Ukraine's right-wing heavies are fodder for Moscow's propaganda campaign

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is "The World", a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. It seems diplomacy is failing to solve the crisis in Ukraine. Two worrisome developments today - the Ukrainian government accused Russia of amassing military forces near the border between the two countries, and a court in Russia issued an arrest warant for an Ukrainian politician on charges of inciting terrorism. All through this crisis Russia has claimed that Ukraine has been taken over by neo-fascists who are putting ethnic Russians in peril. I asked Kiev-based reporter Alex Kleimenov to tell me more about the now-wanted Ukrainian politician, Dmytro Yarosh.

Alex Kleimenov: Well, nobody really heard about Dmytro Yarosh until about the middle of these three-month long protests that were happening in Kiev. He came to attention when the organization that he was in charge of, the Right Sector, basically reignited the protest movement about mid-January when suddenly it moved from a peaceful protest on Independence Square to a violent clash with riot police, and everybody was asking themselves who these people were who marched equipped with bats that were wearing hockey uniforms. So they marched from Independence Square towards the barricade and they clashed with riot police that were guarding the street leading to the government quarter and that's when the first deaths occurred during this protest and that's when Dmytro Yarosh came into attention because he was in charge of the Right Sector.

Werman: So what is it about Right Sector that makes it such a violent group? I mean I've been reading that they're still camped out in the Maidan with bottles filled with gasoline, Molotov cocktails, on the ready even though nothing is going on.

Kleimenov: Well, there are lots of people camped out on Maidan not only the Right Sector, but also many other people. People don't really see them as a violent group, that's the thing, especially here in Kiev. People who have witnessed the protest firsthand, they don't see them as a violent group, they see them as warriors. And actually quite a decent number of people praised them for what they did because this protest was going really nowhere and nobody could really predict where it would end and when.

Werman: So tell me a bit more about their leader, Dmytro Yarosh. Where did he come from? And what was he doing before he led Right Sector?

Kleimenov: He is originally surprisingly from Eastern Ukraine, the Russian-speaking more industrial part of the country. He is forty-two and he was leading some of the smaller nationalistic groups that really didn't play any role in Ukraine politics, but they were sort of disintegrated. Dmytro Yarosh tried to somehow coordinate them and this is how they came together and organized this group that later became known as the Right Sector and he was their leader. He produced several manifestos and recently he announced that he'd be running for president.

Werman: Right. And he's not expected to win many votes. So the big question today is why does a court in Russia want Yarosh arrested?

Kleimenov: Well, that's a question. Well, one of the ideas is that Russia just wants to portray at least one of the protestor leaders as a terrorist and they want to make that sound official, so that's why the arrest warrant was issued on the grounds of terrorism, just so they can repeat that word all the time.

Werman: Does a Russian court actually have any jurisdiction over a Ukrainian?

Kleimenov: Of course not.

Werman: So what does this arrest warrant actually mean? Not much it seems.

Kleimenov: Well, it means that the media can say that the Russian court issued a warrant to arrest an Ukrainian protest leader on the grounds of terrorism and that's exactly the idea behind Russian media messages. So you would combine the word "Ukraine" and "terrorism", "Ukraine" and "antisemitism", "protest" and "antisemitism", "terrorism". So these words circulate in the world media and create a false picture of what's really going on inside Ukraine.

Werman: You say a false picture of what's going on inside Ukraine, but as for Yarosh, I mean they're slinging a lot of mud at him, that he's a terrorist, they say he's a thug. Is there any truth to what they're saying?

Kleimenov: Well, there have been no facts that would have presented Dmytro Yarosh as a terrorist really. That's definitely not the way people in Ukraine see Yarosh. Who people in Ukraine see as thugs are the former riot police, not really the Right Sector. The Right Sector were actually, together with the Maidan Self-Defense Movement, they were protecting the streets of Kiev during the height of the protests, they were trying to protect the public order because the police was absolutely doing nothing.

Werman: Reporter Alex Kleimenov in Kiev there. On a related note, Russia's seizure of Crimea is spurring the European Union to try and end decades of dependence on Russian gas. The idea is for the EU to develop its own energy supplies and to tap into the Americans' now-abundant resources. At trade talks in Brussels this week, EU negotiators are pressing the US to make importing liquefied natural gas to EU easier. Then there's the cost. The EU's Trade Commissioner lamented that while US natural gas may be cheaper to buy, transporting it to European countries could double the price.