’ They are almost never presented to audiences as SNA members, but specifically as fighters of the Azov battalion. In the same manner, RT (formerly Russia Today) presents members of European far-right parties who support the Kremlin’s agenda, as simply European politicians, without mentioning their undemocratic doctrines.

Recently, SNA members have appeared on Ukrainian TV, and interviews with them have been published by respected media outlets. Their ideology was very rarely questioned although sometimes they took the liberty of appearing on TV wearing clothes with dubious symbols. Regretfully, the same media that provided objective coverage during the Maidan revolution were now legitimising the SNA by refusing to regard their ideology and activities as problematic.

Ihor Mosiychuk

Hromadske TV, for instance, invited Biletsky, Mosychuk and Kryvoruchko to its studio as the commanders of the Azov battalion. In one episode, a journalist of Hromadske went so far as to show a video in which Mosychuk was humiliating a captured separatist. The journalist failed to provide even moderate criticism of Mosychuk’s actions – in what way was he any different from the Russian state journalists who questioned, detained and abused Ukrainian security officers?

In another episode, Roman Skrypin, a journalist for Hromadske, evidently unwillingly asked Biletsky, who was wearing a black paramilitary polo with a chevron saying ‘Black Corps’ – a clear reference to Das Schwarze Korps, the official newspaper of the SS – about the claims that the SNA was a neo-Nazi movement. When Biletsky, for obvious reasons, decided not to give a direct answer, Skrypin disavowed his question.

Ukrainska Pravda, LB, The Insider and other influential Ukrainian media outlets have regularly published comments from and interviews with the SNA leaders, as well as sympathetic coverage of their actions. Novoye Vremya, a new media project of Vitaliy Sych, former editor of the popular magazine Korrespondent, has even named Biletsky among the 10 people ‘who are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence in Donbas.’ It may be worth remembering that Sych declared Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnybok ‘the person of the year 2012.’

How different, then, are they all from the media in Putin’s Russia that serve as a platform for disseminating the illiberal and intolerant views of Russian ultranationalists such as Aleksandr DuginAleksandr Prokhanov and many others? Ukrainian humanistic and liberal voices are few. In Ukraine, they are often slammed as ‘pacifists,’ although neither humanism nor liberalism equals pacifism. In Russia, liberal journalists are condemned as the ‘fifth column.’

Conflict as a test of Ukrainian democracy

Russia’s proxy war against Ukraine now serves as a perfect excuse for legitimising the fringe Ukrainian neo-Nazis as ‘defenders of the Ukrainian motherland.’ Those who are involved in this process – especially the Ministry of Internal Affairs that arm them and Ukrainian mainstream media that uncritically take their ‘patriotism’ at face value – fail to understand that neo-Nazis pose a real threat to Ukrainian society.

The Constitution of Ukraine unequivocally states that ‘Ukraine is the sovereign and independent, democratic, social, legal state’ (Article 1). For some Ukrainians, the Russian threat to their country’s sovereignty and independence has obscured the rationale of being sovereign and independent – that is to secure the democratic, social and legal state. Furthermore, the Constitution unambiguously recognises, ‘the human being, his or her life and health, honour and dignity, inviolability and security’ as the highest social value. At the same time, the main duty of the state is ‘to affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms’ (Article 3).

It is absurd to assume that the neo-Nazis who ‘are taking a stand for Ukraine’s independence’ are doing this in the name of Ukraine’s highest social values or to reinforce the main duty of the state as stipulated by the Constitution. Rather, they are arming themselves, learning how to fight and kill, as well as recruiting new members. Their ‘ideal Ukraine’ is not only different, but is the direct opposite of a democratic, social and legal state. To ignore these values, to override them for the sake of sovereignty and independence, is to move closer psychologically in the direction of Putin’s russkiy mir without even acknowledging it. Ukraine’s rapprochement with the EU should mean something different, because EU member states have partially sacrificed their sovereignty and independence at the altar of supranational democracy, more secure social order and the stronger rule of law.

In the beginning of July, Mayor of Kyiv Vitali Klitschko used the conflict in Eastern Ukraine as an excuse for discarding what should be the fundamental values of the democratic Ukrainian state. On 5 July, the Ukrainian LGBT community was going to hold a March of Equality in Kyiv, under the slogan ‘Ukraine is united and we are part of it,’ but Klitschko called for its cancellation on the grounds that ‘when military operations are taking place and many people are dying,’ it would not be ‘appropriate to hold entertainments.’ Klitschko seems completely to misunderstand the meaning of democracy: the March of Equality is not an ‘entertainment’ but a means of drawing attention to the fact that the state should ‘affirm and ensure human rights and freedoms’ of all its citizens.

What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion returns to Kyiv to fight against various ‘Untermenschen’?

The March of Equality has been cancelled but the reasons for cancelling it are most disturbing: the police told the organising committee that ‘they could not secure the safety of participants in the face of expected far-right counter-demonstrators.’ What will Klitschko do when the neo-Nazi gang from the Azov battalion – officially armed by the Ministry of Internal Affairs – returns to Kyiv to fight against various Untermenschen? The failure to protect the participants of the March of Equality from Ukrainian right-wing extremists in Kyiv is no different from the failure to protect East Ukrainian civilians from (pro-)Russia separatists, because ‘all people are free and equal in their dignity and rights’, while ‘human rights and freedoms are inalienable and inviolable’ (Article 21).

Giving in to bullies only makes them stronger; retreating from any enemy of democracy – be they militants of intolerant and isolationist russkiy mir or Ukrainian neo-Nazis – is to open up even more space for injustice, and cede even more territory to anti-European forces. Every time Ukraine’s authorities infringe the rights of its citizens, Putin gives a welcoming smile.


Originally published on Open Democracy