On the Offensive

KIEV/BERLIN | | ukraine

KIEV/BERLIN (Own report) - Following the escalation of the violent protests in Kiev, Berlin's favorite, Vitaly Klitschko, is threatening to launch a new "offensive" against the government. The offensive would begin, Klitschko announced on Wednesday, should President Yanukovych not resign by yesterday evening. The deadline passed without resignation. Tensions are rising. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has "various contacts" within the Ukrainian opposition, explained Chancellor Merkel, mounting pressure on the Ukrainian government by demanding that the government protect "the freedom of expression and peaceful assembly." Last weekend's surge in violence - which preceded the brutal police repression - was sparked by ultra rightwing activists, who had been participating in the "Euromaidan" protests from the very beginning and who, according to observers, are winning growing acceptance. "Progressive activists" have to fight "on two fronts" in Kiev today: "against the regime that supports police violence" but also "against extremist nationalism." Ultra rightwing leaders are already threatening civil war.

The German Government Takes Position

Following the escalation of the bloody protests in Kiev, Berlin and Brussels are increasing their pressure on the Ukrainian government. The government has responded to the on-going barricades in downtown Kiev with new repressive laws, some of which already exist also in Germany - such as the law forbidding wearing masks in demonstrations. This has sparked violent protests. Demonstrators threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at police, set police busses on fire and erected barricades. Police used their weapons and fired rubber bullets into the crowd killing several demonstrators. The opposition is now threatening a further escalation of violence. In this situation, the German government is taking a one-sided position in opposition to the Ukrainian government, with Chancellor Merkel demanding that it "restore basic democratic rights." EU Commission President Barroso is threatening Kiev with "serious consequences." But no pressure is being exerted on the opposition to stop the threat of violence.[1]

A Single Leader

Vitaly Klitschko, the favorite of the German foreign policy elite, is particularly fueling the protests. Klitschko who has been groomed by the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation into an opposition leader [2] has issued an "ultimatum" to the government, threatening that if it is not met by yesterday evening, he would go "on the offensive." It is "not clear," what this implies, according to the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), but "violence" can not be ruled out.[3] Klitschko is seeking to use the escalation to secure for himself the leadership of the opposition. A few days ago his single-handed negotiation with the Ukrainian president was met with anger by the two other leaders of the opposition, with whom he had previously agreed to a common approach. Klitschko's UDAR party is now giving the word that the recent surge in violence proves that it is time for the demonstrators to have "a single leader." Klitschko should assume this role, because his rivals Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleh Tiahnybok are too hesitant.[4]

Success for Ethno-Nationalists

While Klitschko is still banking on escalation, warnings are heard that the protests, that he and Berlin are fueling, are creating a nationalist climate that is grist to the mill of the rightwing extremists. Already at the beginning of this year, the Ukraine specialist, Andreas Umland, ascertained "a far more notable presence" of slogans and symbols of the former Ukrainian Nazi-collaborators around Stepan Bandera in current protests than in the 2004 demonstrations. Some of the Nazi-collaborators' "leitmotifs" are now "characteristic of the entire protest movement", a "remarkable success" for the "neo-Banderite ethno-nationalists."[5] This has been confirmed by progressive activists. Even though masses have not flocked to the ultra righting groups, they have become "more acceptable, and in a way, more mainstream than before, for many active citizens," according to a member of the NGO "Center for Social Action." And according to another activist, progressive demonstrators have to "fight on two fronts, against a regime that supports harmful police violence … and also against extreme nationalism, which is recognized and legitimate on the Maidan.” This is were Klitschko comes in. According to reports, he has also made it a habit of framing his Maidan-speeches with slogans from the Bandera tradition.[6]

"Right-Wing Sector"

The growing tolerance of the rightwing extremists is now also reflected in violence. Already at an early stage of the protest, critical observers had noted that the surge in violence on December 1, had not been sparked by paid provocateurs - as was also alleged in Germany - but by thugs, whose rightwing extremist affiliation could not only be seen by their "black wolf's hook" symbol armbands. Some could be indentified as known ultra rightwing activists of organizations, such as the "Tryzub" - formed in 1993 as a paramilitary unit and becoming known also for attacks on gays. Ultra right-wingers from various organizations had assembled on the Maidan and formed the ‘Right-Wing Sector' ("Pravyi Sektor") to plan and carry out violent actions such as the one on December 1. Already in November they had attacked left-wing activists without jeopardizing their reputation.[7]

Ready to Die

The "Right-Wing Sector" sparked not only the December violence but also the recent, by far more brutal, wave of violence, to which the police have responded with deadly repression. According to various reports, the activists have claimed the responsibility for the attacks on the police in Kiev, using stones, Molotov cocktails, self-made weapons, including slingshots and bows and arrows. An ultra rightwing activist, who had once been convicted of murder, was among those perpetrating the violence, who had been arrested. The "Right-Wing Sector" seems to have growing success in involving government opponents, who, up to now, had considered themselves as apolitical, in their violent activities. Their activists seem very dedicated. "I've had a confession, I took my communion, so now I am ready to die," one of them is quoted as saying.[8]

Guerrilla Warfare

"Rightwing sector" ringleaders have begun to threaten a civil war. Should the Ukrainian forces of repression continue to carry out a bloody crackdown, "I think there will be a massacre," one of them was quoted: "Guerrilla warfare will begin in Ukraine."[9] A few days ago, Vitali Klitschko had also said that he could not rule out civil war. It could be a bad omen that the protests have now begun to escalate in those regions of Western Ukraine, from which a large portion of the Kiev demonstrators originate. According to reports, several administrative buildings have been occupied, for example in Lviv, a stronghold of rightwing extremists.[10] The rightwing extremists are benefiting from pressure Berlin is applying on the Ukrainian government and from the fact that German diplomats, on various occasions, have met with functionaries of the rightwing extremist Svoboda party. According to Svoboda, the talks also covered the possible overthrow of the government. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[11]) If the government is overthrown, it goes without saying that Svoboda will demand its share of the power in Kiev. In such a case, Berlin will have rendered practical assistance to placing a rightwing extremist party, at least, in the proximity of governing.

Other reports and background on German policy toward Ukraine policy can be found here: Problems of Eastward Expansion, A Broad-Based Anti-Russian Alliance, Expansive Ambitions, Our Man in Kiev and Integration Rivalry with Moscow.

[1] Ukraine droht ein langer Machtkampf. www.n-tv.de 23.01.2014.
[2] See The Boxer's Punch and Our Man in Kiev.
[3] "Die Geduld in Kiew ist zu Ende". www.n-tv.de 23.01.2014.
[4] Demonstranten in Kiew getötet. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 23.01.2014.
[5] Andreas Umland: Is Tiahnybok a Patriot? How the Spread of Banderite Slogans and Symbols Undermines Ukrainan Nation Building. www.foreignpolicyjournal.com 01.01.2014. See Integration Rivalry with Moscow.
[6] Alec Luhn: The Ukrainian Nationalism at the Heart of 'Euromaidan'. www.thenation.com 21.01.2014.
[7] Anton Shekhovtsov: Provoking the Euromaidan. www.opendemocracy.net 03.12.2013.
[8] Katya Gorchinskaya, Olga Rudenko: The men behind the masks on EuroMaidan. www.kyivpost.com 21.01.2014.
[9] Claire Bigg, Oleksandr Lashenko: Far-Right Ukrainian Opposition Group Vows 'Guerilla War'. www.rferl.org 22.01.2014.
[10] See Zwischen Moskau und Berlin (V).
[11] See Termin beim Botschafter.