In Ukraine Europe is collaborating with oligarchs and fascists

23 February 2016

In Ukraine Europe is collaborating with oligarchs and fascists

The government in Kiev is no bastion of a free democracy. On the contrary, the present administration was helped into power by violence and is characterised by repression, corruption and chauvinism. Half of the population, which does not believe in the present pro-European and anti-Russian course, has been determinedly pushed aside, while there is a disturbing link between fascist groups and the centre of power in Ukraine.

By Chris de Ploeg

On 6th April the Netherlands will vote in a referendum on the Association Agreement between the EU and Ukraine. This is an important moment for the country to express its views on cooperation between the two. The treaty has, however, already come into force – on 1st January. Moreover NATO is already giving its support to Ukraine, politically as well as militarily. The Ukrainian Minister of Defence has also declared that he has received arms from individual NATO countries. This development is a reaction to the damaging role played in the country by Russia, which annexed the Crimea and supported the rebels there. However that may be, it’s time that Ukraine put its own house in order.

The myth of the universal European dream

When in November 2013 the former Ukrainian president Yanukovych postponed an Association Agreement with the EU, and then concluded a new gas deal with Russia, mass demonstrations began which by the end of February would lead to the his fall, the fall a democratically elected head of state. This protest movement styled itself EuroMaidan, named for its European aspirations and for Kiev’s Maidan Square, which had been at the movement’s heart. This ‘Maidan Revolution’ was portrayed in the western media as a broad people’s movement. In Ukraine, however, relations with the EU have always been an extremely polarising point. This is because Ukraine is, as a result of its history, is enormously divided along ethnic-linguistic lines. In the east is an overwhelmingly Russian-speaking working class, employed in industry which exports a large part of its product to the Russian market. Many people have family just over the border; but in the west almost everyone speaks Ukrainian, and emigration has been directed towards Europe and the United States. Voting behaviour has been, since the establishment of an independent Ukraine, primarily determined by these economic-ethnic-linguistic frameworks, and election debates turn to a great extent around the question of foreign relations: more Europe, or more Russia?

‘More Russia’ was the basis of former president Yanukovych’s election campaign. He had nevertheless promised to make haste with the negotiations over a trade agreement with the EU, which had begun in 2008 under his pro-European predecessor, Yushchenko. But on the other hand he would be trying to gain access to the Eurasian Economic Community, a customs union consisting of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan. In his own view, this would bring the impassioned foreign interests of the people into balance. According to the polls, support for each treaty fluctuated indeed at around 40%. Yanukovych’s decision not to pursue NATO membership reflected the fact that in Ukraine NATO is more often seen as a threat than as a protector. Half of Ukraine’s population, then, was against the Maidan protests, and support for Yanukovych’s party, even in February, three weeks prior to his fall, stood at 30%, making it the most popular in the polls. The opposition had, after all, also a track record of corruption.

The regional differences explain why there is in most pro-Russian provinces there exists so much support for separatism. In the Crimea the polls show around 80% support for the annexation by Russia, while in the Donbass provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, where armed rebellion is taking lace, the majority want either annexation by Russia or federalisation. Another poll from last May, just before the heaviest escalations, indicated that 66% wanted to vote in favour of independence in the referendum. Even in those areas of Donbass now occupied by the Ukrainian army, 41% support either independence or Russian annexation, while 25% want to see autonomy for the region. The other East Ukrainian provinces do want to continue to form part of Ukraine. Yet although there are indirect indications that their attitude to NATO and the EU has improved as a result of the war, an overwhelming majority there remains set against membership of either. Around a third of all Ukrainians, excluding those living in the Crimea or in Donbass, had, as late as September 2015, a positive view of Russia, while half wanted close relations with open borders with neither visa requirements nor customs and excise duties. The turnout in each successive election – presidential, parliamentary and local – was also unprecedentedly low. In the east the turnout in some provices sunk as low as 30%, while the rebel areas did not participate at all.

The myth of the peaceful revolution

The undoubtedly positive side of the Maidan revolution was in the meantime acknowledged by most people. Former Ukrainian president Yanukovych had used his term of office to consolidate his presidential power over the government and parliament. The legal system was becoming ever less independent, and the increasingly authoritarian regime was possibly the most corrupt in the country’s history. When in 2013 Yanukovych decided at the last minute to postpone the EU Association Agreement, tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets. After these demonstrators were met with truncheons and teargas, people had had enough. A large popular movement developed, principally in West Ukraine, a movement which consisted primarily of a middle class which hungered for change.

Nevertheless, a small but determined minority was decisive in bringing about the fall of Yanukovych. Although most of the violence came from the authorities and from hired thugs in the pay of the government, pictures appeared of demonstrators attacking the police with gas and with staves. These were no ordinary hooligans. On 1st January, 2014, a 10,000-strong torchlight parade was held in commemoration of Nazi collaborator Stefan Bandera. Nazi symbols proliferated on the walls of Kiev while dozens of fascists from Sweden streamed in to support their brothers. After virtually every speech from the Maidan podium the speaker called out ‘Glory to Ukraine’, to which the crowd responded ‘Glory to the heroes!’. This was the slogan of the former Ukrainian fascist movement, which contributed to the country’s ‘enormous holocaust by bullets’ and established a Ukrainian Waffen SS division.

A frontman from the fascist Svoboda Party proudly told the New York Times that they had plundered an arms depot in Lviv and that they were sending 600 fighters a day to Kiev. Neo-Nazis quickly positioned themselves on the front rank with shields, firearms and Molotov cocktails in order to storm government buildings. People were killed on both sides. Yanukovych opened talks with the opposition leaders and a cease-fire was called. But the radical contingent from the Maidan wanted nothing to do with this, and continued to advance with firebombs. The violence culminated in unprecedented tragedy when groups of snipers began firing on both police and demonstrators. Virtually the entire world condemned the incumbent president Yanukovych, which meant his days were numbered. Since then, however, the first academic study has appeared, conducted by the Ukrainian political scientist Ivan Katchanovski. Basing his analysis on an enormous quantity of pictorial material, intercepted radio communications from police units, eye witness accounts, ballistic research and countless other pieces of evidence, the Ukrainian academic concluded that the bulk of deaths, if not the entire bloodbath, was a matter of a false flag operation, in which the perpetrators fired on their own people in order to provoke the enemy’s downfall. Many of Katchanovski’s findings were backed by sound studies conducted by a UN special rapporteur, a report from the Council of Europe, the German public news broadcaster ARD, the American documentary film maker John Beck-Hoffman and the press agency Reuters.

Following the bloodbath by snipers on 20th February, Yanukovych found himself under enormous pressure. He came to an agreement with opposition leaders. But Maidan was unimpressed and publicly gave him an ultimatum: he had to step down by 10 a.m. on 22nd February, or they would ‘take up arms and strike’. On that day Yanukovych was removed by a vote in the parliament. The dismissal procedure was not in keeping with the constitution, which requires a three-quarters majority and a judicial review by the constitutional court.

The important role played by the fascist movement became evident in the light of the countless positions which were handed to its representatives in the interim government, which included seven ministries. The new vice-premier Oleksandr Sich told the European Parliament on 4th February that ‘the fascist dictatorship is the best way to govern a country’, according to a report in the Italian weekly magazine Panorama. Although these fascists ruled for only a few months, they fulfilled an important role in unleashing the Ukraine crisis and in the normalisation of links with the fascist movement.

Yanukovych had not been gone twenty-four hours when what remained of the parliament voted overwhelmingly in favour of abolishing Russian as the second language in the eastern provinces. Russian news broadcasters were taken off the air and numerous statues of Lenin, including a monument to soldiers who fell fighting the Nazis, were attacked and often covered in Nazi symbols. When people in the east, following the example of Maidan, also began storming government buildings, Kiev answered them with tanks and soldiers. The conflict led in the Donbass to a civil war in which Kiev openly deployed neo-Nazi militias who, like many of the rebels, turned to torture and executions, sometimes in cooperation with the central authorities. In addition, residential areas, where there were schools and hospitals, were bombed with Grad rockets and cluster munition. According to the German secret service, 50,000 people lost their lives.

The myth of the marginal fascists

Fortunately, the extreme right enjoyed no great electoral success. Together with the Radical Party, Svoboda and the Right Sector won some 14% of the votes, and a meagre 6.5% of the seats. Only the Radical Party formed – temporarily - part of the new coalition, and they took only a single ministerial post, that of vice-premier. This is, however, not a good measure of the influence of the extreme right, who often resort to extra-legal methods.

Various fascist organisations have declared that they will also get rid of Poroshenko. However that may be, the threat of such will play at the back of the president’s mind now that virtually the only well-functioning armed forces are extreme right militias who are armed to the teeth, while the state has less control than ever.

But what is most abhorrent of all is the fact that the pro-European policy elite itself was also prepared to cooperate with the fascist movement. It was bad enough that this was permitted in the formation of the interim government, but since then it has become clear that the alliances are also of a long-lasting nature. Numbers 2 and 4 on the party list of current premier Yatsenyuk, for example, have held leading positions in neo-Nazi organisations, while his People’s Front party recruited its military council mainly from the leaders of defunct extreme right militias. One of them is, for example, Andriy Biletskiy, who recently wrote the following: ‘The historic mission of our nation… is to lead the White Races of the world in… a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.’ Biletsky was also appointed lieutenant-colonel in the police. His former vice-commandant in the neo-Nazi battalion Azov, Vadim Troyan, was named head of the regional police in Kiev. Other important posts held by down-the-line neo-Nazis are the two presidencies of the National Security Council and the first vice-president of the parliamentary council for law enforcement. Finally, the founder of the Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre was appointed head of the propaganda and analysis division of the Ukrainian Secret Service.

That neo-Nazis get into positions where they have access to significant governmental resources is of course more than worrying. But the pro-European policy elite appears itself to be moving in the direction of a dangerous chauvinism. Yatsenyuk, for example, has called Russians ‘subhumans’, while President Poroshenko recently praised Nazi collaborators as heroes who deserved a legal status. His own TV channel regularly broadcasts a commercial which compares the separatists to pests that should be exterminated. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov employed the same dehumanising language when he labelled pro-Russians as ‘pests’. Keith Gessen, an eye witness to the brutal bombardment of the residential districts of the Donbass, wrote the following in The London Review of Books: ‘This is what I heard from respectable people in Kiev. Not from the nationalists, but from liberals, from professionals and journalists. All the bad people were in one place – why not kill them all?’ (1)

With the loss of the Crimea, and almost a million inhabitants of Donbass who have fled to Russia, it’s unlikely that the pro-European camp will have any major electoral concerns. Nevertheless, the post-Maidan establishment have given the fascists carte blanche to do what they like in the rest of Ukraine. In Odessa, for example, some forty pro-Russian activists were burned to death. Countless revealing amateur photographs have ended up on the internet, and the fascist Right Sector even took responsibility via its website for this ‘sparkling page in our national history’. Pro-Russian media which have not already been removed from the air centrally, are often intimidated and attacked in attempts to get them to alter or end their reportage. Leaders, MPs and activists from the pro-Russian opposition parties are regularly threatened and beaten, even in the middle of parliament, and their homes and offices destroyed. The leader of the Radical Party, which entered parliament at the end of 2014 with 5% of the seats, regularly and proudly puts pictures of such things on his website. All three of the pro-Russian presidential candidates were attacked at the time and two of them subsequently withdrew from the race. The Ukrainian academic Ivan Katchanovski wrote at the end of August that a clear majority of legislation carried by parliament had received not a single dissenting vote, a phenomenon which last occurred in Soviet Ukraine. It is unprecedently perverse, then, that the enormous gains in fascist influence were sold by European leaders as a ‘victory for the people of Ukraine and for democracy’. This is a regime that has the full support of the western powers.

The myth of a democratic pro-European faction

Repression under President Poroshenko appears to have gone even further than under Yanukovych. His first proposal for constitutional amendments would give him de facto control over the entire state apparatus. In the meantime repressive wartime laws are being forced through: people can have their communications bugged and can be locked up without a warrant, while the government determined what information can be spread via internet, in print or on television. There is now even a newly established Orwellian Ministry of Information Policy. Meanwhile, judges can be removed by a purification commission, the majority of whose members are appointed by the government. Recently, also, a new purification law was adopted as a result of which a million officials who worked under Yanukovych could be sacked. Ironically enough Poroshenko was himself a junior minister under Yanukovych and, according to a Wikileaks cable from the US ambassador in Ukraine, he is ‘tainted by credible corruption allegations.’ Large-scale misuse of the purification law as a means of selective prosecution is therefore on the cards. At the same time the Communist Party of Ukraine (CPO) has already been dissolved and a process of banning the party set in motion.

The war and a large portion of propaganda act as an outstanding lightning rod for Poroshenko. Where demonstrations in Ukraine have usually concerned civil rights and social-economic emancipation, nationalist mobilisation has now taken centre-stage, according to a study by the Centre for Social Research. This does not stop the government from dealing with demonstrations in a still more harsh fashion than was the case under Yanukovych’s pre-Maidan regime, according to the study. It seems obvious then that the post-Maidan establishment has made considerable misuse of the situation, and that this is also becoming clear to the Ukrainian people. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 8% of the population have any confidence in the president. That percentage, in the interests of clarity, is three times lower than the comparable figure under Yanukovych.

If then we draw up a balance sheet the picture that emerges is devastating. Our European partners in Kiev represent rhetorically half of the population, but in practice only a select community of insiders. This is unfortunately not ‘business as usual’, because their corruption now goes hand in hand with a dangerous chauvinism. This is the first time since the Second World War that a European government has been penetrated to such an extent by fascist influence, that talk of ‘subhumans’ has become the norm, and that armed neo-Nazis have been shamelessly deployed against their own population. In a time when the extreme right is on the rise in the whole of Europe, and neo-Nazis in Greece may even be preparing for an armed coup d’état, this creates an extremely dangerous precedent. That the ‘moderate’ European leadership is supporting this government financially, politically and militarily, should enter our amnesiac schoolbooks as an extremely dark page.

Chris Kaspar de Ploeg is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in a number of Dutch-language periodicals in the Netherlands and Belgium, as well as the US journal Dissident Voice. This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in the original Dutch in the weekly De Groene Amsterdammer on 24th December 2014, and later, in January 2016, in the SP monthly Spanning.

Notes: Keith Gessen, ‘Why not kill them all?’ London Review of Books, Vol. 36 No. 17 · 11 September 2014, pp. 18-22 http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n17/keith-gessen/why-not-kill-them-all

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