On Friday, tensions mounted in Ukraine’s Crimea region. Russian forces, already in control of much of Crimea, expanded their control of the region this week, prompting President Obama to issue idle threats to Russia. Obama warned that “the United States will stand with the international community in affirming that there will be costs for any military intervention in Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State John Kerry is traveling to Kiev (Kyiv) to meet with Ukrainian leaders. Obama is considering asset freezes, travel visa bans, and sanctions to punish Russia. Sec. Kerry has said that the administration is considering “all options” when it comes to penalizing Russia. However, threats made against Putin seem to be nothing more than political theater on the part of the Obama administration.
Putin is unlikely to be swayed by threats, though the Obama administration’s recent actions have managed to damage the already-fragile relationship between the US and Russia. From Putin’s view, western governments are supporting a violent, extreme right-wing fascist uprising comparable to the rise of power of the Nazis in the 1930s.
The Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry has suggested parallels between the current situation in Ukraine and the Brown Revolution, which brought the Nazis into power in 1933. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, has accused the West of “encouraging the opposition to act outside of the law,” and asked “Why do we not hear statements of condemnation toward those who seize government buildings, attack and burn police officers, and voice racist and anti-Semitic slogans?”
“What does the inciting of street protests, which are growing increasingly violent, have to do with promoting democratic principles?” Lavrov asked at a security conference in Munich. “The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states that the freedom of expression cannot be illegal and is a basic right. But riots, violent actions give the grounds to limit those freedoms,” he said.
The most radical opponents of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych began taking up arms and instigating violent attacks on riot police early this year. Until January, protests against Yanukovych’s decision not to sign a free trade agreement with the European Union had been relatively peaceful. “Now there is a radical element that is not fully controlled by the opposition,” Aleksei Pushkov, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of Russia’s lower house of Parliament said. “It’s not a political process anymore. It’s a quasi-civil war.”
Ukraine’s antigovernment demonstrations have become known as the “Euromaidan,” which has three main leaders: Vitali Klitschko, Oleh Tyahnybok, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Oleh Tyahnybok is the leader of the Nationalist party, Svoboda, which has grown significantly during the past year. The party traces its roots to the Ukrainian partisan army of WWII, which was “loosely allied with Nazi Germany,” according to the New York Times.
Until 2004, Svoboda had been called the Social-Nationalist Party, which critics said was just a word flip away from its true ambitions and a deliberate reference to the National Socialism of the Nazis. Unabashed neo-Nazis still populate its ranks, organizations that study hate groups in Europe say.
RT reports that after Yanukovych fled, Euromaidan protesters destroyed a memorial known as the “Soviet Soldier,” a monument dedicated to soldiers who died liberating Ukraine from Nazi forces. According to Max Blumenthal of the Centre for Research on Globalization, “White supremacist banners and Confederate flags were draped inside Kiev’s occupied City Hall… Seig heil salutes and the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol have become an increasingly common [sight] in Maidan Square, and neo-Nazi forces have established ‘autonomous zones’ in and around Kiev.”