How Much Should We Fear Fascists In Ukraine?

Moynihan rips into Putin’s defenders in the Western press:

Let’s acknowledge that ideologues rarely exist without a certain degree of hypocrisy. But when Viktor Yanukovych’s goon squads were unleashed on protesters in Kiev, wielding truncheons and firing bursts from Kalashnikovs, it was nevertheless disconcerting to see Ukrainian anti-government protesters–of varied political backgrounds and issuing varied demands–blithely dismissed by a significant number of Western journalists as fascists and neo-Nazis, if not stooges of the United States government. Indeed, it all sounded too much like the Soviet reaction to the 1956 Hungarian uprising, when Moscow claimed to have narrowly avoided “the threat of a fascist dictatorship” (which was, of course, precipitated by American interference) by the dispatch of a benevolent invading military force. And like 1956, one didn’t have to look to far to find–from both the fringe left and right, and many ironically self-identifying as anti-imperialist–those ready to “contextualize” the violence visited upon protesters and justifying the arrival of Russian troops on Ukrainian soil.

Remnick provides a reality check:

It is worth remembering that, in the back-and-forth of Ukrainian governments since 1991, both the pro-Russian leaders, like Viktor Yanukovych, and the pro-Europeans, like Yulia Tymoshenko, have been brazen thieves, enriching themselves at fantastical rates. Both sides have played one half of the country against the other. And the fact that the protests in Kiev were not, as Moscow claims, dominated by fascists and ultra-nationalists does not mean that such elements are absent from the scene.

Ukraine has yet to develop the politicians that its fragile condition and its dire economy demand. In December, when John McCain spoke to demonstrators in Kiev’s Independence Square, he stood side by side with Oleh Tyahnybok, who was once expelled from his parliamentary faction after demanding battle with “the Muscovite-Jewish mafia.” Perhaps this was bad advance work from team McCain—much like the advance work on the Sarah Palin nomination—but it did manage to fuel Moscow’s bonfire of suspicion.

Oleg Shynkarenko recently profiled Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), the far-right group – led by Dmitro Yarosh, seen in the above video – that allegedly threw the first molotovs at EuroMaidan:

The Right Sector trumpets the ideology of Ukrainian nationalism, which reaches its zenith in the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which in its heyday was lead by [Stepan] Bandera. (He was assassinated by a KGB agent in Munich in 1959.) From 1942 to 1954, the group acted fought against the German and Soviet Armies. Now, its descendent organizations are dedicated to advancing the 20th-century throwback notion of the primacy of the nation-state. Their rhetoric may sound utopian (or dystopian), but it’s actually quite archaic. “If non-Ukrainians understand Ukrainians’ urge towards their nation, and are disposed to it and help in struggle, we are disposed to them too; if they are neutral and don’t prevent us in our struggle, we are neutral to them, too; if they object our right to be a nation-state and work against us, we are hostile to them,” Bandera once said.

But Jamie Dettmer isn’t too worried about the group:

The Kremlin has made much of the vanguard combatant role Right Sector and others of the far-right ilk played in the street battles that raged in Independence Square against Yanukovych’s feared berkut (riot police). And the Western media, when not covering the standoff in Crimea, has been drawn to the ideological menace of Ukraine’s far right and to the swaggering Right Sector fighters and their SS iconography in Kyiv’s Independence Square.

But opposition politician and rights campaigner Lesya Orobets says that while the Right Sector’s part in the ousting of Yanukovych shouldn’t be underestimated, its importance in the country’s future politics shouldn’t be overestimated. “They were a small element in the revolution, although significant, and they were brave enough to do what others wouldn’t,” she says. “But I don’t see much room for their radicalism now in democratic politics. Ukrainians are tolerant. Right Sector will have some small support if it develops as a political party, maybe five to seven percent of the vote. I don’t see a big political future for them.”