Ukrainian neofascists

by Gordon M. Hahn

The threat of terrorist attacks is rising across Europe. Observers rightly point to the rise of the Islamic State, the persistent threat from Al Qa`ida (AQ) and its affiliates and allies in Europe and neighboring Eurasia, and the recent explosion of the refugee flood Syria, Iraq, North Africa, again Eurasia but most notably Syria. However, another terrorism threat has raised its ugly head in Europe; one that has reached across the half-continent from its eastern edge to the far west in London—the Ukrainian neo-fascist terrorist threat.

The CIA defines terrorism as “premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.” It defines ‘international terrorism’ as “terrorism involving the territory or the citizens of more than one country.” (www.secbrief.org/2014/04/definition-of-terrorism/) The term ‘state terrorism’ has entered the field of terrorism studies, with its definition mush as the first one given above, with the difference that the terms ‘state’, ‘state organizations’ and/or ‘state agents’ replace the phrase ‘sub-national groups or clandestine agents.’

Numerous violent acts committed either by pro-Maidan revolutionary, mostly neo-fascist or ultra-nationalist, sub-national groups (i.e., non-state actors and groups) before and during the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich or by state actors, organs and agents after the installation of the new Maidan Ukrainian government or regime qualify as terrorism.

Revolutionary Terrorism

Most notably, the very revolution and seizure of power was hijacked, led, and washed in both police and civilian blood—including that of fellow protesters—by at least two main Ukrainian neo-fascist groups: Oleh Tyahnibok’s Svoboda (Freedom) Party (SP) and Dmitro Yarosh’s Right Sector (RS).

The record is now almost completely clear thanks to exhaustive research by Ukrainian Professor Ivan Katchanovski of Ottawa University in Canada. He has documented the involvement of members of both of these parties in the so-called ‘snipers’ massacre’ of February 20, 2014. The killing of nearly one hundred and wounding of hundreds more was blamed on President Yanukovich by the U.S. President Barack Obama, the U.S. State Depertment, numerous Western governments and virtually all the Western mass media. Yanukovich was said to have ordered his special forces and riot police to fire on unarmed civilians—all this, without a shred of evidence. Numerous videos, audios, interviews, and court testimonies have now revealed that PS and RS activists, many brought into the ‘heavenly hundreds’ self-defense forces. These fighters fired on police first in the early hours of February 20th, and it took several hours before the police fired back on not before more than 20 had been wounded and three had died. Most of those killed and wounded were not shot with sniper rifles but by hunting rifles and other lesser arms from buildings under the control of the Maidan self-defense hundreds. Videos show armed demonstrators entering the hundred-controlled Ukraine Hotel and other buildings and firing from their windows. Some of the shooters have acknowledged their actions in media interviews. The first court case related to the Maidan sniper shootings is corroborating Professor Katchanovski’s findings, though this has received absolutely no play in Western media. (Ivan Katchanovski, Ivan Katchanovski, “The ‘Snipers’ Massacre’ on the Maidan in Ukraine (Revised and Updated Version),” Academia.edu, 20 February 2015,www.academia.edu/8776021/The_Snipers_Massacre_on_the_Maidan_in_Ukraine, p. 55. See also Johnson’s Russia List, #33, 21 February 2015, Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs053/1102820649387/archive/1102911694293.html. See also Gordon M. Hahn, WORKING PAPER: “Violence, Coercion and Escalation in the Ukrainian Crisis: Escalation Point 6: The ‘Snipers of February,” Gordonhahn.com Russian and Eurasian Politics, 8 May 2015, https://gordonhahn.com/2015/05/08/violence-coercion-and-escalation-in-ukraines-maidan-revolution-escalation-point-6-the-snipers-of-february/).

Deputy of the Supreme Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) and leader of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party (RP) Oleh Lyashko has acknowledged that members of his party murdered anti-Maidan leaders in the weeks following the ‘revolution’, and Amnesty International condemned this and other actions committed by Lyashko’s thugs and the impunity they enjoyed. Lyashko has been summoned by the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office thirteen times without showing up or even bothering to explain his failure to do so, and it is unclear anyway whether the summons are connected to the noted murders.

Ukrainian State Terrorism

            In mid-April 2014 the Maidan regime declared and immediately commenced its ‘anti-terrorist’ operation in Donbass and proceeded to bomb civilian areas across the region for months with air power, tank, and artillery. There was still no Russian troop presence and perhaps a hundred Russian volunteers in Donbass backing the native Donbass rebels. The latter simply had imitated (sans snipers) the Maidan revolt in Kiev in taking over city and provincial government administration buildings in Donetsk, Luhansk, and other regions of eastern and southern Ukraine. But they were dubbed ‘terrorists’ by the Maidan regime’s ‘democratic revolutionaries.’ Kiev hastily formed volunteer battalions, most of which were manned largely by members of ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist parties. At least nominally were subordinated to the Defense and Internal Ministries, neo-fascist battalions like Azov, Aidar, Dnepr, and others carried out a good deal of the state terrorism in Donbass, taking the lives of several thousand Donbassians and wounding many more. In late April, Mariupol saw one of the war’s worst acts of state terrorism, when the neo-fascist Azov battalion equipped with tanks and armored personnel carriers destroyed a police station, killing some twenty officers who refused to go over to the Maidan regime’s side. (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/08/12/working-paper-violence-coercion-and-escalation-in-the-ukrainian-crisis-and-civil-war-escalation-point-8-civil-war-or-putins-war/) It is worth noting that when facing a very similar, indeed far more threatening situation in Chechnya in 1991, Moscow negotiated for three years before starting its anti-terrorist operation under some criticism from Western governments. Kiev started its ATO in less than six weeks with virtually no attempt to negotiate and full Western backing.

Ukrainian Neo-Fascist Terrorism

RS activists have been carrying out a more ‘soft’ reign of terror across the country – from war crimes on the Donbass war front to beatings of officials, alleged criminals, drug dealers, and prostitutes to attacks on media organs. Most horrendously, RS played the lead role in the 2 May 2014 terrorist pogrom in Odessa in which 48 peaceful, anti-Maidan demonstrators were burned alive, shot and/or beaten to death. RS not once but twice claimed responsibility for the atrocity. In the first claim RS could not have been more euphoric about its atrocity: “May 2, 2014 is another bright page in our national history.” It noted that “about a hundred members of ‘Right Sector’ and patriotic-minded Odessa residents countered the rebels”, and “Dmitro Yarosh ignored the ‘expedience’ of the election campaign to coordinate the action against the Russian aggression.” In the second claim of responsibility a year later, RS thanked “the bold and coordinated actions in Odessa,” noting that the “feat will live in our hearts forever” and: “On that day we all fought and won!” The election campaign to which the first RS claim of responsibility refers was the presidential election held 23 days after the terrorist pogrom, and Yarosh openly campaigned and won just over 1 percent of the vote. But Yarosh’s game and that of the other ultra-nationalists is politics by anything but democratic means. (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/05/02/ukraines-neo-fascist-right-sector-claims-responsibility-again-for-2-may-2014-terrorist-pogrom/; Eugene Trofymenko, “ATO Po-narodnomu, Abo chomu ne Vladimir Putin ne vviv viyska,” Pravyi Sektor, 2 May 2014,http://pravyysektor.info/articles/ato-po-narodnomu-abo-chomu-ne-vladimir-putin-ne-vviv-vijska/; and http://pravyysektor.info/news/anons-richnytsi-2-travnya-v-odesi/)

In July of this year units of RS’s militia in Transcarpathia attacked police in the western town of Mukachevo. Taking place far from the Donbass front, this was another case of the PS marauding across Ukraine’s countryside. In particular, RS was involved in a settling of scores between two Transcarpatian criminal ‘authorities’ who are simultaneously deputies in the Supreme Rada – the parliament of the ‘new democratic Ukraine’. One of kingpin-deputies, Viktor Baloga, is said to finance RS. A relationship RS struck up an in order to help finance its recruiting, propaganda, political, and military efforts. In the battle that ensued – with RS fighters using machine guns and a grenade launcher – several police and several civilians were killed and wounded, with up to 14 casualties, according to some reports. Security forces flooded in but instead of attacking and arresting the RS fighters, negotiations ensued; some of them involving directly or indirectly Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko himself and his Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, who implemented the policy of forming volunteer battalions to include a large component of neo-fascists, given their ‘patriotic enthusiasm.’ RS continues to refuse to disarm and convened demonstrations in Kiev at the presidential administration and some ten provincial capitols in Mukhachevo’s wake, and other neo-fascist groups and their battalions backed RS. The recently fired head of Ukraine’s intelligence service, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), Valentin Nalyvaichenko, also backed RS against the Porosehnko-led factions of the Maidan regime (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/07/13/saving-maidan-ukraine-from-itself-mukachevos-implications/; https://gordonhahn.com/2015/07/14/ukraines-neo-fascist-right-sector-preparing-a-revolt/; and http://anons.uz.ua/news/politics/21855-valentin-nalivaychenko-podderzhal-rebyat-iz-pravogo-sektora-zakarpatya.html).

On August 31st, a demonstration led by the Svoboda Party and its anti-Semitic and Russophobic chairman Tyahnibok attempted to storm the hall of Ukraine’s parliament, the Supreme Rada. Svoboda was ‘demonstrating’ against the Rada’s passage of constitutional amendments that ostensibly would have given the Donbass regions Donetsk and Luhansk power-sharing with, or autonomy from the central government in Kiev. Video and photos showed Svoboda leader Tyahnibok and his deputy Yurii Sirotyuk acting aggressively towards riot police 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). Tyahnibok’s 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 in the history of RS’s neo-fascist terrorism, Tyahnibok remains free.

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 (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/06/20/dealing-with-ukraines-neo-fascists-or-not/). After the violence, Right Sector and Yarosh came 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). The news from Kiev became even worse, when the more ‘moderate’ nationalist party ‘Self-Help’ defended Svoboda’s action. Self-Help is led by the mayor of Lviv (Lvov), a hotbed of Ukrainian nationalism. (https://gordonhahn.com/2015/08/31/ukraines-neo-fascist-tea-party-throws-grenades-shoots-at-police-attempts-storm-of-rada/)

Numerous other smaller incidents and unexplained murders of journalists, former Yanukovich regime officials, and just anti-Maidan citizens have occurred; many receiving little media attention and no police or media investigation. For example, RS has been at the forefront of efforts by ultra-nationalist elements in and outside of the Poroshenko government to harass independent media organs, such as Vesti-Ukraine. In one case, the driver of one of the newspaper’s truck drivers was killed (see https://gordonhahn.com/2015/06/21/one-day-in-the-life-of-ukrainian-democracy/https://gordonhahn.com/2015/04/21/maidan-ukraines-authoritarianism-surplus-update-on-maidan-ukraines-democracy-deficit/; and https://gordonhahn.com/2015/03/15/everyday-neo-fascism-in-ukraine/).

Ukrainian International Terrorism

The first case of Ukrainian neo-fascist international terrorist plot involving a Ukrainian planning to attack the Russian embassy is unfolding in London. (“Ukrainets v sude Londona obvinyaetsya v terrorizme,” BBC, 3 November 2015, http://www.bbc.com/russian/uk/2015/11/151103_bezkorovainiy_hearings_old_bailey; see also http://ukraina.ru/news/20151104/1014734381.html) The London plot involves 33-year-old Ukrainian-born, likely Argentinian national Vadim Bezkorovainiy, who, according to London prosecutor Robin Sellers, wanted to join the Ukrainian army in order to legalize Ukrainian residency and was undertaking “premeditated and concrete steps in preparation of terrorist act.” Bezkorovainiy was arrested initially in March 2014 for using false documents and living in the UK under a false name. A search of his home uncovered items indicating preparation of a terrorist attack. For years, Bezkorovainiy, who at times told police he is a Ukrainian citizen, moved around Europe using said documents, and in 2012 he was detained for using a Polish passport and was deported to Kiev. His Polish wife, with whom he has lived for many years and had children, did not know his real identity.

The first case of a Ukrainian neo-fascist international terrorist plot involved plans to attack the Russian embassy in London.

Bezkorovainiy told London investigators that “military action will be turned back onto the territory of Russia” and Russian “military actions in Crimea will not go unpunished.” Bezkorovainiy’s computer held photographs and reconnaissance videos of the Russian embassy, and his Internet activity indicated an interest in acquiring explosives and and the making of detonators. He was radicalized while staying in Ukraine when it, according to Bezkorovainiy, “tasted freedom” during the Maidan revolt. He began to search information on explosives in January 2014 (before Yanukovich’s overthrow).

Conclusion

One question that remains open is whether this is a case of state-sponsored international terrorism. Given the radical and often criminalized nature of many of those who came to power in the Maidan revolt and who took high positions in the SBU, MVD, the Defense and Security Council and other government organs, this possibility cannot and should not be excluded.

Ukrainians have been subjected to nearly two years of the now greatly unpopular Maidan government and the neo-fascist terrorism and violence committed by elements in and around it such as RS, SP, the Radical Party, Social-National Assembly (a RS founding member-party), ‘Revansh’, Black Committee, etc., etc. Given the unreliable, corrupt and criminal nature of many of the regime’s leaders, which is being brought into sharper relief daily, one would think the West would begin to demand that the increasingly Weimarized Maidan regime rein in its neo-fascists. But this has happened and likely will not happen. All those who do directly challenge the regime’s power or oligarchs will remain free to continue the reign of terror. Until, the chickens come home to roost either in Ukraine or more broadly in Europe.

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Gordon M. Hahn is an Analyst and Advisory Board Member of the Geostrategic Forecasting Corporation, Chicago, Illinois; a Senior Researcher, Center for Terrorism and Intelligence Studies (CETIS), Akribis Group, San Jose, California; and an Analyst/Consultant, Russia Other Points of View – Russia Media Watch, http://www.russiaotherpointsofview.com. 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. He has taught Russian politics and other courses at Boston, American, Stanford, San Jose State, St. Petersburg State (Russia), and San Francisco State Universities as well as the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey, California. 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.