Conflict & Justice

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


Dmytro Yarosh, center, leader of the Right Sector movement, appears during a rally in Kiev last month.


David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters

The message from Russia has been pretty clear. Ukraine has been taken over by neo-fascists, putting ethnic Russians in peril.

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That's purportedly why Russian troops have occupied the Crimean region of Ukraine, and why Moscow is supporting a referendum in Crimea this weekend over whether to leave Ukraine and join Russia.

Western leaders disagree, and are pushing for Ukraine to remain united under the new government that came to power after a popular revolution ousted President Viktor Yanukovych last month.

On Wednesday, a Russian court issued an arrest warrant for Ukrainian politician Dmytro Yarosh, on charges of inciting terrorism. Yarosh is running for president on the "Right Sector" ticket. The Right Sector provided some real muscle during the recent Ukrainian revolution, according to freelance reporter Alex Kleimenov in Kiev.

Kleimenov says the Right Sector basically "reignited the protest movement" back in mid-January. He says the protests were going nowhere when these masked men, armed with bats, attacked riot police. "Everyone was asking 'who are these men?'" Kleimenov says. The attack transformed the protest movement from a peaceful one into one prepared to confront the regime.

"That's when Yarosh came to attention," Kleimenov adds, "because he was leading Right Sector." Kleimenov says Yarosh had managed to unite a number of fringe nationalist groups under the Right Sector banner.

Despite their violent methoods, Kleimenov says Ukrainians "don't see them as a violent group ... they see them as warriors, and actually quite a decent number of people praise them for what they did." He adds that together with the Maidan Self-Defense Movement "they were protecting the streets of Kiev during the height of the protests — trying to protect public order because the police was doing absolutely nothing."

Yarosh was unknown before the protests, but he's now running for president. However, he's a long way way from being a front-runner. Mainstream parties are scoring much higher in opinion polls.

But the thuggish image of the Right Sector is fodder for Moscow's propaganda campaign.