East Ukraine crisis and the 'fascist' matrix
Is the Russian leadership fomenting ideological links with some
far-right European parties?
By Halya Coynash
Ukraine's main far-right party, VO Svoboda, has been dumped by its
erstwhile European ultra-nationalist allies. It was dumped for Russia
with whom the most virulently anti-Semitic, anti-migrant and far-right
parties in France, Hungary and other EU countries are developing close
ties. The Kremlin's blossoming contacts with those parties, and the
far-right roots of prominent pro-Russian activists in Ukraine do not
deter Russia from claiming to be protecting Russian nationals from the
anti-Semitic and fascist hordes who have allegedly seized control in
The claims have been refuted countless times and attempts to use
anti-Semitism condemned by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, prominent
Jewish civic figures, academics and others. The UN's High Commissioner
on Human Rights has rightly indicated that "misinformation, propaganda
and incitement to hatred need to be urgently countered" but missed the
point entirely about the source of it all.
Who is fascist?
Russia's propaganda machine, and especially Russian-language TV
channels are feeding not only the Russian audience, but also a
significant number of Ukrainians with lies and manipulated reports.
Images of a Crimean rabbi forced to leave for Kiev after condemning
Russian intervention are presented as showing a rabbi forced to leave
Ukraine because of mounting anti-Semitism.
In one astounding attempt to explain the denial by Ukrainian Jews of
Russia's claims, viewers on the Kremlin-funded Russia Today were asked
whether such Jewish organisations "are with their own hands bringing
on a second Holocaust?"
You have only to listen to those on the streets supporting the armed
"federalists" in the Donetsk region to see that the propaganda works.
The armed separatists and their supporters would tell journalists that
they do not want to live in the same country with "fascists". It is no
accident that the puppet government "elected" after armed Russian
soldiers seized government buildings in the Crimea immediately closed
down almost all Ukrainian media and gave the broadcasting frequencies
to Russian channels.
A number of the main actors in the pro-Russian protests in the Donetsk
region have strong links with far-right parties. Pavel Gubarev, for
example, is a Donetsk business owner and the head of the "People's
Militia". On March 1, he was supposedly elected "people's governor"
and led a crowd in storming the Donetsk regional administration
building, demanding that a referendum be held on the oblast's
secession and calling for Russian military intervention. His detention
was presented by Russian TV channels as politically motivated
persecution. They preferred not to delve into Gubarev's ideological
roots as a member of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity Party.
Gubarev, and a number of other leading figures in the Donetsk
federalist protests, are members of Natalya Vitrenko's Progressive
Socialist Party. That party was singled out by Josef Zissels, head of
the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress when he rejected Russian claims that
the EuroMaidan protesters were anti-Semitic. He said that the Congress
which monitors anti-Semitism and xenophobia had instead found a lot of
anti-Semitic material on pro-Russian sites like that of the
Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) aimed at inciting antagonism to
EuroMaidan. The latter was presented as having been instigated by
A rather small rally in Mykolaiv on April 6 declared another PSP
supporter, Dmitry Nikonov, "people's governor", while two members -
Alexander Kharytonov and Alexander Kravtsov - are leading figures in
the Luhansk Guard, a major separatist organisation in the south-east.
Kravtsov is also involved in organisations with neo-Nazi leanings.
More can and has been said about the relatively small number of such
pro-Russian activists. It should, however, be stressed that none was
well-known or had any influence before the events which led to
Russia's annexation of the Crimea. This changed on April 6 when
administrative buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv were seized,
then most dramatically on April 13, with the deployment of armed
militants noted by the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, as
being "equipped with Russian weapons and the same uniforms as those
worn by Russian forces that invaded Crimea".
A public opinion survey carried out in the second half of March
reported a majority in Ukraine favouring joining the EU and a majority
in all regions believing that Crimea should remain a part of Ukraine
in some manner. Another survey was undertaken by Civic Watch with the
participation of the Democratic Initiatives Foundation, from March 16
to 30, with respondents from throughout Ukraine, including the Crimea.
An absolutely majority - 89 percent - consider Ukraine to be their
motherland. Only 8 percent support separatism. Even in Donbas (Donetsk
and Luhansk regions) only 18 percent were in favour of it.
The so-called referendum on March 16 on Crimea's future has not been
recognised by the international community for many reasons, including
the presence of armed Russian soldiers. The self-styled prime
minister, Sergei Aksenov whose pro-Russian party gained a mere 4
percent of the votes at the last parliamentary elections, had
previously gained notoriety for criminal connections rather than
Russian ties with Europe's far right
The same cannot be said of those invited by Russia to "observe the
referendum". The choice was clearly limited since Ukrainian and
international election watchdogs had refused to recognise a
"referendum". Those who turned up were Russia's far-right (or
Russian TV channels reported the essentially full stamp of approval
provided by this "team of international observers". These included at
least two members of the radical right-wing populist Freedom Party of
Austria: Aymeric Chauprade, adviser on international issues for the
French National Front; Belgian Luc Michel, former neo-Nazi FANE member
and now member of an extreme right party, as well as two compatriots
from the far-right Vlaams Belang; two members of the Bulgarian
far-right Ataka Party; Hungarian Bela Kovacs from the far-right Jobbik
party, and others.
Some of the above-mentioned and others are members of the Alliance of
European National Movements which issued a statement on Ukraine that
effectively drops its former ally, Ukraine's VO Svoboda Party and
sides with Russia. The statement's anti-Semitic argumentation is
well-worth reading given the constant Kremlin narrative about supposed
Shekhovtsov reports that on April 9, Tamas Gaudi Nagy, MP from the
far-right Jobbik party gave a three-minute speech against European
democracy at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. He
was wearing a t-shirt reading: "Crimea belongs to Russia;
Transcarpathia [in Ukraine - HC] belongs to Hungary." It is worth
recalling that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union once signed a
collaboration pact which involved a similar carving up of Poland.
Besides Jobbik, Russia is also cultivating relations with Marine Le
Pen's French National Front and other far-right movements. Strong
showing by these parties in the upcoming May European Parliament
elections will presumably add other voices, like Nagy's, in support
for Moscow's annexation of a part of Ukraine.
In a recent study, the Political Capital Institute suggests that there
are ideological links between some far-right European parties and the
current Russian leadership. Russia, it says, has under Vladimir Putin,
set its sights on the restoration of the country's status as a world
power. Far-right and other parties seeking to undermine European unity
and taking an anti-Western line are presumably to play a role in its
fulfilment of Russia's imperialist aspirations. So, too, are the
references to "fascists" used as an attempt to justify Ukraine's
dismemberment. The world has been here before, and the price for
collaborating with fascists and for failure to react to clear danger
proved tragically high.
Halya Coynash a journalist and member of the Kharkiv Human Rights Group.