One of Ukraine’s most prominent Jews on Tuesday voiced concerns over Kiev’s use of far-right radical nationalist groups in the battle against Russian-backed separatists, warning that the police have lost their “monopoly on the use of force.”
“The government must stop flirting with ultra-radical organizations, which are increasingly gaining ground in Ukraine,” opposition MP and Jewish oligarch Vadim Rabinovich wrote on the website of his Opposition Bloc political party, demanding that the administration of President Petro Poroshenko cut ties with such groups.
The Opposition Bloc is largely composed of former supporters of deposed pro-Russian President Victor Yanukovich.
While he did not refer to specific organizations, it is likely that Rabinovich was referring to Right Sector and the Azov Battalion, both of which have been provided with weapons and training by the Ukrainian military and operate in the disputed Donbas region.
Right Sector rose to prominence during last year’s Maidan revolution in Kiev, taking part in clashes with riot police. Azov, meanwhile, was established after the separatist takeover of the eastern Ukrainian cities of Donetsk and Luhansk and has been reported to include a large contingent of avowed neo-Nazis.
While Right Sector has until recently had a Jewish spokesman and has taken a public stand against anti-Semitism, the group still includes many members affiliated with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi movements.
Earlier this year, the government announced that the group’s founder Dmitri Yarosh was to become an adviser to Ukrainian Chief of Staff Viktor Muzhenko, in a bid to further integrate the group’s militias into the army.
“Today it is obvious that the government has played with the radicals. Instead of putting them in their place a year ago, today, because of the connivance of the authorities of Ukraine,” many of them are armed and members of affiliated paramilitary forces, asserted Rabinovich.
He cited a July gun battle between Right Sector members and local police in Mukacheve, in which several people were killed.
About the same time, around 10 members of the group were surrounded by police in a standoff in the Zakarpattia region. Right Sector activists subsequently protested in several cities, calling for the dismissal of senior Ukrainian officials.
In response, Poroshenko called for police to disarm what he termed “illegal groups,” asserting that they threatened national stability.
However, the group was not disbanded, and tensions were ratcheted up even further when in August a national guardsman was killed by a grenade outside of parliament during a Right Sector protest.
According to Foreign Policy magazine, “Kiev and the far Right are at a stalemate,” with Poroshenko lacking the power to disband such groups, which themselves lack the ability to “openly move on Kiev either.”
“The government, in fact, lost its monopoly on the use of force by police officers,” Rabinovich accused,” stating that “the country has started to operate [on] the principle of the ‘swashbuckling’ 90s,” where whoever had weapons was in the right.
He added that he believes the far Right is enabling a “blossoming of fascist sentiments in the country.”
Rabinovich, who heads the All-Ukrainian Jewish Congress, does not speak for Ukrainian Jewry in this matter, a spokesman for the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community told The Jerusalem Post.
“Since Vadim Rabinovich is presenting the position of his political party…it is not a Jewish voice of Ukraine,” he said.
Relations between Rabinovich and Ihor Kolomoisky, a fellow Jewish oligarch closely tied to the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community, have soured in the last year.
Russia has repeatedly accused Kiev’s post-revolutionary government of fascism and anti-Semitism, and while local Jews have largely dismissed such statements as propaganda, several developments – such as the elevation of an alleged neo-Nazi to a senior police post last November and the granting earlier this year of official government recognition to a Ukrainian militia that collaborated with the Nazis – have caused an outcry by the Jewish community.
While anti-Semitic violence is low by Western European standards, vandalism rose significantly in 2014.
Speaking at a joint press conference earlier this week, the heads of several Jewish organizations called on Kiev to do more to prosecute hate crimes, which they asserted have been downplayed.
Ukraine must crack down on anti-Semitic crimes, while educating the public, said Eduard Dolinsky of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, who added that he does not believe that Ukrainian civil society has adequately responded to the issue.