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New Violence in Kiev - But This Time Nobody Cares

  • Whereas western reporting from the Maidan in 2013-14 was sensationalist and emotional...
  • ...reporting on the recent most deadly Kiev demonstrations has been dispassionate and factual

Is the west tired of Ukraine and its problems? Peter Hitchens, prominent British conservative commentator thinks so

This article originally appeared in the Daily Mail

Forgive me for mentioning it, but serious violence has returned to Kiev, scene (in February 2014) of the lawless overthrow of the legitimate President of Ukraine. Viktor Yanukovych, by a violent, armed mob. For a list of the 18 police officers incontestably killed in the 2014 events, whose deaths are proof that this was not a wholly one-sided clash between ruthless state and peaceful, unarmed people, see here.

This supposedly spontaneous events of 2014 (in my experience as a revolutionary, spontaneity takes a lot of organising), in which serving foreign politicians and diplomats openly showed their partiality towards the demonstrators, and the legitimate President was unconstitutionally removed from office, has now passed into myth as a laudable exercise in idealistic and disinterested people power, supposedly aimed at ending the corruption and general squalor of Ukraine’s oligarch-dominated state.

To which one can only respond with helpless if bitter laughter, as the resulting government is actually headed by an oligarch and entirely dominated by them, and if Ukraine has since ceased in any important way to be Olympically corrupt, then I have to say I have seen no reports of this.

Now, I have from time to time, in many debates on this subject, pointed out that grave danger in which the Kiev government finds itself. Having come to power through mob violence, it has no real moral protection from falling in the same way.

And the forces which carried it to power still exist, though slightly altered. Their hard core were then concentrated round the ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party. This has since been displaced by Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party, which mopped up Svoboda’s vote in 2014 and now holds 22 parliamentary seats and 7.5% of the vote, a fact Kiev apologists will hope you don’t know when they point out (accurately) Svoboda’s failure to do well at the October elections.

They also relied heavily on the hard men of the ‘Right Sector’, many of whom are presumed to have ended up in semi-autonomous units in Ukraine’s otherwise shambolic Army, where they have been prominent in the fight against Russian-speaking separatists, backed by Moscow, in the eastern part of Ukraine.

This has now settled into a sort of Maginot war around the port of Mariupol, which has sprouted huge concrete defences and is ringed with howitzers, like something out a history book. 

These ultra-nationalist forces are showing signs of strong discontent with the Poroshenko government, not least because of its recent realistic and non-Utopian attempts to reach a compromise with Russia over the embattled east.

So on Tuesday, the (London) Daily Telegraph reported as follows:

‘TWO national guardsmen yesterday died of the wounds they sustained in a grenade attack outside Ukraine's parliament, as tensions flared over how to end the war against pro-Russian separatists in the east.

The clashes in Kiev erupted on Monday after Ukrainian MPs voted in favour of legislation that would devolve power as part of a peace agreement reached in February. Critics have denounced the move as tantamount to surrender. Yesterday the Radical party, which has been accused of involvement in the violence, announced it would quit the governing coalition.

Meanwhile, a new ceasefire appeared to hold in the east, on the first day of the new school year. "As of 12pm there were no reports of violations by the illegal armed groups. Now the situation is calm," said Oleksander Motuzyanyk, a government spokesman.

Some 144 people were injured on Monday when a crowd including supporters of the nationalist Svoboda party used batons, smoke bombs and other street weapons to try to storm parliament.

One national guard officer died on Monday and a second died early yesterday as a result of injuries caused by a hand grenade, said Arsen Avakov, the interior minister.

The national guard reported another death yesterday afternoon, saying that the 20-year-old guardsman had died from shrapnel wounds to the brain.

Petro Poroshenko, the president, condemned the violence as a "stab in the back". A suspect arrested at the scene was identified as a Svoboda party member who fought with a volunteer militia in the east.’

There was also this report in Metro, the free daily newspaper

‘A NATIONAL guard officer was killed yesterday when a grenade exploded outside Ukraine’s parliament amid violent clashes between protesters and riot police.

Another 100 officers were injured – ten seriously – as petrol bombs were hurled by nationalists opposing a vote to give greater powers to separatist regions in the east. 

Kiev mayor Vitali Klitschko called the demonstrations ‘a bloody provocation’ and said about 30 people had been detained, including the person who threw the grenade. Many protesters were masked and carrying sticks and truncheons. 

Interior minister Arsen Avakov blamed the trouble on ultra-nationalist party Svoboda. 

‘No political differences can justify what you did today,’ he told its leaders.Devolution of power was a condition aimed at ending the fighting between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists that has killed 6,800.’

And this from the ‘Independent’:

As MPs voted on a contentious bill to try to bring peace to the country and grant concessions to territories still held by Russian-backed rebels, protests turned deadly on the steps of parliament. OLIVER CARROLL reports from Kiev. Premier accuses protesters of being worse than the separatists 


The all-too-familiar sight of masked men, Molotov cocktails, wooden sticks and explosives returned to the streets of Kiev yesterday, as violence between police and the mostly nationalist protesters broke out after a contentious vote in the Ukrainian national parliament. More than 100 people were injured, and one national guardsman died as a result of a grenade thrown during the clashes.

The violence was the worst in Kiev since the current government took power in February 2014, and dramatically highlights the vulnerability of the Western-brokered peace deal agreed in Minsk in February this year.

Key to that was the introduction of yesterday's decentralisation bill, devolving more autonomy to the regions, including those currently under separatist control, which was insisted upon in order to help secure the agreement of the rebels and win the backing of Russia's President, Vladimir Putin.

The planned new law has proven extremely controversial, with opponents suggesting constitutional changes are being pushed through undemocratically at Western insistence, and that they effectively freeze the conflict in eastern Ukraine, implicitly ceding control to the pro-Russian rebels who control large parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

On the eve of voting, however, explicit mention of the special status of the eastern regions was removed from the bill, as government officials were said to be involved in intensive last-minute haranguing and wooing of wavering MPs.

Nonetheless, in true Ukrainian style, a tumultuous session in parliament followed. The message was clear from the first minute of the debate, when MPs from Oleh Lyashko's Radical Party stormed parliament to occupy the Speaker's podium. Once the session they attempted to drown out discussion with loudspeakers, sirens, and by chanting "shame" over the speeches. At times, it seemed that the Speaker's only way of restoring decorum was by shouting "Glory to Ukraine" - although even that soon lost its power. Several scuffles broke out around the podium.

In the end, the government was only able to muster 265 votes from the 368 lawmakers in the hall, and two of the coalition member parties voted against. While this simple majority was enough for the bill to pass its first reading, it was not the 300 "supermajority" required for a constitutional change to be fully approved. Its second reading is now likely to be delayed for some time, putting at risk the deal supposed to secure peace in the east.

In a live address on television, Ukraine's Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, called for life imprisonment for the person who threw the grenade - who police said they had arrested - and said the right-wing protesters were "worse" than the separatist rebels because they were destroying the country from within "under the guise of patriotism".

"The cynicism of this crime lies in the fact that while the Russian federation and its bandits are trying and failing to destroy the Ukrainian state on the eastern front, the so-called pro-Ukrainian political forces are trying to open another front in the country's midst," he said.

The Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko, called the bill "a difficult but a logical step toward peace", and insisted that it wouldn't give any autonomy to the rebels.

But news that the bill had passed its first reading was enough to tip the already aggressive crowd of protesters waiting outside the parliament building into violence. Several had come prepared, wearing masks and brandishing wooden sticks. At about 1pm, The Independent saw a group of men begin to assault policemen with sticks. A short while later, another small group broke through the substantial police cordon and began throwing missiles - bottles, stones, bricks - at the police.

Eventually, the missiles became Molotov cocktails and, it is believed, grenades or improvised explosive packbegan, ages of some description. There were several pools of blood around the south and west sides of the parliamentary building, but it is unclear whether these were the result of multiple incidents, or of the injured being treated elsewhere. Several of the reinforced windows had been damaged by shrapnel or some other projectile.

Anton Heraschenko, an MP and adviser at the interior ministry, suggested at one point that gunfire had also been involved, but this was not confirmed and others argued that the injuries were more consistent with shrapnel.

Judging by the banners, a large number of the violent protesters were associated with the far-right Svoboda ("Freedom") party. Bloggers later posted several pictures of leading Svoboda members on the front lines of the clashes.

After coming to prominence during the Euromaidan revolution, Svoboda has become a largely marginalised force in Ukrainian politics. In last October's parliamentary elections, it was unable to muster enough votes to break through the 5 per cent barrier, effectively shutting it out of power. It had until yesterday been relatively quiet.

Many have questioned the timing of Svoboda's intervention, noting that it plays into the hands of a Russian narrative that Ukrainian politics is excessively influenced by the far right.

Mr Yatsenyuk said the day's events signalled the opening of a "second front" against Ukraine and called upon all political parties to denounce the protests.

The officer who was killed in the clashes yesterday was a 25-year-old conscript, the Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, said. A further 122 people needed hospital treatment, most of them officers, but including some Ukrainian journalists and two French reporters, he added.

"Pro-Russian bandits try to destroy Ukraine in the east. Now pro-Ukrainian political forces try to open another front" ‘

There was also a report in the London ‘Times’, behind a paywall, which said that nine police officers were said to be in a critical condition, that casualties ‘streamed into ‘ hospitals and there was blood on the road. It pointed out (which is true) that Ukraine is under pressure from EU nations to governments to make the constitutional changes, giving more autonomy to the war-ravaged areas in the east. Ukraine being virtually bankrupt, this pressure is considerable. But the votes may not be there in the Ukraine’s chamber of deputies. And these demonstrations may provide a pretxt for wavering deputies to resist the reform.

What’s striking is that the reports of these events tend to be well inside the newspapers and well down the broadcasts, and to be pretty strictly factual, lacking the breathless emotionalism of the reports on the famous ‘Maidan’ of the winter of 2013-2014.

My suspicion is that the Poroshenko state, by being both ineffectual and intransigent, has forfeited a lot of the idealistic support it had from the ‘West’ when it first began, and that Russia, having stood up for itself, and made it plain it will not allow the eastern rebels to be defeated, is very slowly being welcomed back into the fold of respectability, which may leave the ‘New Cold War’ enthusiasts without a cause. Though it will never be as beloved in the EU and the USA as it was under the Yeltsin kleptocracy, which happily allowed the ‘West’ to walk all over Russia, and plunder it.

It will be interesting to see if and how this happens, and how the enthusiasts for the new, pure, democratic Ukraine cope with the realisation that no such thing ever was on offer, or will happen. The paradox is that Russia, by regaining Crimea (something which is now pretty much de facto recognised) now has much less influence over Ukraine as a whole than it used to. 

By the way, now that we all know so much more about the ‘democratic’ process by which Britain was brought into the EU, its dishonesty and general lack of real knowledge, can people please stop telling me that the countries of central Europe are willing members of the EU and NATO? Their elites are certainly willing. But I think the views of the people are a lot more ambiguous. I feel a special pang for Poland, released from Soviet captivity only to be immediately led, with chains of money, into the open prison of the EU.   

I wonder if the anti-Russian frenzy of Poland’s more populist politicians can be compared to the fervent anti-Israel feelings encouraged in the police states of the Muslim world – a safety valve in which genuine discontent can be funnelled into phoney emotionalism against an enemy who isn’t really an enemy at all. Poland doesn't even have a border with Russia, unless you count the Kaliningrad exclave. But it is now wholly dominated by a German-led EU. 

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