Ukrainian nationalist groups: analysis of players and their impact on political competition

On October 14, 2014, a March of Nationalists testified that radical forces in Ukraine could organize themselves and exert political pressure on the authorities. In general, the electoral positions of the radical forces and nationalist parties are very weak. However, despite small number and disparity, radicals and opponents of Zelenskyi’s peace initiatives are being very active and aggressive participants in the political process. Such groups can have a real impact on public opinion as well as public policy making.

 

After the defeat of Petro Poroshenko, a number of nationalist forces and radical organizations proved to be unnecessary for Zelenskyi and the new government, which set out to implement a peace plan in Donbas. Radical organizations and nationalist parties faced a major challenge – finding stable financing, developing new positioning and establishing communication with the new authorities. In addition, the issues of property rights and objects that were seized by the radicals during 2014-2017 remain unresolved. (“Kozatskyi” Hotel on the Maidan, “Atek” base, part of the exhibition centre “Parkovyi”, objects in Mariupol and other cities). The new authorities do not seem to have a strategy for actions concerning the radicals.

According to media, Zelenskyi repeatedly expected Avakov to take decisive steps to resolve the issue with radical forces that were holding protests and disrupted the deployment of forces in Donbas. However, Avakov plays his own game and tries to win his political and business preferences by flirting with nationalists. Both oligarchs and landowners who do not want to open a land market may act by this logic.

We shall look at the situation within the main representatives of the radical forces.

  • The situation in All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (leader – Oleh Tiahnybok). Representatives of “Svoboda” traditionally became the skeleton of the March of Defenders of Ukraine held in Kyiv on October 14. “Svoboda” launched this March of the UPA (the Ukrainian Insurgent Army) almost 10 years ago. The March takes place on October 14 and is a kind of mobilization event held by the patriots against pro-Russian forces. Representatives of “Svoboda” head the organizing committee of the event each year. Despite financial and organizational problems, “Svoboda” remains the strongest non-parliamentary player in the legal field and has strong representation in local councils. The party of Tiahnybok is now actively seeking funding because the Parliament has cancelled state funding for parties that have not overcome the 5% threshold. For example, “Svoboda” actively cooperates with Petro Poroshenko and Vitalii Klychko in Kyiv; in various regions – with agrarian business, developers or smugglers. It is possible that in the future, “Svoboda” forms a new alliance for cooperation with Ihor Kolomoiskyi, or even Rinat Akhmetov. It all depends on which oligarch will need the services of nationalists to put pressure on the authorities or fight against Zelenskyi.
  • The situation around Petro Poroshenko. Petro Poroshenko tries to head the protests of nationalists and radicals who oppose Zelenskyi’s peaceful initiatives. Poroshenko’s main goal is to gain political immunity and defend himself from attacks of Zelenskyi and Kolomoiskyi. Poroshenko actively promotes the topic “No surrender”, and tries to involve former leader of the “Right Sector” Dmytro Yarosh in these activities.
  • The situation in the “National Corps” (leader – Andriy Biletskyi). According to available information, Andrii Biletskyi has again started a political rapprochement with Interior Minister Arsen Avakov who has a strong financial and political influence in the architecture of the new authorities. According to various sources, Biletskyi is also supported by Ihor Kolomoiskyi in order to pressure President Zelenskyi. Now Biletskyi is active on all television broadcasts. His main task is to attack and push Petro Poroshenko out of the far-right radical political niche. In general, the political influence of the “National Corps”, “National Troops” and civilian “Azov” is weak. According to sources in radical groups, only 20% of “Azov” responded to the call of Andriy Biletskyi to go patrolling Zolote and Novotroitske in Donbas. The overall mobilization of “Azov” supporters is weak because the radicals are not paid. They also believe that Biletskyi and Avakov want to achieve their own political interests. In addition, Biletskyi initiated the “Last Checkpoint” public movement to fight surrender to Russia. Thus, the ideological base of radicals is largely based on the financial resources of oligarchs.
  • The situation in the radical organization “C14” (leader – Yevhen Karas). The “C14” organization experienced its heyday in 2016 -2019 under the presidency of Petro Poroshenko. At that time, organization of Yevhen Karas appeared in pogroms against Roma camps, beatings of gays, protests against developers and Poroshenko’s opponents. The radicals received good funding and were patronized by the former SSU leadership. The possible causes of the “C14” crisis include inadequate funding, pressure from the new SSU leadership and deep ideological contradictions within the team. There are rumours in radical circles, that some “C14” supporters have joined the “National Troops”, and the others plan to create a political project “Society of the Future” to participate in the local elections.
  • The situation in the Radical Party (leader – Oleh Liashko). After the defeat in the July 2019 parliamentary elections, things went very poorly in the Radical Party. Rinat Akhmetov’s refusal to fund the project was the biggest strike to Liashko. Party organizations began to fall apart in the regions. A number of regional sponsors declined to fund the party because of low electoral ratings. The state funding of the RPL, which gained about 4% of the vote, was also cancelled. According to the information available, the Radical Party of Oleh Liashko is preparing for the election to the Kyiv City Council. Liashko’s main task will be attacking the candidate for the mayor from the “Servant of the People”. According to information spread in political circles, the Mayor of Kyiv Vitalii Klychko is now the main sponsor of Liashko. At the same time, Liashko keeps hoping to resume cooperation with Ukrainian oligarchs: Ihor Kolomoiskyi, Rinat Akhmetov or Serhii Liovochkin. It is likely that Liashko will continue to act situationally and try to draw a protest card against the opening of the land market. Therefore, Oleh Liashko is actively asking for money from agrarian oligarchs to fund protests in the regions and in Kyiv against Zelenskyi.