112 International publishes the finishing part of the interview with Vyacheslav Likhachev. The expert has described the role of far right volunteers on both sides of the frontline in Donbas, shown the mechanisms of recruiting neo-Nazis by the Russian security services, and shared his opinion of perspectives of Eastern Ukraine conflict's settlement.
- We all know that there are far rights both on the Ukrainian side and Russian (on the militants’, to be exact). You have written in your blog that the far rights are represented among militants even much more than at the Ukrainian side. Please, explain in several theses your position on this issue for our readers.
The real situation and the picture recorded in the media formulate different proportions of participation of the far rights at the battlefield. They participated there on the both sides; it is natural for them as the nationalists - firstly, violent behavior patterns and games with weapons. As Yarosh stated, "I feel comfortable at war, I have been preparing for it for twenty years", such as the Russian National Bolshevik Party has been preparing for this war for twenty years. Secondly, it is natural for them to protect their national interests - in general, their participation there is absolutely natural, it would be strange if they were not there.
- From the European countries, however, also came the far rights, to the both sides of the front.
From the European side it was mostly exotic, which was important for propaganda pictures, but had no effect on the actual course of action. If we talk about the propagandist picture, the media more often pay attention to the participation of the far rights on the Ukrainian side of the frontline, firstly because in Ukraine there is a free press, there is a discussion of these issues, there are groups who have expressed their concern and outrage about this issue.
Attention of international observers is focused at Ukraine. What is the point to criticize the "DPR" for the fact that some of its divisions use swastikas in their emblems? Who is there to be criticized? It's like criticizing "Hamas" for human rights violations in the Middle East conflict. "Hamas" is just "Hamas", "DPR" is just "DPR." For Ukraine, which, at least declare willingness to meet European standards, in this sense, fit the other measure. Therefore, not only in Ukrainian, but also international media frequently sounded on the participation of Ukrainian right-wing radical on this side of the front. On the other side there is no free press, no international observers who could investigate international crimes like Amnesty International did in Ukraine with regard to Aidarbattalion. Access to this information is simply closed, and it is very difficult to collect even basic information that was discussed.
But, in my opinion, at the battlefield, the Russian far-right side in Donbas played significantly more important role than the Ukrainian. First of all, at the militants’ side, the share of volunteers is much higher. The Russian army has played an important role in the beginning of the conflict at the level of individual specialists, organizers, and saboteurs, not all of them have been formally Russian servants. The Russian army massively intervened in the critical moments of ATO, but it is not a permanent factor that would unite most of the fighters at that side. Most of them are volunteers. The ratio of local and Russian volunteers is very difficult to be calculated exactly, I think there is near one third Russians, two thirds locals. The latter are the extras, and the Russians are participants of professional sabotage and reconnaissance assault groups. They are highly motivated, and among them radical nationalists constitute the significant part, perhaps - more than half.
If Strelkov’s group espoused “imperialist nationalism”, the group which seized Kramatorsk, "Wolf Hundred" of the Terek Cossacks, was made up to a great extent of neo-Nazis, as well as some other professional sabotage and assault groups as "Rusich", who worked in Batman’s brigade. It was a totally neo-Nazi unit, using swastikas on its emblems, and they were professional, had just served in the army or even formally terminated the contract, not soldiers, but the people who had just yesterday been Russian soldiers.
An interesting case was (it is the individual story, but rather typical) on Anton Rayevskiy, Russian neo-Nazi, who was first arrested for organizing subversive activities in Odesa in April of the last year, expelled from the country, and then went down to Ukraine already with a gun in his hand and on the armor of a tank. He retired to the reserve shortly before the events in their own right-wing circles he had a firm reputation of special services’ agent.
We have a lot of individual facts that are added to the overall picture - when we discover in Donbas people with right-wing radical background, either staying wanted in Russia or under criminal prosecution. Or, as in the case of a Russian nationalist from Murmansk, who fled to Ukraine and asked for asylum here. He was one of the leaders of Russian neo-Nazis in Murmansk, the organizer of "Russian March", held on the criminal case of violence against the native of Uzbekistan. He was invited last spring to the Federal Security Service and faced an alternative - either new criminal cases are opened regarding him, or he is engaged in recruiting and sending volunteers to Donbas as a local coordinator of the Russian National Unity.
RNU is forgotten now, but it was one of the major neo-Nazi organizations in Russia in the 1990s - early 2000s, which has strong links with the FSS and has taken a very active part in the events in Donbas. Gubarev is a member of RNU. The Russian National Unity was one of the first organizations that started to send groups to Eastern Ukraine, and, according to our data, in Donetsk, Odesa, several cities of Odesa region, groups of RNU were present since the last days of February 2014.
- Same Gubarev, as far I know, is local, from Donetsk? That is, the representation of RNU was in the Donbas even before the events?
There are many people who have been involved in the criminal or extremist parapolitical activity in Russia in the 1990s, like the same Barkashov. They recently have been convicted, they are on the "hook" of the security services, and in the last year and a half they were "reactualized". Now they have an opportunity to wash their sins before the homeland with blood (the more so because it suits their ideological beliefs) - there is a lot of such cases.
- The last question is more politically general: how do you assess the prospects of the Minsk process? Would it be completed this year or in 2016? Is it a frozen conflict or "neither war nor peace"?
The situation at the ATO zone depends on one particular person who sits in Kremlin. In such cases, I say that I am not a taxi driver to know what Putin wants: every taxi driver will tell you what he wants, but I won’t.
It seems to me that it depends on Russia's participation in the war in Syria, which is conceived (at least by Russians) as an attempt to re-enter the international community under guise of "a decent man". This is bargaining for Ukraine.
Judging by the reaction of the international community, this position is not very good. Syria just cannot replace Ukraine. Firstly, the war in Syria is even more deplorable for Russian budget than the war in Donbas, and almost as much as the maintenance of Crimea. The situation in the Russian economy continues to deteriorate, and these trends are associated with global processes, the prices for hydrocarbon energy resources, and sanctions against Russia, which continues to ruin it.
I'm afraid that this is not a situation where the deterioration in the economy will force Russia to abandon the imperialist ambitions which are too expensive for the budget. The price for oil is falling, but it wouldn’t reach the level of 1992, it is unlikely to fall. The complete collapse of the Russian economy in the early 1990s did not prevent the country from getting into the war in Transdnistria, Georgia, Armenia, or Tajikistan. I believe that there are enough weapons of the Soviet era in Russia’s warehouses in Russia to supply another fifteen Donbases. They have enough Kalashnikov rifles, and old tanks in order to keep Ukraine in its sphere of influence at the expense of leverage through Donbas. It’s just too tempting to refuse.
In short, I am a pessimist in this sense. In some time, Kremlin will aggravate the situation in the Donbas. It is hard to predict the exact time. Maybe, in the spring, when the people will get bored with the Syrian agenda, or perhaps later. Unfortunately, I see no other way out of the spiral, in which Putin sends Russia, except of keep falling into it. I am afraid that Donetsk and Ukraine in this sense will remain victims of the Kremlin's ambitions for a long time.