On the last day of last month, right wing demonstrators, mostly from neo-fascist movements, hurled themselves against the police in Kiev’s Maidan square, the same place where in February 2014, a more heterogeneous group of demonstrators effectively ousted President Viktor Yanokovych. A grenade was thrown and three people died and 120 were hospitalized, mostly policemen. In an address to the nation President Poroshenko blamed the clashes on nationalistic forces, calling their actions “a stab in the back”. Finally the Western powers raised a voice of condemnation, although over the last year they have made little criticism of the rightist militias and parties.
That is perhaps because it would interfere with their narrative- that the demonstrators that overthrew Yanukovych were of a liberal, democratic hue. The overwhelming majority were. But the ignored fact is that the people who led the crowd and fired the bullets when the demonstrations turned ugly were these very same rightists. Some of the leaders of the neo-Nazi organisations, especially Svoboda, went on to be appointed to senior positions in government and parliament.
"In an address to the nation President Poroshenko blamed the clashes on nationalistic forces, calling their actions “a stab in the back"
The BBC’s Ukraine correspondent, David Stern, reported on September 1st: “the explosion in Maidan comes weeks after another armed incident involving volunteer militia with ties to the extreme right -- a shoot out between members of the so-called Right Sector and the local police in South Western Ukraine. Although the militias have been nominally integrated into government structures, many wonder how much control Kiev actually exercises.”
The main gripe of the protesters is that a Bill, now progressing through parliament, that would give a measure of autonomy to the eastern Donbass region where pro Russian rebels, supported by Russian troops, are fighting Ukraine’s Central Government gives away too much. But their violent action comes at the worst of times when progress is now being made on the Minsk-agreement of February that seeks to end the conflict in a way acceptable to the West, to Russia and to the Ukrainian government. Besides the introduction of the devolution bill in parliament the cease-fire of heavy weapons seems to be finally working.
"The Ukrainian army, although showing more determination of late, has often been close to shambles. This has made the militias popular right across Ukraine"
Russia thinks too little devolution is being discussed and planned for. It is probably right. A more satisfactory way to look at it, I suggest, would be to compare the Ukrainian Parliament’s plans with the devolved powers that have been given to Scotland in the UK. If that extent of devolution can work in Britain then why not in Ukraine?
It would be a great step forward if the UK could convince its Western partners that this was the way to go. The UK has the template for peace.
But the rightist, anti-devolution, nationalists, although only gaining 5% of the vote in the last election, have got their tail up- indeed they are determined to be the tail that wags the dog. This is a fearsome prospect as it means the violence they unleash will become more serious and more regular, especially as the Bill goes to its second reading and as more thoughtful members of Parliament attempt to strengthen the bill to allow a greater degree of devolution.
The neo-fascist militias, Azov, Aidar and Right Sector, have plenty of battlefield experience. Their troops have often been the only ones holding their own in the fight against the Russian-supported rebellion. The Ukrainian army, although showing more determination of late, has often been close to shambles. This has made the militias popular right across Ukraine.
Despite this the government has no choice but to outlaw and imprison these rightist militias before the revolution destroys its own children. The West and Russia must stand together on this.
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government has drawn up, in collaboration with the West, a list of policies it demands from the eastern pro-Russian rebels. Among them is full and immediate access to rebel-held areas for international monitors. Failure to deliver on these conditions, argues the President, would put the entire peace plan at risk, “with clear consequences – and sanctions” for the Russian side. Poroshenko says he is adamant that “fake” elections in separatist-controlled areas, currently planned for October and November, would draw such a response. All elections must be under the authority of Kiev with international supervision.
Indeed, Russia must agree to persuade the separatists of this- as long as the Ukrainian side agrees to a Scottish-type measure of devolution.
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Francois Hollande of France did sterling work at Minsk. But at this stage their influence needs to be supplemented by the UN. The UN has a number of superb high-class negotiators it can pick from, coming from countries not immediately involved in the crisis, who could help bridge the gap between the two sides. Then once a deal is made UN peacekeepers are needed to police the peace. UN peace-keepers are made for this kind of job. They must be factored into the negotiations.