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Ukraine: Neo-Nazi Militia Leader Threatens 'Civil War'

Concerns over increasing prominence of far-right militias in Ukraine's protest movement.
By Ari Soffer
First Publish: 2/5/2014, 10:19 AM

Ukrainian opposition activist wields a baseball bat as protestors face-off with police
Ukrainian opposition activist wields a baseball bat as protestors face-off with police
Reuters

As Ukraine's nearly three-month long revolution drags on, some observers are becoming increasingly concerned that far-right militias are "hijacking" the protest movement. 

Since the uprising against President Viktor Yanukovych began in November over the government's refusal to consider European Union membership due to Russian pressure, a gaggle of disparate fascist and ultra-nationalist factions have managed to take advantage of the chaos and popular anger against the government, stoked further over the deaths of several opposition activists. They may be relatively small in number but are well organized, determined and, it appears, well-armed.

On Tuesday, in an exclusive interview with TIME World, the leader of the largest coalition of far-right paramilitary factions threatened his forces were preparing for an all-out civil war.

Dmitro Yarosh, the leader of Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), revealed in his first interview with the foreign press that his men had amassed an arsenal of deadly weapons and were prepared to "to defend all of Ukraine" from the government, whom he refers to as "the internal occupiers”. He warned that should negotiations break down between the mainstream opposition and the government his group would take up arms to continue the revolution.

But there are concerns that his group and others on the political fringes could seek to reignite political violence regardless of the outcome of negotiations. Their small numbers make it unlikely they will be particularly successful as peaceful, democratic political parties after any settlement, and so they may have an interest in prolonging the street battles where, in contrast, they have asserted themselves as a real force to be reckoned with.

Along with similar fascist and neo-Nazi groups such as Spilna Sprava (Common Cause) and Afgantsy (a coalition of veterans from the Soviet war in Afghanistan), Pravy Sektor has played a key role both in seizing government buildings and providing security for the sprawling protest camps against riot police. 

"This whole peaceful song and dance, the standing around, the negotiations, none of it has brought real change," Yarosh told TIME World.

Pravy Sektor, like most other far-right groups, opposes both "western and eastern" interference in Ukrainian affairs, and is inspired by fascist and neo-Nazi ideologies. But Yarosh's hatred is mostly reserved for Ukraine's former rulers in the Kremlin, who he - along with many other Ukrainians - sees as still attempting to assert their control over the country.

"For all the years of Ukraine’s independence, Russia has pursued a systematic, targeted policy of subjugation toward Ukraine. So of course we will prepare for a conflict with them," he explains.

The prospect of an increasingly aggressive and militant far-right will worry most Ukrainians, and particularly minority groups such as the country's Jewish community, which numbers between 60-70,000. Anti-Semitic and racist violence is not uncommon in the country, and two recent attacks - an assault on a Jewish teacher and the stabbing of a yeshiva student have raised fears that racist groups could take advantage of the ongoing chaos to launch further attacks.