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For The Record  

FTR #1030 Walkin’ the Snake from Ukraine, to the United States and Around the World

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This broadcast was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

Introduction: We have spoken repeatedly about the Nazi tract “Serpent’s Walk,” in which the Third Reich goes underground, buys into the opinion-forming media and, eventually, takes over.

Hitler, the Third Reich and their actions are glorified and memorialized.

Something similar is happening today in Ukraine.

In 2015, a book was pub­lished, exam­in­ing the life of Stepan (also transliterated as “Stephan”) Ban­dera, the Ukrainian fascist and Third Reich ally whose political heirs ascended to power in Ukraine through the Maidan coup. CORRECTION: Mr. Emory, working from memory, misidentified the publication in which Daniel Lazare’s article  appeared. It was Jacobin Magazine, not Counterpunch. 

Stephan Bandera, head of the OUN/B

We have repeatedly made the point that the dimensions of official lying in the West were of truly Orwellian proportions–documented World War II history was being dismissed as “Russian propaganda” or “Kremlin propaganda.”

” . . . But thanks to Grze­gorz Rossolinski-Liebe’s Stepan Ban­dera: The Life and After­life of a Ukrain­ian Nation­al­ist, it now seems clear: those ter­ri­ble Rus­sians were right. . . Although Ban­dera and his fol­low­ers would later try to paint the alliance with the Third Reich as no more than ‘tac­ti­cal,’ an attempt to pit one total­i­tar­ian state against another, it was in fact deep-rooted and ide­o­log­i­cal. Ban­dera envi­sioned the Ukraine as a clas­sic one-party state with him­self in the role of führer, or provid­nyk, and expected that a new Ukraine would take its place under the Nazi umbrella, much as Jozef Tiso’s new fas­cist regime had in Slo­va­kia or Ante Pavelic’s in Croatia. . . .”

Indeed. This is the point we have been making for many years.

The Ukrainian government continues its reversal of the documented history of World War II: An exhibit celebrating “Ukrainian independence” revels in the OUN/B, Nazi-allied forces that ascended in Ukraine after the Third Reich’s invasion of the Soviet Union.

” . . . . An exhibition inside the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada last week glorified the leading Ukrainian Nazi collaborators of World War II. . . . ‘The organizers of the exhibition: All-Ukrainian charitable Sobornist foundation, International charitable Jaroslav Stezko foundation, MP Jury Shuchevich.’ Jaroslav Stezko was leader of Stepan Bandera’s Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) military brigades from 1968 until his death. A fervent Ukrainian Nazi collaborator, in 1941 during the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union, he was self-proclaimed temporary head of the ostensibly independent Ukrainian government declared by Stepan Bandera. Stetsko was the head of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations from the time of its foundation until 1986, the year of his death. MP Jury Shuchevich is the octogenarian son of Roman Shuchevich, who was the one of the leaders of the infamous the SS Nachtigall battalion. SS Captain Roman Shuchevich was awarded the Nazi Iron Cross for his “exploits” during the Second World War in Ukraine and was an Abwehr agent from 1926. ‘The fact that the son of the political leader of the SS Nachtigall battalion and the bearer of the Nazi Iron Cross is the most respected – according to Ukrainian authorities – member of their parliament is telling all by itself,” wrote co-founder and President of the Rogatchi Foundation Dr. Inna Rogatchi. . . .”

World War II-era monument in memory of UPA freedom fighters with inscription “Glory to Ukraine! Glory to the heroes!”, in place of the Janowa Dolina massacre, Bazaltove, Ukraine

In addition, the official salute of the OUN/B is set to become the official salute of the Ukrainian army. ” . . . . ‘Glory to Ukraine! – Glory to the Heroes!’ is a slogan of the UPA, the Ukraine Rebel Army who fought on the side of the Nazis. The slogans, their origin, and history are well known in Ukraine. . . . Present neo-Nazi Ukrainian military formations established by order of the Ukrainian authorities appropriated the slogan from the end of 2013 onward. Now, the Ukrainian Nazi collaborator’s greeting will become the official salute in that country’s army. . . .”

Not only has the UPA salute become the official salute of the Ukrainian army, but it has become the official salute of the police as well. ”  . . . . Also, the law on the National Police was amended. According to it, when the police officers are in line for the greeting of the leader or senior officer, when they hear the salute ‘Glory to Ukraine!’ they reply ‘Glory to Heroes’. The same actions take place during the parting. . . .”

C14 cadre

As discussed in FTR #’s 1004 and 1014, the fascist Svoboda Party’s militia, C14, and the Nazi Azov Battalion’s National Druzhyna militia have been incorporated into the Ukrainian police establishment. This is not surprising since Vadim Troyan, the former Deputy Commander of the Azov Battalion became: head of the Kyiv police, acting head of the National Police and then Deputy Interior Minister to OUN/B acolyte Arsen Avakov, the main patron of the Azov Battalion.

Combat 14’s Logo.

C14’s police cadre has conducted another ethnic cleansing raid against Roma, while receiving favorable coverage from major Ukrainian media: ” . . . . Members of the neo-Nazi C14 movement, together with the ‘Kyiv Municipal Watch’ civic organization which is led by C14 activist Serhiy Bondar, have carried out another raid, driving Roma citizens out of the area around the Southern Railway Station in Kyiv. The raid does not appear to have been accompanied by shocking images of violence like some five others this year, but that is the only positive difference. What is much more disturbing is that the action appears to have been with the cooperation of the police, and was essentially given glowing coverage on a national television news broadcast. . . . the presenter of the feature virtually parrots parts of the C14 video, with only two Roma people driven out shown in a negative light. There is one telling detail, namely that the television program is carefully not to ethnically label the people driven out, with the feature entitled: ‘Police and civic activists tried to clean the capital’s station of thieves’. It does, however, show the activists wearing camouflage gear and chevrons clearly showing the C14 symbol, and little effort would be required to find out how C14 presents its vigilante activities, and why this organization has gained notoriety over recent months. . . .”  

Roman Shukhevych in his Nachtigall Battalion Uniform

Additional perspective on the physical, political and historical reality underlying the salute “Glory to Ukraine–Glory to the Heroes” is the slogan’s display on a monument to the massacre of the 600 residents of the Polish town of Janowa Dolina by the UPA. ” . . . . On the night of April 22–23 (Good Friday), 1943, the Ukrainians from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, together with local peasants, attacked Janowa Dolina. Some 600 people, including children and the elderly, were brutally murdered (see Massacres of Poles in Volhynia). Most homes were burned to the ground and the settlement deserted. The perpetrators, commanded by Ivan Lytwynchuk (aka Dubowy) exercised rare cruelty. Poles, unprepared and caught by surprise, were hacked to death with axes, burned alive, and impaled (including children). The murderers did not spare anyone, regardless of age and sex. German garrison, numbering around 100 soldiers, did not act and remained in its barracks. After the first wave of murders, the Ukrainian nationalists started searching the hospital. They carried its Ukrainian patients away from the building, while Polish patients were burned alive.[2] Dr Aleksander Bakinowski, together with his assistant Jan Borysowicz, were hacked to death on the square in front of the hospital. In several cases, Ukrainians were murdered for trying to hide their Polish neighbours. Petro Mirchuk, Ukrainian historian, counted several hundred massacred Poles, with only eight UPA members killed. . . .”

 To put the salute of the brutal murderers of the residents of the town on a monument commemorating the massacre is surreal.

It is stunning to take stock of the open celebration of the OUN/B’s Nazi alliance by the institutions of the Maidan government, including celebrations of atrocities like Janowa Dolina:

  • Babi Yar Massacre

    President Petro Poroshenko laid a wreath at the site of the Babi Yar Massacre, honoring the OUN/B. The Schutzmannschaft, who did much of the dirty work at Babi Yar, were culled from the ranks of the UPA, the military wing of the OUN/B.

  • The city of Lviv (Lvov) in Western Ukraine has established Skhukhevychfest, to honor Roman Schukhevych, who led the Nachtigall Battalion in their massacre of the Jewish citizens of that city. The “fest” coincides with the date of the commencement of the execution. To get some idea of what they are celebrating, examine this photographic essay of the pogrom. The OUN/UPA pogromists specialized in what were called “street humiliations”–the stripping, exhibiting and sexual abuse of female victims of the violence. It seems that the #MeToo movement missed this one!
  • Ukraine has established a government ministry to stand World War II history on its head–the Orwellian-titled Institute of National Memory.
  • The lustration laws forbid negative commentary about the UPA or the OUN/B.

Key Ukrainian national security personnel have given hard proof of their Nazi orientation, including:

  • Former Ukrainian intelligence officer Vasily Vovk, who called for the extermination of Ukraine’s Jews on his Facebook page. (Vovk was in charge of the “investigation” of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17.)
  • In FTR #1024, we noted that Anatoliy Matios–Ukraine’s top military prosecutor and pivotally involved in the investigation of the Maidan sniper attacks, has manifested Nazi-style anti-Semitism.

The program concludes with two items that exemplify the focus of FTR #1021 FascisBook: (In Your Facebook, Part 3–part-3/A Virtual Panopticon, Part 3.)

Marjana Batjuk, posted birthday greetings to Adolf Hitler on her Facebook page on April 20 (Hitler’s birthday). She also taught her students the Nazi salute and even took some of her students to meet far right activists who had participated in a march wearing the uniform of the the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS. ” . . . A public school teacher in Ukraine allegedly posted birthday greetings to Adolf Hitler on Facebook and taught her students the Nazi salute. Marjana Batjuk, who teaches at a school in Lviv and also is a councilwoman, posted her greeting on April 20, the Nazi leader’s birthday . . . . She also took some of her students to meet far-right activists who over the weekend marched on the city’s streets while wearing the uniform of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, an elite Nazi unite with many ethnic Ukrainians also known as the 1st Galician. . . .”

That was back in April. Flash forward to today and we find a sudden willingness by Facebook to ban people for post Nazi content . . . except it’s Eduard Dolinsky getting banned for making people aware of the pro-Nazi graffiti that has become rampant in Ukraine: ” . . . . He says that some locals are trying to silence him because he is critical of the way Ukraine has commemorated historical nationalist figures, ‘which is actually denying the Holocaust and trying to whitewash the actions of nationalists during the Second World War.’ . . . . Ironically, the activist opposing antisemitism is being targeted by antisemites who label the antisemitic examples he reveals as hate speech. ‘They are specifically complaining to Facebook for the content, and they are complaining that I am violating the rules of Facebook and spreading hate speech. So Facebook, as I understand [it, doesn’t] look at this; they are banning me and blocking me and deleting these posts.’ . . . .”

Facebook’s policy on such issues should be more carefully scrutinized: ” . . . . Facebook has been under scrutiny recently for who it bans and why. In July founder Mark Zuckerberg made controversial remarks appearing to accept Holocaust denial on the site. ‘I find it offensive, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think they’re doing it intentionally.’ . . . .”

1. The fundamental standing of Eastern European history on its head continues, with a Ukrainian parliament exhibition glorifying the OUN/B and the UPA.

“Exhibition in Ukrainian Parliament Glorifies Nazi Collaborators” by Mordechai Sones; IsraelNationalNews.com; 08/07/2018

An exhibition inside the Ukrainian parliament, the Rada last week glorified the leading Ukrainian Nazi collaborators of World War II.Information on the exhibition is available on the Ukraine Parliament’s official website in Ukrainian and Russian, but on the Rada’s English-language website the information is absent.

The Ukrainian site says, “A special exhibition has been organized in the parliament of Ukraine in Kiev. The dates of the exhibition: July 3- July 6, 2018. The name of the exhibition: Celebrating the Restoration of the Ukrainian Statehood, June 30, 1941-2018.

“The organizers of the exhibition: All-Ukrainian charitable Sobornist foundation, International charitable Jaroslav Stezko foundation, MP Jury Shuchevich.”

Jaroslav Stezko was leader of Stepan Bandera’s Organization of the Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) military brigades from 1968 until his death. A fervent Ukrainian Nazi collaborator, in 1941 during the Nazi German invasion of the Soviet Union, he was self-proclaimed temporary head of the ostensibly independent Ukrainian government declared by Stepan Bandera. Stetsko was the head of the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations from the time of its foundation until 1986, the year of his death.

MP Jury Shuchevich is the octogenarian son of Roman Shuchevich, who was the one of the leaders of the infamous the SS Nachtigall battalion. SS Captain Roman Shuchevich was awarded the Nazi Iron Cross for his “exploits” during the Second World War in Ukraine and was an Abwehr agent from 1926.

“The fact that the son of the political leader of the SS Nachtigall battalion and the bearer of the Nazi Iron Cross is the most respected – according to Ukrainian authorities – member of their parliament is telling all by itself,” wrote co-founder and President of the Rogatchi Foundation Dr. Inna Rogatchi. “He spent many decades in the Soviet Gulag and is clearly motivated against anything Russian – he even added a new Ukrainian name to his existing name of Jury. But it’s ridiculous to see how a personal vendetta has driven the policy of a country with a population of 45 million.

“Recognized in his country as a political heavy-weight, Jury Shuchevich was asked recently by the very pro-governmental Kyiv Post English-language newspaper, ‘is it not too much glorification of the Ukrainian nationalists, with the historically known record of their activities?’ The senior MP of the Ukrainian parliament responded: ‘It’s a very complicated question which has to be examined in full detail. But what about those Jews? Those ones who were in Judenrats, and who were after their own people in ghettos? I saw it with my own eyes. But Jews don’t like to talk about it’.”

The exhibition shows blown-up images from pro-Nazi newspapers dated June 1941 heralding “the Act of establishing the Ukrainian state”, after Nazi Germany occupied Ukraine. There are also enlarged images of documents issued by the Ukrainian Nazi collaborating bodies at the time, and large portraits of the leading Ukrainian Nazi collaborators – Bandera, Shuhevich, Stezko, and Konovaletz who all are presented as heroes. The colors of the exhibition are those of the current Ukrainian flag.

The exhibition’s stand features the following text from the Act of the Establishing of the Ukrainian State dated June 30, 1941:

“3. Newly established Ukrainian State will closely co-operate with National Socialist Great Germany under the leadership of its Leader Adolf Hitler building the New Order in Europe and the world”.

This text has become the classic document on the Nazi character of Ukrainian nationalists and their bodies.

Many other documents at the exhibition openly glorify Nazism.

At the exhibition’s opening, current leaders of Ukraine’s nationalistic organizations spoke, along with openly pro-Nazi MP Jury Shuchevich, son of the SS captain and the commander of the Nachtigall division Roman Shuchevich.

In his opening speech, MP Jury Schuchevich said: “The fact of us having an independence today, in truth, is a huge cornerstone of the edifice called today the Ukrainian State. That huge cornerstone was laid into this edifice by this very struggle (of the Ukrainian nationalists) and by these very people (Ukrainian Nazi-collaborators), and I beseech you all very much to visit this exhibition which the Congress of the Ukrainian nationalists is carrying on in commemoration of this date.” In any other official sources the participation of the pro-Nazi Ukrainian Nationalists Congress is not mentioned.

The official site of the Ukraine Parliament said: “In the beginning of the Second World War, OUN under Stepan Bandera’s leadership started preparing for re-establishing Ukraine’s independence. As the German-Bolshevic War (Nazi term for WWII used today by Ukraine’s Parliament) ignited, mobile OUN groups went to Ukraine to establish there Ukrainian power.

“On June 30th, Nachtigall division under the command of Roman Shuchevich and OUN group under the command of Jaroslav Stazko entered Lvov with their first aim to announce re-establishing Ukrainian statehood. The Act of re-establishing Ukrainian statehood declared the independent policy of Ukraine. By it, it has been stated to the international community that the Ukrainian people is content neither with an imperial occupation, nor with a communist one … it will continue its struggle to the end.”

Upon entering Lvov, the Nachtigall division and OUN forces initiated and conducted the unprecedentedly horrific massacre of Lvov’s Jews known in history as Lvov massacre of June-July, 1941 in which at least seven-thousand Jews were barbarically murdered. The exhibition in Ukraine’s Parliament opened on July 3rd, the peak day of the horrendous Lvov massacre, the one of the most terrible genocides of the twentieth century.

At the same time, a similar exhibition called Fighters for the Ukrainian State opened at the National History of Ukraine Museum in Kiev. That exhibition was ceremonially visited by Vice Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kirilenko, as stated on the Ukraine government’s official website, who said: “It’s only relatively recently when we started to get familiar with history works, art works celebrating UPA (Ukrainian Patriotic Army, Nazi collaborators and war criminals). It was a long way for Ukraine to recognize UPA, which is our common history.”

Dr. Rogatchi responded to the exhibition: “Just imagine that inside the Bundestag today there would be a non-critical exhibition demonstrating in full seriousness and with pride the Third Reich newspapers from 1941 on colorful big stands with captions commenting that those slogans, policies, events, documents, and people who perpetrated them were all ‘assuring and strengthening Germany’s Independence and statehood.

“Imagine the same thing at any parliament of any European country or 90% of the countries world-wide, for that matter. Imagine this being done at the United Nations or UNESCO. They’d be called lunatics, quite correctly.

“But this is exactly what’s going on today inside the Ukraine Parliament, and the world’s leaders are shy to condemn. Or perhaps they’re unaware of it. After all, there were ‘just’ three big stands for ‘just’ four days, and the exhibition wasn’t public, it was inside the Parliament, and one needs journalist accreditation to get inside to be honored to view this sheer Nazi salutation.

“I’d like to hear the comment and reaction of Chancellor Merkel, the big patron of the current Ukraine and its leadership to that open glorification of Hitler and Nazism as displayed in the parliament of Ukraine. And I hope the State of Israel won’t tolerate such open declaration of pro-Nazi sympathies by the parliament of Ukraine.

“By organizing and exhibiting this open glorification of Nazism, and identifying Ukrainian statehood with it as done in this exhibition, the Ukrainian legislating body and government represented by its Vice Prime Minister who visited the exhibition with a supportive speech, declared to the world who they are: Followers of the Nazis. Period. And they should be treated like that, world-wide and officially. They asked for it themselves. Never before have the Ukrainian pro-Nazis gone that far. When given free reign they enjoy it. And Europe and the rest of the world stay silent, again. Not one or another Nazi-glorifying exhibition in the modern-day Ukraine, which is a daily reality there, but Europe’s and the world’s ongoing numbness regarding it is outrageous and intolerable,” Rogatchi said.

2.  “Glory to Ukraine! – Glory to the Heroes!”, the same slogan used by the UPA, is about to become the official slogan of the Ukrainian army.

“Nazi Collaborator Greeting Becomes Official Ukraine Army Salute” by Mordechai Sones; IsraelNationalNews.com; 08/16/2018

August 24th, Ukrainian Independence Day, will see a ceremony introducing the country’s new official army salute, as prescribed by Ukraine’s Presidential decree: Glory to Ukraine! – Glory to the Heroes!“We have consulted with the Minister of Defense, National Security and Defense Council, Government and I have decided that starting from August 24 these words will be heard for the first time as part of the official military parade ceremony on the Independence Day of Ukraine,” Petro Poroshenko was quoted saying on the Ukraine President’s official site.

Glory to Ukraine! – Glory to the Heroes! is a slogan of the UPA, the Ukraine Rebel Army who fought on the side of the Nazis. The slogans, their origin, and history are well known in Ukraine, although the President’s website does not make mention of these. Present neo-Nazi Ukrainian military formations established by order of the Ukrainian authorities appropriated the slogan from the end of 2013 onward. Now, the Ukrainian Nazi collaborator’s greeting will become the official salute in that country’s army. . . .

. . . . The Head of State also noted the new military greetings will be enshrined officially in the documents after the beginning of the Verkhovna Rada‘s regular session and Parliament’s corresponding decision, as it requires changes in particular to statutes of all Armed Forces of Ukraine troops. But after completion of proper procedures, “these words and this greeting will become the official military greetings of the Armed Forces of Ukraine”. . . .

3. It’s official: Ukraine’s parliament just approved the bill making “Glory to Ukraine!” the official military salute. Also, the law on the the National Police was also amended to make “Glory to Ukraine!” the official greeting and parting for Ukraine’s police officers.:

“Ukraine’s Parliament Approves “Glory to Ukraine!” New Army Chant”; 112 International; 10/04/2018

The Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine adopted the draft law #9036 that provides the implementation of the military salute “Glory to Ukraine!” and the reply “Glory to Heroes!” at the second reading and generally. 271 MPs voted in the affirmative as 112 Ukraine broadcasted.The salute “Glory to Ukraine!” and the reply “Glory to Heroes!” is provided in the drill regulations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

Moreover, the ritual of the raising of the state flag of Ukraine was regularized in the statute of the internal service of the Armed Forces. According to the current legislation, during the delivery of the flag, a person welcomes the personnel with its receiving and the soldiers reply with tripled “Glory”. The law provides that during the delivery of the flag, a person welcomes the personnel with the words “Glory to Ukraine!” and they reply “Glory to Heroes!”.

During the elaboration of the law for the second reading, a word “comrade” was replaced by “Mr. or Madam” in the statute of the internal service of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and drills charter of the forces.

Also, the law on the National Police was amended. According to it, when the police officers are in line for the greeting of the leader or senior officer, when they hear the salute “Glory to Ukraine!” they reply “Glory to Heroes”. The same actions take place during the parting. . . .

4. Additional perspective on the physical, political and historical reality underlying the “Glory to Ukraine–Glory to the Heroes” is the slogan’s display on a monument to the massacre of the 600 residents of the Polish town of Janowa Dolina by the UPA.

“Janowa Dolina Massacre;” Wikipedia

The Janowa Dolina massacre took place on 23 April 1943 in the village of Janowa Dolina, (now Bazaltove, Ukraine) during occupation of Poland in World War II. Before the Nazi-Soviet invasion of the Polish Second Republic, Janowa Dolina was a model settlement built in the Kostopol County of the Wołyń Voivodeship by workers of the Polish State Basalt Quarry. The town was inhabited by 2,500 people. Its name, which translates as the “Jan’s Valley” in Polish, came from the Polish king Jan Kazimierz, who reportedly hunted in the Volhynian forests, and after hunting — rested on the shore of the Horyń (Horyn) River. The town was destroyed during World War II by Ukrainian nationalists who murdered most of its Polish population including women and children. . . .

. . . . In June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union. Janowa Dolina was added to the Reichskommissariat Ukraine. As Volhynia was the area of activity for various Ukrainian nationalist groups whose aim was to cleanse the land of Poles and Jews, the settlement’s fate was inevitable. On the night of April 22–23 (Good Friday), 1943, the Ukrainians from the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, together with local peasants, attacked Janowa Dolina. Some 600 people, including children and the elderly, were brutally murdered (see Massacres of Poles in Volhynia). Most homes were burned to the ground and the settlement deserted.

The perpetrators, commanded by Ivan Lytwynchuk (aka Dubowy) exercised rare cruelty. Poles, unprepared and caught by surprise, were hacked to death with axes, burned alive, and impaled (including children). The murderers did not spare anyone, regardless of age and sex. German garrison, numbering around 100 soldiers, did not act and remained in its barracks. After the first wave of murders, the Ukrainian nationalists started searching the hospital. They carried its Ukrainian patients away from the building, while Polish patients were burned alive.[2] Dr Aleksander Bakinowski, together with his assistant Jan Borysowicz, were hacked to death on the square in front of the hospital. In several cases, Ukrainians were murdered for trying to hide their Polish neighbours. Petro Mirchuk, Ukrainian historian, counted several hundred massacred Poles, with only eight UPA members killed. . . .

5. The mainstreaming of vigilante Nazi groups in Ukraine now includes glowing national TV new coverage: A group of C14 members, along with the ‘Kyiv Municipal Watch’ organization which is led by C14 activist Serhiy Bondar, carried out another raid on a group of Roma. This time, Roma were driven out of the area around the Southern Railway Station in Kyiv. Bondar posted a video of raid on his Facebook page on October 24, which he titled “A purge of gypsies at the capital’s railway station”.  That same day, the TSN.ua news broadcast reported on the raid, where the newscaster virtually parrots part of Bondar’s video and never mentions the ethnicity of the targets. The feature is simply titled: ‘Police and civic activists tried to clean the capital’s station of thieves’:

“Neo-Nazi C14 vigilantes appear to work with Kyiv police in latest ‘purge’ of Roma”; Halya Coynash; Kharkiv Human Rights Group; 10/25/2018

Members of the neo-Nazi C14 movement, together with the ‘Kyiv Municipal Watch’ civic organization which is led by C14 activist Serhiy Bondar, have carried out another raid, driving Roma citizens out of the area around the Southern Railway Station in Kyiv. The raid does not appear to have been accompanied by shocking images of violence like some five others this year, but that is the only positive difference. What is much more disturbing is that the action appears to have been with the cooperation of the police, and was essentially given glowing coverage on a national television news broadcast. Bondar posted a video on his Facebook page on 24 October, together with a caption reading (in his words): “A purge of gypsies at the capital’s railway station”. He later began backtracking, claiming that they had not driven anybody away that they had simply posted videos “with gypsies who rob people” – as their “ethnic trade” – and that the police, to their amazement, had done it themselves.

It is worth noting that the above language, and worse, are used extensively by Bondar and other C14 activists. This is just one of the reasons for concern at indications that these far-right vigilantes appear to be working closely with the police. That is certainly the impression given by the TSN.ua news broadcast on 24 October, which Bondar proudly posted on his FB page. It is small wonder that he was pleased since the presenter of the feature virtually parrots parts of the C14 video, with only two Roma people driven out shown in a negative light. There is one telling detail, namely that the television program is carefully not to ethnically label the people driven out, with the feature entitled: ‘Police and civic activists tried to clean the capital’s station of thieves’. It does, however, show the activists wearing camouflage gear and chevrons clearly showing the C14 symbol, and little effort would be required to find out how C14 presents its vigilante activities, and why this organization has gained notoriety over recent months.

There may well be a problem with thieves at Kyiv stations, and there is little sense in closing ones eyes to the fact that some of the Roma who come to Kyiv and live temporarily near the stations are involved in criminal activities. Thieves should undoubtedly be stopped, but that is the task of the police, not of C14 vigilantes with racist views, a a shocking track record and openly declared willingness to cause trouble to people’s ‘enemies’ for money.

There have been a minimum of five attacks on Roma camps since April this year; with the last leaving one young man dead and a woman and child injured. All of the attacks – at Lysa Hora in Kyiv on 21-22 April; Rudne on 9 May; the Ternopil Oblast on 22 May; at Holosiyiv Park in Kyiv on 7 June and near Lviv on 24 June – seem to have been carried out by activists involved in far-right groups. One C14 activist, Serhiy Mazur, was recently placed under house arrest over charges relating to the attack on a Roma settlement on Lysa Hora in Kyiv.

As reported, there was effectively a pogrom on April 21-22, with families driven out and their makeshift homes burned. All of this was described in detail, albeit with euphemisms, by Mazur on his Facebook page.

The Kyiv police continued to downplay this raid by vigilantes with neo-Nazi leanings right up until 25 April when the Internet publication LB.ua posted a video showing whole families running in terror from young men, many in masks, hurling stones and spraying gas canisters in the direction where families with some very small children were trying to take shelter. One Roma man can be seen on the video trying to use a thin branch in defence, but then realizing he is outnumbered and also fleeing. That evening the Kyiv police finally announced that a criminal investigation had been initiated. Human rights activists are reportedly working to ensure that the police keep their promise and change the classification of the crime from ‘hooliganism’ to that of a hate crime under Article 161 of the Criminal Code.

It was noticeable, and worrying, that in his report on 19 April, Mazur asserted that the C14 activists had first appeared, with an ultimatum to get out by the following day, together with representatives of the Holosiyiv administration. . . .

6. Next is an article about a Ukrainian school teacher in Lviv, Marjana Batjuk, who posted birthday greetings to Adolf Hitler on her Facebook page on April 20 (Hitler’s birthday). She also taught her students the Nazi salute and even took some of her students to meet far right activists who had participated in a march wearing the uniform of the the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS.

Batjuk, who is a member of Svoboda, later claimed her Facebook account was hacked, but a news organization found that she has a history of posting Nazi imagery on social media networks.

“Ukrainian Teacher Allegedly Praises Hitler, Performs Nazi Salute with Students” by Cnaan Liphshiz; Jewish Telegraph Agency; 04/23/2018

A public school teacher in Ukraine allegedly posted birthday greetings to Adolf Hitler on Facebook and taught her students the Nazi salute.Marjana Batjuk, who teaches at a school in Lviv and also is a councilwoman, posted her greeting on April 20, the Nazi leader’s birthday, Eduard Dolinsky, director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, told JTA. He called the incident a “scandal.”

She also took some of her students to meet far-right activists who over the weekend marched on the city’s streets while wearing the uniform of the 14th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS, an elite Nazi unite with many ethnic Ukrainians also known as the 1st Galician.

Displaying Nazi imagery is illegal in Ukraine, but Dolinsky said law enforcement authorities allowed the activists to parade on main streets.

Batjuk had the activists explain about their replica weapons, which they paraded ahead of a larger event in honor of the 1st Galician unit planned for next week in Lviv.

The events honoring the 1st Galician SS unit in Lviv are not organized by municipal authorities.

Batjuk, 28, a member of the far-right Svoboda party, called Hitler “a great man” and quoted from his book “Mein Kampf” in her Facebook post, Dolinsky said.She later claimed that her Facebook account was hacked and deleted the post, but the Strana news site found that she had a history of posting Nazi imagery on social networks.

She also posted pictures of children she said were her students performing the Nazi salute with her.

Education Ministry officials have started a disciplinary review of her conduct, the KP news site reported.

Separately, in the town of Poltava, in eastern Ukraine, Dolinsky said a swastika and the words “heil Hitler” were spray-painted Friday on a monument for Holocaust victims of the Holocaust. The vandals, who have not been identified, also wrote “Death to the kikes.”

In Odessa, a large graffiti reading “Jews into the sea” was written on the beachfront wall of a hotel.

“The common factor between all of these incidents is government inaction, which ensures they will continue happening,” Dolinsky said.
———-

7.  That was back in April. Flash forward to today and we find a sudden willingness to ban people for post Nazi content…except it’s Eduard Dolinsky getting banned for making people aware of the pro-Nazi graffiti that has become rampant in Ukraine:

“Jewish activist: Facebook banned me for posting antisemitic graffiti” by Seth J. Frantzman; The Jerusalem Post; 08/21/2018

Eduard Dolinksy, a prominent Ukrainian Jewish activist, was banned from posting on Facebook Monday night for a post about antisemitic graffiti in Odessa. Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, said he was blocked by the social media giant for posting a photo. “I had posted the photo which says in Ukrainian ‘kill the yid’ about a month ago,” he says. “I use my Facebook account for distributing information about antisemitic incidents and hate speech and hate crimes in Ukraine.”

Now Dolinsky’s account has disabled him from posting for thirty days, which means media, law enforcement and the local community who rely on his social media posts will receive no updates.

Dolinsky tweeted Monday that his account had been blocked and sent The Jerusalem Post a screenshot of the image he posted which shows a badly drawn swastika and Ukrainian writing. “You recently posted something that violates Facebook policies, so you’re temporarily blocked from using this feature,” Facebook informs him when he logs in. “The block will be active for 29 days and 17 hours,” it says. “To keep from getting blocked again, please make sure you’ve read and understand Facebook’s Community Standards.”

Dolinksy says that he has been targeted in the past by nationalists and anti-semites who oppose his work. Facebook has banned him temporarily in the past also, but never for thirty days. “The last time I was blocked, the media also reported this and I felt some relief. 

It was as if they stopped banning me. But now I don’t know – and this has again happened. They are banning the one who is trying to fight antisemitism. They are banning me for the very thing I do.”

Based on Dolinsky’s work the police have opened criminal files against perpetrators of antisemitic crimes, in Odessa and other places.

He says that some locals are trying to silence him because he is critical of the way Ukraine has commemorated historical nationalist figures, “which is actually denying the Holocaust and trying to whitewash the actions of nationalists during the Second World War.”

Dolinksy has been widely quoted, and his work, including posts on Facebook, has been referenced by media in the past. “These incidents are happening and these crimes and the police should react.

The society also. But their goal is to cut me off.”

Ironically, the activist opposing antisemitism is being targeted by antisemites who label the antisemitic examples he reveals as hate speech. “They are specifically complaining to Facebook for the content, and they are complaining that I am violating the rules of Facebook and spreading hate speech. So Facebook, as I understand [it, doesn’t] look at this; they are banning me and blocking me and deleting these posts.”

He says he tried to appeal the ban but has not been successful.

“I use my Facebook exclusively for this, so this is my working tool as director of Ukrainian Jewish Committee.”

Facebook has been under scrutiny recently for who it bans and why. In July founder Mark Zuckerberg made controversial remarks appearing to accept Holocaust denial on the site. “I find it offensive, but at the end of the day, I don’t believe our platform should take that down because I think there are things that different people get wrong. I don’t think they’re doing it intentionally.” In late July, Facebook banned US conspiracy theorist Alex Jones for bullying and hate speech.

In a similar incident to Dolinsky, Iranian secular activist Armin Navabi was banned from Facebook for thirty days for posting the death threats that he receives. “This is ridiculous. My account is blocked for 30 days because I post the death threats I’m getting? I’m not the one making the threat!” he tweeted.

 

 

Discussion

7 comments for “FTR #1030 Walkin’ the Snake from Ukraine, to the United States and Around the World”

  1. When will you put the download version up?

    Posted by Sue | November 6, 2018, 9:48 pm
  2. @Sue–

    It will be up in about a week.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | November 6, 2018, 9:50 pm
  3. Here’s a story that should hammers home to Americans one of the dangers of the systematic coddling of the Ukrainian government’s embrace of neo-Nazi and fascists: The FBI arrested four members of a California-based neo-Nazi group, Rise Above Movement (RAM). They’re charged with a series of violent attacks in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and San Bernardino, California, in 2017. The Huntington Beach rally happened to be a pro-Trump rally. The neo-Nazis were, of course, there in support of Trump.

    Four other members of RAM were arrested earlier in October in connection with charges over the deadly 2017 Charlottesville, VA, “Unite the Right” march.
    Here’s where Ukrainian neo-Nazi, government supported Ukrainian neo-Nazis, come into the story: according to the FBI, three of recently arrested RAM member had traveled to Germany, Italy, and Ukraine in the spring of this year to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday. And according to the FBI, this trip wasn’t just about celebrating Hitler. It was also about network with European neo-Nazis. And one of those European neo-Nazis just happened to be Olena Semenyaka, described as a leading figure within the fascist, neo-Nazi scene in Eastern Europe and an important voice within the Militant Zone and National Corps organizations and the Pan-European Reconquista movement, all of which have ties to the Azov Battalion. Recall that Noationa Corp (or National Corpus) is the political wing of the Azov Battalion.

    Semenyaka has also acted as a spokesperson for Right Sector. In 2014, Semenyaka was openly inviting non-Ukrainian neo-Nazis to join Right Sector, declaring that “even modern Nazi sympathizers will find their place in our broad ranks” and that Right Sector’s most important current task is to “liberate” Ukraine “from collaborators, separatists and marionettes of Russia and the West.” So just as RAM may have been recruiting during its trip to Europe, you have to wonder if Semenyaka was trying to recruit them too. It’s all one big horrible Nazi family.

    And it doesn’t sound like was an unusual meeting with American neo-Nazis and the Azov Battalion: According to the FBI, Azov has participated in training and radicalizing U.S.-based white supremacist organizations. You have to wonder how intense to the radicalization must be to radicalize a organization that’s already white supremacist, but that’s what the FBI describes.

    So if it wasn’t already totally obvious to Americans that official embrace of neo-Nazis in Ukraine is a really, really stupidly dangerous thing for the American government to support, hopefully the fact that those Ukrainian neo-Nazis are training and further radicalizing US neo-Nazis will help make that clear:

    Southern Poverty Law Center
    Hatewatch

    Three members of Rise Above Movement arrested in California, fourth sought as fugitive turns himself in

    Brett Barrouquere
    October 29, 2018

    The founder of the violent white supremacist gang known as the Rise Above Movement and two others traveled to Europe to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and later met with a paramilitary chief there, federal prosecutors say.

    Robert Rundo, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach, California, resident, 29-year-old Michael Paul Miselis, of Lawndale, California, and 25-year-old Benjamin Drake Daley of Redondo Beach went to Germany, Italy and Ukraine in spring 2018 not only to celebrate, but also to meet with European white supremacist groups, prosecutors said in a criminal complaint against Rundo unsealed this week.

    FBI agents arrested Rundo on Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport, said Katherine Gulotta, a spokesman for the agency in Los Angeles. He had been arrested in Central America before being returned to the U.S.

    Two others, 25-year-old Robert Boman of Torrance, California, and 22-year-old Tyler Laube of Redondo Beach, California, were arrested Wednesday.

    A fourth RAM member, 38-year-old Aaron Eason of Anza, California, surrendered to the FBI over the weekend.

    The four are charged with a series of violent attacks during events in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and San Bernardino, California, in 2017.

    Prosecutors said the four men used the internet to coordinate “combat training,” recruit members and organize riots.

    “Every American has the right to peacefully organize, march and protest in support of their beliefs — but no one has the right to violently assault their political opponents,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

    The arrests and charges are the second batch filed this month against members of RAM, a violent white supremacist group that practices mixed martial arts and has been accused of showing up for rallies prepared to attack people.

    Prosecutors in Charlottesville, Virginia, charged four other California men with traveling to that city on Aug. 11-12, 2017, to take part in and attack people at the “Unite the Right” rally.

    Michael Paul Miselis, a 29-year-old Lawndale, California, resident, 34-year-old Thomas Walter Gillen of Redondo Beach, California, 24-year-old Cole Evan White of Clayton, California, and Daley are awaiting a court hearing in Virginia. They are also charged with rioting and conspiracy to riot.

    Rundo is the owner of Right Brand Clothing, which promotes white supremacist themes and logos. The FBI believes he ran RAM’s now-suspended Twitter account.

    RAM has been making entreaties overseas, including in Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe. The FBI said Rundo, Miselis and Daley met with European white supremacy extremist groups, “including a group known as White Rex.”

    FBI Special Agent Scott Bierwirth, in the criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, noted that Right Brand Clothing’s Instagram page contained a photo of RAM members meeting with Olena Semenyaka, a leading figure within the fascist, neo-Nazi scene in Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, Semenyaka is an important voice within the Militant Zone and National Corps organizations and the Pan-European Reconquista movement, all of which have ties to the notorious Azov Battalion.

    Bierwirth said Azov Battalion, now a piece of the Ukrainian National Guard, is known for neo-Nazi symbolism and ideology and has participated in training and radicalizing U.S.-based white supremacist organizations.

    Rundo was filmed reciting the “14 Words” pledge popular in white supremacist circles.

    “I’m a big supporter of the fourteen, I’ll say that,” Rundo told fellow RAM members on the video.

    The rioting and conspiracy charges stem from a “Make America Great Again” rally on March 25, 2017, in Huntington Beach. The FBI said RAM members split from the main rally and attacked counter-protesters, and Rundo, Boman and Laube hit a number of people, including two journalists.

    Daley, who is not charged in California, was also at the Huntington Beach rally, Bierwirth noted.

    The violence was later celebrated by RAM members online, noted on neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, and used in solicitation for others to attend the Berkeley rally and combat training to be held in a park in San Clemente.

    “Front page of the stormer we did it fam,” Daley texted another RAM member on March 25, 2017.

    At the Berkeley rally, on April 17, 2017, Rundo, Boman and Eason attacked multiple people, Bierwirth wrote. Rundo was later arrested after punching a “defenseless person” and a Berkeley police officer.

    Again, Bierwirth noted, the attacks were celebrated online, with Boman posting photos of himself attacking people and RAM members taking part in combat training.

    Bierwirth also wrote that Rundo and other RAM members participated in an “Anti-Islamic Law” rally in San Bernardino on June 10, 2017. The rally was part of a nationwide demonstration put on by anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America. According to Bierwirth, RAM members took part in violent attacks at the ACT event.

    ———-

    “Three members of Rise Above Movement arrested in California, fourth sought as fugitive turns himself in” by Brett Barrouquere; Southern Poverty Law Center; 10/29/2018

    “Robert Rundo, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach, California, resident, 29-year-old Michael Paul Miselis, of Lawndale, California, and 25-year-old Benjamin Drake Daley of Redondo Beach went to Germany, Italy and Ukraine in spring 2018 not only to celebrate, but also to meet with European white supremacist groups, prosecutors said in a criminal complaint against Rundo unsealed this week.”

    It’s quite a vacation for a neo-Nazi: celebrating Hitler’s birthday with European neo-Nazis. But RAM’s neo-Nazi networking was limited to these personal meetings. Federal prosecutors are also charging the four arrested men with using the internet to coordinate “combat training,” recruit members and organize riots. Neo-Nazi networking has a lot of options these days:


    The four are charged with a series of violent attacks during events in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and San Bernardino, California, in 2017.

    Prosecutors said the four men used the internet to coordinate “combat training,” recruit members and organize riots.

    “Every American has the right to peacefully organize, march and protest in support of their beliefs — but no one has the right to violently assault their political opponents,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

    Rundo was filmed reciting the “14 Words” pledge popular in white supremacist circles.

    “I’m a big supporter of the fourteen, I’ll say that,” Rundo told fellow RAM members on the video.

    The charges over the Huntington Beach violence stem from a pro-Trump rally, where these RAM members split off from the main pro-Trump group and attacked a number of counter-protesters, including two journalists:


    The rioting and conspiracy charges stem from a “Make America Great Again” rally on March 25, 2017, in Huntington Beach. The FBI said RAM members split from the main rally and attacked counter-protesters, and Rundo, Boman and Laube hit a number of people, including two journalists.

    And this is the second group of individuals arrested from RAM in October. Another four members were arrested in connection with the Charlottesville violence last year on charges of rioting and conspiracy to riot. So RAM has clearly been doing quite a bit a networking of late, foreign and domestic:


    The arrests and charges are the second batch filed this month against members of RAM, a violent white supremacist group that practices mixed martial arts and has been accused of showing up for rallies prepared to attack people.

    Prosecutors in Charlottesville, Virginia, charged four other California men with traveling to that city on Aug. 11-12, 2017, to take part in and attack people at the “Unite the Right” rally.

    Michael Paul Miselis, a 29-year-old Lawndale, California, resident, 34-year-old Thomas Walter Gillen of Redondo Beach, California, 24-year-old Cole Evan White of Clayton, California, and Daley are awaiting a court hearing in Virginia. They are also charged with rioting and conspiracy to riot.

    But it’s the particular neo-Nazis that RAM met in Europe that make this such a scandalous story: they met with a leading figure in the European neo-Nazi scene who just happens to be an important voice for Azov’s National Corps. And according to the FBI, Azov is known for training and radicalizing (further radicalizing) US-based Nazi organizations:


    Rundo is the owner of Right Brand Clothing, which promotes white supremacist themes and logos. The FBI believes he ran RAM’s now-suspended Twitter account.

    RAM has been making entreaties overseas, including in Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe. The FBI said Rundo, Miselis and Daley met with European white supremacy extremist groups, “including a group known as White Rex.”

    FBI Special Agent Scott Bierwirth, in the criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, noted that Right Brand Clothing’s Instagram page contained a photo of RAM members meeting with Olena Semenyaka, a leading figure within the fascist, neo-Nazi scene in Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, Semenyaka is an important voice within the Militant Zone and National Corps organizations and the Pan-European Reconquista movement, all of which have ties to the notorious Azov Battalion.

    Bierwirth said Azov Battalion, now a piece of the Ukrainian National Guard, is known for neo-Nazi symbolism and ideology and has participated in training and radicalizing U.S.-based white supremacist organizations.

    “Bierwirth said Azov Battalion, now a piece of the Ukrainian National Guard, is known for neo-Nazi symbolism and ideology and has participated in training and radicalizing U.S.-based white supremacist organizations.”

    And that’s what’s so disturbing about this report. It’s not just that a leading figure in Azov met with these RAM members during their ‘Hitler holiday’ in Europe. It’s that this apparently isn’t the only US-based neo-Nazi group that Azov has been meeting with and training.

    It’s especially disturbing when you consider the role the US has played in training Azov. Don’t forget that it was only March of this year when Congress formally banned US funds being used to train and equip Azov, suggesting that there was 3 years when the US was actually training and equipping Azov since that practice reportedly started in 2015. So it’s entirely possible that the training RAM or other US neo-Nazi outfits have received from Azov over the past several years has indirectly came from the US military.

    Of course, given the fact that Azov is now absorbed into the Ukrainian military, it’s not like the group suffers from a lack of sources for military training. Which, again, is why the acceptance in the West of Ukraine’s embrace of these neo-Nazi is so dangerously disturbing: these neo-Nazis aren’t just receiving military training. They’re sharing that training. Including with US neo-Nazis.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 8, 2018, 1:07 pm
  4. Here’s another story that involves a disturbing relationship between Ukraine’s state-sanctioned neo-Nazis in the police: Kateryna Handzyuk, a Ukrainian civic activist known for her criticism of the police corruption, just died several months after being attacked with sulfuric acid outside of her home in July 31st of this year. As the following article notes, it’s just one of numerous attacks on Ukraine’s civic activists this year, albeit a particularly gruesome one.

    The attacker ran away and police initially called the case an act of hooliganism. Additionally, Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general and a presidential appointee, said activists were themselves partly to blame for all of these attacks because they “stir up” an “atmosphere of total hatred toward the authorities.” Keep in mind that Handzyuk accused a department head in the Kherson Regional Police of demanding a 3 percent cut from all contracts and tenders in the region in September of 2017. It resulted in a court case that she won.

    On August 3, authorities arrested an initial suspect. But this individual was widely seen as a scapegoat and eventually released on August 22 after he was able to establish an alibi which was back up by a Ukrainian newspaper. By then, there were 5 new suspects who happen to be members of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, a splinter faction of Right Sector. Four of these new suspects claim that the fifth suspect, Serhiy Torbin, was the main suspect. Torbin was a former officer of Kherson police.

    So it appears that a group of Right Sector neo-Nazis attacked one of Ukraine’s civic activists who was known for criticizing Kherson Region police corruption, and the leader of this group was, himself, a former Kherson police officer. After the attack, authorities first tried to blame it on hooliganism while blaming the activist community in Ukraine for bringing this violence on themselves. And it was only after an initial scapegoat had their alibi verified by a local news outlet that authorities arrested the real culprits:

    Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

    Ukrainian Activist Doused With Acid Dies

    By Christopher Miller
    Last Updated: November 04, 2018 18:23 GMT

    KYIV — Kateryna Handzyuk, a Ukrainian civic activist and adviser to the mayor of the Black Sea port city of Kherson, has died from wounds she suffered from an acid attack three months ago.

    The 33-year-old Handzyuk died on November 4 in a Kyiv hospital where she was being treated for burns from the attack, colleagues and officials said.

    Local media suggested that Handzyuk’s death was caused by a blood clot.

    Several hundred supporters gathered around Ukraine’s Interior Ministry building in Kyiv late on November 4, demanding that those responsible for her death be brought to justice.

    The activist, who was known for her scathing criticism of police corruption, was doused with sulfuric acid outside of her Kherson home on July 31 by an unknown attacker.

    Her death comes amid a wave of attacks against Ukraine’s civic activists, with rights campaigners claiming law-enforcement agencies have failed to thoroughly investigate the cases and may even be complicit in some of the attacks.

    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaking during his trip in Turkey, expressed his condolences to Handzyuk’s family and called on law-enforcement agencies to do everything in their power to bring her killer to justice.

    Five suspects have been detained for their alleged involvement in the attack, but there was no information about its mastermind.

    “Attacks against civil society activists are unacceptable. The perpetrators of this vicious crime must be brought to justice,” EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn tweeted.

    Handzyuk suffered severe burns to nearly 40 percent of her body and lost sight in one of her eyes after the acid attack, according to doctors who treated her at a burn center in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

    Doctors performed 11 surgical operations to try to save her life. From her hospital bed, Handzyuk vowed to track down her attackers.

    Police initially listed the case as hooliganism but changed it to attempted murder committed with extreme cruelty after public outcry.

    Ukrainian lawmaker Olena Sotnyk on November 4 renewed her previous call for a special investigative committee to be formed in parliament to probe her case.

    Local and international civil society groups have recorded at least 55 unsolved attacks against activists, including on Handzyuk, since 2017.

    In recent months, protesters demanding a proper police response have gathered outside government buildings across the country in a campaign dubbed “silence kills.”

    Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general and a presidential appointee, caused uproar after one of the protests in September, when he said activists were themselves partly to blame because they “stir up” an “atmosphere of total hatred toward the authorities.”

    Handzyuk was stinging in her criticism of police corruption.

    In September 2017, she accused Artem Antoshchuk,, a department head in the Kherson Regional Police, of demanding a 3 percent cut from all contracts and tenders in the region.

    The accusation led to a fierce court battle, which she won.

    Police have arrested five former fighters of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, a splinter faction of the ultranationalist Right Sector militia, suspected of involvement in the attack.

    Four of the men have claimed the fifth, Serhiy Torbin, a former officer of Kherson police, was the main suspect.

    Torbin is in the custody of the Security Service of Ukraine at a pretrial detention center in Kyiv, his defense lawyer Yuriy Khazov told the Kyiv Post newspaper.

    Stills from a CCTV camera published by local media appear to show the alleged attacker running away from the scene of the crime.

    Six weeks before her death, Handzyuk recorded a video message for Hromadske TV from her hospital bed. Wrapped in bandages, she said she was certain the attack was meant to kill her.

    “Why do I consider it to be assassination attempt? Because the acid was poured on my head,” she said. “If someone wanted to warn or silence me, they could have targeted my arms, legs, or face — anywhere. But they poured a liter of acid on my head.”

    ———-

    “Ukrainian Activist Doused With Acid Dies” by Christopher Miller; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; 11/04/2018

    “Her death comes amid a wave of attacks against Ukraine’s civic activists, with rights campaigners claiming law-enforcement agencies have failed to thoroughly investigate the cases and may even be complicit in some of the attacks.”

    That’s part of what’s so disturbing about this attack: it’s not just an attack on Ukraine’s beseiged civic activist community. Ukraine’s authorities appear to, at a minimum, welcome the attack and might even have been complicit. At a minimum, the initial declaration of “hooliganism” appears to be a kind of trollish endorsement:


    Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, speaking during his trip in Turkey, expressed his condolences to Handzyuk’s family and called on law-enforcement agencies to do everything in their power to bring her killer to justice.

    Five suspects have been detained for their alleged involvement in the attack, but there was no information about its mastermind.

    “Attacks against civil society activists are unacceptable. The perpetrators of this vicious crime must be brought to justice,” EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn tweeted.

    Handzyuk suffered severe burns to nearly 40 percent of her body and lost sight in one of her eyes after the acid attack, according to doctors who treated her at a burn center in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.

    Doctors performed 11 surgical operations to try to save her life. From her hospital bed, Handzyuk vowed to track down her attackers.

    Police initially listed the case as hooliganism but changed it to attempted murder committed with extreme cruelty after public outcry.

    Ukrainian lawmaker Olena Sotnyk on November 4 renewed her previous call for a special investigative committee to be formed in parliament to probe her case.

    Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general, even blamed the activists themselves for these attacks for ‘stirring up’ hatred towards authorities, presumably in reference to Handzyuk exposure of corruption in the Kherson Regional Police last year:


    In recent months, protesters demanding a proper police response have gathered outside government buildings across the country in a campaign dubbed “silence kills.”

    Yuriy Lutsenko, Ukraine’s prosecutor general and a presidential appointee, caused uproar after one of the protests in September, when he said activists were themselves partly to blame because they “stir up” an “atmosphere of total hatred toward the authorities.”

    Handzyuk was stinging in her criticism of police corruption.

    In September 2017, she accused Artem Antoshchuk,, a department head in the Kherson Regional Police, of demanding a 3 percent cut from all contracts and tenders in the region.

    The accusation led to a fierce court battle, which she won.

    But Lutsenko was also presumably excusing all the other unsolved attacks Ukrainian activists since 2017. At least 55 of them:


    Local and international civil society groups have recorded at least 55 unsolved attacks against activists, including on Handzyuk, since 2017.

    And it was only after the initial scapegoat was release that authorities arrested 5 members of a Right Sector offshoot group, one of which was a former Kherson police officer:


    Police have arrested five former fighters of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, a splinter faction of the ultranationalist Right Sector militia, suspected of involvement in the attack.

    Four of the men have claimed the fifth, Serhiy Torbin, a former officer of Kherson police, was the main suspect.

    Now here’s an article that discusses the initial scapegoat who was arrested. He had a pretty strong alibi: he wasn’t in Kherson at the time of the attack, which was later confirmed through an investigation by the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper:

    Kyiv Post

    Death of activist Gandziuk shocks nation, protesters demand proper investigation (UPDATED; VIDEO)

    By Veronika Melkozerova, Olga Rudenko.
    Published Nov. 4. Updated Nov. 4 at 12:47 pm

    Kateryna Gandziuk, a civic activist and local council member from Kherson, a city some 550 kilometers south of Kyiv, died on Nov. 4 in a Kyiv hospital. Gandziuk, 33, was attacked with acid on July 31, resulting in severe burns of her head and body.

    The attack is believed to be linked to her activism, including her efforts to expose corruption in Kherson. It was just one in the series of attacks on activists in Ukraine in 2018. Gandziuk became the symbol of a protest movement against the lack of investigation into the attacks on activists.

    Two friends of Gandziuk, Kherson journalist Ivan Antypenko and Kyiv lawyer Masi Nayyem, confirmed to the Kyiv Post Gandziuk died but didn’t reveal any detail. The cause of death is yet to be announced.

    An unknown man attacked Gandziuk near her home in Kherson when she was leaving for work. He poured an estimated one liter of acid into the woman, causing severe burns of 40 percent of her body surface. She was getting treatment first in Kherson and later in Kyiv.

    Gandziuk refused to cooperate with Kherson police, suspecting they could be connected to the attack, but testified to the Kyiv investigators. Authorities originally classified the attack as hooliganism, but after the public uproar changed it to “intentional injury with the purpose of intimidation” and later to “assassination attempt.” After Gandziuk died in hospital, the police reclassified the case into contract killing.

    Gandziuk was sure that the attack on her was an attempted killing.

    “If they just wanted to warn me, they would splash some acid on my hands or legs or even into my face. But to splash a litter of battery acid on my head…It was an attempt to kill me,” she told Hromadske news website on Sept. 25.

    Several suspected perpetrators of the attack are in custody, but the investigation revealed nothing about those who ordered the attack.

    Reacting to the news of Gandziuk’s death, President Petro Poroshenko released a statement on Nov. 4 calling on the law enforcement to find and prosecute the killers. The statement mentioned “the killers” but didn’t specifically demand to find those who ordered the murder.

    “We all must help the law enforcers so that the evil is punished,” the statement read.

    About 1,000 people came to the Interior Ministry Headquarters in Kyiv later on Nov. 4 to hold a vigil and demand a proper investigation of Gandziuk’s murder.

    Despite her severe condition, Gandziuk recorded a video address on Sept. 26. In the video, she lies on the hospital bed, her face covered with burns, and talks about impunity and lack of justice in Ukraine.

    “I know I look bad,” she says, looking into the camera. “But still not as bad as current Ukrainian justice and rule of law. I’m getting treatment. But nobody is curing our justice system.”

    Following it, several hundred people protested near the president’s administration in Kyiv on Sept. 28 demanding that the authorities investigate the attacks on Gandziuk and other activists.

    Police arrested a suspect in the attack, Mykola Novikov, on Aug. 3. But he was widely believed to be a scapegoat. His sister said he had an alibi since he was not in Kherson at the time of the attack, which was later confirmed through an investigation by the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper. On Aug. 22, police released Novikov.

    By then investigators had identified new suspects – a group of five people, all former fighters of the Ukrainian Volunteer Army, an offshoot of the nationalist Right Sector group.

    As of November, Serhiy Torbin, a former officer of Kherson police, remains the main suspect in Gandziuk’s case. Torbin was arrested on Aug. 17 and for a long time, he kept silence. He denied accusations during a court hearing on Oct. 17.

    Another suspect, Volodymyr Vasyanovych, claimed in court that Torbin was the organizer of the attack on Gandziuk. Vasyanovych said that he was only a driver – his role was to take four other suspects to Kherson from a village in Kherson Oblast the day before the attack. He was put under house arrest.

    Viktor Gorbunov, another suspect who had allegedly bought the acid for the attack, was also released under the house arrest on Oct. 16 and has also named Torbin as the organizer.

    On Oct. 28, Torbin was taken from Kherson to Kyiv and stays in the Security Service of Ukraine’s pre-trial detention center, his defense lawyer Yuriy Khazov told the Kyiv Post on Nov. 4.

    ———-

    “Death of activist Gandziuk shocks nation, protesters demand proper investigation (UPDATED; VIDEO)” by Veronika Melkozerova, Olga Rudenko; Kyiv Post; 11/04/2018

    “Police arrested a suspect in the attack, Mykola Novikov, on Aug. 3. But he was widely believed to be a scapegoat. His sister said he had an alibi since he was not in Kherson at the time of the attack, which was later confirmed through an investigation by the Ukrainska Pravda online newspaper. On Aug. 22, police released Novikov.”

    So the initial suspect, Mykola Novikov, had an alibi, but it was up to a Ukrainian newspaper to actually verify that alibi.

    And now that the five Right Sector culprits have been arrested, several of them have basically admitted to the attack, while pinning the ultimate blame on a member of their group who happens to be a former Kherson officer:


    As of November, Serhiy Torbin, a former officer of Kherson police, remains the main suspect in Gandziuk’s case. Torbin was arrested on Aug. 17 and for a long time, he kept silence. He denied accusations during a court hearing on Oct. 17.

    Another suspect, Volodymyr Vasyanovych, claimed in court that Torbin was the organizer of the attack on Gandziuk. Vasyanovych said that he was only a driver – his role was to take four other suspects to Kherson from a village in Kherson Oblast the day before the attack. He was put under house arrest.

    Viktor Gorbunov, another suspect who had allegedly bought the acid for the attack, was also released under the house arrest on Oct. 16 and has also named Torbin as the organizer.

    As we can see, if those journalists hadn’t verified Mykola Novikov’s alibi, the actual perpetrators probably would have gone free.

    So why did it take journalists to verify Novikov alibi? Well, according to the following article from August 14th (two weeks after the attack), the Kherson police simply didn’t interview people who claimed to be witnesses backing up that alibi. And also stalled on handing over documents to the SBU after the SBU got involved in the investigation:

    The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group

    Investigation sabotaged into savage acid attack on civic activist who exposed police corruption

    14.08.2018 | Halya Coynash

    New and very disturbing details have emerged regarding the police investigation into the savage acid attack on Kateryna Handziuk, an adviser to the Mayor of Kherson and a civic activist known for her hard-hitting criticism of the police. Not only are the Kherson police obstructing the investigation by the SBU [Security Service], but they are also showing suspiciously little interest in interviewing people who can provide their suspected assailant with a firm alibi for 31 July, when the attack took place.

    As reported, 38-year-old Mykola Novikov was arrested on 3 August and was remanded in custody for two months. His sister’s testimony that the two had been on holiday at the sea from 27 July through to 1 August was not taken into consideration by the court on the grounds of the close tie between them. It was, however, clearly stated at the time that there were other witnesses who could confirm this alibi.

    Since the Kherson police did not see the need to question these other witnesses, two well-known journalists Maryana Pyetsukh and Denis Kazansky decided to do so themselves.

    Anna Antonishyn and her husband, Serhiy, are from Lviv, but say that they were on a camping holiday in the Kherson oblast at the sea with Novikov’s sister, Iryna, her husband and two children, as well as with Novikov himself. The two couples know each other through a fatal car crash which killed Antonishyn’s cousin and Iryna’s daughter. Since they say that they knew Novikov, there seems no obvious reason for them to try to protect him.

    The village Prymorske, where they set up their camp, is about 95 kilometres from Kherson where the attack took place. The roads are bad, so it would take at least one and a half hours to reach the scene of the crime from his tent.

    Novikov is emphatic that he spent his time in the tent, in the sea or in a café. While Antonishyn cannot confirm what he was doing to the hour, she is adamant that he was there with them, and that she would have noticed any absence longer than half an hour or so. The police did question the campsite administrator and the local café’s barman, both of whom could confirm that Novikov had been there for several days, but could not say with any certainty whether he had been there on 31 July.

    The two people who are not related to Novikov, and who can say with certainty that he was with them, have simply not been approached by the police. They are themselves baffled as to why not.

    The suspicion is that Novikov who, according to Kazansky, has a criminal record, is seen as a convenient scapegoat. He also lives close by, although that is, if anything, a reason to not suspect him. The attack was carried out in broad daylight, with the assailant seemingly making no real attempt to conceal his identity.

    Nor is this all. Lawyer Yevhenia Zakrevska reports that the Kherson police are also dragging their heels and not passing on their material to the SBU. The latter initiated a criminal investigation on 6 August, and have still not received the police file. Since it is now two weeks since the attack, any such delay could seriously hamper their progress.

    Is this what is intended? For the moment, Zakrevska notes, there are really only ‘reports’ from the police via Facebook which can clearly not be used by the criminal investigators.

    Handziuk herself believes that people from the Kherson police may be behind the attack on her, and, according to Kazansky, a friend of hers, it is this that she told the Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko when he visited her on 3 August. As reported, he wrote that it was after hearing her explanation for the attack that he decided to pass the investigation on to the SBU. The latter added the case to the Single Register of Pre-trial Investigations with it described as being “over the organization of s murder attempt, carried out with particular brutality, against Kateryna Handziuk, assistant to the Mayor of Kherson, and undertaken on the commissioning by police or state agency staff, with the support of separatist organizations in the South of Ukraine, in order to destabilize the socio-political situation in this southern region of the country

    Put most bluntly, arresting the wrong person and holding up the SBU’s investigation can only result in those who organized and carried out a vicious and potentially fatal attack going unpunished.

    The attack on 31 July left Handziuk with second and third degree burns over 30% of her upper body. This was the latest and most dangerous of many attacks on civic activists over recent months, and Handziuk’s very public criticism of certain people in or linked with the police made it even more high-profile.

    The police initially qualified the attack as ‘hooliganism’, however that same day, this was changed to ‘causing grave bodily injuries in order to intimidate a person’ (Article 121 § 2 of Ukraine’s Criminal Code). It soon became clear that Handziuk’s assailant had used a concentrated form of sulphuric acid, which the police reported as being double the density of the acid used in car accumulators. After the forensic medical assessment was made, the investigation became one of attempted murder.

    On 7 August, the Head of the National Police, Serhiy Knyazev reported that they were looking for a second person believed to be involved in the attack, publishing CCTV footage of the person they want to question. The following day, Knyazev’s deputy, Vyacheslav Abroskin announced that they had established the place where the acid was bought. He also produced video footage of the person who allegedly purchased it. He has reacted defensively to the reports linking the attack with the police. He writes that none of the people investigating the crime was ever in conflict with Handziuk and also claims, without providing any names, that “the person who was really in conflict with her did not and does not now work in any departments of the National Police in the Kherson oblast.

    ———-

    “Investigation sabotaged into savage acid attack on civic activist who exposed police corruption” by Halya Coynash; The Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group; 08/14/2018

    “New and very disturbing details have emerged regarding the police investigation into the savage acid attack on Kateryna Handziuk, an adviser to the Mayor of Kherson and a civic activist known for her hard-hitting criticism of the police. Not only are the Kherson police obstructing the investigation by the SBU [Security Service], but they are also showing suspiciously little interest in interviewing people who can provide their suspected assailant with a firm alibi for 31 July, when the attack took place.”

    This was situation before the Right Sector suspects were found: the Kherson police weren’t actually looking into their initial suspects alibi, nor were they cooperating with the SBU. It certainly looks like the Kherson police didn’t actually want to find the real suspects:


    As reported, 38-year-old Mykola Novikov was arrested on 3 August and was remanded in custody for two months. His sister’s testimony that the two had been on holiday at the sea from 27 July through to 1 August was not taken into consideration by the court on the grounds of the close tie between them. It was, however, clearly stated at the time that there were other witnesses who could confirm this alibi.

    Since the Kherson police did not see the need to question these other witnesses, two well-known journalists Maryana Pyetsukh and Denis Kazansky decided to do so themselves.

    At the same time, the police did in fact question the campsite administrator and a barman at Novikov had indeed been camping with his sister and another couple during the time they claimed he was with them. But these witnesses couldn’t confirm that Novikov was actually there on July 31st, the day of the attack. But the couple that Novikov and his sister were camping with could indeed confirm that he was with them that day, and yet the police haven’t approached them:


    Anna Antonishyn and her husband, Serhiy, are from Lviv, but say that they were on a camping holiday in the Kherson oblast at the sea with Novikov’s sister, Iryna, her husband and two children, as well as with Novikov himself. The two couples know each other through a fatal car crash which killed Antonishyn’s cousin and Iryna’s daughter. Since they say that they knew Novikov, there seems no obvious reason for them to try to protect him.

    The village Prymorske, where they set up their camp, is about 95 kilometres from Kherson where the attack took place. The roads are bad, so it would take at least one and a half hours to reach the scene of the crime from his tent.

    Novikov is emphatic that he spent his time in the tent, in the sea or in a café. While Antonishyn cannot confirm what he was doing to the hour, she is adamant that he was there with them, and that she would have noticed any absence longer than half an hour or so. The police did question the campsite administrator and the local café’s barman, both of whom could confirm that Novikov had been there for several days, but could not say with any certainty whether he had been there on 31 July.

    The two people who are not related to Novikov, and who can say with certainty that he was with them, have simply not been approached by the police. They are themselves baffled as to why not.

    The suspicion is that Novikov who, according to Kazansky, has a criminal record, is seen as a convenient scapegoat. He also lives close by, although that is, if anything, a reason to not suspect him. The attack was carried out in broad daylight, with the assailant seemingly making no real attempt to conceal his identity.

    In addition, after the SBU started its own investigation on August 6th, the Kherson police still hadn’t given them the police file as of the date of this report (August 14th). It’s an odd delay for such a high profile crime:


    Nor is this all. Lawyer Yevhenia Zakrevska reports that the Kherson police are also dragging their heels and not passing on their material to the SBU. The latter initiated a criminal investigation on 6 August, and have still not received the police file. Since it is now two weeks since the attack, any such delay could seriously hamper their progress.

    Is this what is intended? For the moment, Zakrevska notes, there are really only ‘reports’ from the police via Facebook which can clearly not be used by the criminal investigators.

    And when Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko open the SBU’s investigation after meeting with Handziuk, he appeared to describe the attack as having taken been commissioned by “by police or state agency staff, with the support of separatist organizations in the South of Ukraine, in order to destabilize the socio-political situation in this southern region of the country.” So Lutsenko appeared to be blaming in on the police and Ukrainian separatists:


    Handziuk herself believes that people from the Kherson police may be behind the attack on her, and, according to Kazansky, a friend of hers, it is this that she told the Prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko when he visited her on 3 August. As reported, he wrote that it was after hearing her explanation for the attack that he decided to pass the investigation on to the SBU. The latter added the case to the Single Register of Pre-trial Investigations with it described as being “over the organization of s murder attempt, carried out with particular brutality, against Kateryna Handziuk, assistant to the Mayor of Kherson, and undertaken on the commissioning by police or state agency staff, with the support of separatist organizations in the South of Ukraine, in order to destabilize the socio-political situation in this southern region of the country

    Keep in mind that Lutsenko was blaming “separatist organizations in the South of Ukraine” before the Right Sector suspects emerged. Keep in mind that the Kherson region is adjacent to Crimea, so that proximity presumably had something to do with the initial suspicions that it was an act of “separatist organizations in the South of Ukraine”. But given that the neo-Nazis groups like Right Sector have been openly terrorizing Ukraine’s civic activist community for years, largely with impunity, it’s an example of how the obvious suspects in these attacks on Ukraine’s civic activist community are almost reflexively protected and coddled by Ukraine’s authorities. So while the Kherson police appeared to be trying to protect that actual perpetrators of this crime, we have to keep in mind that the SBU was also probably not very interested in discovering that this was done by Right Sector.

    It’s also worth noting that protestors have been demanding that both Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Lutsenko resign in the wake of Handziuk’s death. Recall that Avakov is a patron of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and is generally seen as close to the far right. So it’s looking like the murder of Handziuk and subsequent cover up attempt is leading to a public boiling point over the Ukrainian government’s close ties and protection of groups like Right Sector that are terrorizing Ukraine’s civil society. Lutsenko offered his resignation to the parliament on November 6th after members of parliament criticized his office’s investigation of the attack on Handziuk. The parliament didn’t accept his resignation, but did vote to set up a commission to investigate Lutsenko’s investigation of Handziuk’s attack. That’s how wildly corrupt this investigation looks: even Ukraine’s parliament agreed to investigate the investigation.:

    Kyiv Post

    Lutsenko submits resignation letter to Poroshenko

    By Artur Korniienko.
    Published Nov. 7 at 5:54 pm

    Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko formally submitted a resignation letter to the Presidential Administration on Nov. 7, according to his press secretary Larysa Sarhan.

    “Yes, not long ago today (he) filed a statement to the president,” Sarhan told Ukrayinska Pravda.

    President Petro Poroshenko has not yet commented on whether he will accept Lutsenko’s resignation. He is in Helsinki, Finland, at the summit of the European People’s Party, the European Union’s largest political party, on a working visit until Nov. 8.

    Lutsenko announced his resignation at parliamentary hearings on Nov. 6 after members of parliament criticized his office’s investigation of the attack on activist Kateryna Gandziuk, who died two days earlier.

    “In order that there are no doubts that nobody clings for power, today I will submit a statement of resignation to the president of Ukraine and you should consider this question,” Lutsenko told the parliament.

    Parliament Speaker Andriy Parubiy called a vote on whether the Rada should consider the general prosecutor’s resignation – even though Lutsenko had not then submitted an official letter of resignation, as parliamentary protocol demands.

    Only 38 lawmakers voted to consider Lutsenko’s resignation, with 226 votes needed for a vote in parliament to pass – a predictable outcome in the parliament controlled by the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, with 135 out of 422 seats, to whom Lutsenko is a firm loyalist.

    Lutsenko staged his resignation as a protest to the deputies’ demand to create a parliamentary commission on investigating Gandziuk’s murder. However, following the failed vote on Lutsenko’s resignation, the Rada proceeded to create the commission.

    Gandziuk, a civic activist and local council member from Kherson, a regional capital of 290,000 people located 550 kilometers south of Kyiv, was attacked with acid on July 31. She was hospitalized with severe burns to her head and body and died on Nov 4. Investigators have so far failed to identify who may have ordered the attack.

    So far, 84 non-governmental organizations, including Transparency International Ukraine and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, have signed a statement deploring the quality of the investigation into Gandzuik’s murder and demanding Lutsenko’s resignation.

    In the statement, the general prosecutor was also criticized for the state’s failure to solve cases of other recent attacks on journalists and activists. The most notable cases that have gone unsolved during Lutsenko’s tenure are those of the mass killings of more than 100 people during the EuroMaidan Revolution that ended President Viktor Yanukovych’s rule in 2014; the July 2016 car-bomb assassination of Pavlo Sheremet, a renowned journalist; and many others.

    Some cases currently in court have dragged on for years, with suspects being released or convicted and sentenced to minimal jail terms.

    The case of journalist Vyacheslav Veremiy, who was beaten and fatally shot on Feb. 19, 2014, after he tried to take a picture of armed men, is still being heard in court. Yuriy Krysin, one of the attackers, initially received a four-year suspended sentence. After a huge public outcry, the ruling was eventually overturned, with Krysin receiving a five-year sentence. Krysin has appealed against the latest sentence.

    ———-

    “Lutsenko submits resignation letter to Poroshenko” by Artur Korniienko; Kyiv Post; 11/07/2018

    “Lutsenko announced his resignation at parliamentary hearings on Nov. 6 after members of parliament criticized his office’s investigation of the attack on activist Kateryna Gandziuk, who died two days earlier.”

    Yep, Lutsenko announced his resignation following the criticism of the Handziuk attack investigation, although it looks like the resignation offer was purely a show intended to placate those demanding a parliamentary commission to investigate the murder:


    “In order that there are no doubts that nobody clings for power, today I will submit a statement of resignation to the president of Ukraine and you should consider this question,” Lutsenko told the parliament.

    Parliament Speaker Andriy Parubiy called a vote on whether the Rada should consider the general prosecutor’s resignation – even though Lutsenko had not then submitted an official letter of resignation, as parliamentary protocol demands.

    Only 38 lawmakers voted to consider Lutsenko’s resignation, with 226 votes needed for a vote in parliament to pass – a predictable outcome in the parliament controlled by the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, with 135 out of 422 seats, to whom Lutsenko is a firm loyalist.

    Lutsenko staged his resignation as a protest to the deputies’ demand to create a parliamentary commission on investigating Gandziuk’s murder. However, following the failed vote on Lutsenko’s resignation, the Rada proceeded to create the commission.

    Also keep in mind that Parliament Speaker Andriy Parubiy is, himself, a neo-Nazi who actually founded Ukraine’s National Socialist Party in 1991.

    So we have the parliament stage a kind of sham vote rejecting Lutsenko’s resignation, but then the parliament also votes to create a commission investigating the attack. It’ll be interesting to see the quality of this commission. But given the attention this murder is getting, the pressure is going to be on for the parliament to produce some sort of results that don’t look like a sham, with 84 NGO signing on statement demanding Lutsenko’s resignation over the handing of this investigation and a host of other investigations that have yet to be solved, including the Maidan sniper attacks:


    So far, 84 non-governmental organizations, including Transparency International Ukraine and the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union, have signed a statement deploring the quality of the investigation into Gandzuik’s murder and demanding Lutsenko’s resignation.

    In the statement, the general prosecutor was also criticized for the state’s failure to solve cases of other recent attacks on journalists and activists. The most notable cases that have gone unsolved during Lutsenko’s tenure are those of the mass killings of more than 100 people during the EuroMaidan Revolution that ended President Viktor Yanukovych’s rule in 2014; the July 2016 car-bomb assassination of Pavlo Sheremet, a renowned journalist; and many others.

    Don’t forget that evidence strongly suggests that the sniper attacks were carried about by the far right elements of the Maidan protests. And Lutsenko himself warned the Ukrainian public in 2016 that they will be shocked when they learn about the people involved with those attacks having ties to the Maidan protests. Also note that the murder of Pavlo Sheremet appears to have been an assassination by the SBU. So it’s going to be interesting to see what, if anything, this new parliamentary commission uncovers.

    So as we can see, the murder of Kateryna Handziuk is a particularly grim example of the extent which Ukraine’s government has embraced and protected the far right groups terrorizing the country, but still only one of many examples. Which is a particularly grim situation for Ukraine.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 9, 2018, 4:37 pm
  5. The Associated Press has a report on one of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi military training youth camps. In this case it’s a Svoboda youth camp, with kids as young as 8 years old. The children at the camp are taught never to aim guns at people, but are also taught that “separatists, little green men, occupiers from Moscow” aren’t people so it’s fine to aim at them.

    But the dehumanizing propaganda isn’t limited to Russian and separatists. They are also teaching the children to battle “challenges that could completely destroy” European civilization. Challenges like LGBT rights, which they are told are perversions of “the modern Bolsheviks who have come to power in Europe”. The article doesn’t give other examples of these “challenges” to European civilization but given the neo-Nazi ideology at work here it’s a safe bet that human rights in general are seen as a ‘challenge’. So as we can see, these Ukrainian children are being taught that Russians and non-far right Europeans are enemies of European civilization that these children must go to war against:

    Associated Press

    Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp

    By YURAS KARMANAU
    November 12, 2018

    KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The campers, some clad in combat fatigues, carefully aim their assault rifles. Their instructor offers advice: Don’t think of your target as a human being.

    So when these boys and girls shoot, they will shoot to kill.

    Most are in their teens, but some are as young as 8 years old. They are at a summer camp created by one of Ukraine’s radical nationalist groups, hidden in a forest in the west of the country, that was visited by The Associated Press. The camp has two purposes: to train children to defend their country from Russians and their sympathizers — and to spread nationalist ideology.

    “We never aim guns at people,” instructor Yuri “Chornota” Cherkashin tells them. “But we don’t count separatists, little green men, occupiers from Moscow, as people. So we can and should aim at them.”

    The nationalists have been accused of violence and racism, but they have played a central, volunteer role in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia — and they have maintained links with the government. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Youth and Sports earmarked 4 million hryvnias (about $150,000) to fund some of the youth camps among the dozens built by the nationalists. The purpose, according to the ministry, is “national patriotic education.”

    Ministry spokeswoman Natalia Vernigora said the money is distributed by a panel which looks for “signs of xenophobia and discrimination, it doesn’t analyze activities of specific groups.”

    Cherkashin is a veteran of the fight against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine; he was wounded in combat and later came to lead Sokil, or Falcon, the youth wing of the Svoboda party. It is important, he says, to inculcate the nation’s youth with nationalist thought, so they can battle Vladimir Putin’s Russia as well as “challenges that could completely destroy” European civilization.

    Among those challenges: LGBT rights, which lecturers denounce as a sign of Western decadence.

    “You need to be aware of all that,” said instructor Ruslan Andreiko. “All those gender things, all those perversions of modern Bolsheviks who have come to power in Europe and now try to make all those LGBT things like gay pride parades part of the education system.”

    While some youths dozed off during lectures, others paid attention. Clearly, some were receptive.

    During a break in training, a teenager played a nationalist march on his guitar. It was decorated with a sticker showing white bombs hitting a mosque, under the motto, “White Europe is Our Goal.”

    Aside from the lectures — and songs around the campfire — life for the several dozen youths at the Svoboda camp was hard.

    Campers were awakened in the middle of the night with a blast from a stun grenade. Stumbling out of their tents, soldiers in training struggled to hold AK-47s that were, in some cases, almost as tall as they were. They were required to carry the heavy rifles all day, and one of the girls broke down in tears from exhaustion.

    ———-

    “Training kids to kill at Ukrainian nationalist camp” by YURAS KARMANAU; Associated Press; 11/12/2018

    “The campers, some clad in combat fatigues, carefully aim their assault rifles. Their instructor offers advice: Don’t think of your target as a human being.

    Don’t think of your target as a human being. That’s the kind of training these kids are getting. And dehumanizing their targets isn’t just a mental trick they’re told to employ in order to get over any qualms they might have about shooting someone. They’re literally getting indoctrinated into far right ideologies that tell the kids Russians and separatists aren’t actually human:


    Most are in their teens, but some are as young as 8 years old. They are at a summer camp created by one of Ukraine’s radical nationalist groups, hidden in a forest in the west of the country, that was visited by The Associated Press. The camp has two purposes: to train children to defend their country from Russians and their sympathizers — and to spread nationalist ideology.

    “We never aim guns at people,” instructor Yuri “Chornota” Cherkashin tells them. “But we don’t count separatists, little green men, occupiers from Moscow, as people. So we can and should aim at them.”

    But it’s not just the Russians these kids are taught to dehumanize and view as existential threats to Ukraine. European human rights, like LGBT rights, are seen as “perversions of modern Bolsheviks who have come to power in Europe” that could completely destroy European civilization:


    Cherkashin is a veteran of the fight against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine; he was wounded in combat and later came to lead Sokil, or Falcon, the youth wing of the Svoboda party. It is important, he says, to inculcate the nation’s youth with nationalist thought, so they can battle Vladimir Putin’s Russia as well as “challenges that could completely destroy” European civilization.

    Among those challenges: LGBT rights, which lecturers denounce as a sign of Western decadence.

    “You need to be aware of all that,” said instructor Ruslan Andreiko. “All those gender things, all those perversions of modern Bolsheviks who have come to power in Europe and now try to make all those LGBT things like gay pride parades part of the education system.”

    And not how the teenagers playing a guitar with a “White Europe is Our Goal” had a sticker of a bomb hitting a mosque. Given the lack of any large scale Muslim migration into Ukraine, it highlights how white supremacist narratives being fed to these kids are part of a pan-European narrative. They aren’t just fighting for a “White Ukraine”, but a “White Europe”. You have to wonder if this is a reflection of the influence of the non-Ukrainian neo-Nazis who have come to Ukraine in recent years to fight in these neo-Nazi ‘volunteer battalions’. It also highlights how the rest of Europe shouldn’t expect the consequences of the promotion of neo-Nazi ideologies in Ukraine to stay in Ukraine:


    During a break in training, a teenager played a nationalist march on his guitar. It was decorated with a sticker showing white bombs hitting a mosque, under the motto, “White Europe is Our Goal.”

    Finally, the article mentions how Ukraine’s Ministry of Youth and Sports earmarked about $150,000 to fund neo-Nazi youth camps that aren’t focused on military training but instead purely promoting a ‘nationalist’ neo-Nazi ideology:


    The nationalists have been accused of violence and racism, but they have played a central, volunteer role in Ukraine’s conflict with Russia — and they have maintained links with the government. Earlier this year, the Ministry of Youth and Sports earmarked 4 million hryvnias (about $150,000) to fund some of the youth camps among the dozens built by the nationalists. The purpose, according to the ministry, is “national patriotic education.”

    Ministry spokeswoman Natalia Vernigora said the money is distributed by a panel which looks for “signs of xenophobia and discrimination, it doesn’t analyze activities of specific groups.”

    What the article left out is that one of the groups to get those youth camp funds was C14, the group literally named after the ’14 words’ white supremacist slogan minted by American neo-Nazi David Lane. Which, again, highlights how the strains of neo-Nazi ideology getting aggressively pushed onto Ukraine’s youth aren’t far right ideologies focused only on Ukrainian ‘nationalism’. Instead, what we’re seeing is Ukraine being turned into a hub for the international white supremacy movement. It’s one of the grand ironies of the use of the term ‘nationalism’ these days: it’s almost always used as a euphemism for transnational movement with global ambitions. A transnational movement that Europe is going to have to be dealing with for decades to come. These neo-Nazi kids are going to grow up and become adult neo-Nazis, after all. Adult neo-Nazis with a “White Europe” goal and military training.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 14, 2018, 4:09 pm
  6. The question of ‘who started it’ is once again central to the situation in Ukraine now that Russian seized three Ukrainian ships and Ukraine responded by declaring martial law. And while this is widely being reported in the West as some sort of planned provocation by the Kremlin, possibly in anticipation of a new military conflict, the following analysis in bne Intellinews raises a number of important questions of which side ‘started it’.

    As the article points out, from a political analysis standpoint the obvious beneficiary of this incident is Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s wildly unpopular president who is facing reelection in March and badly trailing his rival, Yulia Tymoshenko. As the article also points out, boosting Poroshenko’s chances makes little sense from the Kremlin’s perspective because they would likely prefer Yulia Tymoshenko to win instead simply because she would be more likely to cut a deal with Kremlin.

    The article also makes this important observation about how Western governments likely view the choice between Tymoshenko and Poroshenko: Tymoshenko has made opposition to the IMF’s austerity demands one of her key popular rallying cries. In other words, if Tymoshenko wins, the ongoing Western-backed austerity policies could be at risk which, in turn, could put Ukraine’s access to IMF credit at risk. And if Tyoshenko gets Ukraine kicked off of the IMF’s line of credit the only other realistic alternative creditor is Ukraine’s traditional creditor: Russia. So it’s not just the Poroshenko-allied bloc of politicians who have a strong incentive to see Poroshenko win in the upcoming elections. Ukraine’s Western allies who have long been pushing the country to impose harsh austerity on the public (under the auspices of ‘anti-corruption’ campaigns) also have a big incentive to see Poroshenko defeat Tymoshenko. And that all would make a Kremlin plot to increase the military tensions with Ukraine months before those elections a rather odd and highly unstrategic move.

    The article also notes some discrepancies with the actual audio and video evidence of the incident presented by the Ukrainians: The 2003 agreement Russia and Ukraine signed over the Kersh passage to the Sea of Azov requires that ships coordinate their passage with Russian authorities and take on a pilot to help them navigate the straits due to the fact that the Kerch straits are full of shallows and rocks and difficult to navigate. The right of passage is not automatic or guaranteed and Ukrainian ships are obliged to comply with the protocols. When Ukraine moved military frigates through the Kersh straits back in September there was no problem.

    This time, however, Russia is claiming that the three ships didn’t hail Kersh port for permission and didn’t respond to hails from the Russian coastguard when they approached Russian territorial waters. The Russians further claim that the ramming of the tug boat took place in Russia’s undisputed territorial waters on the eastern side of the straits. The article notes that there are multiple conflicting reports on where the ramming took place, but that navigation records should be able to clear this up because ship locations are carefully tracked due to the dangerous nature of the straits.

    The Ukrainians have subsequently released audio of the Russian ships talking to each other by radio. The audio depicts panicked Russian captains trying to decide what to do. Additionally, the Russian captains describe Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as being panicked too. “[Russian Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev is panicking,” claims one of the Russians on the audio, adding, “We should assault them. We have to destroy them,” and “It seems that the president is in control of all of that sh it.” The reference to “the president” is presumably Putin. So it sounds like both Medvedev and Putin were directly involved in deciding the response and it was a somewhat panicked response. The Russian captains then discuss the arrival of 10 men with “incredible physical skills” within the hour, which is in reference to the Russian Special Operations troops who actually boarded and seized the Ukrainian ships. As the article points out, if this was indeed a Russian provocation it would be surprising if the Kremlin was actually panicking about it.

    The Ukrainians, on the other hand, claim that the Ukrainian ships did actually hail the Kersh authorities and did ask for permission to pass through the strait. So we don’t have a situation where Russia is asserting new powers and authority over the strait that wasn’t previously agreed to. Instead, it’s a situation where Russia is claiming that the Ukrainian ships broke the existing rules and Ukraine is claiming the rules were adhered to. One of the sides is simply lying about what happened. Interestingly, as the article notes, the Ukrainian side released audio of the Russian captains speaking over the radio, but no audio of the Ukrainian captains asking for permission. So while there’s no conclusive evidence of what exactly transpired, there should be conclusive evidence in the form of radio audio but the Ukrainian side hasn’t presented that evidence for some reason:

    bne Intellinews

    KYIV BLOG: Did Ukraine provoke the clash in the Sea of Azov?

    By Ben Aris in Berlin November 27, 2018

    I’m going to get into trouble asking this question. The problem is that the whole situation in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine has become so emotional and polarised that even suggesting Russia is not entirely to blame for the flaring military tensions in the Sea of Azov over the weekend brings down condemnation from Ukraine’s supporters – which include most of the western world.

    But there is a question that has to be asked: if Russia is to blame then why would Russian President Vladimir Putin give such an obvious political gift to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko when he is so obviously in such deep political trouble?

    With presidential elections now only four months away, Poroshenko is trailing badly in the polls at least 10 percentage points behind his nemesis opposition leader, former prime minister and head of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party Yulia Tymoshenko, and unlikely to make it to the second round after the poll on March 31, 2019, let alone win. Ukraine watchers admit that he has failed to deal with corruption, failed to solve any of the journalist murder cases, failed to jail anyone responsible for the deaths during the Euromaidan protests and in general failed to deliver on the promise of the Revolution of Dignity. Ukraine is now the poorest country in Europe and recent polls say 85% of the population believe the country is going in the wrong direction.

    A sharp military showdown with Russia, a strongman image of decisive action in the face of an external enemy, the imposition of martial law (and the potential ability to cancel the elections at will) and the opportunity to wear his military uniform in public often is exactly what Poroshenko needs to rescue his campaign. Indeed, these were exactly the tactics Putin used to bolster his flagging support in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimea, and later led to a sweeping victory with a record margin in the Russian presidential elections in March. If Ukraine didn’t provoke this clash then Poroshenko has just had an extraordinary piece of political luck – and for this reason alone the question must be asked.

    Before I go on let me make it clear that Russia is clearly the aggressor in Ukraine, that its proxy forces are fighting an illegal war in Donbas, that the annexation of Crimea in 2014 was just that and the Kremlin is working to undermine the legitimate government in Kyiv. None of this is in dispute.

    On top of that the authority the Russian coastguard had to stop, ram and board Ukraine’s three ships that tried to traverse the Kerch Straits on November 25 is at best questionable. The decision to park a container ship under the new Kerch bridge amounts to a blockage of Ukraine’s strategically important ports in the Sea of Azov and that is an act of war.

    But none of this means Poroshenko is above manipulating the conflict for his personal political benefit. He remains after all a highly successful Ukrainian oligarch that became rich in one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and was a member of the kleptocratic former president Viktor Yanukovych’s administration.

    Safe passage

    The Sea of Azov is not international waters (it’s too small to have a patch of shared water in the middle beyond the territorial waters that stretch 20km from a country’s beaches) and there is an international border between Russia and Ukraine that runs down the middle.

    As the two countries have to co-exist in the sea, Ukraine has guaranteed right of passage through the sea to its ports in its territorial water in the northwest corner of the sea under an agreement signed with Russia in 2003.

    The 2003 agreement is the key here. The Kerch straits are actually difficult to navigate, full of shallows and rocks. The protocols of the agreement require ships to check in with the Russian port authorities at Kerch and take on a pilot to help them navigate the straits. As a result there are regularly traffic jams of ships queuing up in the waters on either side of the straits waiting to be allowed to pass.

    This is the second time Ukraine has sent military ships through the straits this year, according to reports. Some frigates passed the straits in September with no problems.

    What went wrong this time, the Russian side claim, is that unlike in September the three ships at the weekend – two patrol boats and a tug – didn’t hail Kerch port for permission and didn’t respond to hails from the Russian coastguard when they approached Russian territorial water (on the Russian mainland side of the straits, rather than the disputed territorial waters on the Crimean side of the straits). The Ukrainian ships continued to sail on a course that would have taken them through the straits without permission from the Kerch coast guard.

    The Russians claim that the Ukrainian ships entered Russia’s undisputed territorial waters on the eastern side of the straits and that is where the ramming incident took place. This point is now confused as there are multiple conflicting reports, some claiming the incident happened in international waters and others that it happened in Russia’s waters, but the navigation records can clear this up; because the passage is dangerous, ship locations are carefully tracked.

    While the right of passage for Ukrainian shipping is guaranteed it is not automatic. Under the 2003 agreement the Russians supervise the passages and Ukraine is obliged to comply with the protocols, according to bne IntelliNews sources. This is to avoid ships without pilots running aground or collisions between shipping passing in and out of the Sea of Azov. No ships are allowed to simply steam through the straits on their own.

    The result was the Russian ships intercepted the three Ukrainian ships and video clearly shows one of the Russian ships ramming the Ukrainian ship. The Ukrainian navy subsequently released audio of the captains of the Russian ships talking to each other by radio.

    “[Russian Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev is panicking,” one operator said on the audio, adding, “We should assault them. We have to destroy them,” and “It seems that the president is in control of all of that shit.”

    The operators also discuss the arrival of 10 men with “incredible physical skills” within the hour, which corresponds to the arrival of Russian Special Operations, or Spetsnaz, troops who boarded and seized the Ukrainian ships.

    However, none of this is inconsistent with stopping the Ukrainian ships if they were deemed by the Russian authorities to be trying to pass through the straits without sticking to the safe passage protocols – what the Russians have referred to as “dangerous manoeuvres.” If it was designed as a Ukrainian provocation it would be expected for the Kremlin to panic and for both the president and prime minister to become involved. Indeed, if it was a planned act of aggression by the Russian side there would be no panic in the Kremlin.

    The Ukrainian side claim the opposite and flatly contradict the Russian version of the story. In the statement accompanying the audio file the Ukrainians claimed that the Ukrainian vessels did hail the Kerch authorities and did ask permission to pass through the straits.

    “At 03.58 in order to comply with international shipping security standards Ukrainian Navy small armoured artillery boat “Berdyansk” contacted the coast post of Russian FSB AF, maritime traffic control KERCH and KAVKAZ and informed them about an intention to pass the Kerch Strait. Information was received, but no response was provided. Nevertheless, on 04.07 negotiations of the port Kerch “BEREG-23” operator with the Russian Black Sea Fleet corvette “Suzdalets” regarding the detection of ships of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were recorded,” the statement said.

    Someone is lying.

    While the video footage clearly show the Russian frigate ramming the Ukrainian tug, this throws no light on the crucial issue of if the Ukrainian ships followed the protocols to pass though the straits. Ukraine has produced audio of the Russian operators talking but pointedly has not provided audio of their own ships asking for permission to pass through the straits. What evidence there is from the audio tape is inconclusive.

    More damming is the Russian decision to close access to the straits by parking a tanker under the bridge and effectively closing the straits to traffic. According to the Ukrainian navy statement this ship had turned off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder that identifies it to other shipping, which is a breach of maritime law and opens Russia up to accusations of blockading the straits. (The tanker was removed by the end of the day, else this would be a clear act of war.)

    Martial law

    The main problem is that Putin, who is widely credited with being a “master tactician” (even if he is also thought to be a poor strategist) seems to have lost the plot with the Sea of Azov and handed Poroshenko a political gift that amounts to his best chance for getting re-elected.

    The animosity between Putin and Poroshenko is palpable when they meet in person. And the Kremlin’s best interests are clearly served by seeing Poroshenko lose the election to Tymoshenko, who is at the end of the day, a deal maker.

    As the former a prime minister, Tymoshenko had a fraught relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She was caught red handed cooking Ukraine’s national accounts to pretend the budget deficit was IMF compliant when in fact she was spending freely to bolster her popular support, as bne IntelliNews reported at the time. She famously granted the return of Soviet-era deposits with Oschadbank, the former Soviet-era savings bank, that were lost during the hyperinflation of the start of the 90s while prime minister, which cost the state billions of dollars, amongst other moves.

    Moreover, she is currently campaigning on what is in effect an anti-IMF platform, calling the IMF’s demand to hike domestic gas tariffs — a demand the Poroshenko government has conceded to — “economic genocide” on October 23 and promising to prosecute Poroshenko’s administration if she wins the election.

    If Tymoshenko wins then it is quite possible the new $3.9bn Stand By Agreement (SBA) agreed with the IMF in October will stall again. In that case Tymoshenko will need money – lots of it. Ukraine has $6bn of public debt to refinance in 2019 and even more in 2020 when the debt restructuring deal cut by former finance minister Natalie Jaresko expires. Without a functioning IMF deal the public markets will be closed to Ukraine or exorbitantly expensive. Ukraine paid through the nose for a $725mn short-term Eurobond Ukraine placed over the summer as a bridge loan while the current IMF deal was up in the air. That bond was immediately refinanced after a $2bn bond was issued in September days after the new IMF deal was announced.

    All this combines to suggest that Tymoshenko might be willing to cut some sort of deal with the Kremlin in exchange for some sort of cash – improved export access to Russia for example. Certainly the Kremlin would prefer to see anyone in charge of Ukraine other than Poroshenko, so why would Russia gift him a tailor-made military crisis?

    ———-

    “KYIV BLOG: Did Ukraine provoke the clash in the Sea of Azov?” by Ben Aris in Berlin; bne Intellinews; 11/27/2018

    “But there is a question that has to be asked: if Russia is to blame then why would Russian President Vladimir Putin give such an obvious political gift to Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko when he is so obviously in such deep political trouble?”

    Who benefits? It’s the big question looming over all of this. And it’s hard to ignore the political reality that Petro Poroshenko has benefited immensely at just the right time for his political future. And that obvious benefit to Ukraine’s president, and the fact that the Kremlin would likely prefer Poroshenko’s opponent win in the upcoming elections, makes this a highly suspicious incident:


    With presidential elections now only four months away, Poroshenko is trailing badly in the polls at least 10 percentage points behind his nemesis opposition leader, former prime minister and head of Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party Yulia Tymoshenko, and unlikely to make it to the second round after the poll on March 31, 2019, let alone win. Ukraine watchers admit that he has failed to deal with corruption, failed to solve any of the journalist murder cases, failed to jail anyone responsible for the deaths during the Euromaidan protests and in general failed to deliver on the promise of the Revolution of Dignity. Ukraine is now the poorest country in Europe and recent polls say 85% of the population believe the country is going in the wrong direction.

    A sharp military showdown with Russia, a strongman image of decisive action in the face of an external enemy, the imposition of martial law (and the potential ability to cancel the elections at will) and the opportunity to wear his military uniform in public often is exactly what Poroshenko needs to rescue his campaign. Indeed, these were exactly the tactics Putin used to bolster his flagging support in 2014 when Russia annexed the Crimea, and later led to a sweeping victory with a record margin in the Russian presidential elections in March. If Ukraine didn’t provoke this clash then Poroshenko has just had an extraordinary piece of political luck – and for this reason alone the question must be asked.

    Adding to the suspicions is the fact that Russia and Ukraine are making very different claims about what exactly transpired. Russia claims that Ukrainian vessels never hailed the Kerch port for permission and didn’t respond to hails from the Russian coastguard. The Ukrainians are saying the opposite happened. They hailed the Kerch port as required and asked for permission. So someone is lying:


    Safe passage

    The Sea of Azov is not international waters (it’s too small to have a patch of shared water in the middle beyond the territorial waters that stretch 20km from a country’s beaches) and there is an international border between Russia and Ukraine that runs down the middle.

    As the two countries have to co-exist in the sea, Ukraine has guaranteed right of passage through the sea to its ports in its territorial water in the northwest corner of the sea under an agreement signed with Russia in 2003.

    The 2003 agreement is the key here. The Kerch straits are actually difficult to navigate, full of shallows and rocks. The protocols of the agreement require ships to check in with the Russian port authorities at Kerch and take on a pilot to help them navigate the straits. As a result there are regularly traffic jams of ships queuing up in the waters on either side of the straits waiting to be allowed to pass.

    This is the second time Ukraine has sent military ships through the straits this year, according to reports. Some frigates passed the straits in September with no problems.

    What went wrong this time, the Russian side claim, is that unlike in September the three ships at the weekend – two patrol boats and a tug – didn’t hail Kerch port for permission and didn’t respond to hails from the Russian coastguard when they approached Russian territorial water (on the Russian mainland side of the straits, rather than the disputed territorial waters on the Crimean side of the straits). The Ukrainian ships continued to sail on a course that would have taken them through the straits without permission from the Kerch coast guard.

    The Russians claim that the Ukrainian ships entered Russia’s undisputed territorial waters on the eastern side of the straits and that is where the ramming incident took place. This point is now confused as there are multiple conflicting reports, some claiming the incident happened in international waters and others that it happened in Russia’s waters, but the navigation records can clear this up; because the passage is dangerous, ship locations are carefully tracked.

    The Ukrainian side claim the opposite and flatly contradict the Russian version of the story. In the statement accompanying the audio file the Ukrainians claimed that the Ukrainian vessels did hail the Kerch authorities and did ask permission to pass through the straits.

    “At 03.58 in order to comply with international shipping security standards Ukrainian Navy small armoured artillery boat “Berdyansk” contacted the coast post of Russian FSB AF, maritime traffic control KERCH and KAVKAZ and informed them about an intention to pass the Kerch Strait. Information was received, but no response was provided. Nevertheless, on 04.07 negotiations of the port Kerch “BEREG-23” operator with the Russian Black Sea Fleet corvette “Suzdalets” regarding the detection of ships of the Naval Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were recorded,” the statement said.

    Someone is lying.

    So who is lying? Well, based on the audio evidence the Ukrainians provided of the Russian captains it would appear that the Russian side was genuinely panicked, with the panic reaching up to Prime Minister Medvedev. Curiously, though, the Ukrainian side hasn’t released the audio of its own captains hailing the Kerch port. It’s an odd omission given that they already released the audio of the Russian captains and especially given that such audio would conclusively prove what the Ukrainians are asserting is true:


    The result was the Russian ships intercepted the three Ukrainian ships and video clearly shows one of the Russian ships ramming the Ukrainian ship. The Ukrainian navy subsequently released audio of the captains of the Russian ships talking to each other by radio.

    “[Russian Prime Minister Dmitry] Medvedev is panicking,” one operator said on the audio, adding, “We should assault them. We have to destroy them,” and “It seems that the president is in control of all of that shit.”

    The operators also discuss the arrival of 10 men with “incredible physical skills” within the hour, which corresponds to the arrival of Russian Special Operations, or Spetsnaz, troops who boarded and seized the Ukrainian ships.

    However, none of this is inconsistent with stopping the Ukrainian ships if they were deemed by the Russian authorities to be trying to pass through the straits without sticking to the safe passage protocols – what the Russians have referred to as “dangerous manoeuvres.” If it was designed as a Ukrainian provocation it would be expected for the Kremlin to panic and for both the president and prime minister to become involved. Indeed, if it was a planned act of aggression by the Russian side there would be no panic in the Kremlin.

    While the video footage clearly show the Russian frigate ramming the Ukrainian tug, this throws no light on the crucial issue of if the Ukrainian ships followed the protocols to pass though the straits. Ukraine has produced audio of the Russian operators talking but pointedly has not provided audio of their own ships asking for permission to pass through the straits. What evidence there is from the audio tape is inconclusive.

    More damming is the Russian decision to close access to the straits by parking a tanker under the bridge and effectively closing the straits to traffic. According to the Ukrainian navy statement this ship had turned off its Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponder that identifies it to other shipping, which is a breach of maritime law and opens Russia up to accusations of blockading the straits. (The tanker was removed by the end of the day, else this would be a clear act of war.)

    And then there’s the fact that this incident is guaranteed to bolster the chances of Petro Poroshenko leading heading into the March elections. And between Poroshenko and Tymoshenko, the Kremlin would almost certainly prefer Tymoshenko simply because she might cut a deal and her anti-IMF posturing raises the possibility that Ukraine will half to go crawling back to Russia for credit if the IMF cuts off Ukraine’s credit line:


    Martial law

    The main problem is that Putin, who is widely credited with being a “master tactician” (even if he is also thought to be a poor strategist) seems to have lost the plot with the Sea of Azov and handed Poroshenko a political gift that amounts to his best chance for getting re-elected.

    The animosity between Putin and Poroshenko is palpable when they meet in person. And the Kremlin’s best interests are clearly served by seeing Poroshenko lose the election to Tymoshenko, who is at the end of the day, a deal maker.

    As the former a prime minister, Tymoshenko had a fraught relationship with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). She was caught red handed cooking Ukraine’s national accounts to pretend the budget deficit was IMF compliant when in fact she was spending freely to bolster her popular support, as bne IntelliNews reported at the time. She famously granted the return of Soviet-era deposits with Oschadbank, the former Soviet-era savings bank, that were lost during the hyperinflation of the start of the 90s while prime minister, which cost the state billions of dollars, amongst other moves.

    Moreover, she is currently campaigning on what is in effect an anti-IMF platform, calling the IMF’s demand to hike domestic gas tariffs — a demand the Poroshenko government has conceded to — “economic genocide” on October 23 and promising to prosecute Poroshenko’s administration if she wins the election.

    If Tymoshenko wins then it is quite possible the new $3.9bn Stand By Agreement (SBA) agreed with the IMF in October will stall again. In that case Tymoshenko will need money – lots of it. Ukraine has $6bn of public debt to refinance in 2019 and even more in 2020 when the debt restructuring deal cut by former finance minister Natalie Jaresko expires. Without a functioning IMF deal the public markets will be closed to Ukraine or exorbitantly expensive. Ukraine paid through the nose for a $725mn short-term Eurobond Ukraine placed over the summer as a bridge loan while the current IMF deal was up in the air. That bond was immediately refinanced after a $2bn bond was issued in September days after the new IMF deal was announced.

    All this combines to suggest that Tymoshenko might be willing to cut some sort of deal with the Kremlin in exchange for some sort of cash – improved export access to Russia for example. Certainly the Kremlin would prefer to see anyone in charge of Ukraine other than Poroshenko, so why would Russia gift him a tailor-made military crisis?

    So how much might the IMF and the West fear a Tymoshenko victory? Well, as the following article bne Intellinews from July describes, Tymoshenko has been campaigning on opposition to some of the key IMF demands. Demands like deregulating land sales so Ukraine’s agricultural sector can be sold off to foreign investors. Pension cuts demanded by the IMF were described as “financial genocide” by Tymoshenko last year. And that strategy of decrying the IMF-demanded austerity has propelled Tymoshenko into first place in the polls, which should give the IMF and its Western backers plenty of reason to prefer Poroshenko over Tymoshenko:

    bne Intellinews

    The irrepressible Yulia Tymoshenko’s unending quest for power

    By Sergei Kuznetsov in Kyiv July 3, 2018

    “I will run for the presidency of Ukraine,” the nation’s two-time former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko said on June 20. “The presidential post for me is not a game, these are real changes that the country is waiting for.”

    The iconic face of the Orange revolution crowned with her distinctive Ukrainian blond braid wrapped around her head has come back from the political dead. Tymoshenko is the first politician in the war-torn country to officially announce the launch of a campaign for the 2019 presidential elections.

    Posters have gone up along roads. Political ads are being run on TV. She has even appeared in a cooking show as she takes her message to the people a little over nine months ahead of the vote.

    Moreover, the head of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party is starting her campaign as the leader in the opinion polls. However, her return to the top table of Ukrainian politics has not been easy.

    In February 2014, immediately after ex-president Viktor Yanukovych escaped from Kyiv in the wake of Euromaidan protests, Tymoshenko was freed from jail, where she had been put by her political Nemesis and left languishing for three years on alleged abuse of power charges for a gas import agreement she signed with Russia as the nation’s prime minister.

    A few hours after being released from prison, the politician was addressing crowds of anti-Yanukovych protesters in downtown Kyiv from a wheelchair because of sever back problems, which were the result of a lack of access to quality medical assistance in prison.

    The crowd were receptive. They were happy to see her out of jail. But they were lukewarm in their enthusiasm. It seemed that her time had passed. The people supported her and her partner former president Viktor Yushchenko during the Orange revolution in 2004-2005, but now the people wanted fresh faces; a new start. Tymoshenko had already become part of the country’s political old guard.

    This mood was confirmed later that year, when Tymoshenko was beaten by another bitter political rival, Petro Poroshenko, in the first round of the presidential elections, in which she secured less than 13% of the popular vote. During snap parliamentary elections in late October 2014, Tymoshenko’s party barely scraped over the 5% threshold required to secure representation in the Verkhovna Rada.

    Populism to the rescue

    Still it seems that populist rhetoric can apparently work miracles with political ratings and Tymoshenko is a master of the barbed jibe and an appeal to the people’s gut feelings. In recent years, the braided rabble-rouser and other members of her party have used every opportunity to denounce unpopular measures implemented by the government, as part of their promises to the nation’s main donor, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other backers. And the IMF has proven a rich vein of issues for Tymoshenko to mine.

    In April, Tymoshenko promised to reduce utility tariffs for households, and to write off utility debts for poor people “immediately after coming to power”. “In order to pay for them, people will soon have to sell their kidneys,” she added.

    If she made good on this promise that would be in direct contradiction to the government’s IMF commitment to raise domestic gas prices to market levels – something even Poroshenko’s government has baulked at thanks to the high political cost. Poroshenko promised to carry out the hike, put all the laws in place and then at the last minute as winter started failed to implement it fully.

    In late 2017, when the country’s parliament was discussing the extension of the country’s land moratorium, Tymoshenko urged lawmakers that “you can sell the land only if there are peasants who have money to buy it, and not a mafia that has money to buy everything from the peasants.”

    This is another item on the IMF’s wish list. The fund is insisting that land sales are deregulated and a market for land created that should unleash Ukraine’s massive agricultural potential. Experts estimate that if land sales were allowed some $1.5bn-$2bn of investment would immediately flow into Ukraine’s best sector. However, for Tymoshenko the “they are literally selling off our motherland” line was a political gift that she made full use of.

    And it goes on. On pension reform – which was eventually passed in an IMF compliant form — Tymoshenko described the government’s refusal to index pensions and salaries as “financial genocide”.

    The last big issue is the creation of an anti-corruption court (ACC). This time it is the IMF that has stuck its heels in and de facto frozen Ukraine’s badly needed $17.5bn stand by programme until the court is created in a form the fund is happy with. A law setting up the ACC was passed in June, but a clause that allows appeals to be heard in regular (aka corrupt) courts has gut the effectiveness of the ACC system and the IMF is insisting the offending clause be removed.

    The price that Poroshenko has had to pay for his constant fencing with the IMF and his efforts to get the fund to soften its politically expensive demands is that it created an opening into which Tymoshenko has gleefully leapt.

    Tymoshenko is now the most popular candidate for the nation’s president, with 22.8% support among decided voters, according to the latest poll conducted this month by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS). She is followed by former defence minister Anatoliy Grytsenko (16%), populist Oleh Lyashko (13.2%), pro-Russian opposition leader Yuriy Boyko (10.6%) and Petro Poroshenko (10.5%).

    “Tymoshenko is popular because she is campaigning hard,” Balazs Jarabik, visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, tells bne IntelliNews.

    According to him, the ex-premier is covering all the available media space, tapping into anxiety about austerity and anger with, specifically, the continuous impunity of the elites. “The latter is more important even though corruption is highlighted by the polls,” Jarabik added.

    “She is also successful because there are no ‘new faces’ with the necessary name recognition in a big country like Ukraine, so she is able to channel part of the votes of those dissatisfied,” the expert added. “At the same time, her high level of negative rating – connected to the political baggage she carries – limits her chances and keeps the presidential race wide open.”

    The remarkable thing about the polls is that despite Poroshenko’s obvious failure that satisfies no one — not the IMF nor the voters as no one is getting what they want – none of the other candidates have been able to rally the citizens behind their flag.

    Another poll from the Sofia Center of Sociological Research in March found that only 1.7% of respondents support the state institutions, while a massive 78.8% either partly or completely don’t support the state bodies.

    No viable alternative leader has emerged from this morass. Ukrainian voters dislike all their political leaders. Even Tymoshenko’s lead in the polls is sullied: not only does she have the most support, she is also second only to Poroshenko in the “never support under any circumstances” category. That is the paradox of Ukrainian politics: Tymoshenko is at the same time the most popular and the second most hated politician in the country.

    Reasons to be worried

    If Tymoshenko wins she will find herself in the same predicament. Tymoshenko’s popularism means she unsettles the likes of the IMF and other donors, which have helped Ukraine to overcome the economic and financial crisis of 2014-2015, as well as the consequences of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas region.

    “Naturally, donors offer a low-key response to Ukrainian politicians’ attempts to formulate their programmes beyond the IMF framework, alluding to the refinancing of external debts,” Alexander Valchyshen, head of research at Kyiv-based brokerage Investment Capital Ukraine (ICU), tells bne IntelliNews. “This raises the question of an ultimate lender in foreign currency if the private lending market should be closed.”

    Meanwhile, a lawmaker from Tymoshenko’s parliamentary faction, Alexei Ryabchyn, argues that Batkivschyna’s leader, a two-time prime minister of Ukraine, “is perfectly well aware of the way to deal with the IMF while including the national interests of the state.”

    “The IMF focuses on a balanced budget, which depends on the professionalism of the government team,” Ryabchyn tells bne IntelliNews. “As of today, it is a challenge, because following a 15% slump, the economy has been growing at a modest pace of 2-3%. The government has made a mess of transparent privatization and de-offshorization of the economy; there is significant capacity with respect to the intensification of the fight against corruption within the customs and tax authorities.”

    The lawmaker adds that unfortunately, there is no way of doing without the IMF now, but the main rule for the interaction with the IMF is to do without the IMF as soon as possible, meaning an operational economy that is self-reliant without external borrowing. “Building such an economic model is what Tymoshenko will be aiming at,” Ryabchyn underlines.

    ———-

    “The irrepressible Yulia Tymoshenko’s unending quest for power” by Sergei Kuznetsov; bne Intellinews; 07/03/2018

    “Still it seems that populist rhetoric can apparently work miracles with political ratings and Tymoshenko is a master of the barbed jibe and an appeal to the people’s gut feelings. In recent years, the braided rabble-rouser and other members of her party have used every opportunity to denounce unpopular measures implemented by the government, as part of their promises to the nation’s main donor, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other backers. And the IMF has proven a rich vein of issues for Tymoshenko to mine.

    Yes, IMF-bashing has literally been the secret to Tymoshenko’s political success recent years. And it’s not just generic IMF-bashing but actual bashing of the IMF’s specific austerity and deregulation demands. Like pension cuts and opening up Ukraine’s agricultural land to international investors:


    In April, Tymoshenko promised to reduce utility tariffs for households, and to write off utility debts for poor people “immediately after coming to power”. “In order to pay for them, people will soon have to sell their kidneys,” she added.

    If she made good on this promise that would be in direct contradiction to the government’s IMF commitment to raise domestic gas prices to market levels – something even Poroshenko’s government has baulked at thanks to the high political cost. Poroshenko promised to carry out the hike, put all the laws in place and then at the last minute as winter started failed to implement it fully.

    In late 2017, when the country’s parliament was discussing the extension of the country’s land moratorium, Tymoshenko urged lawmakers that “you can sell the land only if there are peasants who have money to buy it, and not a mafia that has money to buy everything from the peasants.”

    This is another item on the IMF’s wish list. The fund is insisting that land sales are deregulated and a market for land created that should unleash Ukraine’s massive agricultural potential. Experts estimate that if land sales were allowed some $1.5bn-$2bn of investment would immediately flow into Ukraine’s best sector. However, for Tymoshenko the “they are literally selling off our motherland” line was a political gift that she made full use of.

    And it goes on. On pension reform – which was eventually passed in an IMF compliant form — Tymoshenko described the government’s refusal to index pensions and salaries as “financial genocide”.

    And these fears that a Tymoshenko victory could lead to a conflict with the IMF “raises the question of an ultimate lender in foreign currency if the private lending market should be closed.” In other words, given how Ukraine is basically reliant on the IMF at this point, what’s going to happen if Tymoshenko wins and ultimately drives the IMF and international creditors out of Ukraine:


    Reasons to be worried

    If Tymoshenko wins she will find herself in the same predicament. Tymoshenko’s popularism means she unsettles the likes of the IMF and other donors, which have helped Ukraine to overcome the economic and financial crisis of 2014-2015, as well as the consequences of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the war in the Donbas region.

    “Naturally, donors offer a low-key response to Ukrainian politicians’ attempts to formulate their programmes beyond the IMF framework, alluding to the refinancing of external debts,” Alexander Valchyshen, head of research at Kyiv-based brokerage Investment Capital Ukraine (ICU), tells bne IntelliNews. “This raises the question of an ultimate lender in foreign currency if the private lending market should be closed.”

    Meanwhile, a lawmaker from Tymoshenko’s parliamentary faction, Alexei Ryabchyn, argues that Batkivschyna’s leader, a two-time prime minister of Ukraine, “is perfectly well aware of the way to deal with the IMF while including the national interests of the state.”

    “The IMF focuses on a balanced budget, which depends on the professionalism of the government team,” Ryabchyn tells bne IntelliNews. “As of today, it is a challenge, because following a 15% slump, the economy has been growing at a modest pace of 2-3%. The government has made a mess of transparent privatization and de-offshorization of the economy; there is significant capacity with respect to the intensification of the fight against corruption within the customs and tax authorities.”

    The lawmaker adds that unfortunately, there is no way of doing without the IMF now, but the main rule for the interaction with the IMF is to do without the IMF as soon as possible, meaning an operational economy that is self-reliant without external borrowing. “Building such an economic model is what Tymoshenko will be aiming at,” Ryabchyn underlines.

    And one answer to that question of “an ultimate lender in foreign currency if the private lending market should be closed” is obviously “Russia”. And that, again, is part of why it would be such an odd move by the Kremlin to intentionally create this military incident just months before the Ukrainian elections when the Kremlin’s preferred candidate is already in the lead.

    At the same time, keep in mind that even if Tymoshenko’s party wins the upcoming elections, they’ll almost certainly be forced into a governing coalition with parties like Svoboda, Right Sector, and the Azov Battalion. So it’s not like there would necessarily be a massive shift in Ukraine’s policies. But driving a wedge between Ukraine and the IMF is still a pretty big prize.

    So we’ll see what the ultimate fallout of this is, but as the following interview from September of the US envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, makes clear, part of that response is likely to included more military aid for Ukraine in the form of naval military aid:

    Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

    More Lethal Weaponry Possible For Ukraine, U.S. Envoy Tells RFE/RL

    By Christopher Miller
    September 14, 2018 07:18 GMT

    KYIV – The United States is considering sending more lethal weaponry to Kyiv to build up its naval and air defenses, Washington’s special envoy for Ukraine said, as concerns mount that Russia may be stepping up operations in coastal waters.

    In an interview with RFE/RL on September 13, Kurt Volker blamed Russia for fueling the conflict. He also said that Washington and Moscow still have serious differences over a possible United Nations peacekeeping force that could be deployed to help bring an end to the fighting in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

    Volker said he thought that Russian President Vladimir Putin was unwilling to negotiate much of anything related to the conflict at least until after Ukraine’s presidential elections next March, or with “[Ukrainian President Petro] Poroshenko still in power.”

    Volker said he has made several overtures to his Russian counterpart, Vladislav Surkov, since their last meeting in Dubai in January, but he has received no response.

    In January, Surkov showed interest in the idea of a phased deployment of peacekeepers, Volker said. Since then, however, the Russians “have backed away and have some objections.”

    Another meeting is possible, he said, but “right now, there is nothing scheduled.”

    Since fighting broke out between government forces and Russia-backed fighters in April 2014, more than 10,000 people have died and more than 1 million have fled their homes.

    Russia has repeatedly denied financing and equipping the separatist forces in Donetsk and Luhansk despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insisting that the fighting was a civil, internal conflict.

    Sea Defense

    In recent months, Russia has stepped up naval operations in the shared Sea of Azov, where, Volker said, “Ukrainians have virtually no naval capability or limited capability, so [the Russians] feel they can assert dominance there.”

    Ukraine’s lack of robust naval and air-defense capabilities is a weakness Volker said Washington looks set on addressing.

    “I think that’s going to be the focus as we develop the next steps in our defense cooperation,” he added.

    International negotiators have twice reached a framework for a cease-fire and a road map for peace, known as the Minsk peace accords. Both have failed to hold.

    That is due in large part to the fact that Russia continues to flood the territory with fighters and arms, Volker said.

    In August, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe documented — using drone footage — convoys of military trucks crossing to and from Ukraine and Russia on a dirt road under the cover of darkness. Earlier this month, the monitors said another convoy had been spotted in the area.

    Russia has not responded to accusations that it was behind the convoys.

    Volker also criticized Kyiv, which he said was not doing enough to reach out to Ukrainians living in separatist-held territories. He said Poroshenko’s government has also failed to develop a reintegration plan for when the conflict does end.

    Preliminary ideas, he said, “[do not] enjoy strong political backing and there is little emphasis that this should be a priority for the Ukrainian government to figure out how it can reach its own citizens and be as proactive as possible in trying to make their lives better.”

    “It’s a shame because those people [living in separatist-held areas] have gone through a lot. It causes them to be very sour on the government in Kyiv,” he added.

    He highlighted the cases of elderly people, “people with the least mobility,” and said Kyiv should work with the Red Cross to help get government pensions to those people.


    ———–

    “More Lethal Weaponry Possible For Ukraine, U.S. Envoy Tells RFE/RL” by Christopher Miller; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; 09/14/2018

    “The United States is considering sending more lethal weaponry to Kyiv to build up its naval and air defenses, Washington’s special envoy for Ukraine said, as concerns mount that Russia may be stepping up operations in coastal waters.”

    More lethal military aid for Ukraine. That was what US envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker was predicting just a couple of months ago. And Ukraine’s like of naval defense capabilities in the Sea of Azov was the area that Volker predicted Washington would be focusing on next:


    Sea Defense

    In recent months, Russia has stepped up naval operations in the shared Sea of Azov, where, Volker said, “Ukrainians have virtually no naval capability or limited capability, so [the Russians] feel they can assert dominance there.”

    Ukraine’s lack of robust naval and air-defense capabilities is a weakness Volker said Washington looks set on addressing.

    “I think that’s going to be the focus as we develop the next steps in our defense cooperation,” he added.

    So this naval incident also happens to be the perfect trigger for more US military aid for Ukraine. This time it’s going to be lethal maritime naval aid.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 28, 2018, 3:33 pm
  7. Here’s a followup on the disturbing recent report about American neo-Nazis in the Rise Above Movement (RAM) traveling to Europe to network with European neo-Nazis. Recall how one of the groups they met with was the Azov Battalion, and how the FBI has accused Azov of radicalizing and providing military training to American white supremacists. So according to the following RFE/RL report, it sounds like Azov has ambitions that go far beyond training American neo-Nazi. The group wants to create a coalition of European neo-Nazi groups, with Azov at its core.

    As Olena Semenyaka, the international secretary for Azov’s political wing, the National Corps, told RFE/RL, “We think globally.” And expanding the “Azov movement” abroad is one of the group’s goals.

    It also sounds like the training Azov is providing these foreign neo-Nazi groups goes beyond military training. It also included training in the propaganda techniques used to mainstream Azov, including setting up youth camps. When American neo-Nazi Greg Johnson recently gave a speech at an Azov gathering he declared that, “this is not a speaking tour, it’s a listening tour. I really want to learn how maybe we can do things better in the United States and Western Europe.” Semenyaka also asserted that when the RAM members recently visited, “they came to learn our ways” and “showed interest in learning how to create youth forces in the ways Azov has.” Semenyaka denies any military training was provided.

    The article also points out how Azov has been consciously attempting to downplay its over neo-Nazism without compromising its core neo-Nazi ideals for the purpose of expanding its popular appeal and bringing the movement into the mainstream.

    Interestingly, Michael Skillt, the Swedish white nationalist sniper who was one of the first foreign fighters to join Azov, appears to have soured somewhat on the group, arguing that it should have avoided the over neo-Nazi image and attempted to find common cause with more mainstream right-wing European movements. We also learn that Skillt is currently running a private intelligence agency in Kyiv.

    Ominously, Semenyaka asserts that Azov cozying up to Europe’s mainstream conservative parties is next on Azov’s agenda, with the plan of turning these mainstream European conservatives into potential sympathizers for the purpose of getting Ukraine allowed into the European Union. As Semenyaka puts it, “If crises like Brexit and the refugee problem continue, in this case, partnerships with nationalist groups in Europe can be a kind of platform for our entry into the European Union.” So Azov clearly has big ambitions for the mainstreaming of its movement across the West:

    Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty

    Azov, Ukraine’s Most Prominent Ultranationalist Group, Sets Its Sights On U.S., Europe

    November 14, 2018 14:41 GMT
    By Christopher Miller

    KYIV — Robert Rundo, the muscly leader of a California-based white-supremacist group that refers to itself as the “premier MMA (mixed martial arts) club of the Alt-Right,” unleashed a barrage of punches against his opponent.

    But Rundo, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach resident who would be charged and arrested in October over a series of violent attacks in his hometown, Berkeley, and San Bernardino in 2017, wasn’t fighting on American streets.

    It was April 27 and Rundo, whose Rise Above Movement (RAM) has been described by ProPublica as “explicitly violent,” was swinging gloved fists at a Ukrainian contender in the caged ring of a fight club associated with the far-right ultranationalist Azov group in Kyiv.

    A video of Rundo’s fight, which was streamed live on Facebook (below), shows that the American lost the bout. But for Rundo, who thanked his hosts with a shout of “Slava Ukrayini!” (Glory to Ukraine), it was a victory of another sort: RAM’s outreach tour, which included stops in Italy and Germany to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and spread its alt-right agenda, brought the two radical groups closer together.

    For the Ukrainians, too, the benefits extended outside the ring. It marked a step toward legitimizing Azov among its counterparts in the West and set in motion what appears to be its next project: the expansion of its movement abroad.

    “We think globally,” Olena Semenyaka, the international secretary for Azov’s political wing, the National Corps, told RFE/RL in an interview at one of the group’s Kyiv offices last week.

    The Rundo fight has received fresh scrutiny following an FBI criminal complaint against him unsealed last month that preceded his arrest. In it, Special Agent Scott Bierwirth wrote that Azov’s military wing is “believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations.”

    Washington has armed Ukraine with Javelin antitank missile systems and trained its armed forces as they fight Russia-backed separatists in the east.

    But it has banned arms from going to Azov members and forbidden them from participating in U.S.-led military training because of their far-right ideology.

    It was Azov’s Semenyaka who hosted Rundo along with fellow Americans Michael Miselis and Benjamin Daley, RAM members who participated in last year’s “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was the backdrop for the death of 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

    This month, in Kyiv, she hosted and translated for American Greg Johnson, a white nationalist who edits the website Counter-Currents, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “an epicenter of ‘academic’ white nationalism.”

    Over the past year, she’s made several outreach trips to Western Europe to meet with far-right groups and spread Azov’s ultranationalist message.

    And when she’s not doing it herself, Semenyaka said, that task is sometimes given to Denis Nikitin, a prominent Russian soccer hooligan and MMA fighter who founded the white nationalist clothing label White Rex and has a garnered a large following across Europe and the United States. In November 2017, the two traveled together to Warsaw and participated in the Europe Of The Future 2 conference organized by Polish white supremacist group and “ally” Szturmowcy (Stormtroopers), where they were meant to speak alongside American Richard Spencer, Semenyaka said. But Polish authorities barred Spencer from entering the country and he was unable to attend.

    Often in Kyiv when he’s not traveling through Europe or visiting family in Germany, Nikitin operates as a sort of unofficial Azov ambassador-at-large and organizes MMA bouts at the Reconquista Club, the ultranationalist haunt where Rundo fought. A combination restaurant, sports center, and fight club, Semenyaka said Rundo and Nikitin met there and “exchanged ideas.”

    In the current climate, with an apparent shift toward nationalism in parts of Europe, “it’s possible for far-right leaders to come to power now and — we hope — form a coalition,” Semenyaka told RFE/RL. And Azov, she added, “wants a position at the front of this movement.”

    From Battlefield To Political Arena

    The Azov Battalion was formed in May 2014 in response to the Russia-backed separatist advance sweeping across eastern Ukraine. Comprised of volunteers, it has roots in a group of hard-core, far-right soccer fans, including many violent hooligans, commonly known in Eastern Europe as “ultras.”

    With Ukraine’s weak military at the time caught flat-footed, Azov and other such battalions did much of the heavy fighting in the early days of the war, which has killed more than 10,300 people.

    But it was Azov that attracted those of far-right persuasion, including at least three Americans and many others from Western nations. One such fighter was Mikael Skillt, a Swede who trained as a sniper in the Swedish Army and previously described himself as an “ethnic nationalist.”

    The Azov Battalion flaunts a symbol similar to that of the former Nazi Wolfsangel. (The group claims it is an amalgam of the letters N and I for “national idea.”) It has been accused by international human rights groups, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), of committing and allowing serious human rights abuses, including torture.

    Following a 2015 deal known as the Minsk Accords that was meant to be a road map to end the fighting but did little more than turn down the intensity, the Azov Battalion was officially incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard and its leadership shifted focus from the battlefield to the political arena.

    The Azov National Corps entered the political fray in October 2016, appointing battalion commander Andriy Biletsky to lead it. Biletsky was previously tied to other far-right groups and, in 2010, reportedly said that the nation’s mission was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].”

    The party incorporated two other far-right organizations, including Patriot of Ukraine, which according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group “espoused xenophobic and neo-Nazi ideas and was engaged in violent attacks against migrants, foreign students in Kharkiv, and those opposing its views.”

    As RFE/RL reported at the time, the National Corps’ inaugural ceremony arguably had pomp more reminiscent of 1930s Germany than of postwar democracy. It included nationalist chants, raised fists, and a torchlit march through central Kyiv.

    In January, in another flashy ceremony, Azov introduced a new paramilitary force that it calls the National Militia. On a snowy evening, some 600 of mostly young men in matching fatigues marched from Kyiv’s central Independence Square to a lighted fortress on a hillside in the Ukrainian capital, where they swore an oath to clean the streets of illegal alcohol, drug traffickers, and illegal gambling establishments.

    While not officially part of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry or any other government body legally authorized to enforce the law, the National Militia has more often than not been allowed to establish what it considers “Ukrainian order” on the streets of cities across the country. In many cases, that has meant attacking LGBT events and Romany camps, actions for which members of the group have not been prosecuted.

    Combined, these groups are known as the “Azov movement,” which includes more than 10,000 active members, according to Semenyaka.

    ‘State Within The State’

    But Azov’s success in growing the movement so far has not translated into much political success at home.

    While the party has not yet been tested in parliamentary elections, less than 1 percent of eligible voters said they would vote for National Corps or its fellow far-right group Right Sector, according to June polling by Kyiv-based Razumkov Center.

    Those groups didn’t fare much better in July, when GFK Ukraine asked whether voters would support an alliance of National Corps, Right Sector, and a third far-right party, Svoboda, and only 2 percent responded positively.

    At the same time, however, Azov believes its influence has grown. In an October 29 post on Facebook, Semenyaka went so far as to say that “just within 4 years, the Azov Movement has become a small state in the state.”

    Much of the success has come from recruiting new, mostly young, members, who it hopes will come to the polls in next year’s parliamentary elections.

    Azov has done so with youth camps, including some that teach children as young as 9 years old military tactics and far-right ideology, recreation centers, lecture halls, and far-right education programs.

    It has also utilized the reach of social media, particularly Facebook and Telegram, where the group recruits and promotes patriotism, nationalism, and a sport-focused lifestyle. Much of that effort caters to Ukrainians coming of age in a time of war and as illiberal governments rise on the country’s periphery, said Ukrainian sociologist Anya Hrytsenko, who researches far-right groups.

    “Azov has made far-right nationalism fashionable, and they have been strategic in how they portray themselves, shedding the typical neo-Nazi trappings,” Hrytsenko told RFE/RL. “This has helped them to move from a subculture to the mainstream.”

    Explaining that strategy, Semenyaka, who has been photographed holding a flag with a swastika and making a Nazi salute, said that “more radical” language was used previously, such as during the height of the war in 2014, when the Azov Battalion needed fighters, “because it was required by the situation.”

    Now, she said, the strategy is to “moderate” in order to appeal to a broader base in Ukraine and abroad. But only to an extent.

    “We are trying to become mainstream without compromising some of our core ideas,” she continued, adding that “radical statements…scare away more of society.”

    And in its recalibration, Azov is not only thinking of Ukrainians but of like-minded groups abroad. Hence the addition of members like Semenyaka and collaboration with Nikitin, who literally speak the language of their counterparts abroad.

    “Their English has gotten better,” Hrytsenko said, referring to Azov members behind the group’s Western outreach.

    Nikitin, who could not be reached for an interview, is a Russian and German speaker.

    Another thing that has helped, Hrytsenko noted, is that Ukraine’s break from Russia and move toward the European Union has allowed Ukrainians visa-free travel, making Azov’s outreach easier logistically.

    Making Friends In The West

    In recent months, Semenyaka and other Azov members have taken advantage of that, making several visits to EU countries to meet numerous European counterparts, according to investigations by RFE/RL and the open-source investigative group Bellingcat.

    Semenyaka participated in and blogged about the Young Europe Forum in Dresden in August alongside far-right sympathizers from groups in Germany, Italy, and Austria. Specifically, she said she has met with those from groups that Azov considers close allies — for instance, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s CasaPound, Poland’s Szturmowcy, and Germany’s National Democratic Party and Alternative For Germany.

    Other Azov members have traveled to meet counterparts in Baltic states and Croatia, she added.

    Asked about the FBI allegations in the criminal complaint first reported by The New York Times — that Azov was “training and radicalizing” American far-right groups — she said it was not and dared U.S. authorities to “provide real evidence of this.”

    In the case of Rundo, Miselis, and Daley, Semenyaka said, “they came to learn our ways” and “showed interest in learning how to create youth forces in the ways Azov has.”

    On the visit, the three Americans also attended a concert by the white-nationalist metal band Sokyra Peruna, where concertgoers made Nazi salutes and waved Nazi flags. They also posed for photographs to promote Rundo’s The Right Brand clothing line at Kyiv’s Independence Square, joined Azov members at Kyiv’s famous outdoor gym, Kachalka, for a weight-training session, and fought at the Reconquista Club. Rundo even got White Rex’s Viking warrior logo tattooed on his left calf.

    “But there was no military training,” Semenyaka insisted.

    Counter-Currents’ Johnson was perhaps the most recent American to ask for Azov’s help. In a rare public appearance, the alt-right ideologue visited Kyiv at the invitation of Semenyaka to lecture on October 16 about his Manifesto Of White Nationalism. Semenyaka translated for Johnson, who spoke to a small but crowded room at Azov’s Plomin (Flame) cultural center.

    In a video of the event published on Azov’s Plomin YouTube channel, Johnson, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes as “one of the leading voices of the far-right” and “an international figure for white nationalism,” doesn’t hide his motive for the trip: to learn from Ukraine’s ultranationalists and their successes.

    “This is not a speaking tour, it’s a listening tour. I really want to learn how maybe we can do things better in the United States and Western Europe,” Johnson said, lamenting the state of the alt-right in the United States.

    “It was a very, very influential and powerful movement for a very short time,” he said of America’s alt-right movement, without providing a precise time frame.

    “And at the peak of it, we had a network that extended all the way to the office of the president,” he continued, in what appeared to be a reference to Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and alt-right figure.

    “There were very few degrees of separation between people who were making ideas…and people who were in a position to make political policy, and that was totally destroyed,” Johnson added.

    He praised Ukraine’s far-right groups, who he said were capable of “real street activism.”

    Associations Too Much For Some In Azov

    While Azov’s cooperation with groups like RAM has been largely welcomed by the group’s members, some have found it uncomfortable.

    Skillt, the Swedish national who fought as a sniper in the Azov Battalion, is one of them.

    “I don’t mind [Azov] reaching out, but the ones they reach out to… Jesus,” he told RFE/RL, in an allusion to RAM. He added that he had recently distanced himself from Azov because of that association and others with far-right groups in Europe.

    Skillt, who runs a private intelligence agency in Kyiv and said his clients “really don’t enjoy bad company,” argued that the group has made a mistake by not reaching out more to right-wing conservatives who could help with “influential contacts in Europe [so] you don’t get branded a neo-Nazi.”

    But Semenyaka described praise of Azov from foreign ultranationalist groups who are increasingly welcoming it as evidence that the organization is taking the right path. And she said it isn’t about to let up.

    Next, she said, Azov hopes to win over larger, more mainstream far-right and populist Western political forces who “can be our potential sympathizers.”

    “If crises like Brexit and the refugee problem continue, in this case, partnerships with nationalist groups in Europe can be a kind of platform for our entry into the European Union.”

    ———-

    “Azov, Ukraine’s Most Prominent Ultranationalist Group, Sets Its Sights On U.S., Europe” By Christopher Miller; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; 11/14/2018

    “For the Ukrainians, too, the benefits extended outside the ring. It marked a step toward legitimizing Azov among its counterparts in the West and set in motion what appears to be its next project: the expansion of its movement abroad.”

    Yep, the invitation of American neo-Nazis wasn’t just an isolated disturbing story. It’s was a story about the growing international ambitions of Azov. As Semenyaka puts it, “We think globally”:


    “We think globally,” Olena Semenyaka, the international secretary for Azov’s political wing, the National Corps, told RFE/RL in an interview at one of the group’s Kyiv offices last week.

    It was Azov’s Semenyaka who hosted Rundo along with fellow Americans Michael Miselis and Benjamin Daley, RAM members who participated in last year’s “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was the backdrop for the death of 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

    And those international ambitions include teaching Azov’s international neo-Nazi counterparts the techniques the group has used to successfully mainstream itself in Ukraine. Techniques that American neo-Nazi Greg Johnson was keen to learn:

    This month, in Kyiv, she hosted and translated for American Greg Johnson, a white nationalist who edits the website Counter-Currents, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “an epicenter of ‘academic’ white nationalism.”

    Counter-Currents’ Johnson was perhaps the most recent American to ask for Azov’s help. In a rare public appearance, the alt-right ideologue visited Kyiv at the invitation of Semenyaka to lecture on October 16 about his Manifesto Of White Nationalism. Semenyaka translated for Johnson, who spoke to a small but crowded room at Azov’s Plomin (Flame) cultural center.

    In a video of the event published on Azov’s Plomin YouTube channel, Johnson, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes as “one of the leading voices of the far-right” and “an international figure for white nationalism,” doesn’t hide his motive for the trip: to learn from Ukraine’s ultranationalists and their successes.

    “This is not a speaking tour, it’s a listening tour. I really want to learn how maybe we can do things better in the United States and Western Europe,” Johnson said, lamenting the state of the alt-right in the United States.

    And while Semenyaka insists there was no military training, one of the techniques the American neo-Nazis came to learn was the creation of youth forces:


    Asked about the FBI allegations in the criminal complaint first reported by The New York Times — that Azov was “training and radicalizing” American far-right groups — she said it was not and dared U.S. authorities to “provide real evidence of this.”

    In the case of Rundo, Miselis, and Daley, Semenyaka said, “they came to learn our ways” and “showed interest in learning how to create youth forces in the ways Azov has.”

    On the visit, the three Americans also attended a concert by the white-nationalist metal band Sokyra Peruna, where concertgoers made Nazi salutes and waved Nazi flags. They also posed for photographs to promote Rundo’s The Right Brand clothing line at Kyiv’s Independence Square, joined Azov members at Kyiv’s famous outdoor gym, Kachalka, for a weight-training session, and fought at the Reconquista Club. Rundo even got White Rex’s Viking warrior logo tattooed on his left calf.

    “But there was no military training,” Semenyaka insisted.

    But it’s not just neo-Nazis traveling to Ukraine to learn Azov’s strategies. Azov’s members are increasingly traveling across Europe. As Semenyaka puts it, “it’s possible for far-right leaders to come to power now and — we hope — form a coalition,” and Azov, “wants a position at the front of this movement.”:


    Over the past year, she’s made several outreach trips to Western Europe to meet with far-right groups and spread Azov’s ultranationalist message.

    And when she’s not doing it herself, Semenyaka said, that task is sometimes given to Denis Nikitin, a prominent Russian soccer hooligan and MMA fighter who founded the white nationalist clothing label White Rex and has a garnered a large following across Europe and the United States. In November 2017, the two traveled together to Warsaw and participated in the Europe Of The Future 2 conference organized by Polish white supremacist group and “ally” Szturmowcy (Stormtroopers), where they were meant to speak alongside American Richard Spencer, Semenyaka said. But Polish authorities barred Spencer from entering the country and he was unable to attend.

    Often in Kyiv when he’s not traveling through Europe or visiting family in Germany, Nikitin operates as a sort of unofficial Azov ambassador-at-large and organizes MMA bouts at the Reconquista Club, the ultranationalist haunt where Rundo fought. A combination restaurant, sports center, and fight club, Semenyaka said Rundo and Nikitin met there and “exchanged ideas.”

    In the current climate, with an apparent shift toward nationalism in parts of Europe, “it’s possible for far-right leaders to come to power now and — we hope — form a coalition,” Semenyaka told RFE/RL. And Azov, she added, “wants a position at the front of this movement.”

    At the same time Azov is working to form this coalition of Western neo-Nazi groups, its working to rebrand itself as a more mainstream conservative movement “without compromising some of our core ideas”:


    Azov has made far-right nationalism fashionable, and they have been strategic in how they portray themselves, shedding the typical neo-Nazi trappings,” Hrytsenko told RFE/RL. “This has helped them to move from a subculture to the mainstream.”

    Explaining that strategy, Semenyaka, who has been photographed holding a flag with a swastika and making a Nazi salute, said that “more radical” language was used previously, such as during the height of the war in 2014, when the Azov Battalion needed fighters, “because it was required by the situation.”

    Now, she said, the strategy is to “moderate” in order to appeal to a broader base in Ukraine and abroad. But only to an extent.

    “We are trying to become mainstream without compromising some of our core ideas,” she continued, adding that “radical statements…scare away more of society.”

    And in its recalibration, Azov is not only thinking of Ukrainians but of like-minded groups abroad. Hence the addition of members like Semenyaka and collaboration with Nikitin, who literally speak the language of their counterparts abroad.

    “Their English has gotten better,” Hrytsenko said, referring to Azov members behind the group’s Western outreach.

    Nikitin, who could not be reached for an interview, is a Russian and German speaker.

    In recent months, Semenyaka and other Azov members have taken advantage of that, making several visits to EU countries to meet numerous European counterparts, according to investigations by RFE/RL and the open-source investigative group Bellingcat.

    Semenyaka participated in and blogged about the Young Europe Forum in Dresden in August alongside far-right sympathizers from groups in Germany, Italy, and Austria. Specifically, she said she has met with those from groups that Azov considers close allies — for instance, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s CasaPound, Poland’s Szturmowcy, and Germany’s National Democratic Party and Alternative For Germany.

    Other Azov members have traveled to meet counterparts in Baltic states and Croatia, she added.

    Interestingly, Swedish white nationalist sniper, Michael Skillt, argues that Azov has made a mistake in so openly embracing a neo-Nazi ideology instead of positioning itself as a more mainstream ‘populist’ far right conservative movement. But Semenyaka counters that winning over the mainstream far right European movements is next on Azov’s agenda, with the goal of using the backing of these movements to get the political support necessary to win Ukraine’s admission into the European Union:


    Associations Too Much For Some In Azov

    While Azov’s cooperation with groups like RAM has been largely welcomed by the group’s members, some have found it uncomfortable.

    Skillt, the Swedish national who fought as a sniper in the Azov Battalion, is one of them.

    “I don’t mind [Azov] reaching out, but the ones they reach out to… Jesus,” he told RFE/RL, in an allusion to RAM. He added that he had recently distanced himself from Azov because of that association and others with far-right groups in Europe.

    Skillt, who runs a private intelligence agency in Kyiv and said his clients “really don’t enjoy bad company,” argued that the group has made a mistake by not reaching out more to right-wing conservatives who could help with “influential contacts in Europe [so] you don’t get branded a neo-Nazi.”

    But Semenyaka described praise of Azov from foreign ultranationalist groups who are increasingly welcoming it as evidence that the organization is taking the right path. And she said it isn’t about to let up.

    Next, she said, Azov hopes to win over larger, more mainstream far-right and populist Western political forces who “can be our potential sympathizers.”

    “If crises like Brexit and the refugee problem continue, in this case, partnerships with nationalist groups in Europe can be a kind of platform for our entry into the European Union.”

    So that’s a snapshot of Azov’s current ambitions and plans to achieve those ambitions: network with Western neo-Nazis while simultaneously work on developing a more ‘mainstream’ image that doesn’t scare too many people. Then network with more mainstream far right European parties. Then use the popular support from those more mainstream far right European movements to get the political support needed to admit Ukraine into the European Union. So it’s literally a neo-Nazi plan to unify and popularize Europe’s neo-Nazis for the purpose of getting Ukraine into the EU. It’s a pretty ambitious plan, and based on the wild successes of neo-Nazis around the world these days, it’s hard to argue that it’s overly ambitious.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 12, 2018, 5:00 pm

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