On 4 September members of far-right nationalist organizations held an aggressive rally in front of the premises of a Ukrainian TV channel, Inter (National Information Systems Ltd, which is a part of Inter Media Group). The protest resulted in a fire which broke out in one of the rooms and damaged the server equipment. The representatives of Inter blamed the activists for arson attempt, but the latter claimed that the fire was self-inflicted and was set in order to cover up the evidence of the channel’s cooperation with the Russian security services and the enemy’s media that broadcast Russian propaganda.
Inter is associated with the activities of political forces that are in opposition to the present government – particularly, with the main figures of Opposition Bloc (Serhiy Lyovochkin and Yuri Boyko’s parliamentary group). The channel’s beneficiary owner is Dmitry Firtash (a billionaire known for making his fortune in energy business, particularly natural gas production and trading – Ed.). Firtash currently resides in Austria, where he was arrested on the FBI request after the U.S. side had filed a lawsuit against him. His arrest coincided with the end of Euromaidan and the approaching presidential elections in spring of 2014.
Inter is the leading Ukrainian TV channel in terms of the number of program views. Its share of the total number of views is around 25%. At the same time, it clearly stands out among other Ukrainian TV and Internet channels as being loyal to pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine. This fact arouses protests among radical nationalists, who speak out against the channel’s existence itself.
Inter has been a target of nationalistic protests before. On the 25th of February, 2016, representatives of the political wing of the National Guard Regiment “Azov” – the so called Azov Civil Corps – blocked the entrance to its building, demanding the channel’s closure and calling it “the Kremlin’s mouthpiece”. Moreover, they promised to hold similar actions all around Ukraine. Their indignation was triggered by the words of Inter’s editor-in-chief Maria Stolyarova, who used explicit language while running the live coverage of the actions commemorating “Nebesna Sotnya” – the victims of Maidan shootings in February 2014. In Ukraine, the general public interpreted it as disrespectful attitude towards the fallen activists of Euromaidan.
Azov Civil Corps is a political project of the member of parliament Andrii Biletsky, who earlier was the head of Ukrainian national-socialist organization Patriot of Ukraine and a network of affiliated smaller organizations throughout Ukraine, united in the National-Socialist Assembly.
By the end of Maidan Biletsky was in prison, but was he was pardoned by Verkhovna Rada in February, 2014. His name was on the amnesty list put to the vote by MP Oleg Lyashko. According to Lyashko, Biletsky, together with other nationalists on the list, had been victims of political repression campaign waged by The Party of Regions.
After that, Biletsky became a close ally of Ukrainian Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, who allowed him and his fellows to take active part in the suppression of separatists’ actions in the Eastern Ukraine. Later, Avakov made him head of the Azov National Guard Regiment, the members of which were recruited among the Patriot of Ukraine participants, pro-Ukrainian far-right football hooligans coming from all over the country, as well as nationalists from Russia, who had come to Ukraine to support the opposition during Maidan and stayed to fight in the conflict that followed.
Despite Azov’s popularity, structurally it was still subordinated to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and, subsequently, the National Guard, while it is the Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces of Ukraine who bear the main burden of military operations. According to the regulations, Azov, on its part, handles the police functions on reclaimed territories, even though it takes part in military action when being transferred to the General Staff’s operational control. This reduces Azov’s potential and its possible military initiatives.
Since the end of 2014 the campaign to transfer volunteer regiments of National Guard to secondary missions in the conflict zone is under way. Azov was affected by this tendency as well. The regiment was transferred from its former location in the frontline Mariupol (Donetsk region) to Berdiansk, and its former command, comprised of nationalistic volunteers close to Biletsky, left the leadership positions.
The loss of organizational and political potential compelled Biletsky and his associates to establish a nationalistic movement “Azov – Civil Corps”, which is simultaneously associated with the Azov regiment and can take part in the political processes – something that the regiment cannot do because of the rigid military hierarchy and the General Staff’s influence. Most of the Azov Civil Corps members are nationalists who earlier served in Azov regiment, but this is not a critical condition of membership: among them there are lots of people who are completely unrelated to the military actions in the east.
Azov CC is completely controlled by Andrii Biletsky. Presently it has become his main project. At the same time, Biletsky remains a nationalistic politician, closely related to Arsen Avakov. As a result, Azov’s activities are frequently linked with Avakov’s interests. The latter would benefit from the change of management at Inter, which was picketed by Azov activists in February 2016.
Many people directly linked winter rallies against Inter to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. By paralyzing Inter’s work, activists gained the approval of the patriotic public, but nevertheless they were obstructing activities of a major media company which has permits for broadcasting from all the necessary institutions.
From the point of view of the Western governments, this amounts to an attack against civil rights, particularly freedom of speech and freedom of the press, waged by the state. Yet, the Ministry of Internal Affairs didn’t carry out the repressions directly, but used Azov as a proxy. It is widely known in the West as a neo-nazi paramilitary formation, members of which do not conceal their ideological views and demonstrate neo-nazi symbols (like the Black Sun and the Wolfsangel – Ed.). Azov’s actions quickly grinded to a halt.
Korchinski takes lead
There’s a critical difference between the protests in February and the events of 4 September. In spite of the fact that in both cases protests were held by nationalists, the ones who took part in the recent rally allegedly are not under Avakov’s influence. At least, not under his direct control.
The rally which took place on September 4th was organized by members of Dmitry Korchinski’s “Brotherhood”. The Svyata Mariya (Holy Mary) battalion, which is associated with Korchinski and comprised of his organization’s members, provided informational support for the action and called upon other people to take part in it. For this purpose, a special Vkontakte group was created (which is at the present moment deleted – Ed.).
Members of the “Brotherhood” and the National Guard unit Svyata Mariya promoted the forthcoming rally
Screenshot from the account of Marat Safourin, ex-vice-commander of Svyata Mariya
During the rally the police arrested Maxim Nepeypivo and Mikhail Strizhka – nationalists who are close to “Brotherhood”. However, the police didn’t file any charges, even though its representatives had acted quite rough during the arrest. The information was reported by Tetyana Blyznyuk, the assistant of people’s deputy Igor Mosiychuk (“Oleg Lyashko’s Radical Party”). She is also closely connected to Korchinski’s “Brotherhood”.
Another person of interest who took part in the rally on September 4th, and is also associated with Korchinski, is Ilya Kiva – the ex-head of the National Police drug crimes department. Some people say that he was the main organizer behind the action. In Ukraine, the fact that Kiva is a friend of Korchinski is all-too-familiar. At the beginning of his political career during Maidan, Ilya Kiva, who at the time was member of the Right Sector, at some point met the “Brotherhood” leader. With no past connections to Ukrainian nationalists, and having some criminal background, under Korchinski’s influence Kiva quickly got into nationalism and Ukrainian Orthodox Christianity. Kiva found the ideology of “Brotherhood” so attractive that he even got their symbol – the Christogram – tattooed on his arm.
It is hardly surprising, then, that Kiva led the protests against Inter. What really is surprising is the fact that while nationalists blame Inter for spreading separatists’ views, both Kiva and Korchinski work at NewsOne – a TV channel that belongs to MP Yevgen Murayev (“Opposition Bloc”) – in the company of people whose position seems to be in contradiction with pro-Ukrainian nationalistic position of both men. Among them is the ex-editor in chief of Vesti Holding, Igor Guzhva, and the editor-in-chief of Vesti.Reporter Svetlana Kryukova. Vesti and Inter are blamed for the same things, such as their loyal attitude towards LDNR separatists. In 2014, nationalists trashed the office of Vesti.
Korchinski, Kiva, Guzhva and Kryukova in an ad for the new season at NewsOne
Officially, Guzhva and Kryukova are not connected to the Vesti project any more. They have a new one – Strana. Yet the editorial policy of the latter is similar to the stance which was earlier taken by Vesti. Both projects criticize the government and argue in favour of reconciliation of the warring parties, putting the whole blame for the conflict on the businessmen who are linked to the post-Maidan government – particularly Poroshenko, Yatseniuk and Avakov. It is clear that the journalists of Strana have easy access to Kiva, and it is small wonder that it was Strana who published a long interview with Kiva covering the events at the Inter’s office.
It follows that activists that took part in the protests against Firtash’s Inter and blamed it for spreading pro-Russian propaganda, are controlled by the collective of Murayev’s NewsOne. The closest business partner of Firtash in Ukraine is Serhiy Lyovochkin. He is sponsoring and supervising the parliamentary work of the “Opposition Bloc”. He also became an MP on its party list.
It is obvious, then, that the journalists from the channel linked to the “Opposition Bloc” oppose another channel, which is also linked to it. It gives reason to think that the protest actions against Inter were organized by Inter itself, in order to play the role of a victim in the attack of aggressive far-right radicals. Thus the channel can minimize chances of scrutiny on the part of Security Service of Ukraine by focusing the attention of the West on the infringement of the right of speech in Ukraine. This conclusion is backed by the fact that Azov activists were absent during the last protest action against Inter. It provides an opportunity to divert suspicion from Arsen Avakov. But this assertion is far-fetched.
Avakov in control?
It is true that Korchinski stands out among the Ukrainian nationalists because of his loyalty to pro-Russian forces and the past episodes of his cooperation with “Party of Regions”. Besides, Korchinski has never attempted to conceal those connections and defended them by pointing out ideological similarities with Russian nationalistic organizations (that sided with Antimaidan in 2014) or his organization’s survival needs.
Dmitry Korchinski and the head of the Eurasian Youth Union Alexander Dugin
However, during Maidan the situation has changed. After the attempt of storming the President’s Administration on December 1st, Korchinski was reported wanted by the authorities as a person responsible for the disorder. Therefore, he officially went from a nationalist who had been loyal to Yanukovich, to an opponent of the regime. After Maidan and the beginning of the war, he gained the trust of the new government by sending the “Brotherhood” activists to the frontline.
The most notable detail of the first phase of the conflict in the spring and summer of 2014 was the fact that all Ukrainian volunteer formations were supervised by the Ministry of the Internal Affairs. Therefore, as the interior minister, Arsen Avakov had direct influence on volunteers and nationalists.
At first, members of the “Brotherhood” joined the so-called “Lyashko’s battalion”, which was used by the Radical Party for its electoral purposes. Later, they joined the newly formed Shakhtarsk batallion – its former leader Ruslan Onishchenko is now in custody. Shakhtarsk has gained notoriety because of its involvement in various criminal activities, and was disbanded on Avakov’s personal order.
But in spite of the scandals and the ministry’s reaction, the battalion simply changed name to Tornado, retaining the former Shakhtarsk members who were not convicted of crimes at the moment. The “Brotherhood” members tried to form their own battalion Svyata Mariya, but without much success. Nevertheless, it gave Korchinski and the “Brotherhood” members an opportunity to enter the world of big politics, become MPs or assistants to MPs on the “Radical Party” list.
Contact between Korchinski and Avakov hasn’t been lost. This fact is proved by the subsequent appointment of Ilya Kiva to the drug crimes police department. Avakov has personally appointed Kiva as its head, and later, after a series of scandals related to Kiva’s attempts to gain control over the codeine-based medical substances market, refused to lay him off. It gave reason to think that Kiva’s candidacy was lobbied by Avakov personally.
Finally, Kiva was dismissed from the National Police. It happened during the run-up to the by-election which took place in July 2016. Kiva was a candidate in the voting district #183 in Kherson. He campaigned on emphasizing the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ loyal attitude towards him, as well as on public anti-LGBT actions. The notable example of cooperation between Avakov and Kiva was their agreement to form a maritime police unit in Kherson.
The notable part of the agreement, according to Kiva, was that it would be subordinated not to the National Police, but to the regional office of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Such procedure couldn’t possibly be implemented without Avakov’s personal involvement, because it runs counter to the principles of the reformed Ministry.
Another example is even more revealing. The fact that Avakov has a personal stake in changing Inter’s management is proved by his closest associate – Anton Herashchenko (people’s deputy on the list of “People’s Front” party).
It is worth mentioning that Hershchenko is Avakov’s non-staff consultant and the head of the parliamentary committee on legislative support of law enforcement. At the same time he is closely linked to media support of Avakov’s personal initiatives. Judging by the sort of news he publishes on his Facebook account, you might say that he is Avakov’s unofficial press secretary.
His position in the Ministry of Internal Affairs notwithstanding, Herashchenko continues to disseminate propaganda and manipulate the patriotic feelings of the Ukrainians via the “Myrotvorets” (Peacemaker) site which he presented in December 2014. It publishes personal data of people who presumably have something to do with separatist activity and LDNR militants. Myrotvorets has frequently become a target of human rights activists’ and liberal journalists’ inquiries.
The most widely publicized controversy around Myrotvorets was an episode when it released a list of journalists who had obtained accreditation in LDNR after the spring of 2014. Among them there were many renowned pro-Ukrainian journalists, who claimed that Myrotvorets undermines the freedom of speech. Herashchenko and many patriotic bloggers blamed the journalists for cooperating with the enemy. Having at their disposal a web resource like this, Herashchenko and Avakov are able to exert pressure on the press and manipulate the facts in order to facilitate access to the channel’s management.
The only circumstantial evidence that Avakov wasn’t involved in the events of September 4th was the absence of Azov CC activists at the rally. All other recent tendencies, including the blocking of Inter in February, witch-hunt among Ukrainian journalists and Avakov’s personal promises to arrest Firtash if the latter returns to Ukraine, only confirms the minister’s personal stake in the recent protests.
Whether or not this is so, it is obvious that the “street far-right” are trying to illegally and forcefully dictate their own ideological sympathies. Their patrons who have interest in the matter, make excuses for aggressive behavior of the far-right, and it increasingly legitimizes Nazis in social and political spheres.