(This article is published at AlterNet.)
This piece was co-written with Max Blumenthal.
Andriy Parubiy is one of the most notorious right-wing extremists in Ukrainian politics. A founder of the far-right Social-National Party of Ukraine, whose name and symbols were inspired by Germany’s Nazi Party, Parubiy directed the street muscle in Kiev’s Maidan Square that drove the 2014 U.S.-backed coup against Ukraine’s democratically elected, Russian-oriented government.
In 2016, just two decades after founding a neo-fascist party that declared at its opening ceremony that it was the “last hope of the white race, of humankind as such,” Parubiy leveraged his street cred to rise to the chairman of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada.
This June 15, two of the most influential Republicans in Congress, House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senator John McCain, held court with Parubiy in Washington. The meeting was just the latest event exposing American support for Ukraine’s post-Maidan government as a cynical exercise in saber-rattling against Russia with little demonstrable concern for liberal democracy.
During his meeting with Ryan, Parubiy signed a memorandum of understanding emphasizing commitment to the U.S. Congress-Rada Parliamentary Exchange.
“I was proud to join Speaker Parubiy to renew our interparliamentary ties with the Rada,” Ryan declared in a statement published by his office. “This mutually beneficial program fosters closer political, economic, and security relations between our legislatures.”
“Amid ongoing aggression from Russia, close coordination with the people and government of Ukraine is more important than ever,” Ryan added. “I appreciate Speaker Parubiy’s commitment to strengthening this critical partnership.”
Sen. John McCain, the chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, likewise met with Parubiy, and said the two had a “good meeting.”
“I’ll always stand for free & prosperous Ukraine,” McCain wrote.
As a far-right leader, Andriy Parubiy played a critical role in pushing for the breakup of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, Parubiy founded the Social-National Party of Ukraine, a neo-fascist party that borrowed Nazi ideology and Third Reich imagery like the Wolfsangel, which was its official symbol. The SNPU banned non-Ukrainians and established a violently racist paramilitary group called the Patriot of Ukraine.
Scholar Anton Shekhovtsov noted in a 2011 research paper on the “creeping resurgence of the Ukrainian radical right” that, at its founding presentation ceremony in 1995, the SNPU proclaimed, “In view of the prospects of mass degradation of people and entire nations, we are the last hope of the white race, of humankind as such.” The neo-fascist party added, “We must resolutely separate ourselves from the North-Eastern neighbour” — that is to say, Russia.
Parubiy led the Patriot of Ukraine for several years. As a standard bearer of his country’s ultra-nationalist forces, he forged friendly relations with neo-fascists like France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once inscribed a polemic he wrote with a tribute to Parubiy.
In 2004, Parubiy left the SNPU and its paramilitary wing in an attempt to rebrand himself as a more respectable far-right politician. The record Parubiy left behind, however, left little doubt about his fascist worldview.
Among Andriy Parubiy’s most memorable published writings is a book called View from the Right, which depicts Parubiy on the cover in a Nazi-style uniform.
When asked in 2015 if he had reformed his extremist politics, Parubiy insisted his values remained unchanged.
“I don’t think he changed his views,” explained historian Grzegorz Rossoliński-Liebe in an email to AlterNet. Rather, he said, Parubiy has just “adjusted them to his current positions.”
“Yes, he is a far-right nationalist politician,” stressed Rossoliński-Liebe, who is a leading expert on far-right movements in Europe. The scholar noted that he interviewed Parubiy in 2006 for his landmark book on Stepan Bandera, a Nazi-collaborating Ukrainian fascist whose historical legacy has been rewritten by the new Western-aligned government, which lionizes Bandera as a hero.
In the book, Rossolinski-Liebe noted that Parubiy (also transliterated as Parubii) was the leader of the Society to Erect the Stepan Bandera Monument. Parubiy considers Bandera “the most important person in Ukrainian history,” the historian wrote.
McCain’s visit with Parubiy this year was not the first time he has junketed to Kiev to pay homage to the country’s far-right forces. During the Euromaidan demonstrations that rocked Ukraine in 2013 and 2014, McCain met with Oleh Tyanhbok, the leader of the Svoboda party who had been expelled from his former party for calling on his countrymen to do battle with the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia.”
Soon after the meeting, McCain and Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy appeared on Maidan Square next to Tyanhbok. “Ukraine will make Europe better and Europe will make Ukraine better!” McCain proclaimed before the crowd of thousands.
When Parubiy left the Social-National Party of Ukraine in 2004, the Nazi-style political group did some rebranding of its own. It was renamed Svoboda and changed its symbol in an effort to seem less directly tied to Nazism.
Historian Anton Shekhovtsov warned in his 2011 research paper that the victory of Svoboda in 2009 regional elections “seems to attest to the gradual revival of the radical right in Ukraine.” He was correct; Svoboda went on to play a key role in Euromaidan and the 2014 coup, and today is an influential force in mainstream Ukrainian politics.
Legitimizing Ukraine’s rising extremists, damning democracy
Since the U.S.-backed coup that ousted Ukraine’s democratically elected president, Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine has lurched far to the right — and closer to the West. Extreme right-wing nationalists occupy some of the most powerful roles in the new government, which also adopted a new constitution.
These far-right figures include Vadym Troyan, a leader of the neo-Nazi Patriot of Ukraine organization, who became police chief of the province of Kiev under Prime Minister Ansenei Yatsenyuk, a billionaire oligarch. Ukraine’s interior minister, Arsen Akakov, had personally commissioned neo-Nazi militias like the Azov Battalion, where Troyan served as deputy commander and whose members decorated their helmets with Nazi SS insignia and bore swastika tattoos and flags.
Through the Interior Ministry, Akakov has overseen an online blacklist designed to intimidate journalists accused of collaborating with pro-Russian “terrorists” in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine. Called Myrotvorets, or “Peacemaker,” the online blacklist targeted some 4,500 journalists, including Western reporters like Ian Bateson, whom it dubbed a traitor for receiving accreditation from Russian separatists so he could enter the Donetsk region. In April 2015, Ukrainian writer Oles Buzina and former lawmaker Oleg Kalashnikov were killed after Myrotvorets leaked their personal information.
In the pro-Western Ukraine, Nazi collaborators like Stepan Bandera are revered as national heroes. Bandera was the commander of the wartime militia the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B), which fought alongside Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. Despite his OUN-B militia’s role in the massacre of Jews and ethnic Poles during the war — including one of the most brutal pogroms in history in the city of Lvov, where some 7,000 Jews were slaughtered — a major boulevard in Kiev has been named for Bandera.
Each year since the Maidan revolution, Bandera has been commemorated in Kiev with a torchlit rally. So have the Ukrainian Cossacks, the authors of countless anti-Jewish pogroms.
Neo-Nazi militias and fascist “self-defense” units are running rampant in the new Ukraine, menacing local police, smashing communist-era memorials and even overturning elections results. As journalist Lev Golinkin wrote last year in the Nation, ”It is difficult to imagine any stable administration tolerating three years of such brazen challenges to its monopoly over the use of force, yet nearly all of the far right’s actions have gone unpunished.”
The second anniversary of the Maidan uprising saw central Kiev overtaken not by the youthful technocrats and hipster reformists lionized in the Western press, but by a cast of characters that journalist Anna Nemtsova described as “uniformed militia from nationalist movements, war veterans, and some dubious characters with criminal records.” Organized under the banner of the Revolutionary Right Force, the masked men got together and burned down a building they mistook for a local branch of the Russian-owned Alfa Bank.
The U.S. has made some weak attempts to pressure Ukraine’s government to respect the rule of law in eastern Ukraine and tamp down on corruption. However, McCain’s and Ryan’s “good meeting” with Parubiy revealed the extent to which Washington has cast aside any concern for democratic institutions and is willing to overlook open displays of violent Nazism in order to ratchet up the tension on Russia’s doorstep.