Vladimir Putin insists Russia invaded Crimea to protect the ethnic Russians who live in that southern Ukrainian territory. Ukraine, the Russian president contends, has come under the control of "neo-Nazis and Nazis and anti-Semites," and the country's Russian population is under threat. It is easy to dismiss Putin's rhetoric -- he is, after all, a serial fibber and fabricator who conflates gays and pedophiles and heads a state where Cossacks gas and whip punk rockers in broad daylight.
But while Western governments and pundits are correct to dismiss Putin's pretenses for invading Ukraine, they are wrong to presume his Ukrainian opponents are necessarily in the right. The uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kiev's current government -- and the protesters who brought it to power -- are, indeed, fascists.
If Western governments hope to steer Ukraine clear from the most unsavory characters in Moscow and Kiev, they will need to wage a two-pronged diplomatic offensive: against Putin's propaganda and, at the same time, against Ukraine's resurgent far-right.
Ukraine is home to Svoboda, arguably Europe's most influential far-right movement today. (In the photo above, Svoboda activists seize a Ministry of Agriculture building during Kiev's Euromaidan protests in January.) Party leader Oleh Tyahnybok is on record complaining that his country is controlled by a "Muscovite-Jewish mafia," while his deputy derided the Ukrainian-born film star Mila Kunis as a "dirty Jewess."
In Svoboda's eyes, gays are perverts and black people unfit to represent the nation at Eurovision, lest viewers come away thinking Ukraine is somewhere besides Uganda.
Svoboda began life in the mid-90s as the Social-National Party (a name deliberately redolent of the National Socialist Party, better known as Nazis), with its logo the fascist Wolfsangel. In 2004, the party gave itself an unobjectionable new name (Svoboda means "Freedom") and canned the Nazi imagery, and in the subsequent decade has seen its star swiftly rise.
Today, Svoboda holds a larger chunk of its nation's ministries (nearly a quarter, including the prized defense portfolio) than any other far-right party on the continent.
Ukraine's deputy prime minister represents Svoboda (the smaller, even more extreme "Right Sector" coalition fills the deputy National Security Council chair), as does the prosecutor general and the deputy chair of parliament -- where the party is the fourth-largest.
And Svoboda's fresh faces are scarcely different from the old: one of its freshmen members of parliament is the founder of the "Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre" and has hailed the Holocaust as a "bright period" in human history.While this article unfortunately has some biases of its own, including the PC insistence on calling these fascists "right-wing", the revelations of Svoboda's true image are still red flag raisers. Not that Russia is any better though, because they've been chummy with anti-semites and racists too.
Ukraine is a country badly in need of a good sanction themselves to send a message this is unacceptable. Why, what if someday they build up a significant Muslim population not unlike some of Russia's own sattelite countries? This is very bad.