While those on the left who consider Kiev to have a fascist government depict the separatist movement as an “antifascist” resistance, there are others who consequently believe that in fact the separatists themselves constitute a fascist, pro-Russian imperialist movement. It is my belief that both positions are extremely simplistic, and merely play into the great game being played by rival Western and Russian imperialisms in Ukraine.
The situation in Ukraine is much more complicated, and neither side can be unequivocally characterized as being entirely “fascist”, “anti-fascist”, “imperialist” or whatever. The purpose of this particular article is however not to analyse the separatist movement as a whole, but to attempt to examine the Russian far right and the extent of its involvement in the civil war currently raging in south eastern Ukraine.
He outlines the differences between Russian neo-Nazis, Eurasianists such as the National Bolsheviks, and the “impertsi” – ultra-conservatives who want to resurrect the Russian empire, and discusses the contradictory attitudes towards fascist, racist and nationalist ideologies:
Kremlin propaganda routinely describes the Kiev government as a “fascist junta”, and consequently the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Luhansk Peoples’ Republics as an anti-fascist resistance… The memory of the fight against Nazi invasion, and nostalgia for the Soviet Union, are often invoked, with various types of Soviet flags and imagery seen at demonstrations.
However, this apparent leftist, anti-fascist content of the separatist struggle is overshadowed by the overwhelming prominence of Russian nationalism. The flags of the DPR and LPR feature imperial Russian eagles, and the leadership is mainly composed of supporters of Russian nationalism, including, until recently, citizens of the Russian Federation. Much of the rhetoric of the pro-Russian struggle speaks of recreating Novorossiya, the name of the former tsarist era province.
These ideological differences go hand-in-hand with differing reactions to Putin’s support for separatists in Ukraine:
The crisis in Ukraine has affected the Russian far right greatly, resulting in a degree of realignment as well as deepening pre-existing splits between nationalist supporters and opponents of Putin and the political system he represents. The neo-Nazi groups have often sided with the Ukrainian government, in particular the far right elements, stressing Slavic unity in the face of an anti-Slavic government (Putin’s)… The rest can be described as belonging to the impertsi camp, who support or are even actively taking part in the Donbas separatist movement, including the two factions of Russian National Unity, Limonov’s Other Russia party, and the Russian Orthodox Army.
The main fault line in Ukrainian politics has for a long time been along nationalist lines (Ukrainian v Russian), so inevitably nationalism on both sides of the conflict has come to the fore and been exacerbated since the eruption of the crisis in the country in November 2013. While in many quarters the separatist movement is seen as a strictly anti-fascist one, it is important to point out that it has many supporters among the far right in the region, in Russia and indeed in Europe as a whole.
Moreover there are far right activists actively involved in the movement, whether as fighters, fulfilling non-military roles, or in leadership roles. While it would be unfair to call this movement fascist as such, the presence of the far right in such roles, as well as the Russian nationalist ideology, which seems to dominate it, raises serious serious questions about its antifascist credentials.