Ukraine's Right Sector emerged in November 2013
when protests erupted against Yanukovich's decision to decline a partnership agreement with the European Union
. In the months that followed, Right Sector evolved as an umbrella organization that quickly amplified its strength and support to encompass not only other ultranationalist and far-right groups in Ukraine
, such as Spilna Sprava and the Svoboda political party, but also dissatisfied individuals throughout the country who were united with Right Sector in their strong dislike of Yanukovich.
Kiev's Attempts to Legitimize Right Sector
Right Sector and its supporters proved to be a formidable force on the streets
during the revolt, enough so that the interim government realized that it would be in its best interest to cooperate with Right Sector to try to integrate the group into the government in some legitimate capacities. On March 13, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, adopted a law to create the National Guard, which is to be staffed mainly by activists involved in the protests and by individuals from military academies.
National Guard membership enables Right Sector members to work with local law enforcement to ensure public order, but it also provides a genuine opportunity for Right Sector members and other extremists to further militarize as they integrate into Ukraine's national security infrastructure. Right Sector members could benefit Kiev by freeing up the Ukrainian military
from mundane tasks such as protecting state borders, installing checkpoints and helping bolster the Ukrainian forces, which are no match for the Russian military
Right Sector has also made moves to join mainstream politics
. The newly formed Right Sector political party incorporated other nationalist groups that support the overall movement. These include a far-right political party, the Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian People's Self-Defense, and the Trident nationalist party. Right Sector announced it would nominate its leader, Dmitry Yarosh, as the party's presidential candidate. However, in a March 30 statement, Yarosh said he would run in the upcoming May presidential election as a self-nominated candidate, unconnected to Right Sector. Yarosh seems to be distancing himself from Right Sector as the group's more radical elements come under harsher criticism not only from Kiev but also increasingly from the European Union and Russia. Kiev will likely intensify crackdowns on these more radical members as the government pushes to consolidate its power — an effort that will require the elimination of armed groups outside government control.
The Campaign Against Radical Elements
Right Sector's fluid membership and leadership structure were beneficial to the group during the unrest, enabling it to easily and quickly integrate supporters. However, that decentralization and fluidity, coupled with Kiev's recent crackdown on the more extremist elements of Right Sector, are leading it on a path toward divergence.
Evidence that Kiev was targeting Right Sector's more radical members arose March 25 when acting Interior Minister Arsen Avakov ordered a raid in Rivne against one of Right Sector's leaders, Oleksandr Muzychko. Officially, Muzychko was wanted for his alleged participation in an unspecified criminal group and his role in threatening Ukrainian officials, including Avakov. During the raid, a shootout ensued and Muzychko was killed. Right Sector was outraged at the death of one of its leaders. The group called it a political assassination ordered by Avakov, demanded his resignation and threatened revenge. Right Sector also demanded a formal investigation into Muzychko's death during relatively peaceful protests March 27-28 outside of parliament. While it is notable that Right Sector members and their supporters protested peacefully and dispersed relatively quickly, the gathering seemed more an effort to gain publicity and draw attention to the leader's death — parliament was in session at the time to vote on the 2014 budget.
Yarosh notably did not participate in the protests. His absence showed that not all of Right Sector's actions are coordinated and orchestrated from the top down. A formal inquiry was eventually conducted by the Interior Ministry and found that Muzychko shot himself in the chest as police wrestled him to the ground during a chase. Neither Yarosh nor Right Sector — or its political party — commented publicly on the inquiry's findings.
The most targeted attempt so far against radical elements in Ukraine occurred April 1, when the Verkhovna Rada adopted a resolution for the immediate disarmament of all illegal militias, including Right Sector. The decision came one day after the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Poland urged Kiev to distance itself from extremist groups and expedite the process of disarming them. Also on March 31, a Right Sector member named Andriy Kozyubchyk allegedly carried out a shooting near Maidan Square and injured three people, including a government functionary. Kozyubchyk was subsequently detained and placed into custody.
The interim government's crackdown on militant far-right groups is not limited to Right Sector. On April 5, Ukrainian authorities dismantled a 15-person cell in Luhansk that claimed it was plotting an attack on the interim government in Kiev planned for April 10, according to Ukrainian security services. The group was found to possess hundreds of guns, a grenade launcher, numerous grenades and Molotov cocktails. Those detained face charges including weapons violations and treason. This and similar incidents reveal the Ukrainian police are not afraid to go after radical extremists in Ukraine nor of the potential backlash that could ensue.
The recent incidents involving Right Sector, other radicals elements and the government suggest a concerted effort is underway to undermine extremists. Similar operations targeting groups throughout the country are likely to occur.
It appears Right Sector is headed for a split. Some Right Sector elements will participate in legitimate government activities, further solidifying the group's position in the near future — Kiev will not view those activities as a threat. Because of the group's fluid membership structure, however, Right Sector's more radical elements will likely resist efforts to be co-opted. As Kiev moves forward with its efforts, these elements will continue to present a threat to both pro-Russian and pro-European moderates.