|BOTH SIDES IN the Ukrainian civil war harbour unsavoury right-wing forces - pan-Slavic separatists yearning for the old Tsarist Empire in the east and overt fascist admirers of the Hitler in the western provinces. But the Ukrainian far right, particularly its armed formations like the Azov battalion, plays an outsized role in Ukrainian military and political affairs and represents a threat to the conservative Petroshenko government in Kiev unlike any comparable movement on the Russian side.
The Putin government is autocratic but still popular in Russia for having restored economic growth and a semblance of military power, while anti-fascist and pro-Soviet sentiments have been embedded in the Russian political culture since the Great Patriotic War. By contrast, the Ukrainian economy continues to crumble and the population is increasingly frustrated by the new government’s failure to subdue the rebellion in the east despite the loss of much blood and treasure. In much of the country outside the industrialized Donbass, anti-Russian feelings run high, and those who fought with the pro-Nazi Bandera forces in western Ukraine are celebrated as national heroes.
Conditions in Ukraine are coming perilously close to resembling those in Germany in 1918, when embittered veterans of the First World War returned home to become the shock troops of the Nazi party in the doomed Weimar republic. The issue may yet become whether the pro-Western government installed in Kiev earlier this year will be able to contain their contemporary Ukrainian counterparts.