Power thinking: Autonomy-seeking ethnic group, Right Sector movement in Ukraine conjured up by RT?
Pyatt recently traveled to the western region of Zakarpatye [Zakarpattia], the area that made international headlines in July after armed clashes between police and ultranationalists from the Right Sector in the town of Mukachevo left several people dead.
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While the Ukrainian Security Service and National Guard are pressing on with their operation against armed members of the far right group, the US official visited the region that borders the EU, where militants are believed to be hiding in the woods, refusing to lay down arms.
During his visit to Zakarpatye, Pyatt had the opportunity to see many places including Mukachevo, according to Ukrainian agency UNIAN. He said that he “saw a region which seeks unity with Ukraine and wants to participate in the process of reforms launched by the government in Kiev,” in comments to the agency during a phone conference on Tuesday.
“The phenomenon of separatism in Zakarpatye is a product of Russian propaganda and Russia Today (RT) producers’ imagination,” UNIAN cited the US Ambassador as saying.
While it is easy to miss the armed Right Sector fighters hiding deep in the forests of Zakarpatye, especially after President Poroshenko gave orders for security forces to disarm them and all other illegal armed groups in the country, there remains the question as to how an entire local ethnic group calling for the international community to recognize their rights to self-determination managed to slip the US official’s attention.
The Rusyns is an ethnic group fighting for survival in western Ukraine. Its self-proclaimed leaders, who have been facing prosecution for what Kiev calls extremist activities, have been seeking autonomy for their region for decades. Over the centuries, this group, with its own language and culture, has been living at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains as part of different countries. Now with over 10,000 of them living within the borders of Ukraine, the Rusyns have been fruitlessly asking the government to agree to a self-governing autonomy since the fall of the USSR.
“The pressure of forced assimilation is so strong that if we don’t fight for our status, in just 15 years the Rusyns will only be mentioned in school books,” one of the movement’s leaders told RT back in 2008. In 2014, Petr Getsko, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Rusyn state, was accused of separatism by Ukrainian Security Services and was put on a wanted list by Kiev authorities during the Yushchenko administration for anti-Ukrainian and anti-state activities.
In 2009, the first World Congress of subcarpathian Rusyns adopted a declaration proclaiming their independence, and appealed to state leaders, parliaments and governments to recognize their republic. This history may have been all but buried by the ashes of battles on the opposite eastern side of Ukraine, but for a recent gathering of the Cross-National Assembly of Transcarpathia with three major national minorities from western Ukrainian regions participating – taking place in none other than the town of Mukachevo.
The meeting was set up by the leaders of the Hungarian, Romanian and Rusyn ethnic groups in order to unite their efforts in defending their minorities’ rights and values. The Assembly said it would try to engage Kiev in talks to officially recognize a referendum held in 1991, when “over 78 percent of the residents of the region voted for autonomy.”
While this group living in western Ukraine has been calling for dialogue, others – “pro-Ukraine” nationalists – took to arms, with Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh calling on the National Guard, and the Ukrainian army and security forces to stop obeying Kiev’s orders and refusing to issue an order for his militants to lay down their arms, writing “Nobody can take away our right to a last fight,” on his Facebook page. President Poroshenko called the appearance of heavily armed men in Mukachevo, “a thousand kilometers away from the front line,” an attempt to destabilize the situation in Ukraine.
Yarosh, who was one of the main drivers of the violent coup in Kiev last year, is wanted by Interpol for incitement of terrorism and extremist activities, and his Right Sector group is banned in Russia as an extremist organization.
READ MORE: ‘Last fight’? Ukraine nationalist leader calls on army, National Guard to stop obeying Kiev
He has recently gone as far as calling the current Ukrainian government “traitors” and rallied his supporters for a thousand-strong march through the heart of Kiev this month, where he called on the current authorities to resign. The Right Sector leader said the demonstration marked a “new stage of Ukrainian revolution.”
However, according to the US Ambassador speaking to UNIAN, “the whole phenomenon of the Right Sector has been exaggerated by Russian propaganda.”
A day earlier, the same Ukrainian news agency cited US geopolitical intelligence firm Stratfor, as saying that “the Right Sector nationalist movement will begin the creation of the so-called ‘revolutionary committees’ responsible for staging a no-confidence referendum vote against the entire Ukrainian government throughout all of Ukraine.”
UNIAN also reported that the congress of the Right Sector organization “decided to rename the Right Sector, changing its status from a military-political movement to a national liberation movement.”
READ MORE: Thousands of Ukraine ultranationalists gather on Maidan, announce ‘new revolution’
So, either UNIAN is promoting Russian propaganda covering a non-existent right wing movement, or maybe something really is wrong in a state where a local conflict, allegedly based on redistribution of wealth, can result in an armed group engaging the government in a standoff across the country.
“The picture of what is happening there today [in Mukachevo] is not black and white. It’s just astoundingly black,” said Poroshenko, the head of the Ukrainian state, as quoted by UNIAN again. Or is our imagination so rich that we have just read between the lines?