by Rachel Douglas
23 Feb.—With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s dramatic Feb. 22 announcement of agreement between Russia and the United States on joint enforcement of a ceasefire in Syria, it is natural to ask: but, what about Ukraine? There is more than one potential trigger point for a global showdown and world war, and in recent weeks, the United States and NATO have announced plans for a huge build-up of forces in Eastern Europe, keyed off Ukraine as allegedly exemplary of “Russian aggression.”
As Ukraine marks twin anniversaries this month, that “What about…?” question remains wide open. Ukraine, and not its eastern regions alone, could explode in violence at any moment. The night of Feb. 21-22 was the second anniversary of the 2014 coup d’état, when elected President Victor Yanukovych fled Kiev in fear for his life, as crowds dominated by openly fascist armed bands threatened to storm his offices. One year later, on Feb. 11, 2015, all-night negotiations in the Belarusian capital among Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, French Prime Minister Francois Holland and German Chancellor Angela Merkel led to the “Minsk-2” accords, calling a halt to the civil conflict in eastern Ukraine, the Donbass region, in which thousands had died and more than a million became refugees. The Minsk accords, coordinated with “contact group” talks among representatives of the Kiev regime and the eastern Ukraine regions that had rejected the coup, set forth a schedule for a ceasefire, force withdrawals, prisoner exchanges, and a longer-term settlement involving Constitutional changes to give semi-autonomy to the Donbass districts.
The force disengagement happened, but the Constitutional changes, recognition of autonomous status, and the planned subsequent return of control over the Donbass-Russia border to Ukraine, have not. Dr. Gordon M. Hahn of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies at Monterey (California), in an assessment published Feb. 19 under the headline “Who’s More in Violation of Minsk-2—Kiev or Donbass?” (http://gordonhahn.com). He concluded was that “Kiev is significantly more in violation of the agreement than the Donbass rebels and/or Moscow”, with the Ukrainian regime being “in violation of no less than seven articles and nine obligations” it committed to in Minsk-2.
The chaotic post-coup universe
On Feb. 3, Lithuanian banker Aivaras Abromavičius, imported by Poroshenko in Dec. 2014 to serve as Ukraine’s minister of economics, abruptly resigned. He stated, “My team and I have no wish to be a cover for open corruption or puppets,” citing alleged influence-peddling by Ihor Kononenko, an MP and businessman close to Poroshenko. Within a week, International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde warned, “I am concerned about Ukraine’s slow progress in improving governance and fighting corruption,” hinting that the release of IMF funds pledged for stabilizing Ukraine might not be forthcoming.
Next, Poroshenko demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Arseni Yatsenyuk, the infamous “Yats” who was handpicked by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland for his job in January 2014. On 16 February, the Supreme Rada (Parliament) condemned the performance of the Yats government, but several minutes
later failed to pass a vote of no-confidence. The sudden exit from the hall, before the second vote, of dozens of MPs, including opposition members and members of Poroshenko’s party, triggered rumors of bribery and dirty deals.
Yats remains PM, but two parties left the ruling coalition the next day. Either he forms a new coalition, or early elections could be called. Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose party has risen from barely over 5 per cent of the vote in late-2014 elections to now polling 20+ per cent, and who was one of those exiting the coalition, visited Washington in early February, evidently to curry favor for a comeback bid.
The main issue in Ukraine, however, is not parliamentary scuffles. It is ungovernability, and economic breakdown. A major reason for non-performance of the Minsk-2 accords is that neither Poroshenko nor Yats could secure Parliamentary approval of the Constitutional changes required for Donbass autonomy. Meanwhile, in a country that saw the highest inflation in Europe (30 per cent in 2014, 45 per cent in 2015), people nationwide struggle to survive on wages that barely suffice for their home heating bills. The free trade arrangement with the EU, over which the Euromaidan coup was supposedly staged, has brought no boom for the Ukrainian economy.
The political problems are far deeper than the faction fights of the mid-2000s, when the victors in the 2004 Orange Revolution, Tymoshenko and then-President Victor Yushchenko, had a falling out, and that revolution “ate its own children”. This time, matters are complicated by the role violent neo-Nazi, ideologically fascist radical Ukrainian national groups played from the outset of the “Euromaidan” coup process of November 2013-February 2014. That role was revisited and confirmed this month in French filmmaker Paul Moreira’s documentary “Masks of the Revolution” (http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/finally-masks-revolution-maidan-documentary-full-eng-subs/ri12759), which aired on French TV despite protests by Kiev, while the Hollywood nominated a rival documentary, a Kiev puff-piece called “Winter on Fire”, for an Oscar.
Rostislav Ishchenko, an insightful Ukrainian analyst currently exiled in Moscow, wrote 18 February that the country is experiencing not “dual power”, as there was during the Russian revolutions of 1917, but anarchy. The latest example, he said, is the blockade initiated by Right Sector and other viscerally anti-Russian paramilitaries, again Russian long-haul trucks crossing Ukraine to and from Slovakia and Hungary. In retaliation, Russia blocked Ukrainian trucks, forcing them to take circuitous routes to destinations like Kazakhstan, travelling south of the Caspian Sea through Turkey and Iran. This disruption of routine Eurasian trade is of no benefit to Kiev, but the government is powerless to override the radicals.
Fascist-style measures are found not only on Ukraine’s highways. There is another part of Ukraine’s political body politic, which receives little to no attention in the Western press. The Communist Party, which won 13.18 per cent of the vote and 32 seats in Parliament in 2012, was banned last year from running candidates for office, under new laws forbidding “communist symbols”. On Feb. 4 Dr. Natalia Vitrenko, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine and co-chairman of the Left Opposition bloc, and 18 others released an appeal to UN and EU human rights officials, on the suppression of their fundamental rights and freedoms in Ukraine. The full text of their petition follows.
PETITION: from the All-Ukraine Public Association of Left and Center-left Political Parties and Public Organizations — “The Left Opposition”
to the United Nations and the Council of Europe Commissioners for Human Rights concerning the obstruction of the activities of opposition political parties and public organizations by the Ukrainian government, and need to start large-scale international verification of whether human rights and freedoms are being honored in Ukraine
Editorial note: The document below was sent on 4 February 2016 to United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra ‘ad Al Hussein and Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muizniek, with copies to Ukraine’s President, prime minister, chairman of Parliament, chairman of the Constitutional Court, and parliamentary Commissioner for Human Rights. Official copies exist in Russian and in English. The English text below has undergone literary editing for clarity.
After the 2014 “Revolution of Dignity”, the organizers and ideologists of the Euromaidan, together with its active participants, came into power in Ukraine. But instead of the promised European standards of human rights and the rule of law, a totalitarian dictatorship has been established in our country.
This regime is flagrantly trampling our citizens’ right, provided for under international law and the Constitution of Ukraine, to political and public association in political parties and public organizations, including opposition organizations, for the purpose of organizing society on principles of political, ideological, and economic diversity.
The aforementioned rights are violated by means of:
* prohibition of unwanted political parties;
* wrongful interference in the affairs of political parties by government agencies such as the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine, the Security Service of Ukraine, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs;
* obstruction of the activity of parties and public organizations;
* criminal prosecution of opposition political activists;
* information blockade;
* defamation of opposition political parties and public organizations and their activities through the dissemination of false information;
* dissemination of wrong information for purposes of inciting to the physical elimination of opposition activists and shaping public opinion to support the banning of opposition organizations.
We believe that in regard to our activity the government of Ukraine is in violation of: Articles 18, 19, 21 and 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; Articles 10, 11 and 14 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms; Articles 3, 8, 15, 22, 24, 34, 36 and 68 of the Constitution of Ukraine; and the Law of Ukraine “On Political Parties in Ukraine”.
Today, Ukraine as a state is based on the dangerous principles of an effectively Neo-Nazi ideology, which tolerates no democracy whatsoever. The institutions of state deal with their ideological and political opponents using illegal means.
In order to organize political repressions. the Ukraine government adopted two laws: i) “On the condemnation of the Communist and National Socialist (Nazi) totalitarian regimes in Ukraine and the prohibition of propaganda of their symbols”; and ii) “On the legal status and the memory of fighters for Ukrainian independence in the twentieth century”. On the basis of these laws, the authorities have toughened up regulations and job instructions for government ministries and agencies.
Let us make you aware of following facts:
1) The government of Ukraine initiated a criminal case to discredit communist ideology and to ban the Communist Party of Ukraine. People who profess communist ideology and were not involved in any repressions or crimes of the “totalitarian regime”, are thereby deprived of the possibility of uniting into a political party and participating in the political life of the country, including participating in elections;
2) The Ministry of Justice refuses to register the Official Decision Note of the Extraordinary XXIX Congress of the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine (PSPU), unlawfully interpreting the Charter of the PSPU in a distorted fashion. The Ministry of Justice thereby blocked issuance to the PSPU of a receipt of amendments to its Charter and Program, and thus deprived this political party of the possibility of full-fledged participation in the political life of Ukraine, including participation in elections;
3) The Ministry of Justice of Ukraine illegally refuses to register amendments to the Charter and Program of the Labor Party of Ukraine (Marxist-Leninist), and thus obstructs its activity and violates the rights of party members.
Moreover, Mr. Alexander V. Bondarchuk, the leader of the Labor Party of Ukraine and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Rabochy klass (Working Class) was arrested on the basis of accusations made by a pro-regime political opponent; he was held without grounds for 10 months at a pre-trial detention center, and continues to be the target of a cynical, politically motivated court case;
4) The activity of the Russian-Ukrainian Union Party is obstructed by the regime’s connivance in a “raider”-style takeover attempt against it and artificially drawn-out court proceedings;
5) Mr. Anatoliy A. Mayevsky, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Raboche-krestyanskaya Pravda (Workers’ and Peasants’ Truth), chairman of Central Bureau of All-Union Communist Party-Bolsheviks (ACPB) for Ukraine, Moldova and Transdniestria, and Secretary of the ACPB, was falsely accused and imprisoned for more than one year, before receiving three years probation;
6) From April 2014 until the present time, the Аll-Ukraine Women’s Public Organization “Gift of Life” has been subjected to criminal prosecution on trumped-up charges of supporting separatists and terrorists (for no other reason than the intention to carry out human rights work). The bank account of this organization was frozen and a campaign conducted to discredit the organization and its leader, Dr. Natalia M. Vitrenko.
7) The government of Ukraine illegally interferes in the affairs of the canonical Orthodox Church and abets the seizure of Orthodox churches by armed gangs and schismatics.
The law enforcement agencies of Ukraine and the neo-Nazi groups of armed fighters they patronize act in concert to obstruct peaceful opposition political gatherings and activities. Here several instances:
* On May 2, 2014, forty-six members of anti-fascist groups were brutally burned and killed during an action at Kulikovo Field in the City of Odessa;
* On May 9, 2014, a peaceful demonstration in the City of Mariupol in the Donetsk region was fired on;
* On September 1, 2015, in the City of Kharkov, armed bands physically prevented the Progressive Socialist Party from holding a peaceful rally under the slogan, “Peace and love for children, not war and hatred”;
* On January 29, 2016, in the City of Kiev, members of the volunteer Azov Battalion forcibly disrupted a conference of the Public Movement “Ukrainian Choice”, breaking into the premises and in effect starting a session of mob justice. The armed fighters’ action, which grossly violated the rights and freedoms of the conference participants and flouted the presumption of innocence, was overtly supported by Mr. Z. Shkiryak, advisor to the Minister of Internal Affairs.
Acts of vigilante justice and physical obstruction of the activity of oppositional political parties and public organizations, threats (including of physical violence), political murders and driving people to suicide (the cases of Mrs. V. Semenyuk-Samsonenko, Mr. O. Kalashnikov, the Priest Roman, A. Peklushenko, Mr. Walter, О. Buzina, and the editor of newspaper Khochu v SSSR [I Want to Go Back to the Soviet Union] Mr. S. Dolgov), are all being committed in Ukraine. The perpetrators are gangs of right-wing radicals under slogans such as “Ukraine above all”, “Ukraine for the Ukrainians”, “Glory to the nation—Death to the enemies”, “Knife the Muscovites, hang the Communists!”, “Bandera will come and bring order”. All of this is happening with the full legal, information and political support provided of the Ukrainian government.
According to information at our disposal, about 4,000 people are being held in Ukrainian prisons because of their political opinions, while 2.6 million citizens have been forced to abandon their homes, become refugees, and have left Ukraine, including some because of their political convictions.
We, the leaders of the political parties and public organizations, united in the Left Opposition, DECLARE:
The representation of our country by the Ukrainian government as being democratic and as respecting and defending the human rights and freedoms guaranteed by above-mentioned norms of international law and by the Constitution of Ukraine, does not correspond to reality. In fact, a totalitarian state is being built in Ukraine, with all the attributes of a neo-Nazi dictatorship. In is impossible, in such a political environment and using such methods of fighting against the opposition and intimidating the people, to build a democratic state, to ensure compliance with human rights and freedoms in Ukraine, and to conduct democratic elections.
We ask you to take this Petition under consideration and to organize a large-scale verification of compliance with to human rights and freedoms in Ukraine.
Natalia Vitrenko, Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine
Victor Silenko, Kiev Rus Party
Alexander Bondarchuk, Labor Party of Ukraine (Marxist-Leninist)
Alexander Luzan, Slavic Party of Ukraine
Vladimir Marchenko, All-Ukrainian Labor Organization “Ukrainian Confederation of Labor”
Lyudmila Drobyazina, Public Organization “Assembly of Orthodox Women of Ukraine”
Irina Kravchuk, All-Ukrainian Public Organization “Eurasian People’s Union”
Tatyana Ploshkina, All-Ukrainian Women’s Public Organization “Gift of Life”
Nikolai Lavrinenko, Slavic Committee of Ukraine
Valentin Lukiyanik, Public Organization “Union of Orthodox Brotherhoods of Ukraine”
Yelena Mazur, All-Ukrainian Public Organization “For the Union of Belarus and Russia” (ZUBR)
Gennadiy Selivanov, Public Organization “Union of Soviet Officers of Ukraine”
Evgeniy Pavlov, All-Ukrainian Union of Workers
Amar Al-Anni, Public Organization “St. Sergius of Radonezh Orthodox Brotherhood”
Pyotr Tsybenko, Council of Veterans of Ukraine
Mikhail Kononovich, Komsomol of Ukraine
Georgy Buyko, Anti-Fascist Committee of Ukraine