How cronyism exploits Ukrainian neo-Nazis

Ukraine’s early presidential and parliamentary elections earlier this year proved to be disastrous for the Ukrainian party-political far right.

Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of the All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom” (Svoboda), obtained 1.16% of the vote in the presidential election, while his party secured only 4.71% of the vote in the parliamentary election and, eventually, failed to pass the 5% electoral threshold and enter the parliament. In comparison, Svoboda obtained 10.44% of the votes in 2012 and formed the first ever far right parliamentary group in Ukraine’s history. Dmytro Yarosh, the leader of the Right Sector, obtained 0.70% in the presidential election, and 1.80% of the voters supported his party in the parliamentary election.

However, the electoral failure of Svoboda and the Right Sector did not mark “the end of history” of the Ukrainian far right, and some other developments proved to be much more problematic. One of these developments is the rise of the previously obscure neo-Nazi organisation “Patriot of Ukraine” (PU) led by Andriy Bilets’ky.

Neo-Nazi leader Andriy Biletskyi. Kharkiv, several years ago
Neo-Nazi leader Andriy Biletskyi. Kharkiv, several years ago

A member of Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front party, Avakov promoted the Azov battalion and granted the rank of police Lieutenant Colonel to its commander Biletskyi in August. The People’s Front also brought Biletskyi into the military council of the party and apparently planned to officially support his candidacy in the parliamentary election, but, due to the opposition to such a move from the Ukrainian expert community and representatives of national minorities, the People’s Front was forced to re-think its decision. However, the People’s Front, in particular Avakov and his advisor Anton Herashchenko, still supported Biletskyi unofficially, and he was elected into the parliament in a single-member district in Kyiv. After the elections, Avakov appointed Vadym Troyan, deputy commander of the Azov battalion and a top member of the PU, as head of the Kyiv region police.Like some other leaders of the PU, Biletskyi did not take part in the 2014 revolution, as he had been in jail since the end of 2011. Biletskyi and his associates were released – as “political prisoners” – only after the revolution. In May, the PU formed a core of the Azov battalion, a volunteer detachment governed by the Ministry of Interior headed by Arsen Avakov.

At a gathering of the Azov battalion. Kyiv, 2014
At a gathering of the Azov battalion. Kyiv, 2014

Avakov, Biletskyi and Troyan are coming from the Kharkiv region and have known each other at least since 2009-2010, when Avakov was still a governor of the Kharkiv region. In Kharkiv, the PU was involved in questionable activities, ranging from attacks on Vietnamese merchants to seizures of businesses. In 2010, the PU activists headed by Troyan seized four dozens of news stalls in Kharkiv in favour of, according to the media reports, a company of Andriy Liphans’ky. The latter was a business partner of Avakov and headed the board of media and information of the Kharkiv region during Avakov’s governance. Media reports also suggested that Liphans’ky rented a gym for training of the PU activists. In their turn, the PU activists provided security for the Kharkiv protests of the Bloc of Yuliya Tymoshenko (BYuT) – at that time Avakov headed that the regional office of the BYuT. Furthermore, a leader of the Kharkiv football hooligans who was close to the PU took part in Avakov’s mayoral campaign in 2010.Why does the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior promote the leaders of the neo-Nazi organisation? Its ideology can hardly explain these developments, as neither Avakov nor Herashchenko is a neo-Nazi. The explanation seems to lie in the past and has to do with a sinister legacy of cronyism.

Today’s involvement of the PU leaders in Ukrainian police seems to be driven by Avakov’s trust in the organisation that he worked with in the past. Avakov also seems to believe in the personal loyalty of the PU-led Azov battalion and may use them as his “private army” for business or political reasons.

Andriy Biletskyi and Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov, 2014
Andriy Biletskyi and Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov, 2014

The problematic relationship between the Ministry of Inferior and the neo-Nazis is undermining the credibility of the newly formed Ukrainian government internationally and domestically.

It was most likely Avakov who suggested to Poroshenko to grant Ukrainian citizenship to Belarusian fighter of the Azov battalion Sergey Korotkikh who had been involved in the neo-Nazi movements in Belarus and Russia since the late 1990s. It is highly unlikely that Avakov mentioned to Poroshenko the background of a new Ukrainian citizen.

Moreover, under Avakov, the police in Kyiv have already proved unable or unwilling to investigate a number of hate crimes. In July, far right thugs – not necessarily associated with the PU – attacked four black people in the underground, a gay club and a Jewish student by a synagogue. The police initiated two criminal cases, but nobody has been prosecuted so far. In September, the head of the Visual Culture Research Centre Vasyl Cherepanyn was beaten apparently by far right activists, but the police failed to investigate the attack too.

It seems viable to suggest that, under Troyan as head of the Kyiv region police, investigations into hate crimes will hardly be efficient, while the persistent traditions of cronyism will unlikely contribute to the building of a strong democracy

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