Meet Moscow’s New “Ukrainian Front”

Today Ukraine’s beleaguered President Viktor Yanukovych returned to work after four days of “sick leave.” His country is spiraling into chaos. Kyiv’s writ no long carries in much of the West of country, which is something like open revolt against the Yanukovych government. While that government has promised some concessions to the diverse opposition, little has been achieved yet, while beatings and abductions of journalists and anti-regime activists continue. It is becoming increasingly difficult to see how this crisis can be resolved peacefully.

Some of this dirty work may be attributable to Moscow, as I’ve previously reported. What’s not in doubt is that Russian media over the last week has ramped up its anti-opposition rhetoric, with regular castigations of Ukrainians who dislike Yanukovych as “fascists” and worse. Some of this borders on hysteria. Kremlin-linked outlets in particular have been fanning the flames, resurrecting memories of the Second World War – of course with regular reminders that some Ukrainians, especially in the West, resisted Soviet rule mightily, indeed into the 1950s. Perhaps most alarming is the current of discussion in Moscow media that openly mentions civil war and the fragmentation of Ukraine into as many as five countries, a process that could not be achieved without major bloodshed.

What Russia’s enhanced political meddling in Ukraine looks like was revealed today in an article in the Moscow daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta which, to be clear, is the Kremlin’s official outlet. Maksim Makarychev’s report, titled “Divided. Who will conquer? A front is created in Ukraine to fight against EuroMaidan,” details the establishment of a new political grouping in Eastern Ukraine to back the Yanukovych government against the opposition, which the article slyly hints is in the pay of – unnamed, presumably Western – foreigners.

This new organization, called the Ukrainian Front (Украинский фронт), aims to “save” Ukraine from foreign meddling and revolution, and has just been established in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, under the “grassroots” auspices of Yanukovych’s ruling Party of Regions. Harking back to the Second World War and the Stalinist era, the article cites the stirring words of Mykhaylo Dobkin, one of Yanukovych’s top functionaries in Kharkiv and a prime mover behind the front’s establishment: “After seventy years a new Ukrainian Front is starting to operate in Ukraine, the members of which will follow the example of our fathers and grandfathers and free our land, like in the 1940’s.”

According to Makarychev, “representatives from twenty Ukrainian regions gathered in Kharkiv: They all spoke about the need to put an end to the seizure of state buildings and to violence across the country.  The new organization’s main priority is to free the state institutions that have already been seized.” Additionally, the Ukrainian Front seeks to crush the opposition with a “push for a referendum on completely abolishing deputies’ immunity and on cutting the number of parliamentary deputies by one-third.”

It seems Moscow is not pleased with its protege Yanukovych and his inability to crush the opposition, so it is forming a new grouping to “assist” the hardliners. Given that the appearance of the Ukrainian Front has been heralded with a birth announcement in the Kremlin’s official newspaper, Russian approval and support can be assumed.

Moreover, the embrace of Stalinist-era rhetoric by the Ukrainian Front indicates a great deal, and will serve as a needless irritant towards Ukrainians who detest Stalin and his murderous legacy. In a similar vein, Communist activists have unveiled a bust of Stalin in Western Ukraine, a provocation that is about as offensive to most locals there as a statue of Hitler would be in the rest of Europe. Of course, hailing Stalin’s victories in the 1940’s is of a piece with the current Kremlin vilification campaign against all Ukrainians who do not want their country to be subjugated by Russia, a nasty agitprop line that regrettably has Western supporters, not all of them unwitting dupes.

Now that the Ukrainian Front has entered the picture, with Moscow’s imprimatur, expect the situation in Ukraine to only get worse. It would be difficult to overstate the danger Ukraine and Europe are in at the moment thanks to intimidation, meddling and provocation by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. European governments would be well advised to not permit naked Russian interference of a violent and coercive sort in Ukrainian politics: this cannot end well.