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Far-right millstone

Marcus Lütticke / re
March 26, 2014

The transitional government in Kyiv faces major challenges. The West supports the new government while Russia calls it fascist and illegitimate. But who are the new ministers in the Ukraine government?

The Ukrainian parliament building (Foto: David Mdzinarishvili/REUTERS)
Image: Reuters

"Nationalists, neo-Nazis, russophobes and anti-Semites have carried out this overthrow of the government. They still set the tone in Ukraine," said Russian President Vladimir Putin in a speech before the Russian parliament after the Crimea referendum. And Russia's Kremlin-friendly media also regularly refer to the "fascist government" in Kyiv.

But the transitional government in Ukraine cannot be reduced to that and is much more varied. Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is the most prominent face and most important person in the new government. He is a member of Yulia Tymoshenko's liberal-conservative All-Ukrainian Union "Fatherland." He is, despite his young age of 39, already an experienced politician. The legal expert and economist was already the president of Ukraine's parliament between December 2007 and September 2008. Before that, he was the country's foreign minister.

The Fatherland party also provides three deputy prime ministers and six ministers, among them the key interior, energy and justice portfolios.

Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Ursula von der Leyen (Foto: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images)
The 39 year-old Arseniy Yatsenyuk is already an experienced politicianImage: Alain Jocard/AFP/Getty Images

Representatives of Maidan

Eight ministers of the transitional government are officially independent. They represent the different groups of the Maidan movement. Their most prominent figure is the Sports and Youth minister Dmitri Bulatov. On January 22, during the Maidan protests, the Yanukovych critic was kidnapped and tortured over a period of several days. The perpetrators seemed to be professionals and had cut off parts of his ear, drove nails through his hands and beat him with nightsticks, Bulatov said after his release. After medical treatment in Latvia he traveled to Berlin and later returned to Ukraine.

The economic minister, the finance minister, the foreign minister, the education minister, the health minister and the culture minister are - like Bulativ - independent members of the government. Additionally the second deputy prime minister, Volodymyr Hroisman, is also not a member of a political party.

Klitschko maneuvers

Vitali Klitschko's UDAR party is officially not a member of the government. The former boxing champion was one of the leaders of the opposition on Maidan. The reason for UDAR's absence in the new cabinet is that they want to have a government of technocrats and specialists. UDAR, however, is supporting the transitional government.

Vitali Klitschko and Dmitri Bulatov (Foto: AP Photo)
Vitali Klitschko visited Dmitri Bulatov in the hospitalImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo

Kyryl Savin, director of the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation's office in Kyiv, assumes that Klitschko thinks it's tactically cleverer not to be associated with, or responsible for, unpopular decisions made by the transitional government. After all, Klitshko wants to be elected Ukraine's next president in the upcoming May election.

The role of Svoboda

Three members of the current government actually are from the far-right, nationalist Svoboda party: Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Sych, Environment Minister Andriy Mokhnyk and Agriculture Minister Ihor Shvaika. On Tuesday (25.03.2014), Defense Minister Igor Tenyukh, who is also a member of Svoboda, handed in his resignation and will be replaced by four-star general Michail Koval.

The influence of Svoboda in the government is very limited, says Kyryl Savin. "They don't control the government. The vast majority of the government is from Yulia Tymoshenko's Fatherland party and the most important portfolios are in the hands of its ministers," he said.

Igor Tenyukh (Foto: Yury Kirnichny/AFP/Getty Images)
Igor Tenyukh tendered his resignation as defense ministerImage: Yury Kirnichny/AFP/Getty Images

The three Svoboda ministers have not made any notable impression to date. Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Sych is the author of an older draft law against abortion. Environment Minister Mokhnyk comes from the region of Chernobyl. "That's the only thing that links him to ecology," said Kyryl Savin. And Agriculture Minister Shvaika has yet to make any mark in his area of expertise.

Populist or extreme right-wing?

In an answer to an inquiry made by the Left Party in August 2013, the German government assessed Svoboda as "a right-wing populist and nationalist party with some extreme right-wing positions." The report further states: "The opposition party in the newly elected parliament does not yet show obvious extreme right-wing tendencies in its parliamentary work. In the run-up to the parliamentarian elections in 2012 Svoboda revised its election manifesto and removed extreme right-wing statements."

But it is clear that Svoboda has good contacts to right-wing extremists in other countries. In May 2013 a Svoboda parliamentary delegation under the leadership of representative Michail Holovko paid a visit to the far-right NPD parliamentary faction in the German state of Saxony.

During the current upheaval, Svoboda members also made headlines with some chilling actions. In Kyiv, for example, the director of Ukraine's state broadcaster, Oleksandr Panteleymonov, was attacked by Svoboda representative Ihor Miroshnychenko because he was not satisfied with the broadcaster's coverage. The director was supposed to sign his own resignation. Afterwards, a cellphone video of the attack appeared on Youtube.

The presidential elections in May will show what voters think and what political direction they want their country to take. Kyryl Savin thinks that Svoboda leader Oleg Tyagnybok will compete in the elections but won't have a chance. "In polls, he is getting five percent, which won't get him very far," said Savin.