July 19, 2015
By Andrey Vadzhra
Translated from Russian by J.Hawk
Ukraine is tracking Mukachevo-related developments with bated breath. Social media are full of bets on how the unexpected conflict in Transcarpathia will end. The uncertainty over which side will prevail, the Right Sector or the law enforcement, has continued for over a week. Some are betting on Poroshenko, others on Yarosh. Moderate pessimists believe that the conflict will end with a compromise.
There are many competing explanations of the causes and nature of Mukachevo events. One of them posits that the Right Sector is controlled by the Kremlin which is trying to destabilize Ukraine. Another holds that Poroshenko is controlled by the Kremlin which is trying to take down Ukraine’s patriots. Yet another argues that the Right Sector came to Transcarpathia to interdict smuggling and punish local corrupt officials but fell into a bandit ambush organized by “uniformed werewolves.” And, finally, according to the fourth version the Mukachevo incident is the Right Sector’s unsuccessful attempt to muscle in on the local smuggling operations.
While Ukraine is entertaining itself with the search for the causes of Mukachevo shootings, in actuality the causes are less important than the political consequences. After all, nearly every event in that country has political consequences. Those who tend to analyze the situation superficially are assuming that the consequences may take one of three forms: the overthrow of Poroshenko by the Right Sector, the annihilation of the Right Sector by the UAF, or some compromise which restores the status quo ante. In my view, they are all equally unlikely scenarios. Let me explain why. First of all, the Right Sector is too weak to overthrow Poroshenko. The structure may be well organized and armed, but it has limited human, material, and military resources necessary for an armed overthrow. In any clash with the UAF the Right Sector wouldn’t merely lose–it would perish. Secondly, the Ukrainian authorities are incapable of defeating the Right Sector through a military operations. Simply because the Right Sector will not engage in open warfare against the UAF. It’s a different scale of operations. Once conflict begins, Right Sector Ukrainian Volunteer Corps will use guerrilla tactics of “hit and run” and urban guerrilla terror tactics. It’s also doubtful Petro Poroshenko will engage in open warfare against the Right Sector. That would be suicide. It’s more likely Kiev will try to force the RS to disband and become part of the UAF and the MVD. But even that couldn’t be considered as the annihilation of the RS. The RS is, essentially, people. People motivated not only by material factors (i.e., loot), but also ideological ones (i.e., the political worldview). Therefore changing patches on their uniforms doesn’t change anything of essence. The Right Sector might simply go underground and plant its roots in UAF and MVD units. Its members, with their extremely negative attitude toward the current Kiev regime, won’t go anywhere except into hiding.
A compromise between the two is also impossible. A compromise implies mutual concessions which lead to conflict resolution with the preservation of the existing state of affairs. But the RS has nothing left to concede. Yarosh has nothing to offer Poroshenko in return for Poroshenko’s concessions. Only one thing is being demanded of the RS: to disappear. Ideally without making trouble. Yarosh is cornered and he has no trump cards to play. Poroshenko, in turn, is not interested in preserving the Right Sector status quo and can’t afford to make concessions to Yarosh. If he were to do that, he’d demonstrate that his status as President is equivalent to Yarosh’s status as RS leader, with the RS being a state within the state. Moreover, analyzing Mukachevo events leaves the impression that they were planned by the law enforcement in order to give the Ukrainian authorities an opportunity to eliminate the uncontrollable Right Sector. Which indicates that Poroshenko has no plans to compromise.
In view of the above, one can assume that in the event of an escalation the Ukrainian law enforcement will attempt to arrest the Right Sector top leadership (using the MVD Tornado battalion example) or even kill it (as was done to RS Western Ukraine coordinator Aleksandr Muzychko). That wouldn’t solve the problem but would create the appearance of a solution.
However, in my view, it doesn’t matter how the conflict between the authorities and the RS will end. It only matters that the conflict has raised the chronic and unofficial stand-off between the authorities and the “volunteer battalions” to the level of official and open military confrontation. One also must keep in mind that in the process the Right Sector is gradually becoming a symbol of the struggle by Ukraine’s patriots against the authorities which betrayed the Maidan. We’re looking at the classic scenario of the perennial Ukrainian conflict between the “hetmans” and the “cossacks” represented by the volunteer battalions and other low-ranking activists. That conflict cannot be resolved merely by eliminating this or that volunteer battalion. That conflict is not caused by personalities or groups but by the incompatibility of the interests of the two above-named segments of Ukraine’s society which have entirely different worldviews and values.
The Right Sector and its fate are of little importance to Ukraine but the organization, even after being destroyed, might just be the stone which causes a military and political avalanche destroying everything in its path. It might be that the Right Sector militants in Mukachevo are the prophets of a new Ukrainian revolution.
J.Hawk’s Comment: Vadzhra is one of the most astute observers of Ukraine’s politics, and I think that article just about hits the nail on the head. The “hetmans vs. cossacks” aspect of Ukraine’s politics is likewise a problem of feudal governance. In order to maintain the loyalty of the cossacks, the hetmans must provide sources of spoils to the cossacks. If the hetman can’t deliver, the cossacks will elect themselves a new hetman. The cossacks, not the peasants. The Right Sector and the volunteer battalions are clearly aspiring to that role. Therefore, in a way, Ukraine is the micro example of the problem the US is suffering from on a macro scale. The loss of Crimea and the Donbass made that problem worse by depriving Kiev hetmans of two very lucrative sources of cossacks’ spoils. There are substitutes in the form of smuggling and other similar activities, but the collapse of Ukraine’s legal economy can’t help but affect the underground economy as well which means that what we might be observing in Ukraine right now is an organized crime version of “musical chairs.”
The Right Sector made the bid for Transcarpathia smuggling for a reason, and that reason was likely the drying up of revenue from other sources. And as the sources of loot are shrinking, so does the number of loyal cossacks that can be maintained. But the last thing a cossack would accept was the relegation to the status of a peasant (in other words, a member of the UAF…).