By Martin De Angelis for Global Risk Insights
Nationalist groups, including Right Sector, which played a key role in toppling the pro-Russian government of Viktor Yanukovich and spearhead the counteroffensive against Eastern rebels, are now becoming an increasingly live threat to the government of Petro Poroshenko.
A self-inoculated hazard
Volunteer battalions, mainly composed of nationalist activists, became the primary lifeline of Kiev to fight back the separatist forces in the east, alleviating the burden of an anemic Ukranian army.
Paradoxically, if Eastern separatism is a deep wound draining blood out of Ukraine, the involvement with far-right nationalist was an emergency blood transfusion in a desperate attempt to keep Ukraine’s political system alive.
However, Kiev is beginning to have an immunologic reaction against those self-injected nationalist elements, and fever will be the first symptom.
Nationalist militias are increasingly involved in state affairs beyond the fight against Eastern separatist, establishing road checkpoints and witch-hunting allegedly corrupt police and government officials involved in smuggling and bribery.
Such intrusion of self-defense militants into state competences has generated friction between the government and the nationalist movements.
In a show of strength, on July 4, hundreds of nationalists mobilized in Kiev demanding the government break the Minsk II truce and take a more offensive stance against Eastern separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Right Sector leader Dmytro Yarosh challenged Kiev’s government legitimacy, demanding the resignation of Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov.
On July 13, Following a recent series of deadly standoffs between government forces and Right Sector militias in the Transcarpathian town of Mukacheve in Western Ukraine – counting 3 dead and 14 wounded – Poroshenko announced his commitment to disarm all “illegal groups” since “no political force should have and will not have any kind of armed cells.”
In response, the Right Sector Party and its sister organizations planned a Popular Assembly, entitled Away with Traitors in Power, in Kiev on July 21, showing no intentions of subordinating to the government.
Although far-right groups have existed for decades, they have largely remained obscure until the Euromaidan protests erupted in November 2013. Viktor Yanukovich’s repressive state emerged as a common existential threat to both government officials and ultranationalists, working as catalyst for right-wing activists.
With the resignation of Yanukovich in February 2014, nationalist militants scored a symbolic victory that could not be ignored, allowing them to formalize their movements into political parties.
However, once Yanukovich was ousted, rebellions emerged in Crimea, Donetsk, and Luhansk demanding independence from Kiev’s central administration. After a controversial popular referendum, Crimea broke apart from Ukraine and was annexed by Russia in March 2014.
However, Donestk and Luhansk particular geography and demographics made those regions a perfect scenario for a protracted conflict.
With rebel uprisings in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, far-right groups found a new enemy to fight against, identifying a threat shared by the government.
By April 2014, the newly constituted Right Sector coordinated the majority of paramilitary groups, such as the Ukranian National Self-Defense and the Social-National Assembly, gaining notorious influence despite losing the May 2014 presidential elections by a wide margin.
The business magnate Petro Poroshenko won the election with the support of moderates, yet the growing ultranationalist influence became an uncomfortable reality, one that is increasingly hard to elude.
Poroshenko has never been fond of the Right-Sector. However, due the hardship of the situation in the East, his government claimed it had to choose between the lesser of two evils.
Unable to deal with both forms of extremism simultaneously, the Kiev administration decided not to confront the far-right nationalists but to use their thrust to ram against the Eastern separatists of Donestk and Luhansk.
Despite collecting less than 2% of the popular vote, the Right Sector Party and its volunteer battalions are praised as popular heroes by many Ukrainians.
Problems will likely arise when paramilitary forces of this sort grow in size and firepower, without any form of public accountability, particularly if their interests will begin to collide directly against the government’s.
Since the beginning of the conflict, Ukraine has lost over 16% of its GDP. Of the sum, 3% derived from deterred investments, some 6% out of the lost production of the affected region of Donbass, and some further 7% due the Russian trade sanctions.
What we are now left to consider is what the economic damage would look like if the conflict will spread to Western regions due to rising tensions between the far-right paramilitaries and the central government.
One way or another, the way ahead seems just as dangerous as Ukraine’s recent past.