French Institute voices concern at rise of nationalism in Ukraine
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French Institute voices concern at rise of nationalism in Ukraine

The director of studies at a leading French policy institute has expressed fears about the “growth of Neo-Nazism and fascism” in Ukraine. John Laughland, of the respected Institute of Democracy and Cooperation, says a surge in nationalism and the presence of Far Right militia in Ukrainian armed forces was helping to drive the continuing bitter conflict in the east of the country.

The Paris-based Laughland also said the European Union and Nato both have an “ideological self interest” in “perpetuating, aggravating and stimulating” the ongoing war in Ukraine´s eastern regions.

Laughland, who has written widely for the international media, was speaking at a special hearing in the European Parliament, called “The paradox of Ukrainian democracy” and organised by the European Academy, a Strasbourg based non-governmental organisation.

His comments come with the Ukraine conflict now into its second year and with over 6,000 people having been killed.

The Oxford-educated Laughland, a renowned political scientist and leading figure at the Institute which specializes in East-West relations, said Russia had become an “ideological enemy” and “existential threat” for the EU which sees Moscow as “standing for everything opposite” the EU values.

He voiced particular concern about the presence of “neo-Nazis” and “fascists” in Ukrainian forces, pointing out that this was the “first time” a Western institute had highlighted this issue.

One example cited is that of Andriy Parubiy, who resigned as head of Ukraine´s National Security Council last August and was the self-proclaimed commander of the EuroMaidan demonstrations in Kiev that began in November 2013, calling for closer integration with the EU.

Parubiy is now deputy speaker of the Ukraine Parliament but, said Laughland, has an “extreme right wing” background and was recently photographed in paramilitary uniform. In 1991 he said he was seen in a Nazi uniform.

Further evidence of the current influence of the Far Right in Ukraine´s militia, said Laughland, is the Azov Battalion, a 1,000-strong volunteer militia of Ukraine´s National Guard which has been widely criticised for its Neo-Nazi links.

Laughland, a Briton, told the hearing: “Such influences are undeniably elements in driving the current conflict.”

He said, “Violence is, in fact, a key word used by the various nationalistic parties which came to power in the February 2014 coup. This culture of violence has also been used by the authorities in Kiev to deal with the cessationist regions in the East.”

Laughland believes the underlying rational behind Western policy towards Ukraine was “reinforce Nato and the West as a political entity”.

Further contribution came from Slobodan Despot, an experienced Swiss writer and publisher, who in his presentation said the West was using the same strategy in Ukraine as it had implemented in the former Yugoslavia. “As a result,” he noted, “an extreme nationalist ideology prevails among the rulers in Kiev. The current leaders in Kiev are glorifying in a nationalistic ideology and the West is supporting this ideology. If there is evidence of genuine fascism anywhere in the world at present it is in Ukraine where the ruling authorities seem to glory in a type of Nazi ideology.”

The political scientist said that neo-Nazis and fascists were not marginal figures in Ukraine “but occupy key positions in the Ukraine government.”

“All of this, let us recall, is supported by Ukraine’s friends in the West,” he noted.

He also reserved criticism for EU and Western powers for “using any available tools and means” to “isolate” Russia and “separate Ukraine from its common Russian tree.”

Anatoly Tolstoukhov, an experienced former MP and government minister in Ukraine, presented his views on the current situation in the country, pointing out that he represented neither the regime or opposition but was merely preoccupied by the crisis.

He has held several government positions, including the influential Cabinet Secretary in 2004 in the Yushchenko government.

A member of the People’s Democratic Party (NDP), Tolstoukhov, was head of the NDP’s Kyiv organization and, as minister of the Cabinet, was responsible for coordination between ministries in Valery Pustovoytenko’s government

He said: “Ukraine has and is experiencing a crisis of politics and has gone through a crisis of history. That is why it is now undergoing what I might call a crisis of perspective.”

He said that the best way for the EU to support Ukraine and its people would be to convince the authorities in Kiev and all other parties involved in the conflict to fully implement the Minsk 2 agreements.

“The EU,” he said, “should encourage the authorities in Kiev to work together with the opposition forces. If the Ukraine government fails to engage in real dialogue with the opposition or to implement Minsk 2 the negative results will rebound on Europe.”

Other speakers at the hearing, including French MEP Jean-Luc Schaffhauser, asked how Europe can “tolerate” the situation in Ukraine at a time when “human rights are being abused there.”

The Alsace member also said there were “huge problems” with implementation of the Minsk 2 Agreements, notably the lack of progress with constitutional reform and regional autonomy, or federalisation, in the country.

People who had visited Donbass had been “horrified” by what they had seen, he noted, adding “The rights of minorities are not respected and indiscriminate violence is widespread. The only solution is autonomy, or decentralisation. Only then can we talk about rebuilding the East of Ukraine.”

Ukraine was urged to consider a “new form of state composition” such as exists in Germany where Bavaria enjoys a large degree of independence but Germany remains, nevertheless, a united country.

Another good example that might be used as a model for Ukraine is that of South Tyrol in Italy which has also enjoyed wide autonomy for many years.

Particular concern was voiced that the Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has “little interest” in discussing the further steps needed to implementing the Minsk 2 agreements.

Aleksei Glazov, a lawyer from Odessa, told a press briefing that followed the 90-minute hearing that the only reason he had travelled to Brussels was to raise public awareness to the “disturbing” violations of human rights, including restrictions on the freedom of the opposition and media in Ukraine.

He said he was currently defending the rights of a Ukrainian journalist, Artyom Buzila, who was arrested in April on trumped up charges of “separatism” and working against national security interests. He remains in custody in Ukraine with the authorities saying they do not intend to release him because he “poses a threat” to state security.

“As a lawyer, I see no legitimate grounds to keep this person in prison,” he said.

By Martin Banks