by Gordon M. Hahn
As I have noted numerous times, both the West and Russia deserve blame for the making of the Ukrainian crisis and civil war. But revolutions — no matter who instigates or encourages them — are messy things; once begun no one knows where they might end, especially when neo-fascists or other radical types play a prominent role.
Thus, the passage in a first of three readings and votes of a likely meaningless ‘decentralization’ amendment along with more important ones to the Ukrainian constitution today ended as politics often do in Maidan Ukraine since the Western-approved illegal power seizure in February 2014. The neo-fascists of the deceptively named Svoboda (Freedom) Party, led by their anti-Semitic and Russophobe chairman Oleh Tyahnibok, attempted to storm the hall of Ukraine’s parliament, the Supreme Rada. Svoboda. The news from Kiev is even worse, since the more ‘moderate’ Self-Help party has defended Svoboda’s action.
The clash erupted between police and the Svoboda members as the latter demonstrated and then attempted to storm the Rada. Video and photos show Svoboda leader Tyahnibok and his deputy Yurii Sirotyuk acting aggressively towards riot police (see photo above) and then Sirotyuk beating a path to the building using a rubber truncheon on police (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/112928-tolpu-radikalov-pod-radoj-prokachivali-tjagnibok-i-sirotjuk).
Sirotyuk attacking police
Those paying attention to the Ukrainian crisis – a small group albeit — might recall US Assistant Secretary of State warmly greeting Tyahnibok and U.S. Senator John McCain appearing on stage with him on the Maidan in the run-up to the illegal Maidan seizure of power.
At any rate, Tyahnibok’s ‘freedom’ fighters then tossed a grenade and shot firearms at police and shots soon rang out. The grenade explosion caused one policeman to lose part of his foot, and fifteen police were reported wounded and injured as a result of the battle (http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/112907-iz-za-vzryva-granaty-siloviku-otorvalo-nogu# and http://vesti-ukr.com/kiev/112907-iz-za-vzryva-granaty-siloviku-otorvalo-nogu#). In evening MVD chief Arsenii Avakov reported there were 125 wounded “siloviki”, including one in a coma (www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2015/08/31/7079685/), and held Tyahnibok responsible. However, as with the history of impunity for Dmitro Yarosh’s Right Sector neo-fascist violence, Tyahnibok remains free. The video of the grenade explosion can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ifHrs2Wxto. Svoboda was ‘demonstrating’ against the Rada’s passage of a series of constitutional amendments that ostensibly gives the Donbass regions Donetsk and Luhansk power-sharing with, or autonomy from the central government in Kiev.
This neo-fascist attack comes in the wake of a year and a half of neo-fascist violence led by other groups such as the notorious and increasingly powerful Right Sector, the Radical Party (with a significant parliamentary group), Social-National Assembly, Revansh, Black Committee, etc documented on this site in numerous articles and posts.
Right Sector apparently played a separate game on this day, setting up a road block on a Kiev street leading to parliament in a failed attempt to prevent deputies from getting to the Rada to vote (http://gordonhahn.com/2015/06/20/dealing-with-ukraines-neo-fascists-or-not/). Since the violence, Right Sector and its leader have come out in full support for Tyahnibok and Svoboda (http://pravyysektor.info/news/news/695/dmitro-arosh-pro-krajnoschi-pid-chas-vulichnoyi-sutichki-bilya-vr.html).
Perhaps even more disturbing is the carefully implied support expressed by the more ‘moderate’ Ukrainian nationalist party, Self-Help, headed by mayor of Lviv (Lvov) Andriy Sadoviy, which I, it seems correctly, included recently among the ultra-nationalist parties in the Rada. In response to the violence, Self-Help’s Rada faction leader Oleg Berezyuk attempted to cover up for Tyahnibok and Svoboda using democratic rhetoric and the by now old saw in Maidan Ukraine that Putin was behind the ‘provocation’: “The majority of people who came to the Supreme Rada are those who are concerned for the country, since the Constitution is the property of the people and not of politicians, the parliament or the president. But among the people were also provocateurs. On whose order they worked is a rhetorical question. But it is the responsibility of law enforcement bodies to warn of such events. The SBU and MVD should have warned about this already on the eve (of the event), exposing the provocateurs.” “The tragic events at the Supreme Rada is the result of the crisis of executive power and criminal negligence of the law enforcement bodies.” Self-Help then called for the resignation of the SBU’s and MVD’s leadership (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/112940-avakov-tjagnibok-otvetit-za-bojnju-pod-radoj). Not a word of criticism of Svoboda’s actions came from the Self-Help leadership.
The explanation for the Self-Help critique’s focus on the executive branch, law enforcement, an implied Russian-organized provocation (“On whose order they worked is a rhetorical question”), is that it agrees with Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist parties that repeatedly issue the very same criticisms. Moreover, Self-Help opposed the constitutional amendments, in particular that on decentralization, and promptly ejected five members from its group of Rada deputies who voted for them along with the majority (http://vesti-ukr.com/strana/112920-gopko-vygnali-iz-samopomichi).
The constitutional amendments that ostensibly give the Donbass regions Donetsk and Luhansk power-sharing with, or autonomy from the central government in Kiev in fact do nothing of the kind. One of them alone simply allows for said. For decentralization to be actually implemented, the Rada must pass a special law. The only amendment among those approved today that is related to the ‘decentralization’ merely states that the Donbass regions will be given a share of power on the basis of a special law. If that law is never passed, Donetsk and Luhansk will not have autonomy of any sort.
Moreover, any autonomy will be extremely limited, given that the constitutional amendments also included clauses establishing the office of an appointed prefect in place of governors. The new prefects will be appointed and strictly subordinated to Ukraine’s president – an executive vertical of power of the kind Putin has tried to build in Russia at the expense of federalism. Similarly, as Putin once had the power to do, the amendments give the Ukrainian president the power to disband regional legislative assemblies under certain circumstances. The fact is, however, that Ukrainian President Petr Poroshenko has held out the possibility of significant markups to the draft amendments after the first reading. The demonstrations scuttle any hope that the marked up amendments will be changed in the direction of further decentralization/autonomy and not less. Indeed, in a nationwide television address in the evening Poroshenko seemed to give in to the neo-fascists’ pressure, noting that the final decision on decentralization would depend on the situation in Donbass (www.pravda.com.ua/rus/news/2015/08/31/7079679/).
The amendments are crucial if there is any hope at all of bridging the gap between Kiev and the Donbass rebels. One of the central clauses of the Minsk 2 agreement signed on 12 February 2015 required the Maidan regime to amend the constitution to provide for a decentralization of power in the Donbass. The Donbass rebel regimes (DNR and LNR) are so suspicious of Kiev’s willingness to actually carry out a decentralization of power and provide the Donbass with some degree of autonomy has prompted them to schedule their own elections in the region rather than allow Kiev-organized elections to proceed this autumn as planned for the rest of the country. On the other hand, Kiev might be additionally reluctant to decentralize given that should Donbass receive special powers at the local level, other regions may demand the same. Transcarpathian areas with their large Hungarian populations might seek autonomy. In addition, many of Ukraine’s regions have their own unique characteristics and often an independent self-identity that might prompt many non-ethnic areas to pursue such autonomy. Those with large minority, including ethnic Russian minority populations, might be expected to lead the way. Unstable Odessa would be a prime candidate, among others.
Regardless of the complications, failure to bridge the gap between Kiev and Donbass on the decentralization issue is likely to leave the Minsk 2 ceasefire agreement a dead letter and make renewal of heavy fighting in Donbass almost inevitable at some point. This is part of the calculus in the ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist parties in opposing the amendments. They constitute the core of Kiev’s war party intent on taking back Donbass by force.
According to ultra-nationalist Ukrainian-American writer Alexander Motyl, Svoboda is something like Ukraine’s ‘Tea Party’ (www.lucorg.com/news.php/news/7543; www.themanitoban.com/2014/03/will-ukraine-survive-yanukovych/19647/ and www.aspen.review/article/2017/svoboda%2c-ukraine%2c-and-the-west/). This means that the U.S. capitol should be expecting a crowd of thousands of Tea Party members attempting to storm it throwing grenades and shooting firearms. More seriously, Motyl’s analysis demonstrates which American party Motyl and many of his compatriots are inclined to support, rather that any serious analysis of the ultranationalist and neofascist threat in Ukraine. Neither Svoboda nor any of Ukraine’s numerous neo-fascist parties and groups have anything in common with the constitutionalist, free market, and often libertarian Tea Party here in the U.S. Contrary to Democratic Party propaganda, Tea Party demonstrations are peaceful and dominated by rational discussion about ways to restore American values, equality before the law, limited government, and the U.S. constitution. Svoboda and like-minded Ukrainian parties and groups do nothing of the kind. Indeed, Svoboda used force today and did so in league with Right Sector — including the infamous sniper shootings of 20 February 2014 — to overthrow the legally-elected, if deeply flawed government of Viktor Yanukovich.
The deep and disturbing irony is that most Americans and indeed most Tea Party members supported the neo-fascist-led revolt and will continue to support the Maidan regime in Kiev, including eventually the supply of U.S. weapons. They ignore the fact that the Maidan regime came to power by way of an illegal and violent seizure of power. They ignore the regime’s creation of parastatal volunteer battalions filled with neo-fascist elements in order to put down a still non-violent and negotiable Donbass revolt. They ignore the war crimes committed by these groups in Donbass, and the pogroms and other violent attacks by neo-fascists committed elsewhere in Ukraine, such as in Odessa on 2 May 2014 or more recently in Mukachevo on 11 July 2015. As a direct result of such illegalities and unconstitutional actions — apparently supported in Washington and Brussels — thousands have been killed, and neo-fascists continue to sew chaos across Ukraine and in the heart of ancient Kiev.
But American conservatives — and I count myself among them– listen very attentively to Motyl on Svoboda’s supposedly benign conservatism, to Rush Limbaugh’s claim that ‘there are no fascists in Ukraine,’ and Glenn Beck’s claims that Putin is orchestrating neo-fascism in Ukraine and across Europe.
What travails America’s degraded democracy and post-Cold War hubris have wrought.
Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch; and Senior Researcher and Adjunct Professor, MonTREP, Monterey, California. Dr Hahn is author of three well-received books, Russia’s Revolution From Above (Transaction, 2002), Russia’s Islamic Threat (Yale University Press, 2007), which was named an outstanding title of 2007 by Choice magazine, and The ‘Caucasus Emirate’ Mujahedin: Global Jihadism in Russia’s North Caucasus and Beyond (McFarland Publishers, 2014). He also has authored hundreds of articles in scholarly journals and other publications on Russian, Eurasian and international politics and wrote, edited and published the Islam, Islamism, and Politics in Eurasia Report at CSIS from 2010-2013. Dr. Hahn has been a Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (2011-2013) and a Visiting Scholar at both the Hoover Institution and the Kennan Institute.