After we focused, in our series on the far-right in Ukraine, first on ultra-nationalism then on the new People’s Front ultra-nationalist outlook and related potential impacts, notably regarding war in Eastern Ukraine, this last post will deal with the remaining far-right groups.
We shall first look at the way the war in Eastern Ukraine further legitimized not only far-right and nationalist groups but also their paramilitary branches. Then, after presenting a map of the ultra-nationalist and far-right actors on the Ukrainian scene, we shall introduce more in detail those right-wing groups that are both represented in parliament and certified by their participation in the war, before to turn to those that have no parliamentary representation but nevertheless remain legitimized by the war.
Legitimizing paramilitary right-wing groups
The Ministry of Interior officially created volunteer battalions as “Battalions of Territorial Defense (BTD)” in May 2014 (see Ukraine NSDC ATO & Crimea, “Ukraine’s Volunteer Battalions: The New Model Army“). As seen in the previous post, in terms of strength of the state, creating and integrating volunteer battalions may be a double-edge sword. If all goes well, by successfully integrating volunteer armed groups, the state reinforces its monopoly of violence. On the contrary, by legitimizing such groups, if the integration were to prove unsuccessful, then the risk to Ukraine, ranging from violent incidents to civil wars would increase.
Here, more specifically, one of the potential consequences of the BTD, when most far-right groups in Ukraine had paramilitary wings and used them to create battalions, is that the far-right groups are further legitimized. Indeed, they do not only receive again an official accreditation for their ideology, which they progressively developed thanks to both the official policy of state nationalism (see Ukrainian Ultra-Nationalism) then to the impact and shock of war (see The Far right: Demise or Metamorphosis), but also for having paramilitary wings.
We see here a phenomenon that is akin to the ideological certification of far-right groups by official nationalism described by Ishenko (2011), as explained previously, but now taking place at the level of what should be the legitimate monopoly of violence of the state.
Interestingly, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine is aware of the potentially sensitive composition of some of the BTD and stressed that seeing them as “neo-Nazis and radicals” is Russian propaganda (NSDC ATO & Crimea)… notably because:
“You can find Ukrainians, Russian, and Jews in one battalion. And while Azov battalion has a far-right commander in Andriy Biletsky, the leader of the Social-National Assembly and who has gathered right-minded young people around him, there is also the Dnipro-1 battalion supported by Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who also heads the “United Jewish community of Ukraine”. (NSDC ATO & Crimea:” The New Model Army“)
To bring about Jews in the equation shows first a complete misunderstanding of what ultra-nationalism is or can be. The latter is not about being anti-semitic, although it can be. It is about treating people perceived as out-groups, as being different. Those out-groups, as you can have more than one, are perceived as having to have a different (inferior) status, having to be rejected and in extreme forms as being responsible for all wrongs, then, if escalation goes on, for all evil (e.g. Lavoix 2005). The definition and specification of the “out-groups” is a construct depending upon the history of a specific community, and evolving for a single community with time (ibid.). The Ukrainian right-wing or far-right groups, as pointed out by all specialists, has an ideology that varies and is most of the time characterized by its Russophobia, and not by anti-Semitism, although some groups on the margin can adopt it (see for bibliography, “Ukrainian ultra-nationalism“).
Anyway, this is not a problem for the NSDC, who readily acknowledges the far-right elements in these battalions, it calls right-wing, because:
“Moreover, right-wing civic movements are not perceived by Ukrainian society as a threat.” (NSDC ATO & Crimea:” The New Model Army“)
Thus, those paramilitary “right-wings” are now officially authorized to implement their ultra-nationalist military actions, indeed as they do so to defend Ukraine, as “they coordinate their actions only with the Anti-Terrorist Center and strongly obey ATC orders” (Ibid.). Conversely, the Ukrainian state also becomes radicalized, as already seen with the previous post.
As a result, even if groups such as Social-National Assembly (see below), for example, are not represented in parliament, they are nevertheless officially accredited through their military wings, as the statement by the NSDC used above also shows.
Groups represented in Parliament
The Radical Party
The now fifth political force of Ukraine represented in Parliament is the Radical Party (website), led by Oleg Lyiashko. It will be represented by 22 deputies and counted 7.5% of votes, showing a major progression compared with 2012, when it only represented 1.1% of votes with 1 deputy. It is however mainly representative geographically in electoral district 208 as previously (see map).
We find a configuration similar to what was already identified with the People’s Front: a Party to which is attached a battalion, created for the ATO, in this case the Ukrainia Battalion, itself financed and led directly by the Party leader (Euromaidan, 10 May 2014).
According to the Party’s website (which deserves to be visited to see its strongly military visual component), the aim is “The victory of the Ukraine” which will allow implementing the vision, “a society of equal opportunities and welfare”. “The whole country should support the Eastern Front, through which Russia wants to break Ukraine.” Ukraine should find back its nuclear status, while “internal enemies should be neutralized and punished criminally and politically”. Those internal enemies are “werewolves and saboteurs of Parliament, official separatists in the East, corrupt cops and thieves, businessmen … The oligarchs who directly organized the separatists will have to give their property to the state.”
We thus have points that are shared with the People’s Front (see previous article), namely an emphasis on Russia, or more specifically Putin, as “The enemy”, which plans on breaking Ukraine through federalization, and, as a result, on war and commitment to fight to save Ukraine. This is again nationalism in its extreme form.
Svoboda (website) has been the most famous of the far-right groups in Ukraine, because of the representativeness it progressively obtained, first during the local elections in 2010, then during the 2012 legislative elections, where it obtained 38 seats and 10.4% of votes (see more in post on Ultra-nationalism). Obviously with now only 6 seats and less than 5% of votes, its popularity is declining. It is possible that most of its electorate was taken by the People’s Front for those most concerned with nationalism, Ukraine’s integrity and war.
It changed its name in Svoboda from the Social-National Party of Ukraine created in 1991.
As far as Svoboda is concerned, “The territory of Donbas… is temporarily occupied by Russian aggressors and terrorists.” (“There should not be any election…“, 3 October 2014).
As the other parties, it created its own Battalion, Sich (see Facebook Page and website). However, it did so relatively late, on 26 August 2014 (Svoboda, 26 August 2014). It is likely that this slowness in participating to the war was a handicap with voters.
The Right (Pravvy) Sektor
The well-known Right Sektor or Pravvy Sektor (website) was born out of the Maidan in November 2013, initially as a paramilitary group or so-called self-defence group. It was transformed in a political party in March 2014, led by Dmytro Yarosh, now member of parliament. It obtained 1.8% of the suffrage and thus could only be represented in Parliament through the sole deputy it won in the single mandate constituencies election. Interestingly, its geographical area is in the Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, in a region bordering the Donetsk Oblast (electoral district 39).
The party supports liberalization, as shown by its own marketing of products sold over its website, and has an extreme nationalist anti-Russian stance, also underlining the absence of real support from “the West” (see “War on two fronts“). It feels legitimized by the Maidan and distinguishes nationalism from patriotism by the willingness to have “sacrificed themselves on the square” (Interview Dmytro Yarosh, 24 October 2014). It is more than ready to use force against Russians in what he sees as occupied territories. Indeed Yarosh stated that:
“We decided that if politicians freeze the conflict and give part of our territory, then the party will go on the offensive. The “Right Sector” will begin an active guerrilla war in the occupied territories. We shall force them to surrender. And besides, there’s more – see! – the Rise of the uprising”. (Interview, Dmytro Yarosh: “if politicians give Russia a part of our territory,” Pravvy sector “will active guerrilla war in occupied territories.” -24 October 2014)
The Pravvy Sektor supports the Azov Regiment (previously Battalion), as we shall see below.
Groups certified through the BTD
The Azov Regiment and Social-National Assembly
Social-National Assembly was created in 2008 as an assembly of far-right groups, and is, according to Shekhovtsov (2013) a “neo-nazi group… an organization that is close to the younger members of Svoboda.” As at the time of writing, the website of the party is under revision, the cached version of the website will be used. Meanwhile, between writing and publication the Facebook page of the regiment, which had been used as primary source has “disappeared”. We shall thus use instead, as source, the VK page, although it is not exactly similar in terms of posts and photos to what could be found on Facebook.
Its leader is Andreyi Biletsky since 2008 (Azov FB post, VK Post 10 Nov 2014). SNA promotes social-nationalism, and within it, nationalism first (Andreyi Biletsky, “Why Social-Nationalism?”). According to its Manifesto, it is for “strong authoritarian personified power against weakness, irresponsibility and impersonality of liberalism”. “The organization stands for great-power status of Ukraine, and therefore [is] against the entry of Ukrainian State in any blocks and supranational institutions, except those initiated by Ukraine and in which it plays the leading role (Programme). It is against “the dictates of the demo-liberalism and financial capital” (ibid.).
It has a xenophobic, anti-foreigners stance, as explained on its website when, on 24 July 2014, it raided with Patriots of Ukraine a market, to free it from “strangers, such as Vietnamese, Gypsies, Uzbeks and others,” while denouncing the attitude of the police, defending those strangers. Compared with other groups, using, however, more recent documents, it used to be less exclusively Russiaphobic than others. However, as we shall see now with the Asov Regiment, the now official military wing of the party, Russiaphoby is not excluded.
The Azov regiment is also supported by the Pravvy Sektor and the Patriots of Ukraine, another paramilitary organisation (see below). Indeed, its commander, Andreyi Biletsky, the leader of the SNA is also the leader of the Patriot of Ukraine since 2005 (Azov VK post, 10 Nov 2014). He was also the Commander of the military wing of “Right Sector-East” between February and April 2014 (Ibid.).
Internationally, they look for support among like-minded groups and participate in “pro-Ukraine” rallies, as showed by this recent post on their participation to “France Ukraine Solidarité’, organised by the international branch of the SNA (SNA international FB page, 15 November 2014). Detailed research on the propagation of Ukrainian far-right ideology abroad and how it informs international opinion on war in Ukraine would be necessary.
The Azov regiment uses the Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol, often used by neo-nazis groups, which it calls “the idea of the nation”:
“As the symbol of modern Ukrainian Social Nationalism, the sign “The Idea of the Nation” at the same time refers to the deep historical tradition of using similar marks by the Rus knights and the Cossacks – military estates that gained the right of Ukrainian Nation to life and development through their self-sacrifice… In a modern interpretation the sign “The Idea of the Nation” is used since 1991 – the founding of the Social-National party of Ukraine. “The Idea of the Nation” is the central slogan and the core of the ideological doctrine of Social Nationalism. The letter N in the monogram indicates nation-centredness of our ideology and the need to consider all the events and phenomena in terms of national interests. Letters I of the monogram is acuminate on both sides. This symbolizes limitlessness, all-permeability of the ideas, superiority of the ideal over the material.” (Azov Regiment VK, 10 Nov 2014).
It is also Russophobic, as exemplified and summarized by this sentence concluding a relatively long text published on both its FB and VK pages:
“In my soul has accumulated such an abyss of hatred for the enemies of Ukraine that in the latter, like matches, will burn both Russian tanks and their fables.
That is why the “Azov” regiment is my destiny.” (“Azov is my destiny, 8 November 2014, VK).
Patriot of Ukraine
According to Shekhovtsov (2013), Patriot of Ukraine is a paramilitary unit of the Social National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), created in 1996 and headed by Parubyi (now one of the leaders of the People’s Front, see The Far-Right: Demise or Metamorphosis?). When, in 2004, the SNPU was changed to become Svoboda, the Patriot of Ukraine were disbanded. They were then “revived as an independent group and continued to cooperate closely with Svoboda until 2007” and beyond (Ibid.: 255, 256).
Their current stance regarding Russia and the current events is both revolutionary and on the extreme end of extreme nationalism, as evidenced by the following extract from their statement “Ukrainian Vektor”:
“The Ukrainian nation is in revolutionary conditions and at war. The end of the square does not mean end of the revolution. The revolution continues until – until you reached the goal, which set a revolution. ….
In case of a successful defense in the Donbas during the regular Russian-Ukrainian war, the war will not end. The question is not only the fact that Crimea will remain occupied, and that while there are hostile states – Russia – we will be in a state of permanent war. The defense should be seen as a transitional stage to the final disposition of the enemy without the possibility of his revenge. Russia as a geopolitical and geo-economic factors should disappear.“
The main remaining far-right groups are the Ukrainian National Assembly–Ukrainian National Self-Defense (UNA–UNSO) and the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalist (KUN).
The UNA-UNSO (website – Facebook page) is the oldest party, created in 1990, but only registered in 1994, then again in 1997 after having been banned in 1995 (Shekhovtsov, 2013: 251-252). According to Shekhovtsov (ibid.), it is both Russophobic and antisemitic, and used to be the most extreme of the far-right parties. it deployed two Battalions UNSO (Vinnytsia), the first started training inJuly and the second was deployed in October 2014.
KUN (website – Facebook page) was created in 1992, registered in 1993. Its paramilitary wing is Tryzub (website). According to Shekhovtsov (2013: 252) it is the most moderate of the ultra-nationalist far-right groups. It seems the party failed to renew itself, and notably to fully participate in the ATO with the creation of a Battalion.
The constellation of far-right groups and parties, and especially the legitimisation of their paramilitary wings through the ATO further heightens the likelihood to see war starting again in Eastern Ukraine. Moreover, considering the extreme language of those groups, dangerous actions – in terms of stability – against Russia or anything that could be “Russia-related” is likely. Should the war starts again, as seems increasingly likely (see the conclusion of the previous post for events and dynamics that could counter-balance the escalation), then it would, this time, be even more difficult to stop.
Assuming war against Eastern Ukraine were not to be fully reignited, the Ukrainian state would then face a difficult situation, where some battalions and regiments would most likely be dissatisfied with state policy. The degree of control and integration of those groups within the regular armed and police forces would then be crucial to avoid either sporadic violence and unrest or, at worst, a potential further fall of Ukraine into civil war, this time, outside Donbass.
Featured image: This photo had been published on the Azov Special Regiment Facebook page – However, on 11 November 2014, the page had become inaccessible. It is not available on the VK page of the Regiment.
(see also previous bibliography)
Ishchenko, Volodymyr, “Fighting Fences vs Fighting Monuments: Politics of Memory and Protest Mobilization in Ukraine”, Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe, 19 (1-2), 2011.
Lavoix, Helene, ‘Nationalism’ and ‘genocide’ : the construction of nation-ness, authority, and opposition – the case of Cambodia (1861-1979) – PhD Thesis – School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), 2005.
Shekhovtsov, Anton, “17: From Para-Militarism to Radical Right-Wing Populism: The Rise of the Ukrainian Far-Right Party Svoboda”, In Ruth Wodak, ed, Right-Wing Populism in Europe, (Bloomsbury Academic. 2013), pp. 249–263.