By Nahia Sanzo
September 1: Several hundred activists, members and supporters of different right-wing groups and organizations, including Right Sector and Svoboda, rallied yesterday at the Ukrainian parliament to try to prevent the adoption of amendments to the Constitution proposed by President Poroshenko. The most radical sectors of Ukrainian nationalism consider these a concession to separatism or even to Russia.
Attempts to build barricades, activists carrying flags of Svoboda, covered faces, clashes with police, armed protesters, all of this was part of a scenario in which protesters faced numerous security forces trying to prevent a possible assault on parliament. In scenes similar to those carried out by those same Ukrainian nationalists against police forces sent by President Yanukovych, the clashes have killed a policeman, and another hundred people — police, protesters and journalists — were injured. The city authorities say they have arrested the young man who threw the grenade which, police said, killed the policeman. Other reports claim that the death occurred because of a shooting.
Meanwhile, in a tense session, the Verkhovna Rada has adopted on first reading the amendments on decentralization of power that are part of the draft of Poroshenko. Poroshenko himself was quick to reassure that there is no special status that Ukraine has committed to give the regions of Donbass in exchange for their return to Ukrainian sovereignty.
As cited by the Russian news agency Sputnik, “The president’s proposal provides for the division of regional administration into three steps: regions, districts and municipalities. Municipalities may be composed of one or more locations and it is precisely the municipalities that will have greater autonomy and financial resources.”
Special status for the regions of Donbass will be addressed, according to Poroshenko, in another law and not in the Constitution, making it easier to withdraw this status in the future. The president also reserves the power to dismiss any officer of the regional governments in case of the “emergence of local separatist sentiments.”
With the adoption of these amendments, the Ukrainian government claims to have complied with its commitments made on February 12 in Minsk, which contrasts with the reaction of the representatives of the People’s Republics, who recalled that the amendments must be negotiated, not imposed by the Ukrainian side. From Donetsk, Denis Pushilin said that DNR will deliver to the Ukrainian representatives its proposals for constitutional reform that, for now, the Ukrainian side has consistently refused to consider.
Despite constant complaints and threats from extreme right-wing parties, such as the Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko and Oleh Tyahnibok’s Svoboda movement, the proposal does not imply granting political autonomy to Donbass, as some of the press has published, but a municipal decentralization of power following the example of the Ahtisaari plan proposed for the Serbian minority in Kosovo.
While Lyashko and Mosiychuk protested inside, Tyahnibok, who together with Klitschko and Yatsenyuk was photographed last year with Victoria Nuland and John McCain, led a protest that resulted in heavy fighting, similar to those held before the coup of February 22, 2014, resulting in a dead cop. “You only need Svoboda,” said Tyahnibok in defense of his party and against the government, which the extreme right says must not meet even the minimum commitments made in Minsk.
Authorities have identified the deceased as Ihor Derbin, a National Guard conscript for a few months and 25 years old. Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has identified the man accused in the death as Ihor Gumeniuk, also a member of the National Guard, veteran of the war in Donbass and militant of the Carpathian Sich battalion, close to Svoboda and Right Sector and based in the western part of the country, the most nationalistic area of Ukraine.
Unlike February 2014, when nationalist militants used the same methods they employed yesterday, pro-Maidan Ukrainian political leaders have condemned the violence, describing it as unacceptable. In a televised statement, President Poroshenko described what happened as “a stab.” The mayor of Kiev, Vitaly Klitschko, one of the opposition leaders who benefited from the use of the extreme right as shock troops during the events of Maidan, described what happened as “a dirty provocation against the Parliament which must find a legal response. The public must know the perpetrators and organizers of this terrorist act and what punishment they will receive,” he said.
Like what happened in Mukachevo in July, when Right Sector militants clashed with the security team of a Rada deputy in a firefight that caused several causalities, opinions have also been extended internationally. At that time, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt recalled that the monopoly on the use of force must correspond to the state, in contrast with the constant condemnation of the use of force by President Yanukovich. Then, the groups using the same methods as those used yesterday in Kiev were described as peaceful demonstrators. After days of condemnation of those who had provoked the shooting, legal consequences were scarce. The search for those who fled was stopped and the detainees were sent back to the front.
The methods used by Svoboda are now condemned, as Right Sector was condemned in July in Mukachevo, forgetting that these organizations and associated battalions have been the basis, not only of the coup of February 2014, but also of the Ukrainian troops in the war in Donbass.
As reflected in the presence of their propaganda posters throughout western Ukraine, Svoboda can lose representation in parliament but not its influence on Ukrainian politics. Lacking votes and popular support, which are also waning for the Poroshenko-Yatsenyuk regime, Svoboda has other means of intervention: the weapons it received from the government and seems ready to use, whether against the people of Donbass or against the government in Kiev. Their acts are condemned only when they occur against the government they helped install in power.