War, weapons mix for deadly pol­i­tics

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLEG SUKHOV [email protected]

Only 19 months af­ter the end of the Euro­Maidan Revo­lu­tion, protests have be­come bloody again with the deaths of three Na­tional Guards­men on Aug 31.

They and other po­lice of­fi­cers stand­ing guard out­side par­lia­ment faced the wrath of protesters over con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments ap­proved by law­mak­ers that could grant broader au­ton­omy to Rus­sian-oc­cu­pied ar­eas of the eastern Don­bas.

Mea­sures to de­volve more power and func­tions to re­gional and lo­cal gov­ern­ments are es­sen­tial el­e­ments of the tat­tered Minsk II peace agree­ments de­signed to end Rus­sia’s war.

In ad­di­tion to the three deaths, the protests led to at least 141 peo­ple, mostly law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, be­ing in­jured.

The vi­o­lence trig­gered po­lit­i­cal anx­i­ety over whether Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko and Prime Min­is­ter Arseniy Yat­senyuk will be able to keep a ma­jor­ity coali­tion in par­lia­ment.

It also sparked fears about the pos­si­bil­ity of more in­ci­dents in what has be­come a heav­ily armed na­tion at war.

The sus­pect ac­cused of killing the three Na­tional Guards­men by throw­ing a grenade is Ihor Hu­me­niuk, a mem­ber of the In­te­rior Min­istry’s vol­un­teer Sich Bat­tal­ion, which is con­nected to the right-wing Svo­boda Party that lost its seats in par­lia­ment last fall.

Hu­me­niuk fought in some of the tough­est ar­eas of Rus­sia’s war against Ukraine, in­clud­ing Pisky and the los­ing bat­tle to hold the ter­ri­tory of the ru­ined Donetsk Air­port.

If Hu­me­niuk is found guilty, some say, so is the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment for fail­ing to care prop­erly for the post-trau­matic stress dis­or­ders that sol­diers bring back to civil­ian life from the war that has claimed 7,000 lives since its start in Fe­bru­ary 2014.

The at­tacks also ex­posed ris­ing anger with the gov­ern­ment over its fail­ure to de­liver jus­tice since the Euro­Maidan Revo­lu­tion that top­pled Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych last year.

And it could also have stemmed from the gov­ern­ment’s fail­ure to com­mu­ni­cate its agenda to the public and coali­tion part­ners, par­tic­u­larly on the sta­tus of the Rus­sian-held eastern ter­ri­to­ries.

While there are hopes that this will be an iso­lated in­ci­dent, the clashes re­flected the mil­i­ta­riza­tion of Ukrainian pol­i­tics and the links be­tween vol­un­teer units, such as Sich, and the na­tion­al­ist par­ties, such as Svo­boda, that use them for their po­lit­i­cal ends.

It also ex­posed how a grow­ing ar­se­nal of illegal weapons be­ing smug­gled back from the war front could pose fa­tal dan­gers to so­ci­ety and lead to un­ex­pected crime waves.

“They have a civil­ian wing and mil­i­tary wing,” Taras Bere­zovets, head of po­lit­i­cal con­sult­ing firm Berta Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, said by phone, com­par­ing Ukrainian par­ties to Ire­land’s Sinn Fein and its mil­i­tary arm, the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army.

Ac­cord­ing to the po­lice, Oleh Tyah­ny­bok, leader of the na­tion­al­ist Svo­boda Party, went to the war zone be­fore the clashes to meet with fight­ers of Sich in what some see as an ef­fort to rile them up and rally them to his cause. There are videos show­ing Tyah­ny­bok and other se­nior party mem­bers at­tack­ing po­lice at the Aug. 31 rally.

In such a volatile en­vi­ron­ment, po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Vi­taly Bala told the Kyiv Post that politi­cians should be more care­ful with their words and ac­tions. “Politi­cians don’t un­der­stand that we’re liv­ing in wartime, when peo­ple die and when ev­ery­thing is per­ceived more sharply,” Bala said.

Other Ukrainian po­lit­i­cal par­ties are also linked to vol­un­teer units.

The Right Sec­tor group has its own Ukrainian Vol­un­teer Corps. In July, Right Sec­tor mem­bers took part in a shootout with what they say were the pri­vate se­cu­rity de­tail of a law­maker and lo­cal po­lice in the city of Mukacheve in Zakarpatty­a Oblast in which four peo­ple were killed.

The Azov Reg­i­ment is linked to the Pa­triot of Ukraine, an ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist group, and the St. Mary Com­pany is the Brat­stvo far-right group’s mil­i­tary wing.

Bere­zovets said Svo­boda, the Right Sec­tor and Oleh Li­ashko’s Rad­i­cal Party, which left the rul­ing coali­tion in the af­ter­math of the con­sti­tu­tional vote and vi­o­lence, lost cred­i­bil­ity with the public.

Svo­boda blamed the clashes on a gov­ern­ment-or­ches­trated provo­ca­tion. Oth­ers saw a Krem­lin plot but had no ev­i­dence to sup­port the claims.

Yet oth­ers say a deeply dis­turbed soldier, de­scribed by friends as a skilled fighter and pa­triot, may sim­ply be to blame – along with a gov­ern­ment that hasn’t taken proper care of its mil­i­tary force.

“What hap­pened is the re­sult of in­ac­tion in terms of help­ing sol­diers adapt to so­ci­ety af­ter the war,” Leonid Ostal­tev, head of Kyiv’s Des­nyan­ska As­so­ci­a­tion of War Vet­er­ans, told the Kyiv Post.

How­ever, Artem Shevchenko, a spokesman for the In­te­rior Min­istry, and Vla­dyslav Seleznyov, a spokesman for the Gen­eral Staff, told the Kyiv Post that the author­i­ties have re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion pro­grams and cen­ters.

It would not be the first time that vet­er­ans be­came so used to war and killing that they started ap­ply­ing mil­i­tary prin­ci­ples to civil­ian life, treat­ing their po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents as en­e­mies.

“A spi­ral of vi­o­lence is be­ing started,” Bere­zovets said. “The func­tion of us­ing force is one that be­longs to the gov­ern­ment. It’s not ful­fill­ing that func­tion. As a re­sult, vig­i­lantes emerge who be­gin to ful­fill it.”

He com­pared the Aug. 31 clashes to the Mukacheve shootout, which has been at­trib­uted to a dis­pute over smug­gling be­tween the Right Sec­tor and law­maker Mikhailo Lanyo. An­a­lysts ar­gue that the gov­ern­ment’s in­abil­ity to pros­e­cute smug­gling and foster the rule of law pre­cip­i­tated the event.

Vik­to­ria Voyt­syt­ska, a law­maker from the Samopomich party, told the Kyiv Post by phone that the Poroshenko Bloc and Yat­senyuk’s Peo­ple’s Front had been un­will­ing to en­gage in di­a­logue on con­sti­tu­tional changes with their coali­tion part­ners – Samopomich, Batkyvshch­yna and the Rad­i­cal Party. Poroshenko’s ap­proach has been heavy-handed, she ar­gued.

The con­sti­tu­tional com­mis­sion was es­tab­lished by pres­i­den­tial de­cree de­spite the fact that it is a par­lia­men­tary pre­rog­a­tive, she said. Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svi­atoslav Tsegolko, was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

“We should look for a con­sen­sus,” Voyt­syt­ska said. “We should re­spect each other with­out ac­cu­sa­tions or clichés like ‘Krem­lin agent.’ This is the mo­ment of truth. The events ex­posed the need for a full-fledged di­a­logue be­tween the coali­tion part­ners.”

Peo­ple try to pull shields away from of­fi­cers as ac­tivists of rad­i­cal Ukrainian par­ties, in­clud­ing the Ukrainian na­tion­al­ist party Svo­boda (Free­dom), clash with po­lice of­fi­cers in front of the par­lia­ment in Kyiv on Aug. 31. (AFP)

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