Amid the continuing Ukraine fight against Russian-backed separatists, Kiev is faced with another threat in relation to their long-term sovereignty — it comes from having great potential far-right wing ultranationalist groups. These groups are not reluctant to use violence to achieve their goals, which undoubtedly contradict the principles of a tolerant and oriented towards Western democracy, which Ukraine wants to become.
The recent brutal attack on the left anti-war activist Stas Sergienko and inflicting stab wounds testify to the threat posed by these extremists. Sergienko and his fellow activists believe that those who attacked him, the perpetrators belong to neo-Nazi group S-14 (this is the name associated with the phrase of 14 words used by the supporters of the supremacy of the white race). The attack on Sergienko occurred on the birthday of Hitler and the leaders of the group C-14 is published immediately after this statement, which praised the actions of extremists.
The attack on Sergiyenko — this is just the tip of the iceberg. Recently members of the group C-14 has beaten a policy of socialist orientation, while the other ultra-nationalist thugs stormed the premises of the city Council in Lviv and Kiev. In addition, right-wing neo-Nazi groups are attacking art exhibitions (or violate), an anti-fascist demonstration, rallies under the slogan “Ukrainians choose peace”, at LGBT events, social centres, media organisations, courts, and participants of March in victory Day, the anniversary of the end of world war II.
According to a study conducted by “the Institute “Republic”, the problem is not only in the frequency of use of violence by far-right groups, but that these offenders are, in the main, operate with impunity. It is easy to understand why Kiev don’t seem to feel much desire to counteract these groups using violent methods. First of all, far-right paramilitary groups played an important role in the early stage of the struggle against Russian-backed separatists. Kiev also fears that the violent, these groups can speak out against the government — they’ve done it before and threaten to continue to do so in the future.
I should say that the statement of the Russian propaganda that Ukraine occupied by the Nazis or fascists, is a lie. Such far-right parties like “Svoboda” or “Right sector” (banned in Russia organization — approx. ed.) have little support among Ukrainians.
But even in this case should not ignore an existing threat. If the authorities do not stop the impunity of extreme right-wing, they risk even more encouraging, said Krasimir Yankov (Krasimir Yankov), a researcher located in Kiev branch of the organization Amnesty International. In fact, a blatant desire Vita Zaveruhi — known neofascist, released on bail and under house arrest after the murder of two police officers — photo with 50 other nationalists after the storming of the popular Kiev restaurant demonstrates the confidence of the extreme right that the government will not pursue them.
Now it’s not too late for the government to take steps to restore its control and the rule of law. First of all, the government should declare a policy of “zero tolerance” against violence by the extreme right. President Petro Poroshenko has ordered the main law enforcement agencies — the Ministry of the interior, National police of Ukraine, the security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the Prosecutor General’s office to make the fight against far-right groups as a top priority. The legal framework for prosecuting members of extremist groups clearly exists. The criminal code of Ukraine, in particular, prohibits the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations. The police should start to apply this law.
More importantly, the government should stop any communication between law enforcement and extreme right organizations. The latest example of this kind relates to the Ministry of internal Affairs headed by Arsen Avakov. Avakov has a long-standing connection with the Azov battalion, a paramilitary group, using symbols SS as their insignia. In addition, this group, along with a few others in the beginning of the war in the East was integrated into the armed forces and the National guard. Critics accuse Avakov of using its members to intimidate opposition media. As noted, at least one commentator, the use of National guard to fight the ultra-nationalist violence is likely to be a challenging task if far-right groups will become part of the Guard.
Avakov’s Deputy Vadim Troyan was a member of the neo-Nazi paramilitary organization “Patriot of Ukraine”, while the current staff of the Ministry of internal Affairs Ilya Kiva, a former member of the far-right party “the Right sector”, whose Instagram many images of former Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini calls for the “execution” of gays. And Avakov himself used the group “Patriot of Ukraine” to promote their business and political interests at a time when he was Governor in Eastern Ukraine as interior Minister, he formed and armed the extremist battalion “Azov” led by Andriy Biletsky, nicknamed “White Leader”, calling into a crusade against the “Semites-led subhumans”.
Such officials have no place in the government based on the rule of law; they have to go. Speaking more broadly, the government must be confident that police officers receive training in human rights focusing on improving the detection of crimes of hate, and the punishment for committing them. Those people who demonstrate their connection with the extremists or sympathetic to them, should be fired.
In the course received the notoriety of the incident, the journalists managed to make the thugs with the tattoos in the form of a swastika — the police then stated that it is only applicants for the job, who wished to have some fun. In addition, these people were Nazi salutes in one of the premises of the police in Kiev. This kind of thing should be prohibited, and for the Ukrainian democracy is just as important to clear law enforcement bodies of the extremists, and how to get rid of in the framework of the policy of “lustration” of corrupt officials during the reign of former President Viktor Yanukovych.
Yet Poroshenko is not too late to put an end to the growing sense of impunity among representatives of far-right groups. But it needs to act now.
Josh Cohen is a former project Manager of the U.S. Agency for international development (USIAD). He has participated in projects of economic reform in the former Soviet Union.