Friday

20th Jul 2018

Opinion

Kiev's far-right problem

  • The Right Sector is a distraction for a government that needs to concentrate on reforms (Photo: Christopher Bobyn)

Ukraine’s government has a problem on its hands: A far-right group has tapped into growing frustration among Ukrainians over the declining economy and tepid support from the West.

Right Sector (Pravy Sektor) has a dangerous agenda.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... our join as a group

In the most direct challenge to Kyiv’s government, Right Sector announced that it will begin organising a national referendum on the population’s distrust of Ukraine’s parliament, cabinet, and the president.

A call for an illegitimate and unmonitored referendum against the government will neither unite Ukrainians nor help Ukraine’s reformers navigate the country’s difficult economic situation.

The referendum call came at a 21 July rally in Kyiv at which the Right Sector’s leader and only member of parliament, Dmytro Yarosh, demanded that the government's "Anti-terrorist operation" (ATO) in eastern Ukraine be called what it actually is: a war with Russia.

He also called for a full blockade of the separatist-controlled regions of Luhansk and Donetsk; and legalisation of all volunteer battalions fighting in Ukraine’s east, which the Ukrainian military has been struggling to incorporate.

Yarosh refused to give up his seat in parliament but claimed that Right Sector–which is both a political party and a paramilitary organisation–would not participate in the local elections in October.

There is a glimmer of good news for the Ukrainian government. A majority of Ukrainians do not support Right Sector. The party holds one seat in parliament (Yarosh’s) and Yarosh received less than one percent of the vote in the presidential elections in May 2014.

However, the government would be ill-advised to dismiss Right Sector outright. It must do more to address Ukrainians’ legitimate concerns about their future, but the government can’t do this alone.

Economists agree Ukraine requires a much greater injection of macro-economic assistance than the International Monetary Fund’s promised package of $17.5 billion to bring the country back from the brink of collapse.

The $50 billion called for by George Soros is the minimum “lifeline” that Ukraine needs to survive. Without this injection of financial support, groups like the Right Sector will continue to make political noise that distracts from the real work that Ukraine’s leaders must do.

Right Sector has surely been a thorn in Kyiv’s side.

The group’s meeting in Kyiv followed on the heels of a confrontation between Right Sector, police, and local authorities in the western town of Mukacheve on 11 July. The shootout left five dead and fourteen wounded.

The armed conflict in Mukacheve was, in part, a result of the government’s push to bring under control the many volunteer battalions that have been fighting in Ukraine’s east.

Volunteers returning from the front lines report fighting with regular Russian army forces, not Ukrainian separatists. While the Ukrainian government has repeatedly said that tens of thousands of Russian troops are fighting in eastern Ukraine, it has refused to call the conflict a war, preferring to use the ambiguous ATO label.

The government has a legitimate reason for this ambiguity: calling the conflict a war would cut off Ukraine from much needed financial assistance from international lending agencies, such as the International Monetary Fund, which do not provide assistance to countries at war.

However, as evidence of Russian troops and military bases in Ukraine mounts, volunteer fighters have grown frustrated with the language from Kyiv’s officials.

As President Petro Poroshenko’s falling approval ratings show (17 percent according to some polls), Ukrainians are getting fed up, too.

This frustration should not come as a surprise: reform governments are rarely popular, and this one has had to push through particularly painful reforms, including a 400-percent increase in gas prices and deep cuts in social programmes.

Investment in the private sector has stalled. Despite Ukraine’s wealth in natural resources and an educated labour force, few investors are willing to take on the risk of doing business in such an unstable environment.

Groups like the Right Sector, which claim to have Ukraine’s national interests at heart, are simply taking advantage of public frustration to ratchet up support for their misguided agenda.

Despite its revolutionary rhetoric and anti-government stance, Right Sector is unlikely to succeed: Since independence, Ukrainians have shown themselves to be cautious when it comes to supporting extremist movements.

Still, it is important to take this distraction for the government in Kiev off the table. Western leaders must connect the dots: Ukraine needs economic relief and political support. Without this, opportunistic and populist groups will continue to divert attention from the real challenges ahead.

Alina Polyakova is Associate Director in the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center.

EU must create safe, legal pathways to Europe

As the rapporteur for the European Parliament on an EU regulation on resettlement, my colleagues and I have outlined an effective plan based on solidarity and humanitarian principles.

How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

The suggestion that Russians themselves play a role in the condition of their state today is often dismissed as "xenophobic" or "Russophobic". But if not addressed, the evils of nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialism will continue even after Putin is gone.

Will EU suspend trade deal with Cambodia?

The EU has been slow to react to the collapse of Cambodian democracy - but if it ever chooses to use it, Brussels has substantial influence and leverage over Cambodia.

How the World Cup exposed Russian chauvinism

The suggestion that Russians themselves play a role in the condition of their state today is often dismissed as "xenophobic" or "Russophobic". But if not addressed, the evils of nationalism, chauvinism, and imperialism will continue even after Putin is gone.

News in Brief

  1. Libyan PM rejects EU migrant camps idea
  2. Italy's Salvini to sue critical anti-mafia writer
  3. EU countries send aircraft to Sweden to help with wildfires
  4. British ex-commissioner's jobs called into question
  5. May to tell EU to drop Irish border 'backstop' idea
  6. Trump threatens EU over Google fine
  7. Spain withdraws arrest warrant for Catalan separatists
  8. EU readies counter-measures on possible US car tariffs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  2. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  4. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  6. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  8. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  9. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  11. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  12. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  2. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Ombudsman Requests More Lending Transparency from European Investment Bank
  5. FIFARecycling at the FIFA World Cup in Russia
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersOECD Report: Gender Equality Boosts GDP Growth in Nordic Region
  7. Centre Maurits Coppieters“Peace and Reconciliation Is a Process That Takes Decades” Dr. Anthony Soares on #Brexit and Northern Ireland
  8. Mission of China to the EUMEPs Positive on China’s New Measures of Opening Up
  9. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOld White Men are Destroying Macedonia by Romanticizing Greece
  10. Counter BalanceControversial EIB-Backed Project Under Fire at European Parliament
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersIncome Inequality Increasing in Nordic Countries
  12. European Jewish CongressEU Leaders to Cease Contact with Mahmoud Abbas Until He Apologizes for Antisemitic Comments

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us