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Published in Stream:
Ukraine Live Day 519
Press by
The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
What Happened At Today's Right Sector Rally In Kiev, And Why Should We Care?
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Only Hundreds of Participants in Right Sector Rally -- AP
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Today, members of Ukraine's Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor) gathered in Kiev to hold a meeting, in which the leaders of the ultranationalist movement asked for the annulment of the Minsk agreement, a referendum to voice a vote of no confidence in the current Ukrainian, and the declaration of war against Russia.

Most of those who came to today's Right Sector rally have now left Maidan Square:

Here is a screen capture from a live feed from Maidan Square taken a while ago:

The rally was not particularly large. As we've been reporting, the Associated Press says only hundreds attended the rally. Though some pictures showed a packed crowd, wider shots showed a significant amount of empty space in the square.

The Russian state media, like, greatly exaggerated the size of the crowd. Here is their "breaking news" headline at the moment:


That story, which contains a picture and video of a partially-empty Maidan Square, has an estimate of the crowd which is much larger than any other journalists are reporting. The accompanying video shows mostly scenes unrelated to today's rally:

Up to 6,000 supporters of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Right Sector movement gathered in central Kiev on Tuesday, calling on authorities to resign. The rally marks a “new stage of Ukrainian revolution,” the extremists' leader Dmitry Yarosh announced.

The radicals marched through the center of the Ukrainian capital on Tuesday evening, gathering on Maidan (Independence Square). The rally largely consisted of people wearing camouflage clothes, waving the red and black flags of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA). They were chanting “death to enemies,” TASS reported.

At the same time, supporters of Right Sector on social media have also claimed larger numbers than most of the media.

How much support does Right Sector have? Beyond the rally in Kiev today, we can look at the election results and see that support for ultranationalist groups in Ukraine is small, in fact smaller than ever. For insight, see our analysis of this subject last October.

So why are the Russian state run propaganda outlets and the party which wants war declared on Russia both spreading the same myth?

Right Sector, Revolution, and War

To answer this one must understand Right Sector's role in both the Euromaidan Revolution and the time that has passed since. Ultranationalists like Right Sector and Azov fervently supported the goals or Euromaidan, and while they made up a very tiny portion of the crowds in Maidan Square last February, many of their fighters prominently defended the borders of the square from the onslaught of Ukraine's infamous (and disbanded) Berkut riot police (an organization which has now been reformed in Russian-occupied Crimea).

In the first months after the success of the Euromaidan Revolution, there was concern among the interim government that they could not entirely trust the police, military, and intelligence services.  After the annexation of Crimea, and as pro-Russian fighters began to take territory in the Donbass, ultranationalist volunteer groups like Right Sector and Azov flocked to the front lines, where they have been ever since.

The Ukrainian government has, since that time, had an uneasy relationship with these groups, seeking their help in the fight against the Russian military incursion while simultaneously not wanting to either endorse or alienate the groups. As the Ukrainian military has proven its reliability on the battlefield, the need for such volunteer groups has diminished, and the inability to get these groups to integrate with the wider military has become, in the eyes of many Ukrainians, a problem.

The Russian government, on the other hand, has loved to make a big deal about the presence of ultranationalist "Nazis" in the streets of Kiev and in the ranks of the military. As long as they ignored the open connections between the Russian government and its proxies in Ukraine with the global far right, the Kremlin has been able to use the presence of ultranationalists in Ukraine as an ideological justification for its interference in Ukraine (which it denies is a reality).

Tensions Building

In the recent battle for Shirokino, a town to the east of the coastal city of Mariupol, the Azov Regiment was on the front lines of the fight -- some say despite the desires of the Ukrainian military to withdraw from the town. The Azov Regiment routinely expressed its frustration that the Ukrainian military was neither leading the charge nor appropriately supporting or recognizing the efforts of the ultranationalist volunteers, despite the fact that Azov is (at least nominally) under the control of the National Guard. 

Meanwhile, the shoot-out earlier this month in Mukachevo, Zakarpattia, have pushed tensions to the breaking point. On July 11, a group of Right Sector fighters had a disagreement with men loyal to oligarch Mikhail Lano, a former member of ousted president Viktro Yanukovych's political party, the Party of Regions. By all reports, the Right Sector men shot some of Lano's men, then engaged in a gunfight with Ukrainian police.

Earlier today, the new governor of Zakarpattia, Hennadiy Moskal, accused Pravyi Sektor of kidnapping and torturing. He said that 13 members are still on the run in the region's forests.

The Associated Press photographed a group of Right Sector supporters at today's rally wearing T-shirts of Sashko Bily, a Right Sector leader who was killed in a police raid last year. Resentment for the authorities is becoming increasingly obvious among many rank-and-file members.

Right Sector's supporters say that their fighters -- who were equipped with machineguns and rocket-propelled grenades despite being over a thousand kilometers from Ukraine's front lines -- were fighting against Lano's corrupt smuggling ring, and the police are loyal to Lano and the former government, not Ukraine, thus the gunfight. According to this narrative, the oligarchs which the Euromaidan Revolution tried to remove is incomplete -- the oligarchs still rule.

Right Sector's critics say that it is engaged in an off-the-books economy, and this was a turf war over the price of black market cigarettes. In this narrative, Right Sector is a rogue group which does not represent the wishes of the Ukrainian people but which has been allowed to operate above the rule of law.

According to many subscribing to part or all of either one of those theories, the Ukrainian government has to take this opportunity to fix problems which it has -- for a variety of reasons, some legitimate and some less so -- refused or been unable to fix up to this point.

Either way, the Russian government, which has been sowing instability in Ukraine since before the Euromaidan Revolution, is loving every minute of this fight.

-- James Miller