On the 16th of February 2020, the U.S. State Department Coordinator Ambassador for Counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, arrived in Ukraine. Whilst the agenda for the meeting was not announced, hope remains he discussed at least some of the issues relating to the increasing threat posed by ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist groups in Ukraine with his counterparts. If anything, this long-overdue meeting highlights the ever-increasing, and greatly concerning, neo-fascist problem afflicting Ukraine.
Indeed, on the eve of the Euromaidan revolution of 2014, the threat of ultranationalist and neo-fascist Ukrainian terrorism (UNUT) should have been clear to all; unfortunately, it was not. Things have certainly not improved, and the threat posed by this extremist fringe has grown significantly since the days of Euromaidan. On January 1, 2020, far-right elements and government officials participated in processions in the major Ukrainian cities of Kiev, Odessa, L’viv, and Dnipro, to honor the Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera’s 111th birthday. As head of the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its military formation, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), Bandera was responsible for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Jews and Poles during World War II. While the demonstrations were relatively small - a torchlight procession in Kiev attracted about 1,000 or 2,000 people - and apparently smaller than in past years, they were supported and promoted by the Ukrainian state. The demonstrations in both Kiev and L’viv were held with the explicit support of local government authorities. City and regional officials attended the procession in L’viv, and in Kiev a giant banner of Bandera was hung over a city administration building. In Odessa, which was the site of a horrific fascist massacre in May 2014, a few dozen people participated in the procession.
This event illustrates Ukraine’s cultural heritage and societal reality, both permeated with a clear fascist ideology that is openly supported from the lowest to the highest strata of the population. What is particularly concerning, however, is the fact that there remains no comprehensive acknowledgment of the increasing danger posed by UNUT in Ukraine. Furthermore, both domestic and international actors still continue to seem reticent in accepting that the threat is one both to Ukraine as well as Europe, Russia, and the United States, by virtue of being part of a larger ultranationalist and neo-fascist international phenomenon and terrorist movement.
Indeed, identitarian violence and terrorism are both deeply embedded in the nationalist, ultranationalist, and neo-fascist strands of Ukrainian political culture. The contemporary UNUT movement has been largely inherited from Galicia and the Nazi-allied Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA) of World War II, thus representing a nearly century-long tradition. It is reported that the OUN not only assassinated officials, including Polish and perhaps more understandably Soviet officials and People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD) officers, but also tried to assassinate US President Roosevelt, according to archival documents. The UNUT tradition is now being carried forward by Ukraine’s ultranationalist and neo-fascist groups, such as the Right Sector, the Svoboda Party, the Azov Battalion, the National Corps, and C14. This is no coincidence, as these groups have methodologically fostered a cult of personality surrounding Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych, the OUN’s and UPA’s respective founders, in the nationalist, ultranationalist and neofascist subculture of Ukraine, helping to establish them as officially recognized national heroes.
On the 20th of February 2014, the present Maidan-born regime in Ukraine was brought to power on the back of a terrorist attack involving the murder of tens of civilians and police by ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist forces among the Maidan opposition and demonstrators. Born in terrorism, this hybrid regime continues, even after the election of Volodymyr Zelenskiy as President and a new Verkhovna Rada with fewer ties to the Maidan, to exhibit elements of ultranationalism, neofascism, and authoritarianism. As the regime has failed to face up to the horror of its formative experience, though some in Ukraine are beginning to utter the truth under the new perhaps more pliable Zelenskiy government, it also continues to harbor ultranationalist and neo-fascist groups, including armed ones. Some of these radical groups are engaged directly in terrorism.
Revolutionary UNUT terror extended beyond the Maidan or even Kiev during the revolt’s heydays. For example, the Deputy of the Supreme Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) and leader of the ultra-nationalist Radical Party (RP) Oleh Lyashko acknowledges that members of his party murdered anti-Maidan leaders during the ‘revolution’, and Amnesty International condemned these and other actions committed by Lyashko’s accomplices and the impunity from the Maidan regime they enjoyed. Lyashko was summoned by the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office thirteen times without showing up or even bothering to explain his failure to do so, and he continued to serve as a Rada deputy until his defeat at the polls in 2019. The post-revolutionary period has seen numerous other, more serious terrorist attacks.
The list of incidents in Ukraine of pro-Maidan terrorism in the wake of the February seizure of power by Maidan elements is long. One of the reasons for this is that ultranationalism and neo-fascism and the resulting UNUT are not solely a societal phenomenon; they have roots in the post-Maidan state and regime. The Ukrainian Maidan regime is hybrid in two senses: (1) ideo-institutionally and (2) sociopolitically. First, the Ukrainian state includes elements of both democratic and authoritarian ideology and practice. This has resulted in the heroization of Ukraine’s pro-Nazi fascist groups of World War II, the OUN, and the UPA, and tolerance, even support, for contemporary ultranationalist and neo-fascist groups that are modeled on these pro-Nazi groups.
At the same time, elections are free and mostly fair, despite some fascist violence and intimidation. However, most of the opposition now lies outside the country by dint of Russia’s annexationist reunification of Crimea and the resulting civil war in Donbass. Second, it is hybrid in the sense that the Maidan regime is populated by a mix of oligarch-controlled politicians and bureaucrats and ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist groups. Given the significant ultra-nationalist element, it is hardly surprising that the Maidan Ukrainian state has engaged in authoritarian acts such as terrorism.
In mid-April 2014, the Maidan regime declared and immediately commenced its ‘anti-terrorist’ operation (ATO) in Donbass and proceeded to bomb civilian areas across the region for months with airpower, tanks, and artillery. This set a tone for both the new Maidan regime’s towards political violence, already prejudiced by the Maidan snipers incident, and the relations between Maidan Kiev and the Donbass rebels. Civil war became an incubator and networking opportunity for UNUT and its practitioners. It is also important to remember that at this time there was still no Russian troops presence, and perhaps a hundred Russian volunteers in Donbass backed the native rebels.
In late February and March, in the immediate wake of the illegal seizure of power in Kiev by the Maidan’s oligarchic-ultranationalist groups, spearheaded by the snipers’ massacre, both Crimea’s and Donbass’ rebels engaged in little violence and simply repeated 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. They were dubbed instantly ‘terrorists’ by the Maidan regime under its ATO, and Kiev hastily formed volunteer battalions. However, most of these were largely manned by members of ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist parties. At least nominally subordinated to the Defense and Internal Ministries, neo-fascist battalions like the Azov, Aidar, and Dnepr 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 carriers destroyed a police station, killing some twenty officers who refused to go over to the Maidan regime’s side.
The present post-Maidan Ukrainian state is one deeply characterised by a heritage of political violence and state-sponsored terrorism. The war in Donbass, now running into its seventh consecutive year, continues to represent the perfect breeding ground for many ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist armed groups. Further, it must be noted that the process of incubation and radicalization of far-right extremist individuals, who find in the current conflict an essentially unregulated playground, involves members belonging to both sides of the war, that is, pro-ukrainian forces and filo-russian ones. Once again, it is important to stress that the threat posed by the revolutionary UNUT movement is not solely limited to the Ukrainian landscape. In light of recent terrorist attacks of white supremacist and neo-fascist matrix, such as the one in Hanau, it is imperative to start thinking in terms of a wider, more international rise of ultra-nationalism and neo-fascism in Ukraine, Russia, and Europe specifically. If not contrasted in a timely and effective manner, the virulent far-right extremism that has been poisoning Ukrainian politics and public life since the days of Euromaidan will inevitably spill outside the country’s borders with bursting force. At that point, the attempt to contain the leakage might just prove to be futile.
The Counterterrorism Group monitors global terror activity, including acts of neo-fascist and ultra-nationalist terror. As the situation in Donbass unfolds, CTG will continue to follow the evolution of UNUT groups in Ukraine with renewed attention. In its effort to detect patterns between worldwide ultra-nationalist and neo-fascist attacks, CTG will also continue to raise awareness of the situation in Ukraine and collaborate with other members of the intelligence community to deter future attacks. By virtue of commanding an ever-increasing amount of geopolitical power, it will prove paramount to follow the evolution of Ukraine’s civil war in the Donbass region, as well as the rise of UNUT forces present on its territory. In light of the recent worldwide surge of far-right terrorist attacks, the outcome of the civil war afflicting Ukraine won’t only have a direct bearing on the future of the country itself, but, more comprehensively, on the future trend of far-right extremism in the Eurasian region.
The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)
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 Image, “Barricade with the protesters at Hrushevskoho street” by Sasha Maksymenko, licensed under Flickr.
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 Image, “Russo-Ukrainian Conflict Map” by Niele, licensed under Wikimedia.
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