Ultranationalist neo-Nazi parties on the march in Ukraine

Threat of anti-Semitic violence should cause international alarm

February 25, 2014 11:45AM ET
Wearing the uniform of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, nationalists in the western city of Lviv march with their red and black flag and Ukraine’s yellow and blue one in 2010 to commemorate anti-Soviet fighters.
Yuriy Dyachyshyn/AFP/Getty Images

President Viktor Yanukovich’s sudden, surprise departure from Kiev is the beginning of a long ordeal for Ukrainians. It’s also the start of a major threat to the several hundred thousand Ukrainian Jews.

Anti-Semitic violence in Ukraine may come as a surprise to an American audience accustomed to optimistic portrayals of the swiftly changing events in U.S. media. The last weeks have been dominated by talk of vigils for democracy, for the EU, for Western ways, played out for the cameras in the bonfire-lit Independence Square. 

The Russian media, by contrast, have devoted time, since autumn, to explicating the virulent history of the ultranationalist neo-Nazi parties from western Ukraine that rally under the black and red flag of the grandfather of Ukrainian fascist parties, the 85-year-old Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Its flag can be seen in pictures of the parliament building surrounded by masked and helmeted protesters.

In her Sunday appearance to discuss the crisis on “Meet the Press,” National Security Adviser Susan Rice was not asked about the fears of the Jews of Ukraine. Nor has the White House mentioned Jews or anti-Semitism during the several remarks directed at Moscow advising Russian President Vladimir Putin not to intervene in the Ukrainian chaos.

Ukrainian Jews, on the other hand, are speaking out loudly now that Kiev is descending into anarchy.    

A grave threat

The transition agreement toward elections that was brokered on Friday between European Union ministers and Yanukovich was immediately broken by the Ukrainian fascists, according to my sources. Yanukovich then fled the capital, and law and order in the streets left with him. So did the safety of Ukraine’s Jews. 

Rabbis in Kiev and across Ukraine spoke out, warning their congregations to stay off the streets and remain in their homes. The Jewish Agency in Jerusalem has moved swiftly to offer aid to elderly Jews living in greater Kiev. Food-delivery men are braving gunshots and Molotov cocktails to help them. Reports from Kiev say the police have been replaced by roving bands of undetermined loyalty.

Jewish organizations worldwide and the state of Israel regard the appeals from Ukraine as grave and immediate.

The fresh report of the firebombing of a new synagogue in Zaporizhia, 250 miles southeast of Kiev, increased the alarm in Israel and accelerated planning for all contingencies, including evacuations.

The Kremlin will act to protect the millions of Ukrainians and Russian citizens who are at risk from the fascists and anarchists in general.

In the coming days, either Yanukovich will choose to stay in Ukraine and contest the coup in Kiev or he will abdicate and pass the mess into the hands of the EU and Russia. Early indications from Moscow point to the likelihood that Yanukovich is unreliable.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was on the telephone to German Chancellor Angela Merkel to sort out the failure of the EU to live up to the promises it made to Yanukovich and Moscow. Berlin insists that a solution for the disorder in Kiev not only includes a legitimate leadership with police power but also involves finding up to $27 billion to keep Ukraine solvent in its obligations.

My sources point to a calm, adamant, confident Kremlin that will act to protect the millions of Ukrainians and Russian citizens who are at risk from the fascists and anarchists in general. The Jews are part of the population that Moscow will move to protect. My sources indicate that Russia will move to reinforce the military installations in Crimea and then prepare adequate means to help other regions where Russian citizens are concentrated, like Odessa.

As for the U.S., it finds itself in a position of supporting chaos in Kiev with Rice’s unfocused remark that “the United States is on the side of the Ukrainian people.”

The view from Moscow

I wrote recently of the Kremlin’s opinion that Barack Obama’s administration has interfered in Ukrainian affairs. My sources have told me that the Kremlin holds that Rice has been in contact with the investor George Soros, who has used his wealth and influence openly to unsettle affairs in Ukraine at least since the Orange Revolution of 2005. The Kremlin maintains that the Obama administration has led the protesters to understand that Washington supports their demands to join with the EU and not with the Russian Federation.

Moscow waited for the end of the Sochi Games before it moved to straighten out the mess in Kiev. Moscow conceded to all the demands by the EU and U.S. and lent its authority to the agreement that Yanukovich signed before the fascist gangs destroyed the resolution. Now the country is fragmented, lawless, beggared, fear-racked.

Moscow, I am told, understands that the most difficult challenge will be dealing with the fascist parties like those under the red and black flag as well as Oleh Tyahnyok’s Svoboda (Freedom Party). The remaining protest parties are not nearly so worrisome, as the western Ukraine voters will be overwhelmed in any election by the Russian-linked eastern Ukraine, which represents 55 to 60 percent of the population. Moscow’s choice, Yanukovich, won a closely monitored and EU-approved election in 2010. The easy assumption is that Moscow’s choice will win again in the early elections now called for.

What is not known is how Moscow can resolve the crisis while corralling the fascist bands that have overrun Kiev, wrecked the elected government and now threaten to repeat some of the darkest crimes of the last century.

John Batchelor is a novelist and host of a national radio news show based in New York City.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera America's editorial policy.

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