Could an Ultra-Nationalist Become Prime Minister of Ukraine?

February 5, 2014
Protesters storm Kiev City Hall, January 26 | Photo ITAR-TASS / Michael Pochuev

Ukraine’s Svoboda party is a right-win, anti-communist, nationalist party led by Oleh Tyahnybok. The party is in direct opposition to Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, but it has also been criticized as being ultra-nationalistic, or even xenophobic. It is just one of the parties vying for support from the anti-Yanukovych protesters in the streets of Ukraine. Svoboda is in a coalition of opposition parties that includes the more liberal Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform (UDAR party), led by former professional boxer Vitali Klitschko. In this article by the Russian government-owned newspaper Rossiikaya Gazeta, the possibility of a Svoboda takeover in Ukraine is raised. – Ed.

On Wednesday, the ruling Party of Regions and the opposition continued negotiations in the Verkhovna Rada on the conditions of the “amnesty law.” However, no matter what version of this document is ultimately adopted, it is obvious that it will further strengthen the influence of the nationalists from the Svoboda party. While both liberal opposition leaders, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Vitali Klitschko, as if deliberately withdrew into the shadows, the leader of the Svoboda, Oleg Tyahnybok, in contrast, deliberately actively participated in drafting of the final agreement with the government. The majority of the several hundred extremists detained during the riots in Kiev to varying degrees share the views of nationalists. So in parliament Tyahnybok protects the interests of the potential electorate. In addition, it must be admitted, that today the leader of the Svoboda remains the only opposition politician able to fulfill one of the main conditions of the forthcoming amnesty, that is to persuade those who have been protesting for the last 15 days to vacate the administrative buildings they occupied and to unblock roads and streets. The current Maidan activists will trust neither Klitschko, nor Yatsenyuk.

Ukrainian authorities are ready to release from criminal responsibility all the participants in the protests except those accused of murder, infliction of bodily injury causing death, torture and kidnapping. “This has been agreed with us,” confirmed Tyahnybok. But the nationalists want their supporters released immediately. “Perhaps we will find a common ground with the authorities, we don’t want things to get messy now,” said the leader of Svoboda.

And what about the liberal opposition? Why are they silent, giving the political initiative to Bandera’s successor [Stepan Bandera was a famous Ukrainian revolutionary and ultra-nationalist who tried to establish a Ukraine that was free from Society control during World War II – Ed.]? As a result, Svoboda, that received about 10 percent of the seats and was regarded by in the West as a marginal party, that accidentally slipped in the parliament on a wave of nationalism, is gaining ground today, becoming one of the chief negotiators with the president and his team.

In a situation where the leader of the Udar party, Vitali Klitschko, said that neither he nor his supporters will participate in the new Ukrainian government, and Yatsenyuk publicly refused to take the post of prime minister, one cannot rule out a large-scale influx of nationalists in the government. In the wake of talk about bringing the opposition into the government Tyahnybok could be supported by liberals as a candidate for prime minister or first vice-premier.

Such appointment will be supported in the United States, where it has already been announced where a yet to be formed cabinet should lead Ukraine. The White House statement says that that President Viktor Yanukovych called Washington himself to share the latest information on the situation in Ukraine. Vice President Joe Biden urged the Ukrainian leader to continue to work with the opposition and form a government that will pave the way towards European integration. So, in a situation where other liberal opposition leaders have refused to become part of a new cabinet, Tyahnybok as a candidate for prime minister may be acceptable to Western institutions.

The fact that such a development is possible is indirectly suggested by the statement by the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. In order to ensure himself in advance against possible protests from his European and American colleagues in connection with the possible appointment of a Bandera follower to a high position in the Ukrainian government, Tusk asked all external players “not to meddle with their advice and to keep it to themselves, if that advice is not wanted in Kiev.” He then invited all the neighbors of Ukraine without any exception to keep neutrality.

How to convince Yanukovych to transfer power to the opposition? That’s what a former U.S. ambassador in Kiev Steven Pifer told ITAR-TASS. According to him, visa and financial sanctions should be “aimed at people from the inner circle of the President of Ukraine.” “It has to be made clear to them, that they too can fall under sanctions if they don’t press Yanukovych to resolve the crisis peacefully,” – said Pifer.

Although officially the Verkhovna Rada is not going to officially discuss the candidacy of the new prime minister, focusing on the most urgent issues, i.e. amnesty and wrapping up of Maidan, it is obvious that the issue of the new government is being discussed behind the scenes. Just like the possible new direction that Ukraine might follow under a new cabinet.

Commenting on the recent events in Kiev, the First Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Igor Shuvalov asked journalists not to speculate about a possible revision of the Russian-Ukrainian agreements. He believes it is important, together with the Ukrainian government “to restart all the cooperation projects, that have been announced recently.” “If the Ukrainian government, whatever it is once it’s formed, announces a different agenda, then for us it could be the reason to reconsider the agreement,” said Shuvalov.

Brussels is ready to make a new, more attractive proposal to Kiev on the terms of EU association, once the new prime minister is appointed. This is a possible development the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk hinted about.

And again, Kiev will have to make a choice…