Ukraine: The Squandered Renaissance – Analysis


By John R. Haines*

The Euromaidan movement that emerged in late 2013 on Kyev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (“Independence Square”) first crystalized around opposition to increasingly authoritarian rule by President Viktor Yanukovych, especially his government’s effort to reverse the pro-Western policies of his predecessor, Viktor Yushchenko.

The namesake Independence Square has special meaning to Ukrainians. In 1990, what began as student protests on then Lenin Square ended a year later in a national referendum in which Ukrainians declared independence from the Soviet Union. A November 2004 rally on the now-renamed Independence Square against election fraud sparked a series of nationwide protests over the next seventeen days that became known as the Orange Revolution.

Euromaidan protestors eagerly took up the Orange Revolution chant “Together, we are many! We cannot be defeated!” Their claim was chillingly tested in late November and early December 2013, when an increasingly desperate Yanukovych sent Interior Ministry special forces to clear Independence Square. Yanukovych’s willingness to try and subdue protestors with armed force marked a critical turning point, both for his ill-fated government and for the Euromaidan movement.

Into this fray moved a mix of ultranationalist and assorted far right paramilitary groups, all decidedly at odds with Euromaidan’s progressive, democratic tenor. The largest of these, Svoboda, possessed a well-defined political program, having earned parliamentary seats in 2012 by winning a tenth of votes cast in nationwide elections. Several existing paramilitary groups coalesced to form Right Sector, the declared goal of which was not closer ties with Europe but to “build a nationalist Ukrainian state and stage a nationalist revolution.”

Svoboda and Right Sector possessed what the early Euromaidan protestors lacked — boots on the street that were primed to answer in-kind any exercise of violent force by the Yanukovych government. For the Euromaidan movement, it was a devil’s bargain. When an interim government formed after Yanukovych fled the country, Svoboda demanded powerful posts and control of the National Security Council. Unable to muster popular support — Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh managed only 0.7% in the May 2014 presidential elections, and Svoboda lost significant ground in the October 2014 parliamentary elections — both nevertheless wield outsized political power by virtue of large, well-armed paramilitaries.

As the conflict in eastern Ukraine escalated through 2014, the newly elected Poroshenko government in Kyev found itself dependent upon paramilitary forces as the sharp end of Ukrainian resistance to Russian aggression. The paramilitaries exploited this to demand significant concessions from the Kyev government, which well short of exercising a monopoly on armed force within the country was not even the preponderant force.

Today, as the Poroshenko government seeks a détente in eastern Ukraine, paramilitaries that have borne the brunt of the fighting are increasingly vocal in opposing any accord with the separatists. This poses a significant, and in the author’s view, disconcertedly underrated, dilemma for the Poroshenko government: how to prevent well-armed, anti-democratic forces within the country —vociferously opposed to both European integration and any accommodation with Russia and its (in their view) proxy forces in the east — from destabilizing Ukraine’s fragile democracy?


“Our pilgrimage through the desert is not yet finished.”[1]
Dmytro Dontsov

In his novel Light in August, William Faulkner wrote, “Memory believes before knowing remembers.” What Faulkner intended to convey is the idea that memory is more powerful than any seeming-objective recounting of events. Among Ukraine’s willing combatants in the country’s eastern Donbas region, memory indeed believes. The essayist Mykola Ryabchuk speculated several years ago that it was possible for Ukraine to “glorify as heroes” 20th century nationalist leaders such as Stepan Bandera[2] without at the same time reviving their abhorrent political theories.[3]

“We see here the makings of a heroic myth to counterbalance the long-dominant image of the impeccable Red Army. Any nation invents some historical myths of the sort, and we can only hope that every nation will be able to keep the irrational energy of its historical myths under rational control.”[4]

However, as Renata Caruso observed, “the ideology of today’s radical Ukrainian nationalism did not appear out of nothing. Its roots were formed in the messianic vision of the Ukrainian nation,”[5] like that offered by Dmytro Dontsov, who wrote, “the conflict between Europe and Russia is a conflict between two civilizations, between two political, social, and cultural and religious ideals.”[6]

For Ukraine, August and other recent months have not been months of light, but ones of growing darkness.

The Logic of Realism in Today’s Ukraine

“A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny.” –– Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Realpolitik was once described as a balance between cynicism and a sense of reality.[7] That reality—in a realist paradigm—is an understanding that calculations about power dominate state thinking, and that states compete for power amongst themselves, which has a certain zero-sum quality about it.[8] John Mearsheimer maintains that for some, “the logic of realism holds little relevance in the twenty-first century” since for them, “Europe can be kept whole and free on the basis of such liberal principles as the rule of law, economic interdependence, and democracy.”[9] Even a cursory observation of events in Ukraine over the past several weeks should disabuse anyone of such a notion. The events of August led the Ukrainian writer Yurii Andrukhovych to lament, “The 21st century has been expelled from the Donbas and destroyed by fire. Its place has been taken by a new, horrific Middle Ages.”[10]

James Jeffrey writes in a recent essay:

“It is the established position of NATO, the European Union, and the United States that Ukraine is facing external aggression from Russia. Under those circumstances, to not provide arms is to undercut that position—to intimate that somehow the democratically elected government in Kiev is not fully legitimate, and is to blame for the conflict. […] Providing arms would end Washington’s ‘not providing arms’ policy, thereby establishing moral clarity as a first step in a long duel with Moscow.”[11] [emphasis added]

Moral clarity, except of course when the government in question has an entente with political forces that enthusiastically embrace creeds we consider immoral, and that reject categorically a vision of Ukraine integrated into western economic and defense alliances.

The author believes the Ukrainian government deserves a good deal of forbearance in prosecuting the conflict in its east. It is, after all, a civil war in which Russia plays a continuing part, and the government’s options there are finite and imperfect. That being said, the constellation of fascist, self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, and other far right groups that surround the Ukrainian government today, especially their associated paramilitaries, is very troubling. Many vociferously oppose European integration, something supposedly at the core of what we favor. Their preference is far closer to something John Mearsheimer was widely excoriated for suggesting last year, viz., “a sovereign Ukraine that falls in neither the Russian nor the Western camp.”[12]

The leader of Ukraine’s largest paramilitary, Pravyi Sektor (“Right Sector”[13]) openly declares against the European Union and NATO, and for a non-aligned Ukraine. Right Sector’s role as a protagonist in the rising violence and criminal activity in the country’s west—far removed from civil unrest in the eastern Donbas region—triggered border security concerns this summer in Slovakia, Poland and Hungary. Ugly undertones frequently intersperse the far right’s rejection of European civil society. Consider this utterance by a self-proclaimed “Ukrainian nationalist”:

“Politicians like Jewish oligarch Mykhailo Dobkin, or Vadim Kolesnichenko—both openly sponsored by Russia—wholeheartedly support anything and everything to do with the EU when it comes to attacking Ukrainian identity….”[14]

Another important paramilitary—the neo-fascist Azov Battalion, part of Ukraine’s National Guard—said this in justifying its use of the Wolfsangel (“Wolf’s Hook”), a symbol often used by neo-Nazis groups which it calls “the idea of the nation”:

“The ‘Idea of the Nation’ is the central slogan and the core of the ideological doctrine of Social Nationalism. The letter ‘N’ in the monogram indicates nation-centeredness of our ideology.”[15]

Whether one accepts John Mearsheimer’s argument that we have created the crisis in Ukraine,[16] we have undoubtedly helped legitimize these groups. Despite dismal support in last year’s elections, they exert disproportionate influence over a central government critically dependent upon them as the sharp end of its military response to Russian-backed separatism. It is the author’s contention that the Ukrainian government’s alliance with this constellation is corroding the country’s civic undergirding, something critical to its success as a democracy. The country’s degenerating civil discourse risks unthinkable political events.

Ukraine’s “Loss of Possibility”[17]

Het’ vid Moskvy!” (Away from Moscow!)[18] — Mykola Khyl’ovyi

The European Council on Foreign Relations asked rhetorically, “Is Europe losing Ukraine?”[19] We watch an unfolding dynamic one analyst calls “the split into historical ‘sub-Ukraines’,”[20] a process another warned risks creating “the next Libya on the doorstep of Europe.”[21]

These events and others beg perhaps a more pertinent question—are Ukrainians losing Ukraine?

Contemporary Ukraine seems fated to live out Bismark’s dictum about countries that exist by the grace of their neighbors.[22] As Vladislav Gulevich laments, Ukraine is “located at the interface of Europe and Eurasia, being peripheral to both, and, for the most part, remains a pawn in geopolitical games.”[23] Add to this a nearly century-old observation by Dmytro Dontsov, the leading theorist of Ukrainian fascism (or nationalism, depending on one’s viewpoint) that “Every weakening of Europe—be it the decline of Poland, the weakening of Turkey or Sweden—fatally affected Ukraine.”[24] Many Europeans today are decidedly ambiguous about the further eastward expansion of their political, economic and defense communities in general, and toward Ukrainian aspirations of joining these communities in particular. The inanition of European governments in the aftermath of Russia’s Crimea annexation indisputably affected Ukraine for the worse. Russian opportunism in eastern Ukraine is one visible effect, but by no means the only one.

Today, Ukraine is fighting on two fronts and winning on neither. One is the military front in eastern Ukraine’s separatist Donetsk and Luhansk regions,[25] where fighting escalated at the end of the summer after negotiations failed to produce agreement on a proposed 30km-wide demilitarized zone along the line of contact in eastern Ukraine. While a tenuous ceasefire is now in place, the Ukrainian economy continues to bleed USD5 million a day according to official estimates. The other is a political front, where the Ukrainian government is combatting increased lawlessness from ultra-nationalist and fascist paramilitaries, including some that allegedly have aligned with organized crime syndicates.

The country’s accelerating civic degeneration is troubling. Take the month of August, for example. The militant nationalist group Right Sector attempts to destabilize the Poroshenko government by forcing a nationwide no-confidence referendum.[26] The Russia-leaning parliamentary group Opposition Bloc called for parliament to dissolve after a recent armed clash between Right Sector’s Ukrainian Volunteer Corps[27] and local police in the city of Mukachevo, only 30km from Ukraine’s western border with Hungary.[28]  A Right Sector “reserve battalion” opened fire on Opposition Bloc supporters in eastern Ukraine’s Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city. Right Sector’s increasingly brazen acts recall the baleful words of Volodymyr Martynet in 1929:

“Indeed, in this kingdom of boors and beggars we shall have—as soon as the Ukrainian power is established—to resort to the methods of Peter the Great: by terror we shall have to teach them to respect human dignity; by terror we shall inculcate in them respect for human life; by terror we will impose order.”[29]

Amidst all this, Ukraine’s economy spirals into the abyss.[30]

The complex, layered nature of the conflict with its pronounced internecine facet is inadequately described by the Ukrainian government’s idiosyncratic use of the term hybrid warfare[31] (more on this later) to mask antagonisms that are longstanding, deep and historic. To acknowledge this by no means denies irredentist Russia’s malevolence toward a western-looking Ukraine or the fractious effect of Russia’s armed intervention in eastern Ukraine.[32]

August 2015: The Bewildering Month

“The statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception.”
Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger (1910)

August and early September saw an odd succession of events that merits further reflection. On 1 August, the Ukrainian security service known by the acronym SBU[33] leaked documents to a Western journalist. They purported to show the eastern Ukraine separatist Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) was “building a dirty bomb with the assistance of Russian scientists.”[34]  Then two days later, on 3 August, the Hvylya website published a polemic claiming Russia was planning a “nuclear provocation” in Ukraine.[35] And on 5 August, an SBU counterintelligence operation in western Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region intercepted what it described as a “small quantity” of uranium-238[36] concealed inside a Pringles snack can, reportedly in transit to Romania.[37]

The 1 August “dirty bomb” story is based on what the SBU claimed were primary documents it acquired when it hacked a separatist e-mail account in early July. The SBU disclosed three documents to a single journalist from what it claimed was a larger dossier. The leaked documents purport to be e-mail messages between DPR Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko and other DPR officials.[38] The SBU claimed the e-mails establish that a DPR armed unit—identified as the Vostok Battalion[39]—was in control of the former Radon (a Ukrainian state enterprise) radioactive waste site in the eastern city of Donetsk’s Oktyabrsky district. It also claimed that in June, the Vostok Brigade removed radioactive material from the formerly sealed waste site and transported it to a DPR military base. There, the SBU claimed, unidentified Russian scientists were assisting to weaponize the radioactive material, which Ukrainian authorities said contains the dangerous radioisotopes cesium-137, cobalt-60, strontium-90, and yttrium-90.

There is no way independently to authenticate (or rebut) the leaked documents—which can be viewed here[40]—and without prejudging, it is reasonable to question their authenticity. Ukrainian and Russian intelligence agencies are both known to fabricate documents when it serves their purposes to do so. Likewise, claims to have hacked the other side’s confidential documents are common to both.[41] The SBU has not released other documents from the dossier of which the 1 August documents are said to be part, nor radio intercept transcripts that it claims corroborate the narrative.

Not surprisingly, the SBU’s claim was dismissed by DPR Deputy Defense Minister Eduard Basurin. He noted the waste site’s location is widely known but that it remains sealed.[42] Whether or not that is so, it would be complex and dangerous to excavate buried radioactive material from a sealed underground disposal site. Radioactive material once extracted from such a site would be difficult to handle and transport safely. It would not be easy to weaponize such material beyond some crude embodiment, such as a car or truck bomb or an simple radiological dispersal device. And transporting radiological material (in any embodiment) is subject to detection, interdiction, and attribution. Finally, no photoreconnaissance or satellite imagery has been placed in the public domain by the SBU (or anyone else) to corroborate the narrative.

All this leads an impartial reader to question the documents’ authenticity. While the scenario suggested in the leaked e-mails is not impossible, it seems unlikely. A far more practicable (and impactful) scenario would be to attack the Zaporizhia [in Russian, Zaporozhye] nuclear power plant in Enerhoda, about 300km from Donetsk and some 200km from the conflict zone.[43] A May 2015 published report found “more than 3000 spent nuclear fuel rods are kept inside metal casks within towering concrete containers in an open-air yard close to a perimeter fence.”[44]

Moving on, Sergey Klimovsky claimed in a 3 August polemic that Russia was planning a “nuclear provocation” inside Ukraine:

“The Kremlin urgently needs to find someone who can be called a bigger terrorist than Russia…It would be tempting to blame a nuclear strike in the Donbas on the ‘Kyev junta’. It would say, ‘Here, look, Ukraine had nuclear weapons that it didn’t hand over. So Russia was right to occupy Crimea because Ukraine violated the Budapest Treaty.’ […] Russia wouldn’t feel sorry for the Donbas—after all, it’s not Russian territory. But it wouldn’t allow a nuclear strike against the city of Donetsk—the showcase of ‘Russia-world’. It would only turn Donetsk into a radioactive waste site if it decided to abandon the city and employ Stalinist scorched earth tactics. So the people of Donetsk don’t have to worry yet.”[45]

He suggests Russia would instead target the cities of Debaltsevo, Shirokino, and/or Gorlovka. Klimovsky ends his essay by proposing three actions to prevent a nuclear strike on the Donbas: a United Nations tribunal to investigate the Malaysian airliner downing; deploying UN peacekeepers; and/or “if the wind in the second half of August blows steadily toward Russia.” Of these, he suggests sardonically, “the wind is the most reliable.”

Klimovsky’s speculation about a coming Russian nuclear provocation is one in a long series of allegations by both sides about nuclear and radiological (and as we will see, chemical) “false flag” attacks. Geraint Hughes defines them in the context of counter-terrorism operations as “atrocities committed by military or security personnel, which are then blamed on terrorists.”[46] He notes insurgent and terrorist groups may deliberately use false flag claims to absolve themselves of responsibility for civilian attacks.[47]

Russian voices, too, warn of false flag incidents. Mikhail Delyagin[48] warned of a NATO nuclear false flag attack inside Ukraine during a December 2014 online radio interview:

“We got some information from Kharkov. I wasn’t inclined to believe it since Ukraine today is enthralled by a mass psychosis, saturated with rumors. But then it was confirmed indirectly from a source in the West. Really, I hope it’s fake. I really hope it’s just hostile propaganda. But you know, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. The sequence is this: the Ukrainian army goes on offensive. Sure, it doesn’t have the strength to attack, and demoralization is rampant. So it pretends to attack. […] Then a tactical nuclear warhead explodes in its operational zone. And everyone shouts how the evil Russia has used nuclear weapons. […] This is something our armed forces wouldn’t do; it’s unthinkable. But it’s quite normal for the Americans, since both times in human history when nuclear weapons were used, they used them. To do it a third time isn’t so difficult…These episodes are very disturbing. Since no one can explain who hit the Malaysian airliner, it was obviously those damned Russian animals, those damned barbarians. And they’ll say those damned Russian barbarians used nuclear weapons against the defenseless Ukrainian army…”

“And then they’ll shout that Putin is to blame, just like the Malaysian airliner. In reality no Russian officer, no Russian general, no lone madman can fire a tactical nuclear weapon without the Supreme Commander’s direct order…I coined a phrase I loved and was very proud of: that they kept trying to ignite a world war in Ukraine, but it didn’t work because ‘the firewood was wet’…After all, Ukraine’s not some Islamic country. But suddenly, there’s a chance the situation there can be ignited…It’ll leave behind no evidence. It’s not a Malaysian airliner with three tons of cargo. There’ll be nothing to photograph. And it’ll be impossible to prove it wasn’t us.”[49]

The August “dirty bomb” story and the speculations of Klimovsky and Delyagin about a “nuclear provocation” inside Ukraine betray a peculiar pathology. After all, the use of nuclear and radiological weapons is supposed to be inconceivable, or nearly so, as the American nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter wrote in 1960:

“We must contemplate some extremely unpleasant possibilities, just because we want to avoid them. Nobody, however, likes to think about anything unpleasant, even to avoid it. And so the crucial problem of thermonuclear war is frequently dispatched with the label ‘War is unthinkable’ —which, translated freely, means we don’t want to think about it.”[50]

Unthinkable, it seems, except perhaps in certain dark corners of the Donbas conflict, where what approaches macabre enthusiasm feeds speculation about nuclear, radiological, and chemical conflict.

The third incident received probably the least attention. The SBU reported that it interdicted radiological material—said to be a 5kg quantity of ore-grade uranium concealed inside a Pringles can—in western Ukraine’s Ivano-Frankivsk region, reportedly on its way to Romania.[51] The SBU detained four Ukrainian nationals. Russian commentators were quick to exploit the incident. Russia’s Channel One warned, “the focus in Kyev is on the nuclear threat: this time, not a fictional threat from abroad, but very real and within the country itself.”[52] A headline in Russia’s state-operated domestic news agency RIA-Novosti warned “the sale of U-238 on the black market will become a nightmare for Kyev.”[53]

While incidents of this sort are not unknown in the region—the former Soviet borderlands have been the epicenter of nuclear smuggling since the early 1990s—each should be taken seriously. At the same time, Ukraine’s radical Right Sector and Svoboda[54]—with influence markedly disproportionate to their dismal popular support—are increasingly active in the country’s west and northwestern regions. Their associated paramilitaries—the sharp end of the Ukrainian government’s counterinsurgency campaign in the east—are now involved in smuggling rings operating in those regions and other criminal activities.[55]

There a growing alignment of Right Sector paramilitaries and organized crime syndicates.[56] A widely reported incident in the city of Mukachevko[57] in early July involved an armed battle between armed Right Sector militia and gunmen loyal to Mykhailo Lanyo,[58] a member of the Ukrainian parliament who is suspected of involvement in organized crime-related smuggling operations (and who reportedly fled the country afterwards). The incident—which Ukraine’s Prosecutor General classified as terrorism—was likely a dispute over control of cigarette smuggling routes to Hungary (and possibly Slovakia and Poland). The Mukachevko incident occurred after a meeting held at a local sports complex owned by Lanyo[59]—Right Sector claimed they were discussing gym memberships—where the reported mediator was another Ukrainian parliament member, Viktor Baloga, who allegedly bankrolls the local Right Sector militia. One report called him “the master of Transcarpathia”.[60]

After President Proshenko declared, “no political force should have armed cells and no political force will have one,” a Right Sector spokesperson responded:

“The statement by Petro Poroshenko is addressed to illegal armed groups. We are not an illegal armed group. Illegal armed groups are bandits, and we are the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps, which protects the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Therefore, this statement does not apply to us.”[61]

“Until such an order is given” by its leader, Dmitry Yarosh, Right Sector members “are not going to surrender their weapons.”

“Hybrid Warfare” and the Struggle for Ukrainian Identity

“The immortal imperious will of the Ukrainian Nation, which ordered your ancestors to conquer the world and brought them to the walls of Constantinople and beyond the Caspian Sea and the Volga; which erected a powerful Ukrainian state…now claims authoritatively a new life, inaugurates a new era of Ukrainian nationalism and tells you: Stand up and fight!”[62]
          –-Introduction to The 44 Rules of Life of the Ukrainian Nationalist.

Ukrainian leaders frequently characterize the country’s internal conflict as hybrid warfare waged against Ukraine by Russia. Acknowledging the undeniable presence of Russian forces and support for proxy forces in eastern Ukraine, the use of that term is nonetheless idiosyncratic.

Hybrid warfare employs various threats—conventional capabilities, irregular tactics and formations, and terrorist acts and criminal disorder—to target an adversary’s specific vulnerabilities. The question remains whether the term is substantive or as Pyotr Topychkanov argues, “a propaganda cliché” whose “features…are too unspecific to form the basis for a new term.”[63] While it is certainly faddish to brand conflicts as hybrid[64] it does not necessarily improve one’s understanding of the conditions it is intended to illuminate. The term implies a substantive distinction when in reality it may simply represent warfare waged at a less acute level, a figurative “gray zone” in which other countries, e.g., NATO, are unlikely to interfere. Ruslan Pukhov makes this case:

“The actions attributed to so-called hybrid warfare are fairly standard to any ‘low intensity’ armed conflict of recent decades, if not centuries. It is difficult to imagine any country using military force without providing informational support, using methods of ‘secret warfare,’ attempting to erode enemy forces, exploiting internal ethnic, social, economic, political or other divisions in the enemy camp, and without the use of retaliatory economic sanctions. These have been the fundamentals of war since antiquity.”[65]

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg puts it succinctly: “Of course, there’s nothing new in hybrid war. It’s as old as the Trojan Horse.”[66] It may be that Ukraine is simply more susceptible to these tactics than other countries[67]: in the words of Lieutenant General Riho Terra, who commands Estonia’s defense forces, his “is a functioning society. We are not like Ukraine.” He continued, “Hybrid warfare is nothing new. You can deal with it only with the cohesion of the nation, with integrity, with all society working together.”[68]

András Rácz and others claim Russia largely disabled the Ukrainian government by means of hybrid war.[69] Accepting the effect but reserving judgment on the claimed hybrid cause neither denies nor diminishes the malevolent effect of Russian support for separatism in eastern Ukraine, or Russian leaders’ determination to exploit the situation to their geopolitical advantage. It can be argued that Russia has exploited fractures within Ukrainian society more than it has caused them. The mantra of hybrid warfare hinders rather than helps us to understand this dynamic since it attributes all things bad to Russia’s invisible hand.

A more salient distinction is between conflict and warfare. Kenneth Boulding formulated a good working definition in the early 1960s: conflict, he wrote, is “a situation of competition in which the parties are aware of the incompatibility of potential future positions and in which each party wishes to occupy a position that is incompatible with the wishes of the other.”[70] The situation in the most acute conflict zone—eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region—fits that definition well. The Donbas separatists’ objective of a quasi-autonomous region within some sort of federal structure—Ukraine recast as a veritable Yugoslavia—is simply incompatible with the idea of Ukrainian nationhood.

The conflict in Ukraine has manifold ethnic (in the sense of language-as-identity), political and economic dimensions. Each faction is animated by different end-goals—be they political, ethnic, or otherwise—that are the mortar binding members.[71] While the insurrection in the east is its most visible facet, internecine conflict is found in varying intensities across Ukraine. Take for example the All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom”[72] political party—commonly known as Svoboda—which is the direct descendant of the fascist Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU):

“Svoboda propaganda is especially clear on one point: members attempt everywhere to emphasize the idea of ethnicity as the basis for the consolidation of the nation. They also insist on a Ukraine which is geopolitically a pivotal area of Europe and which must be separated from its Asiatic neighbor, the Russian Federation.”[73]

While Svoboda’s racial views are extreme, its goal of a Ukraine anchored in Europe is heir to a century of Ukrainian nationalist thought and aspirations of “Ukraine as a part of Mitteleuropa,” as Tomasz Stryjek wrote.[74] That this belief is not part of a clearly articulated doctrine is excusable: Irina Bogochevskaya maintains Ukraine had no geopolitical doctrine because for most of the 20th century, it lacked the fundamental factor of state sovereignty.[75] Dontsov himself was painted (by Russia) with the epithet of “Mazepism” (mazepynstvo). That term was derived from the name of Ivan Mazepa, the Ukrainian military commander who famously sided with the Sweden against Peter the Great during the Great Northern War (1700-1721) in an abortive attempt to assert Ukraine’s independence.[76]

Underlying Ukraine’s internecine conflict is an insidious (if foundational) belief that linguistic identity defines ethnic identity.[77] It is one paradoxically held by Russian irredentists and Ukrainian ultranationalists alike.[78] Thus for both, a Russian speaker is a Russian. It is the basis of Ukraine’s own experiment with language laws—to be a Ukrainian, one must speak Ukrainian—the effect of which in a country where at most half of citizens speak the language is to fractionalize, not unite. Russian irredentists subscribe to the creed at the macro level, extending (welcomed or not) Russian national identity to Ukrainians, since by their logic, most speak Russian and therefore are Russian.[79]

Thus the unresolved (and perhaps in a rising sense, unresolvable) conflict between of ethnic identity cum linguistic identity, and what historian Patrick Geary calls “‘two models of peoplehood,” one “ethnic” (in political terms, the federal model favored by Russia and Donbas separatists) and the other “constitutional”. It is ironic that both ultra-nationalist Ukrainians who populate the country’s political far right, and Russia-leaning separatists in eastern Ukraine, eschew any suggestion of a constitutional Ukraine that embraces many gentes—Russians included—each with its own customs and language.

The Rise of Ukraine’s Volunteer Militias

“Rise, like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number!”
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, The Masque of Anarchy (1819)

An under noticed yet defining characteristic of the Donbas conflict is that it is waged in substantial part, not by Ukrainian armed forces, but by private militias under loose to no government command. When Ukraine’s regular armed forces repeatedly proved ineffective and unprepared, into the breach stepped the so-called “volunteer battalions,” with their independent funding and training capabilities.

Following Russia’s February 2014 Crimea intervention, the Ukrainian parliament in March authorized the re-formation (it had been disbanded in 2000) of the Natsionalʹna hvardiya Ukrayiny (“National Guard of Ukraine”) under the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The following month, acting Minister Arsen Avakov authorized the formation of batalʹyony operatyvnoho pryznachennya or “special purpose battalions” attached to National Guard units. It was intended to bring the private militias under some governmental command structure. The Defense Ministry followed in May with the formation of “territorial defense battalions,” which were mobilized the following month by presidential order.

The Ukrainian government’s employment of special purpose and territorial defense battalions is understandable given the exigencies in the country’s east, and Russia’s annexation and occupation of Crimea. It had the unintended effect, however, of “certifying” (read: legitimizing) far right and ultra-nationalist private militias of dubious provenance.[80] Events led Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council to declare “right-wing civic movements are not perceived by Ukrainian society as a threat.” Its director, Oleksandr Turchynov, went further:

“That’s why all patriots, particularly from the Right Sector, who are ready to defend Ukraine in arms, decided to join our Armed Forces and the National Guard.”[81]

Anton Shekhovtsov and Andreas Umland raise “the paradox of ultranationalist parties becoming involved in a protest movement whose thrust is toward greater integration between Ukraine and the European Union.”[82]

While it is a point of debate whether the volunteer brigades express larger political or social trends afoot in Ukraine, they have unquestionably morphed into a de facto fourth branch of Ukrainian civil society. Among the fifty-odd pro-Kyev volunteer battalions active at one time or another in the Donbas conflict, six battalions predominate.

Azov Battalion. The Batalʹyon Azov was founded in March 2014 and takes its name from the coastal region where it is based in the city of Mariupol. It evolved out of Patriót Ukrayíny (“Patriots of Ukraine”), the paramilitary arm of the neo-Nazi Sotsial-Natsionalʹna Asambleya (“Social-National Assembly”), which was a founding organization of Praviy Sektor (see below). Its commander is a Ukrainian Parliament member, Andrei Biletsky, who also directs the Patriots of Ukraine and the Social-National Assembly. The Azov Battalion was a so-called “special purpose battalion” under the Ministry of Internal Affairs until October 2014, when it was made part of the National Guard, which battalion members serve under contract.

The epithet “neo-Nazi” is used somewhat indiscriminately in Ukrainian political discourse today, so some substantiation is in order. The section of Biletsky’s 2010 manifesto Ukrayinsʹkyy Sotsial-Natsionalizm (“Ukrainian National Socialism”)[83] titled Rasovistʹ—the literal translation is “Racism” but a more nuanced one extends to the idea of racial or ethnic purity. Biletsky wrote:

“Our nationalism amounts to nothing—a mere castle built of sand—if it is not built on a foundation of blood, a foundation of race. The error common to traditional views of nationalism is to put the cart before the horse by claiming ‘the nation’ is a linguistic, cultural, territorial or socio-economic phenomenon. We certainly do not reject the importance of spiritual, cultural and linguistic factors, nor pride of place. But our deepest held conviction is that all this derives from our race, our racial identity. If the Ukrainian spirit, culture and language are unique, it is only because our racial identity is unique. If Ukraine is a paradise on earth, it is only because our race turned her into one.”

“Accordingly, healing the nation’s body begins with racial purification. And then, with its racial body healed, the nation’s spirit will regenerate along with its culture, its language, and everything else. In addition to the matter of racial purity, we must be mindful of the relative value of other races. Ukrainians are part (and one of the largest and purest) of the European White race. The one that created a great civilization, that achieved mankind’s greatest accomplishments. The historic mission of our nation in this watershed century is to lead the White peoples of the world in the last crusade for their existence. To lead the crusade against the Semite-led subhumans.”[84]

Lest anyone miss the point, Biletsky writes later “Thus, National Socialism raises the aegis of all the ancient Ukrainian Aryan values that have been forgotten in today’s society. Only their revival and embodiment in the struggle of a group of fanatical champions can lead to the final victory of European civilization in the world.”

Dnipro Battalion. Batalʹyon «Dnipro» was founded in April 2014 by Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi.[85] It is also known as “Dniepro-1” for the charitable organization (Fund Dnipro-1) Kolomoyskyi uses to fund the unit. The battalion commander, Yuriy Bereza, is a Ukrainian Parliament member (he sits with Prime Minister Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front) as is fellow battalion member and company commander, Volodymyr Parasyuk, who sits as an independent. It is based in Dnipropetrovsk and subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The battalion operates as an assault and a policing unit, with a reported force of 2000-4000 combatants and an additional 20,000 in reserve. Better equipped than Ukraine’s regular army, the Dnipro Battalion claims to have Romanian and Georgian military advisers.

Donbas Battalion. Semen Semenchenko[86] founded Batalʹyon “Donbass” in April 2014 as a territorial defense battalion. It was absorbed into the National Guard as a reserve battalion tactical group in June 2014 and fields a reported force of 400-600 combatants.[87] This number is said to include a significant number of Georgians.[88] Its commander, Taras Konstanchuk, declared in November 2014 interview, “Should a single city be surrendered, the president will fly off his chair, there will be a military coup and the soldiers will take power into their own hands.”[89] The battalion, known as the “Little Black Men” for its all-black uniform—a deliberate play on the term “little green men” used for Russian forces in Crimea who wore uniforms with no insignia—in late August was deployed to the second line of defense around Mariupol.

Right Sector. Praviy Sektor emerged in November 2013 as an umbrella formed by several far-right and ultra-nationalist political groups, including:

  • Vseukrayinsʹka orhanizatsiya «Tryzub» imeni Stepana Bandery (“The Stepan Bandera All-Ukrainian Organization Trident”), usually referred to as simply Tryzub (“Trident”),[90] which at the time was led (since 2005) by Dmytro Yarosh.
  • Ukrayinsʹka Natsionalʹna Asambleya-Ukrayinsʹka Narodna Samooborona also known by its acronym UNA-UNSO (“Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People’s Self-Defense Bloc”). It split in May 2014 when its UNA political wing merged into Right Sector. UNA-UNSO combatants fought Russian forces in Transnistria and in the Georgian civil war in the early 1990s.
  • Belyy Molot (“White Hammer”) led by Vladislav Horanyn,[91] who commands the Aidar Battalion (known formally after its forced reorganization by the Defense Ministry as the 24-y batalʹyon terytorialʹnoyi oborony «Aydar» or “24th Territorial Defense Battalion ‘Aydar'”).[92] Right Sector expelled White Hammer in March 2014 for “lack of discipline” shortly after Horanyn was arrested on suspicion of killing three police officers (he was later released).
  • Sotsial-Natsionalʹna Asambleya (“Social-National Assembly”) and its paramilitary arm, Patriót Ukrayíny (“The Patriot of Ukraine”). Discussed above under “Azov Battalion”.
  • C-14 aka “Sich,”[93] led by Yevhen Karas, and closely associated with the political party Svoboda (“Freedom”) where Karas was a deputy. While C-14 tends to focus of constabulary activities in Kyev and other cities, combatants fight with the Kyev-2 battalion commanded by Bogdan Voytsekhovsky.

Right Sector’s leader, Dmytro Yarosh, was elected to the Ukrainian parliament as a Right Sector candidate in a single-member district located in south-central Ukraine’s Dnipropetrovsk Oblast.[94] A July 2015 party congress demanded the legalization of all “volunteer battalions,” consistent with legislation introduced by Yarosh.[95]  It also changed the group’s name to Natsionalʹno-vyzvolʹnyy rukh ‘Pravyy sektor’ (“Right Sector National Liberation Movement”).[96]

Saint Mary Battalion. Dmytro Korchynsky founded the Batalʹyon PSMOP “Svyata Mariya” in September 2014, having earlier co-founded UNA-UNSO. Based in Kyev, the battalion fields some 100 combatants and emerged out of the so-called “Jesus Christ Hundred,” which was part of a police battalion in the Donetsk city of Shakhtarsk. Its commander is Alexei Serdyuk, and its ranks include members of now-disbanded (for looting) Azov Battalion units. Korchynsky claims the battalion is funded through charitable donations although there are unsubstantiated rumors that it receives funding from the Radykalʹna Partiya Oleha Lyashka (“Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko”). The battalion’s political officer, Vitaly Chornly, described its mission in an April 2015 interview as “creating a Christian Taliban.”[97]

The People’s Front Military Council

“Yesterday’s marginals are today’s political mainstream.” –– Yevgeny Kiselyov[98]

This organization has received far too little attention relative to its significance. The Partiya «Narodnyy front» or “People’s Front” political party (sometimes translated as “Popular Front”) was formed in March 2014, and captured the largest share of the popular vote in parliamentary elections that year under the leadership of Arseniy Yatsenyuk. In September 2014, it established its own military council, the membership of which consists of senior party leaders, armed forces and National Guard senior commanders, as well as several “volunteer” battalion[99] commanders. The latter include:

  • Yuriy Bereza, commander of Batalʹyon «Dnipro» (“Dnipro Battalion”) and a member of the Ukrainian parliament. The large (>2000 combatants) special purpose battalion was formed in April 2014 in Dnipropetrovsk and is subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
  • Kostyantyn Mateychenko, commander of Batalʹyon «Artemivsʹ  (“Battalion Artem’evsk”) and a member of the Ukraine parliament. The small (<200) special purpose battalion was formed in May 2014 in Dnepropetrovsk and is subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
  • Roman Pytskiv, commander of the Batalʹyon «Chernihiv»  (“Chernihiv Battalion”), a small (<200 combatants) Ministry of Internal Affairs special purpose battalion named for the north central oblast in which it was formed in May 2014.
  • Nikolai Shvalya, commander of the Batalʹyonu «Zoloti Vorota» (“Golden Gates Battalion”), a special purpose battalion.
  • Mykhaylo Bondar, deputy commander of Batalʹyon Kulʹchytsʹkoho (“Kulchytsky Battalion”).
  • Ihor Lapin, a brigade commander in the Aidar Battalion (formally, the “24th Territorial Defense Battalion “Aydar'”) and a member of the Ukrainian parliament.
  • Mykhaylo Havrylyuk, commander of the 25th Batalʹyonu «Kyyivsʹka Rusʹ» (the “25th Territorial Defense Battalion ‘Kyivian Rus'”), a special purpose battalion formed in April 2014 in the Kyev Oblast.

It is questionable in what form Ukrainian democracy can long survive a competing power center of the sort posed by the People’s Front military council.

A Devil’s Alliance?

“One can’t believe impossible things,” Alice objected.
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen.

–Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

Russian media depictions of events in Ukraine shifted in the last several weeks. There is far less emphasis on the conflict in eastern Ukraine per se, and the cause of separatism in the Donbas generally. Instead, there is an emerging storyline focused on events elsewhere inside Ukraine that, the narrative goes, are likely to culminate in Poroshenko government’s ouster by Ukraine’s volunteer battalions. One analysis describes it as “an informational ‘bubble’: hyperbolized events, and inflated expectations of its consequences,” in which Mukacheve is “presented as a herald and trigger of new social and political turmoil in Ukraine.”[100] At the same time, Russia pushes at the Minsk negotiations for Ukraine to take back legal control of eastern Ukraine, with discussions of regional elections and a possible amnesty.

There is a curious consonance between the new Russian narrative and the volunteer battalions exemplified by Right Sector. In mid-July, the main news program Vesti on the state-owned television station Russia-1 (Russia’s second most watched) declared (with seeming approval), “This week the extremist organization Right Sector has finally shown itself to be an independent military force that does not harness itself to the Ukrainian government, and more important, does not obey it.”[101] It quoted Yarosh prior to the July Right Sector party congress saying “I see the President of Ukraine as a round peg in a square hole: he is no good as a commander-in-chief nor effective as a national leader.”

A month later, Right Sector spokesperson Artem Skoropadsky accused the Poroshenko government of trying to destroy the volunteer battalions, claiming “we have entered a situation where the volunteer battalions have much greater popular support than the government, which is jealous.” He continued:

“We perform functions the government should fulfill. Here we are, for example, fighting to protect the country—in a normal country we would long since have been given legal status. In addition, we help to fight corruption and corrupt officials. That is not our role—it is the role of public authorities, of prosecutors and courts. But we still don’t have a fully functional law enforcement system. It was corrupt in the time of Kravchuk, Kuchma, Yuschenko and Yanukovych, and it remains so today.”[102]

In the face of sustained, significant battlefield losses suffered by Ukraine’s under-trained and -equipped armed forcesand popular opposition to a third mobilization to replenish its ranksthe volunteer battalions bear an increased burden without (in their view) receiving formal recognition by the government to memorialize their independent status. Some suggest a coming alliance of convenience[103] between the volunteer battalions and Donbas separatists, both intent on displacing the Poroshenko government: the polemicist Maxim Revrebe claims the Aidar Battalion is in talks with the Narodnoye opolcheniye Donbassa (“Donbass People’s Militia”).[104] Yarosh himself earlier (in March 2014) declared for a non-aligned Ukraine, and against membership in the European Union and NATO. Speaking on Kanal Ukraina (“Channel Ukraine”), he said:

“Right Sector has not been and is not in favor of Ukraine joining the EU. We believe Ukraine ought to be a subject, not an object, of geopolitics. We support maintaining Ukraine’s non-aligned status. Like the Donbass miners, we object to the idea of NATO bases in Ukraine, which means we are against Ukraine’s membership in NATO. We are addressing both people who favor the EU, and those who wish an alliance with Russia. I emphasize: we favor the option of a non-aligned Ukraine.”[105]

What is interesting is that this statement was revived—some seventeen months hence—to explain Right Sector’s alleged withdrawal from eastern Ukraine, supposedly in reaction to a presidential order directing the Interior Ministry and the SBU to disarm all “illegal” groups in the aftermath of the Mukachevo incident. Yarosh was quick to post a lengthy defense of the volunteer battalions’ legal status on his Facebook page.[106] Right Sector spokesperson Artem Skoropadsky added:

“The statement by Petro Poroshenko is addressed to illegal armed groups. We are not an illegal armed group. Illegal armed groups are bandits, and we are a Ukrainian volunteer corps that protects the independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Therefore, the statement does not apply to us.”[107]

Yarosh added for effect in a Facebook post the following day, “And if someone chooses to leave us on the front, we will stand alone to take up the cudgel for the defense of the State.”[108]

What is Russia’s End Game?

“We are not simply close neighbors but, as I have said many times already, we are one people. Kiev is the mother of Russian cities. Ancient Rus is our common source and we cannot live without each other.” –– Vladimir Putin (2015)

In the Russian mindset, all conflict is a means to a geopolitical end. The use of “nonmilitary instruments”—for example, the purposeful distortion of an adversary’s sensibilities,[109] what Peter Pomerantsev calls “the weaponization of information”[110] —is said by proponents to rival the effective power of explosive weapons.[111] Vladislav Surkov calls it non-linear war,[112] which Valery Gerasimov elaborates in a distinctly Russian approach to modern warfare:

“A perfectly thriving state can, in a matter of months and even days, be transformed into an arena of fierce armed conflict, become a victim of foreign intervention, and sink into a web of chaos, humanitarian catastrophe, and civil war.”[113]

It is tantamount “to wag[ing] war without ever announcing it officially.”[114] Propagandistic “disinformation”—from the Russian neologism dezinformatsia—strives to demoralize an adversary. “Every disinformation message,” Ladislav Bittman wrote, “must at least partially correspond to reality or generally accepted views.”[115]  The overall purpose is to damage the target by playing on the audience’s prejudices and biases, allowing disinformation to be effective even when it comes from a dubious source.

Case in point, on 27 August the Russian ultra-nationalist news portal FAN[116] published a story attributed to an unnamed “source in Slavyansk” (the Donetsk Oblast city called Sloviansk in Ukrainian) who claimed the SBU is preparing to use “Ukrainian nationalist paramilitaries” in “a large-scale provocation” involving a chemical attack with chlorine gas.[117] Referencing the earlier 1 August “dirty bomb” story, FAN quotes another “unnamed source in the DNR[118] administration”:

“Kyev probably understood that nuclear material is too difficult to work with and too easy to trace, so they decided to switch to a chemical weapon. We think they’ll do what the Syrian militants did—use it against their own soldiers and civilians, then accuse us, inviting foreign reporters to see the corpses and scandalize the whole world, demanding that NATO forces bomb us.”

The author cautions that FAN is a highly politicized Russian news portal of dubious credibility, and the story’s sourcing is suspicious. Moreover, this is not the first story from a Russian media source about an impending “false flag” chemical weapon attack using chlorine: in late May, the Russian government news portal Sputnik reported “With assistance of biotechnology experts from the United States, the Ukrainian army is getting ready to produce chemical weapons to use against the Donbass militia.”[119] It quoted a DPR military spokesperson regarding “intelligence reports on chemical weapons being developed on Ukrainian territory” discovered at a storage facility in the Kharkiv village of Kochetivka, after a week earlier, 20 trucks were observed delivering five tons of an “unknown poisonous substance.”

Similarly, a year ago, Russia’s semi-official NTV television channel reported that Ukrainian Defense and Interior ministry forces were preparing to mount a “large-scale offensive in Donetsk and Lugask,” quoting separatist militia sources about an impending attack on “a wastewater treatment plant where 150 tons of chlorine was stored.” The Russian language news portal Vesti reported the site in question was in the Donetsk Oblast city of Gorlovka (in Ukrainian, Horlivka) and that Ukrainian armed forces delivered three OTR-21 Tochka tactical ballistic missiles [NATO reporting name: SS-21 Scarab] to the government’s Kramatorsk airbase in northern Donetsk in preparation for the attack.[120]

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta
Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta

Amidst renewed warnings of impeding false flag attacks with chemical weapons à la Syria, and insinuations of a devil’s alliance between Right Sector and the Donbas separatists, the Russian media warns of an impending Ukrainian offensive in the Donbas. “Despite criticisms to the contrary, the Minsk Accords have given us leeway to strengthen our defense,”[121] said President Poroshenko, presaging what the Russian news portal Rossiyskaya Gazeta called a Ukrainian “blitzkrieg”[122] in the Donbas. He declared, “The era of mindless pacifism and myopic neglect of our national defense is irreversibly consigned to the past.[123] The analysis published by Rossiyskaya Gazeta predicts a two-pronged eastward attack, north and south of the city of Donetsk converging on Uspenska, a strategic border checkpoint 23km south of Luhansk. Uspenska sits on a major highway route to Russia, and recapturing the checkpoint (which separatist forces took last August) is critical to Ukraine regaining control of its eastern border. The Rossiyskaya Gazeta article conveys a great deal of detail regarding the composition and disposition of the Ukrainian attack force, and by so doing makes an explicit point about Russian operational intelligence in the theatre, and Ukraine’s implied willingness to breach the Minsk Accords. It includes a map showing the Ukrainian force advancing to the Russian border, the implication of which is ominous.

This “blitzkrieg” warning was sounded elsewhere in the Russian media. A 21 August story on the Russian Defense Ministry’s television network Zvezda (“The Star”) website claims the objective of the coming Ukrainian offensive is to “decouple” Donestk and Luhansk “in order to reach the border with the Russian Federation.” “According to Kiev’s plan,” it continues, “the ‘blitzkrieg’ will break and destroy the Narodnoye opolcheniye Donbassa (“Donbass People’s Militia”).”[124] A day earlier, PolitNavigator reported the DPR Defense Ministry’s claim that details of the order of battle were obtained “from a source in the Ukrainian General Staff.”[125] Lest the point be missed, the PolitNavigator story was illustrated with a photograph of Hitler looking at maps during Operation Citadel, the Nazi army’s two-pronged attack eastward through Ukraine targeting Kursk.[126] The Ukrainian force will attack, according the DPR Defense Ministry, from the direction of Mariupol and Debaltseve in a pincher movement targeting Uspenska in order to prevent civilians from fleeing to Russian border, and a simultaneous offensive from the north and south on Ilovais’k, a city located some 45km west of Donetsk, “to close the ring around the capital of the republic.”[127]

In this context of course it makes complete sense that Russia would aggressively seek to drive a wedge between Right Sector and other volunteer battalions, and the Ukrainian government, since without the volunteer battalions, a Ukrainian offensive is unlikely to succeed. With them, however, Ukraine will confront Russia with the choice of intervening overtly and forcefully, or risking its rump Donbas republics. One might speculate that, faced with a genuine existential threat to its Donbas proxies, the prospect of an actual false flag attack of the sort postulated by FAN might become a live option, again on the Syrian model. This in part underlies Russia’s goal of pushing eastern Ukraine back to the Kyev government, saddling it with financial and legal responsibility for the contentious region over which it would likely have little political control.

Whither Ukraine?

“Forgetting…is a crucial factor in the creation of a nation.”[128]– Ernest Renan

The month of August ended with President Poroshenko presenting “irrefutable evidence of armed aggression against Ukraine” by, of course, Russia. “No longer is Ukraine’s armed forces opposed by mixed groups of Russians and terrorists, as was the case at the beginning of Russia’s aggression.” Instead, Ukraine now faces “full military units of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation,” said to number some 33,000 troops. SBU head Vasyl Hrytsak “stressed the intensification of hostilities in eastern Ukraine.”

Poroshenko ended by analogizing Russia’s role in eastern Ukraine today to the Soviet one in Spain during its civil war of the late 1930s, “when Red Army generals used fictitious names.”[129] It is an appealing suggestion though perhaps an under informed one, since Michael Alpert, the historian perhaps best versed in the Republican army archives in the Servicio Histórico Militar, largely dismisses suggestions of “a powerful Russian influence”[130] as propaganda and exaggeration. According to him, “Soviet aid was primarily advisory, and these advisors do not appear to have exceeded this function, with the exception of very specialized assignments.”[131]

It would be easy to dismiss this as mere posturing in the context of the ongoing “Normandy Four” consultations, given German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion of a summit on Ukraine within the so-called “Normandy format”.[132] The symmetry between the claims of Ukraine, and Russian and the Donbas separatists, regarding the coming confrontation should give pause for thought, however.

Geary writes, “It is impossible to map linguistic or ethnic identities onto national territories.”[133] Not that it stops anyone from trying:

“What strikes us when we compare these two worlds—the European and the Russian? The grandeur, the magnificence of history as a whole…the primacy of law and logic, all in the West. And in Russia? Monotony, the dullness and torpor of individual protagonists, the trifling importance of historic events, the enormous influence of the populist element, and the disproportionate dominance of the role of the state apparatus.”[134]

Is this worldview congruent with the United States’ geopolitical interests? Henry Kissinger recently made the case against it:

“The United States has put forward no concept of its own except that Russia will one day join the world community by some automatic act of conversion. […O]ne should at least examine the possibility of some cooperation between the West and Russia in a militarily nonaligned Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis is turning into a tragedy because it is confusing the long-range interests of global order with the immediate need of restoring Ukrainian identity…It means that breaking Russia has become an objective; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it.”[135]

Nobody, least of all Dr. Kissinger, would argue the task is easy.

The illusion right now is that the volunteer battalions upon which the Ukrainian government is substantially reliant—comprised mostly of ultra-nationalists who espouse fascist, racist, often baldly neo-Nazi ideologies—will either radically transform their dogma, or recede after the fight and demand no role in the country’s governance. Underlying this illusion is gratuitous faith in their affinity for Western institutions, beyond their simplistic cant of a presumptive racial sodality. Consider this statement in June by Azov Brigade deputy commander Oleg Odnorozhenko:

“I can tell our European right-wing colleagues only one thing: we…have no illusions about the EU, NATO and other Euroatlantic international structures. Our attitude toward them is quite critical and negative. However, at the same time, we understand clearly enough what kind of a neighbor to the northeast we have, that is, the Russian Federation.”[136]

What Odnorozhenko is saying is that the United States and NATO represent a mere flag of convenience. Dmytro Yarosh once described Ukraine as “on the edge of two worlds,” a phrase he used as the title of a 2008 essay in which he drives the point home:

“Do we forget that one of the guarantors of Ukraine’s independence in exchange for [Ukraine’s] nuclear disarmament is once and again the same United States that is the foundation of NATO. And what’s really responsible for Ukrainian accession to this military-political bloc? Yes, all right—a new standard of living. Namely, the de-Christianization of society; full legalization and promotion of sexual perversions; radical feminism that will destroy the Ukrainian patriarchal family; the pacifism that thrives in NATO countries, turning men into mindless cattle; and so forth…”

“And how can NATO provide the most important thing—the security of the Ukrainian nation? By building their military bases on our land? By placing their garrisons in our cities? By putting their missiles on alert? I am convinced this is not about Ukrainians and their security, but about the wealth of the Ukrainian land…”[137]

If there is a simple answer to this dilemma, it eludes the author. What is clear, however, is the danger posed by our continued enabling of these violent and malevolent groups, elements of which are now morphing into criminal syndicates.

“Everything will turn out right; the world is built on that.”[138] So wrote Mikhail Bulgakov in his satire on Soviet life. It is a warning against wishful thinking. In its struggle against an irredentist Russia, Ukraine must not lose sight of it and another truism: the border separating Ukraine and Russia is not ethnic, nor is it language. Rather, it is moral and geopolitical. The Ukrainian government would be wise to ponder the historic record of democratic regimes seeking accommodation with more muscular, anti-democratic elements, on the false assumption they can be shaken loose once the peace is restored.

The title “The Squandered Renaissance” is adapted from Jurij Adrijanovych Lawrynenko’s famed 1959 anthology, Rozstrilyane Vidrodzhennya (“Executed Renaissance”). Lawrynenko’s title reflects Stalin’s harsh persecution of Ukrainian intelligentsia in the aftermath of the country’s cultural renaissance of the 1920s. It is said that the Polish journalist Jerzy Giedroyc, who edited the Paris-based journal Kultura, suggested the title to Lawrynenko.

About the author:
*John R. Haines
is a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute and Executive Director of FPRI’s Princeton Committee. Much of his current research is focused on Russia and its near abroad, with a special interest in nationalist and separatist movements. As a private investor and entrepreneur, he is currently focused on the question of nuclear smuggling and terrorism, and the development of technologies to discover, detect, and characterize concealed fissile material. He is also a Trustee of FPRI. The translation of all source material is by the author unless noted otherwise.

This article was published by FPRI.

[1] Dmytro Dontsov (2001). Heopolitychni ta ideolohichni pratsi (L’viv: Kal’varia), 395. Dontsov, a former Marxist, created an indigenous Ukrainian fascism by weaving together elements of Friedrich Nietzsche; the French syndicalist Georges Soreland; and Charles Maurras, the organizer of Action Française. He also translated the works of Hitler and Mussolini into Ukrainian.

[2] Along with Dmitry Dontsov, Roman Shukhevych, Stepan Lenkavsky, Yaroslav Stetsko, Yaroslav Starukh, and others.

[3] For example, the declaration by Iaroslav Orshan, an influential Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists ideologue, that “Fascism, National Socialism, Ukrainian nationalism, etc., are different national expressions of the same spirit.” Iaroslav Orshan (1938). “Doba natsionalizmu” (“The Age of Nationalism”). V Avanhardi (Al’manakh). (Paris: n.p.), 41. Available online from the web forum Natsional’na Diia “RID” at

[4] Mykola Riabchuk (2008). “Ukraine: Neither Heroes nor Villains. Review of Heroes and Villains: Creating National History in Contemporary Ukraine by David Marples.” Transitions Online [published online 6 February 2008].

[5] Renata Caruso (2015). “Dmytro Dontsov’s Ideology of Integral Nationalism in Post-Soviet Ukraine.” In Giovanna Brogi, Marta Dyczok Oxana Pachlovska & Giovanna Siedina, eds. (2015). Ukraine twenty years after independence: Assessments, perspectives, challenges. (Rome: Aracneeditrice), 265.

[6] Dmytro Dontsov (2001). Tvory: Heopolitychni ta ideolohichni pratsi. (L’viv: Kal’varia), 94-95.

[7] Yvan Amar (2007). “Realpolitik.” Radio France Internationale [published online in French 12 November 2007. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[8] John J. Mearsheimer (2002). “Realism, the Real World, and the Academy.” In Michael Brecher & Frank P. Harvey, eds. Realism and Institutionalism in International Studies (Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press), 25.

[9] John J. Mearsheimer (2014). “Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault. Foreign Affairs. 93:5, 77-89.…. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[10] Yurii Andrukhovych (2015). “Fürst Igor und die Mörsergranaten” (“Prince Igor and the mortars”). Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung [published online in German 28 August 2015].…. Last accessed 28 august 2015].

[11] James Jeffrey (2015). “Smoking Putin Out of His Cave.” Foreign Policy [published online 10 February 2015].…. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[12] Mearsheimer (2014), op cit.

[13] Pravyi Sektor adopted its name during the Maidan civil protests of late 2013 and early 2014, when armed members were reputedly assigned the mission of protecting the right sector of Kyev’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti).

[14] “The Ukrainian Conflict: A Ukrainian Nationalist View, Part 3: The Conflict with Russia.” Ukrainian Crusade [published online in English 20 October 2014].…. Last accessed 28 August 23015. Incendiary political and social commentaries are openly published on the website, e.g., “Gay-parade was prohibited in Odessa! One more victory in war against the Antichrist.” […

[15] Last accessed 29 August 2015.

[16] Mearsheimer (2014), op cit. This view is not limited, of course, to him: noted Russian scholar Jörg Baberowski said recently, “The war in the Ukraine is not only Putin’s war. He is also a war of the West against Russia’s influence in Ukraine. […] It should have been clear to any halfway-informed politician that Western intervention in Ukraine would not go unanswered.” See: Forum: Jörg Baberowski vs. Heinrich August Winkler Erbschaft der Sowjetunion. Der Ukraine-Konflikt in historischer Perspektive. Eine Diskussion.” Journal of Modern European History [published online in German]. 13 (2015): 3.…. Last accessed 30 August 2015.

[17] The phrase “loss of possibility” is borrowed from Sören Kierkegaard, who wrote “The believer possesses the eternally certain antidote to despair, viz., possibility.” Sören Kierkegaard (1941). The Sickness Unto Death. Princeton: Princeton University Press), 41.

[18] The slogan Het’ vid Moskvy! (“Away from Moscow!”) is attributed to the Ukrainian writer Mykola Khvyl’ovyi.

[19] Gustav Gressel (2015). “Is Europe losing Ukraine?” Note from Berlin [published online in English 30 July 2015]. European Council on Foreign Relations. Last accessed 3 August 2015.

[20] Tadeusz A. Olszański (2014). “Unity Stronger Than Divisions.” Center for Eastern Studies-Ośrodek Studiów Wschodnich [published online in English 7 March 2014].…. Last accessed 3 August 2015.

[21] Mikhail Klikushin (2015). “Ukraine on Her Knees.” New York Observer [published online 29 January 2015]. Last accessed 9 August 2015.

[22] The author credits this observation to the political analyst Vladislav Gulevich (2015). “Ukraina—chisteyshaya distopiya” (“Ukraine—the Perfect Dystopia”). Russkaya narodnaya liniya [published online in Russian 13 July 2015].…. Last accessed 3 August 2015.

[23] Vladislav Gulevich (2011). “Ukraine and Poland’s Strategic Interests.” Strategic Culture Foundation [published online in English 18 September 2011].…. Last accessed 3 August 2015.

[24] From Dontsov’s 1924 work, Tserkva i Natsionalizm (“Church and Nationalism”). Quoted in Irina Bogachevskaya (2013). “Ukraine’s European Choice: Geopolitical Cost of the Issue.” Crossroads Digest. 8/2013 (Vilnius: European Humanities University), 7.

[25] The Donetsk People’s Republic [Russian transl.: Donétskaya Naródnaya Respúblika. Ukrainian transl.: Donets’ka Narodna Respublika] is a self-declared state occupying the territory of eastern Ukraine’s Donetsk Oblast. It claims to be the legal successor to the Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic [Russian transl.: Donetsko-Krivorozhskaya sovetskaya respublika), a c.1918 self-declared Soviet republic. The Luhansk People’s Republic [Russian transl.: Luganskaya Narodnaya Respublika. Ukrainian transl.:Luhanska Narodna Respublika] is a self-proclaimed state that claims the territory of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk oblast. In May 2014, the Donetsk and the Luhansk People’s Republics signed a confederation agreement forming the Union of People’s Republics [Russian transl.: Soyuz Narodnykh Respublik. Ukrainian transl.: Soyuz Narodnykh Respublik], which both parties later abandoned in May 2015.

[26] Roman Olearchyk (2015). “Fears grow as Ukraine’s rightwing militia puts Kiev in its sights.” Financial Times [published online 2 August 2015].…. Last accessed 8 August 2015.

[27] According to the Right Sector website, the Ukraine Volunteer Corps aka the DUK [Ukrainian transl.: Dobrovolʹchyy Ukrayina Korpus] is “a voluntary military formation created on the basis of the current [draft] law, which combines subordination to state authorities and public initiatives by citizens of Ukraine to improve their military and patriotic readiness and to assist the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations of Ukraine in defending Ukraine and safeguarding its sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability, ensuring state security and protecting the state border of Ukraine.” See: “Right Sector leader registers bill on Ukrainian Volunteer Corps.” UNIAN [published in English online 14 May 2015] In April 2015, the Right Sector leader, Dmitry Yarosh, was appointed as an adviser to the country’s Chief of General Staff, Colonel General Viktor Muzhenko.

[28] On 11 July 2015, militants from the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps armed with automatic weapons and grenade launchers fought local police in Mukachevo, the second largest town in western Ukraine’s Zakarpattia Oblast.…. Last accessed 3 August 2015.

[29] Quoted in Oleksandr Zaitsev (2015). “Ukrainian Integral Nationalism and the Greek-Catholic Church in the 1920s-30s.” In Jan Nelis, Anne Morelli & Danny Praet, eds. Catholicism and Fascism in Europe 1918-1945. (Hildesheim: Georg Olms Verlag AG), 395.

[30] From: Mikhail Klikushin (2015). “Ukraine Spirals Into the Abyss: Pensioner Suicides and Open Talk of Default.” New York Observer [published online in English 23 July 2015].…

[31] The term hybrid war in its simplest formulation is a set of combinational threats designed to target specific vulnerabilities of an adversary. Hybrid warfare does not postulate that distinct challenges exist in separate boxes on a matrix. Instead, it embraces different modes of warfare, including conventional capabilities; irregular tactics and formations; and terrorist acts and criminal disorder. Discrete activities within each mode are coordinated operationally and tactically within the main battlespace to achieve synergistic effects in the conflict’s physical and psychological dimensions. See: Frank G. Hoffman (2009). “Hybrid Threats: Reconceptualizing the Evolving Character of Modern Conflict.” Strategic Forum. 240 (April 2009).

[32] Russia has suffered heavy casualties in eastern Ukraine: in late August, the Russian government inadvertently disclosed that some 2000 soldiers have been killed and 3200 seriously wounded in action. The Russian language news portal RIA Novyy Region (“RIA New Region” or “NR2” for short) published a cached report on army salaries originally published (and quickly deleted) on the Delovaya Zhizn (“Business Life”) website. See: “V Rossii priznali, chto poteryali ubitymi v Ukraine 2000 voyennykh.” RIA Novyy Region [published online in Russian 24 August 2015].…. Last accessed 26 August 2015.

[33] Ukrainian transl.: Sluzhba Bezpeky Ukrayiny or SBU.

[34] The SBU dossier contains allegedly hacked emails and radio communication intercepts in which the parties discuss plans to weaponize radioactive waste found at an abandoned site in Donetsk’s Oktyabrsky district. Copies of the SBU dossier were provided to a reporter from The Times of London ( whose story was also published in Newsweek ( Without prejudging whether the documents are authentic, it is worth noting that disseminating forged documents was classic if simple method of Soviet-era disinformation, one in which SBU officers carried over from that period would have had substantial training. See: Ladislav Bittman, quoted in Alvin A. Snyder (1995).  Warriors of Disinformation: How Lies, Videotape, and the USIA Won the Cold War. (New York: Arcade Publishing), 55-56.

[35] Sergey Klimovsky  (2015). “Pochemu ugrozu yadernogo udara so storony Rossii po Ukraine nuzhno rassmatrivat’ ser’yezno.” Hvilya [published online in Russian 3 August 2015].…. Last accessed 9 August 2015. Klimovsky is no stranger to controversy: in an April commentary also published on the Hvylya website, he called for “fans of the Kremlin” to be interned for five years or deported to “Russia-world”. See: “Kreml’ nachal spetsoperatsiyu «otstrel» svoikh v Ukraine.” Hvilya [published online in Russian 16 April 2015].…. Last accessed 9 August 2015.

[36] Uranium-238 is the most common isotope of uranium. It is not especially hazardous to humans unless inhaled or ingested. Similar quantities of illegally trafficked uranium-238 has been intercepted in the region before, most recently in Moldova in August 2010 and again in December 2014.

[37] “V Prikarpat’ye SBU iz”yala uran-238 v upakovke iz-pod chipsov” (“Carpathian SBU seizes uranium-238 in a package of potato chips”). Lenta [published online in Russian 6 August 2015]. Last accessed 9 August 2015.

[38] Maxim Tucker (2015). “Ukrainian rebels ‘building dirty bomb’ with Russian scientists.” The Times [published online 1 August 2015].…. Last accessed 9 August 2015. Newsweek published the same story was published under Tucker’s byline.

[39] The namesake Vostok (“East”) Battalion was a Spezsnaz special operations unit formed in Chechnya in 1999 by the Russian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate (aka GRU, the acronym of the Russian transliteration Glavnoye razvedyvatel’noye upravleniye). The unit was disbanded in 2008. The DPR’s security service chief, Alexander Khodakovsky, formed a unit in 2014 using the Vostok name. There is informed speculation it, too, has connections to the Russian GRU.

[41] For example, the hacktivist group CyberBerkut on 2 July 2015 published [] what it claimed were documents from Ukraine’s Military Prosecutor’s Office documenting widespread criminal activity and other misconduct by Right Sector and Svoboda paramilitaries. From a February 2015 essay by the author: “The hacktivist group CyberBerkut is the vanguard of a sophisticated dezinformatsia campaign in Ukraine. Since first emerging in March 2014, it has been implicated in multiple incidents of cyber espionage, including direct denial of service (DDoS) attacks against NATO as well as Ukrainian and German government websites. More recently, it has focused on the online publication of ‘cracked’ or maliciously hacked electronic documents obtained from the computers of Ukrainian governmental and political figures. The membership of CyberBerkut is anonymous, but reportedly includes former officers in the Crimean Berkut. That unit was part of Ukraine’s Interior Ministry until Crimea’s March 2014 annexation, upon which the Crimean Berkut was incorporated into Russia’s Interior Ministry. CyberBerkut’s ‘Ukrainian identity’ is vigorously asserted, however, as it postures as an internal opposition group.”

[42] “Basurin: slukhi o “gryaznoy” bombe v DNR – ocherednaya lozh’ Kiyev” (“Kyev spreads lies about a ‘dirty bomb’ in the DPR”). RIA Novosti [published online in Russian 1 August 2015]. Last accessed 9 August 2015.

[43] In May 2014, an armed group of some 40 persons attempted to enter the Zaporizhia nuclear power station claiming to be a Right Sector protective force acting on a report of an impending attack by unidentified separatists. Ukrainian police turned them away, speculating later that they may have been Russian agents provocateurs, known as zeleni cholovichky or “little green men”. See: “Okhorona ZAES zablokuvala hrupu ozbroyenykh osib.” UKRINFORM [published online in Ukrainian 16 May 2014].…. Last accessed 14 August 2015. An English language report published online by Russia’s RT is available here:

[44] Arthur Nelsen (2015). “Nuclear waste stored in ‘shocking’ way 120 miles from Ukrainian front line.” The Guardian [published online 13 May 2015].…. Last accessed 10 August 2015.

[45] Klimovsky  (2015), op cit.

[46] Geraint Hughes (2011). “The Military’s Role in Counterterrorism: Examples and Implications for Liberal Democracies.” The Letort Papers. (Carlisle, PA: United States Army War College Strategic Studies Institute), 105. Last accessed 10 August 2015.

[47] Ibid., 107.

[48] Delyagin is a Russian economist and political advisor. In 2002 he founded the Institute of Globalization Problems. Two tears later, in April 2004, he joined Russia’s Rodina political party, from which he was expelled in July 2006. Rodina—the name means “Homeland” (the party’s official name is Narodno-Patrioticheskiy Soyuz or “Motherland-National Patriotic Union”)—was formed in August 2003 by Dmitry Rogozin as a coalition of 30 nationalist and far-right groups. It merged into another political party in October 2006. Delyagin in September 2010 formed a new political party, also called Rodina, that in May 2011 joined Vladimir Putin’s coalition All-Russia People’s Front in advance of Duma elections held that December.

[49] The interview was aired on KP-FM, an online radio station operated by the Russian tabloid Komsomol’skaya pravda. The translation is the author’s own from the original Russian language transcript (author’s copy). In it, Delyagin raises the possibility of a NATO false flag attack inside Estonia: “There are also reports of a large warehouse in the Estonian port of Paldiski filled with radioactive waste, collected from all over Estonia and maybe other Baltic countries, too. Old x-ray devices and the like. NATO troops are stationed there. The U.S. military reportedly delivered cargo that is radioactive but isn’t radioactive waste. Background radiation from the radioactive waste disguises the radioactive cargo’s presence…”

[50] Albert Wohlstetter (1960). “No Highway to High Purpose.” P-2084-RC, June3 1960. (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation). Last accessed 10 August 2015.

[51] The interdicted material was comprised of radioactive but non-fissile (it is fissionable by fast neutrons) uranium-238. Uranium-238 is referred to as fertile, meaning it can be transmuted into fissile plutonium-238 in a nuclear reactor.

[52]  “V Ivano-Frankovskoy oblasti SBU izyala uran-238 v korobke iz-pod chipsov” (“The SBU seized uranium-238 contained in a box of potato chips in the Ivano-Frankivsk region”). 1TV [published online in Russian 6 August 2015]. Last accessed 9 August 2015.

[53] “Analitik: sbyt “Urana-238″ na chernom rynke stanet koshmarom dlya Kiyeva.” RIA-Novosti [published online in Russian 8 August 2015]. Last accessed 9 August 2015.

[54] Its full name is the All-Ukrainian Union “Freedom” party [Ukrainian transl.: Vseukrayinsʹke ob’yednannya “Svoboda”].

[55] The Donetsk People’s Republic [Russian transl.: Donétskaya Naródnaya Respúblika. Ukrainian transl.: Donets’ka Narodna Respublika] is a self-declared state occupying the territory of Ukraine’s Donetsk oblast. It claims to be the legal successor to the Donetsk–Krivoy Rog Soviet Republic [Russian transl.: Donetsko-Krivorozhskaya sovetskaya respublika), a self-declared Soviet republic c.1918. The Luhansk People’s Republic [Russian transl.: Luganskaya Narodnaya Respublika. Ukraqinian transl.:Luhanska Narodna Respublika] is a self-proclaimed state that claims the territory of eastern Ukraine’s Luhansk oblast. In May 2014, the Donetsk and the Luhansk People’s Republics signed a confederation agreement forming the Union of People’s Republics [Russian transl.: Soyuz Narodnykh Respublik. Ukrainian transl.: Soyuz Narodnykh Respublik], which both parties later abandoned in May 2015.

[56] In one recent incident, two armed Right Sector members were killed by local police while acting as an armed escort for smugglers, reportedly to raise money for the party.

[57] A detailed report including maps and video of the incident is available here: Last accessed 11 August 2015.

[58] Lanyo belongs to the People’s Will parliamentary faction, which is  part of the pro-Russian Opposition Bloc.

[59] Tadeusz Iwański & Piotr Żochowski (2015). “The incident in Mukachevo: a symptom of Ukraine’s systemic weakness.” The Center for Eastern Studies-Ośrodek Studiów Wschodnich [published online in English 15 July 2015].…. Last accessed 11 August 2015.

[60] “Baloga schitayet, chto krovavuyu vstrechu Lan’o i «Pravogo sektora» organizoval Avakov.” Glavcom [published online in Russian 14 July 2015]. Last accessed 11 August 2015.

[61] “Poroshenko orders all illegal arms groups disarmed in Ukraine amid standoff with Right Sector.” RT [published online in English 13 July 2015]. Last accessed 11 August 23015.

[62] Quoted in Zaitsev (2015), op cit., 396.

[63] Pyotr Topychkanov (2015). “‘Hybrid war’—a Scholarly Term or a Propaganda Cliché?” Published online in English by the Russian International Affairs Council. Last accessed 11 August 2015.

[64] Hybrid war belongs to that class of terms that is more often used than defined. The International Institute of Strategic Studies defines it as “the use of military and non-military tools in an integrated campaign designed to achieve surprise, seize the initiative and gain psychological as well as physical advantages utilizing diplomatic means; sophisticated and rapid information, electronic and cyber operations; covert and occasionally overt military and intelligence action; and economic pressure.” See: IISS (2015). The Military Balance 2015. (Washington, D.C.: The International Institute for Strategic Studies).

[65] Rusian Pukhov (2015). “Nothing ‘Hybrid’ About Russia’s War in Ukraine.” The Moscow Times [published online in English 27 May 2015].…. Last accessed 11 August 2015. Pukhov directs the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies (CAST), a private Moscow-based think tank. The original Russian language version of Pukhov’s essay was published two days later in Nezavisimoye Voyennoye Obozreniye under the title “The myth of ‘hybrid war.” See: Last accessed 11 August 2015.

[67] Lawrence Freedman discusses these factors in his highly recommended essay, “Ukraine and the Art of Exhaustion.” Last accessed 14 August 2015.

[68] “Estonia ready to deal with Russia’s ‘little green men’.” Financial Times [published online 13 May 2015].…. Last accessed 3 August 2015. General Terra spelled out Estonia’s approach to hybrid defense: if Russian agents or special forces enter Estonian territory, “you should shoot the first one to appear…If somebody without any military insignia commits terrorist attacks in your country you should shoot him…you should not allow them to enter.”

[69] See: András Rácz (2015). “Russia’s Hybrid War in Ukraine: Breaking the Enemy’s Ability to Resist.” FIIA Report 43. (Helsinki: The Finnish Institute of International Affairs), 12.

[70] Kenneth E. Boulding (1963). Conflict and Defense: A General Theory. (New York: Harper and Brothers), 5.

[71] This idea is developed in detail by Edmund H. Mantell (1991). “Factional Conflict through the Generations: Theory and Measurement.” The American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 50:4, 407-419.

[72] Ukrainian transl.: Vseukrayinsʹke ob’yednannya “Svoboda”.

[73] Renata Caruso (2015), op cit., 271. Aleksandr Dugin makes the argument for Russian intervention. “Ukrainian sovereignty is so antithetical to Russian geopolitical interests that, even in principle, is capable of provoking armed conflict,” writes Dugin. “The idea of [Russia’s Black Sea coast] within a new geopolitical entity (let alone one seeking to join NATO) is a complete anomaly.” He argues for exclusive Russian dominion: “Ukraine as an independent states with its own territorial ambitions poses a great threat to all of Eurasia, and it is meaningless to speak of Eurasian geopolitics without first addressing the Ukraine problem. This does not mean Ukraine’s cultural, linguistic or economic autonomy should be limited, or that it should be reduced to a purely administrative unit of Russia. But strategically, Russia alone must project geopolitical influence in Ukraine, extending outward to the south and the west.” See: Dugin (2000). “Problema suverennoy Ukrainy” (“The Problem of a Sovereign Ukraine”). Osnovy geopolitiki [published online in Russian], 199.

[74] Tomasz Stryjek (2000). Ukrain ́ska idea narodowa okresu mie ̨dzywojennego: Analiza wybranych koncepsji. (Wrocław: Oficyna Wydawniczawa Rytm), 123–6.

[75] Irina Bogachevskaya (2013). “Ukraine’s European Choice: Geopolitical Cost of the Issue.” Crossroads Digest. 8/2013 (Vilnius: European Humanities University), 13.

[76] Ivan Stepanovych Mazepa (b.1639 d.1709) was the Hetman (a political title given to military commanders, derived from the German Hauptmann) of the Cossaack Hetmanate that covered the territory of the central one-third of modern Ukraine. It became the Imperial Russian province of Malorossiya (“Little Russia”).

[77] The author credits the writing of Patrick Geary for developing and elucidating this understanding of language and ethnicity. See in particular: Geary (2003). The Myth of Nations: The Medieval Origins of Europe. (Princeton: Princeton University Press).

[78] In Stephen Cohen’s description, “the pivot” of Right Sector’s “ideological thinking is an ethnically-cleansed, purified Ukraine, above all without any Russians or Russian influence.” “Second Civil War is Brewing in Ukraine—Stephen Cohen.” Sputnik [published online in English 7 August 2015]. Last accessed 8 August 2015.

[79] So, too, Hungarian irredentists, who claim kinship with Hungarian speakers living in western Ukraine.

[80] Drawing on the work of the American sociologist Douglas McAdam, Ishchenko wrote that this amounted to an external authority—here, the Ukrainian government—validating the “actors, their performances, and their claims.” Volodymyr Ishchenko (2011). “Fighting Fences vs. Fighting Monuments: Politics of Memory and Protest Mobilization in Ukraine.” Journal of Contemporary Central and Eastern Europe. 19:1-2, 380. Last accessed 24 August 2014.

[81] “Oleksandr Turchynov: There is only one way to avoid artificial incidents—to accelerate the transition of true patriots to the ranks of our army.” Published in English on the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council website 29 April 2015. Last accessed 23 August 2015.

[82] Anton Shekhovtsov & Andreas Umland (2014). “Ukraine’s Radical Right.” Journal of Democracy. 25:3, 58. Shekhovtsov is a research associate at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv, where Umland is a senior research fellow.

[83] Last accessed 22 August 2015.

[84] Biletsky’s use of nedolyudstva apes the German word Untermenschen adopted by the Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg in his 1939 book, Der Mythus des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts (“The Myth of the Twentieth Century “). Biletsky’s suggested “crusade against Semite-led subhumans” is drawn directly from the 1942 Nazi pamphlet Der Untermensch published (in German as well as Russian) by the Schutzstaffel main administrative office under the direction of SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger. In it, “Jews were represented as the brains behind a race of subhumans” [Robert Cecil (1972). The Myth of the Master Race: Alfred Rosenberg and the Nazi Ideology. (London: B.T. Batsford), 109]. Their destruction was conceived and later organized, in yet another term borrowed by Biletsky: as a “crusade” [see chapter 3 in Henry Friedlander (1997). Der Weg zur NZ-Genozid. Von der Euthanasie zur Endlösung. (Berlin: Berlin Verlag)]. The apothegm in Der Untermensch “Whether under the Tatars, or Peter, or Stalin, this people is born for the yoke” references Hitler’s earlier declaration (in his 1924 Mein Kampf) that the Soviet Union was an alliance between Jewish intelligentsia and subhuman Slavs. The original German text of Der Untermensch can be read in its entirety here:….

Biletsky’s rant echoes OUN tracts of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Iaroslav Stets’ko, part of the OUN’s Bandera faction (following founder Yevhen Konovalets’ 1938 assassination, the OUN split into two factions, one led by Stepan Bandera and the other by Andrii Melnyk), wrote in July 1941, “Although I consider Moscow, which in fact held Ukraine in captivity, and not Jewry, to be the main and decisive enemy, I nonetheless fully appreciate the undeniably harmful and hostile role of the Jews, who are helping Moscow to enslave Ukraine. I therefore support the destruction of the Jews and the expedience of bringing German methods of exterminating Jewry to Ukraine, barring their assimilation and the like.” Quoted in Marco Carynnyk (2011). “Foes of Our Rebirth: Ukrainian Nationalist Discussions about Jews, 1929–1947.” Nationalities Papers. 39:3, 337-338. Last accessed 24 August 2015.

[84] Last accessed 22 August 2015.

[85] In March 2014 President Poroshenko appointed Kolomoyskyi governor of Dnipropetrovsk Oblast, a southeastern region bordering the separatist Donetsk Oblast. He fired Kolomoyskyi a year later after a dispute over control of a state-owned oil company.

[86] Semen Semenchenko is the nom de guerre of Kostyantyn Hrishyn, a Russian speaker and native of Donetsk. A

National Guard officer, he was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in 2014 for the L’viv-based Samopomich (“Self Reliance) party shortly after he was seriously wounded in action outside Ilovaysk. Semenchenko was succeeded as battalion commander by Taras Konstanchuk.

[87] “Natsgvardiya soobshchayet o formirovanii 3-go rezervnogo batal’ona na baze ‘Donbassa’.” 112.UA [published online in Russian 3 June 2014].…. Last accessed 23 August 2015.

[88] “ATO ot pervogo litsa: Gruzin iz Ivano-Frankovskoy oblasti v batal’yon ‘Donbass’.” Insider [published online in Russian 15 September 2014].…. Last accessed 23 August 2015.

[89] “Donbas Battalion delivers ultimatum to Poroskenko.” Euromaidan Press [published online in English 4 November 2014].…. Last accessed 23 August 2015.

[90] While translated in this context as “trident” (the Ukrainian word for which is tryzubetsʹ), tryzub is derived from the Sanskit transliteration trishula, reflecting the symbol’s shape in Ukraine’s state coat of arms.

[91] His name is sometimes spelled as the Russian transliteration “Goranin” with its associated nom de guerre, “Goran”.

[92] Two former Aidar Battalion senior commanders, Serhii Melnychuk and Ihor Lapin, were elected to the Ukrainian parliament in 2014. Melnychuk was elected for the Radykalʹna Partiya Oleha Lyashka (“Radical Party of Oleh Lyashko”) named for its eponymous populist founder and leader. Lapin was elected for the Narodnyy front “Popular Front”) founded in 2014 by Prime Minister Yatsenyuk.

[93] C14 is a cryptonym formed from the visual appearance of the Ukrainian word Січ [Ukrainian transliteration: Sich as in Zaporózʹka Sích]. The term has literal and figurative meanings. The Zaporózʹka Sích (sometimes Anglicized as “Zaporozhian Sich”) was a Cossack state centered on a fortified encampment on a Dnieper River island c.1550s in today’s central Ukraine. The term is used figuratively as a metonym for the Zaporozhian Cossack army. Separately, the number 14 is a common white supremacist symbol, referring to the so-called “14 Words” of the American white supremacist David Lane (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”).

[94] Before his election to parliament, Yarosh was a candidate in the May 2014 presidential election, receiving less than one percent of votes cast.

[95] Yarosh’s legislation would authorities an entity known as a “volunteer military unit” with “responsibility before the state and before public initiatives from the side of Ukrainian citizens who wish to improve their military-patriotic capabilities and to aid the Armed Forces of Ukraine and other military formations fighting for Ukraine, to defend Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, to provide state security and to defend the state borders of Ukraine.”

[96] “Pravyy sektor teper bude natsionalʹno-vyzvolʹnym rukhom—Yarosh.” [published online in Ukrainian 21 July 2015].…. Last accessed 25 August 2015.

[97] “A ‘Christian Taliban’s’ crusade on Ukraine’s front lines.” Al Jazeera [published online in English 15 April 2015].…. Last accessed 25 August 2015.

[98] Kiselyov is a Kyiv-based political commentator and television anchor. He is originally from Russia but relocated to Ukraine in 2008.

[99] The roster is published on the People’s Front website. Last accessed 24 August 2015.

[100] “Rossiyskiye SMI trubyat o padenii Poroshenko pod natiskom «Pravogo sektora».” Media Sapiens [published online in Russian 23 August 2015].…. Last accessed 26 August 2015.


[102] Leonid Kravchuk, Leonid Kuchma, Viktor Yuschenko and Viktor Yanukovych are, respectively, the first, second, third and fourth Presidents of Ukraine. See: “Vlada zatsikavlena u znyshchenni dobrovolʹchoho rukhu—Skoropadsʹkyy.” Published in Ukrainian on the Right Sector official website 20 August 2015.…. Last accessed 26 August 2015.

[103] The Belfer Center defines this term as “security cooperation between ideological and geopolitical adversaries in response to an overarching third-party threat.”…. Last accessed 26 August 2015.

[104] Maxim Revrebe (2015). “Opolcheniye predlozhilo batal’onu Aydar sovmestnyy pokhod na Kiyev.” [published online in Russian 3 August 2015].…. Last accessed 26 August 2015.

[105] “Pravyy sektor vystupaye za pozablokovyy status Ukrayiny i proty chlenstva krayiny v EC—Yarosh.” Interfax-Ukraine [published online in Ukrainian 19 March 2014]. Last accessed 26 August 2015.

[106] See (in Russian): Last accessed 26 August 2015.

[107] Quoted by RIA-Novosti. Last accessed 26 August 2015.

[108] This is an idiomatic translation of Yarosh’s posting which he emphasized that Right Sector would defend the country even in lieu of others doing so. The original Ukrainian text reads: yakby komusʹ ne khotilosya prybraty nas z frontu – my vse odno zakhyshchayemo Derzhavu!

[109] From V.F. Nikitchenko, et al., eds. (1972). Kontrrazvedyvatel’nyi slovar’ [“Counterintelligence dictionary”]. (Moscow: Higher Red Banner School of the Committee of State Security under the Soviet of Ministers of the USSR in the name of F.E. Dzerzhinsky), p. 79.   Nikitchenko was the KGB chief in Ukraine during the 1960s.

[110] Peter Pomerantsev & Michael Weiss (2014). The Menace of Unreality: How the Kremlin Weaponizes Information, Culture and Money. (New York: The Institute of Modern Russia).

[111] For example, Major General Nikolay Turko, an instructor at the Russian Federation’s General Staff Academy, writes: “The most dangerous manifestation in the tendency to rely on military power relates more to the possible impact of the use of reflexive control by the opposing side…than to the direct use of the means of armed combat.”  See: Alexsey A. Prokhozhev & Nikolay. I. Turko (1996). Osnovy informatsionnoy voyny (“Fundamentals of Information Warfare”). Report presented to the conference on “Systems Analysis on the Threshold of the 21st Century: Theory and Practice,” Moscow, February 1996, p. 251.

[112] The term non-linear war is a construct of Vladislav Yuryevich Surkov former deputy chief of staff to President Vladimir Putin, who until he was forced out in May 2013 was known as one of the Kremlin’s so-called “grey cardinals.”  His first published use of the term was in his short story, Bez neba (“Without sky”), written under the pseudonym Natan Dubovitsky.  The narrator is a child whose parents were killed in the war he describes in the story, one in which the narrator was brain damaged, and can now only see and understand things in two dimensions.  See: “Bez neba.” Chestnoye pionerskoye [published online in Russian 12 March 2014]. Last accessed 4 February 2014.  The term “non-linear” [the conventional translation of the Russian word ochagovyy (очаговый)] appears in earlier discussion of Soviet and Russian military doctrine; for example, Major General V. G. Reznichenko’s 1987 book Tactics (Moscow: Voenizdat).

[113] General Valery V. Gerasimov (2013). “Tsennost’ Nauki V Predvidenii” (“The Predictive Value of Science”). Voyenno-promyshlennyy kur’yeр [published online in Russian 5 March 2013], 3.  Last accessed 4 February 2014.  Gerasimov is Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, and first Deputy Defense Minister.  The Voyenno-promyshlennyy kur’yer (“Military-Industrial Courier”) is a Russian language weekly newspaper.

[114] Mark Galeotti, quoted in Pomerantsev & Weiss (2014), p. 29.

[115] Ladislav Bittman (1985). The KGB and Soviet Disinformation: An Insider’s View. (Washington, DC: Pergamon-Brassey’s), p. 49. Bittman was the Deputy Chief of the 8th section of the 2nd Department of the Czechoslovak Interior Ministry until he defected to the West in 1968

[116] The Russian language news portal uses a shortened name, the transliteration of which is FAN. The website is a self-described “information partner” of the Russian newspaper Zhurnalistskaya Pravda (“Journalistic Truth”), the editor-in-chief of which is Vladislav Shurigin, who also acts as an independent military analyst and commentator. He is associated with the ultra-nationalist weekly Zavtra (“Tomorrow”) and is a member of the Natsional-bol’shevistskaya partiya (“National Bolshevik Party”) as known by the portmanteau word Natsbols.

[117] “SBU gotovit provokatsiyu v Donbasse s khimicheskim oruzhiyem” (“The SBU is preparing a provocation in the Donbass with chemical weapons”). FAN [published online in Russian 27 August 2015].…. Last accessed 27 August 2015.

[118] The Donétskaya Naródnaya Respúblika or “Donetsk People’s Republic”.

[119] “Kiev May Start Using Chemical Weapons—Donetsk Republic.” Sputnik [published online in English 29 May 2015]. Last accessed 27 August 2015.

[120] “V DNR zayavili o vozmozhnom vzryve soten tonn khlora ukrainskoy ‘Tochkoy’.” (“DNR warns of a possible ‘Tochka’ missile attack by Ukraine targeting hundreds of tons of chlorine”). Vesti [published online in Russian 31 July 2014].…. Last accessed 27 August 2015.

[121] “«Vremena legkomyslennogo patsifizma ushli v proshloye.» Petr Poroshenko predupredil o veroyatnoy eskalatsii boyevykh deystviy” (“‘The Era of mindless pacifism is gone.’ Poroshenko warns of the likely escalation of hostilities”). Kommersant [published online in Russian 22 August 2015]. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[122] “Kiyev gotovit «blitskrig»” (“Kyev ready to launch a blitzkrieg”). Rossiyskaya Gazeta [published online in Russian 23 August 2015]. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[123] “«Vremena legkomyslennogo patsifizma ushli v proshloye.» Petr Poroshenko predupredil o veroyatnoy eskalatsii boyevykh deystviy” (“‘The Era of mindless pacifism is gone.’ Poroshenko warns of the likely escalation of hostilities”). Kommersant [published online in Russian 22 August 2015]. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[124] “Kiyev v lyuboy moment mozhet nachat’ blitskrig dlya vzyatiya Donetska v «kotel»” (Kiev may at any moment launch a blitzkrieg to trap Donetsk”). [published online in Russian 21 August 2015].

[125] “V DNR zayavili o tom, chto Kiyev gotovit blitskrig s tsel’yu okruzhit’ Donetsk i vzyat’ pod kontrol’ granitsu s Rossiyey” (“The DNR says Kiev in preparing a blitzkrieg to encircle Donetsk and take control of the border with Russia”). PolitNavigator [published online in Russian 20 August 2015].…. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[126] This theme was echoed in an analysis of the anticipated Ukrainian offensive published on the website “When you look at the map, the first thing you find yourself thinking is that there obviously are people on the Ukrainian General Staff who are trying to replicate the World War II operation when Hitler’s generals initially managed to split a large Red Army force and then encircle it in ‘cauldrons’ (this bitter lesson taught the Red Army how to ‘cook’ the Nazi hordes in the same ‘pot’).” See: “Poroshenko gotovit blitskrig na Donbasse” (“Poroshenko is planning a blitzkrieg in the Donbass”). [published online in Russian 23 August 2015]. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[127] “DNR poluchila iz Genshtaba Ukrainy plan nastupleniya v Donbasse: VSU namereny vzyat’ v «kotel» Donetsk” (“DNR obtained from the Ukrainian General Staff its plan of attack in the Donbass: the Armed Forces of Ukrainian intends to ‘trap’ Donetsk”). Donetskoye agentstvo novostey [published online in Russian 20 August 2015].…. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[128] Ernest Renan (1990). “What is a Nation?” In Homi K. Bhabha, ed. Nation and Narration. (New York: Routledge), 11.

[129] “V Administratsiyi Prezydenta predstavyly nezaperechni dokazy zbroynoyi ahresiyi Rosiyi proty Ukrayiny” (“President’s administration presents irrefutable evidence of armed aggression against Ukraine.”). Published in Ukrainian on President Poroshenko’s official website 28 August 2015.…. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[130] Robert A.Rosenstone (1969). Crusade of the Left: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (New York: Rowman & Littlefield), 156. Cited in M. V. Novikov (1995). SSSR, Komintern i grazhdanskaia voia v Ispanii 1936-1939 (Iaroslav: Iaroslavskii gos. pedagogicheskii universitet), Volume II, 58.

[131] Michael Alpert (1989). El ejército republicano en la guerra civil, 2nd ed. (Madrid: Siglo Veintiuno), 257.

[132] The “Normandy format” is a working group comprised of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine. Some leaders have questioned this format, including Polish President Andrzej Duda, who called for other countries to be added to the talks. He was criticized by Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna, who said it “won’t happen,” and added that Duda should conduct foreign policy in line with government policy.

[134] Dmytro Dontsov (1921; 2001). “Pidstavi nashoyi polityky.” In Dontsov (2001). Heopolitychni ta ideolohichni pratsi (L’viv: Kal’varia). The English translation of the essay’s title is “Foundations of Our Policies” [Ukrainian transl.: Pidstavi nashoyi polityky]. The essay was reprinted in an anthology of Dontsov’e writings, Geopolitical and Ideological Works [Ukrainian transl.: Heopolitychni ta ideolohichni pratsi], the first volume of which was published in 2001. The quote also appears in Renata Caruso’s fine 2015 essay, “Dmytro Dontsov’s Ideology of Integral Nationalism in Post-Soviet Ukraine”. In: Giovanna Brogi, Marta Dyczok Oxana Pachlovska & Giovanna Siedina, eds. (2015). Ukraine twenty years after independence: Assessments, perspectives, challenges. (Rome: Aracneeditrice), 265.

[135] “The Interview: Henry Kissinger.” The National Interest [published online 19 august 2015]. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[136] “Azov Reconquista: Interview with Oleg Odnorozhenko.” Published on the Ukrayinsʹkyy Tradytsionalistychnyy Klub (“Ukrainian Traditionalist Club”) website 9 June 2015.…. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[137] Dmitry Yarosh (2008). “Na hrani dvokh svitiv” (“On the Edge of Two Worlds”). [published online in Ukrainian 13 December 2014]. Last accessed 28 August 2015.

[138] Mikhail Bulgakov (1966). The Master and Margarita. Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, transl. (New York: Penguin Press), 382.

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