This weekend marked the precipice of a growing situation in Ukraine previously addressed by SOFREP, the mounting power and uncontrollable nature of volunteer Battalions and Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (UVC), specifically Right Sector or (Pravy Sektor). After an incident in Mukachevo, a town nuzzled near the borders of Hungary, Romania and Slovakia, where the civilian population was evacuated following unsuccessful negotiations initiated by Right Sector, approximately 70 kilometers from Ukrainian borders with the European Union (EU), an event that quickly escalated into what has already been christened an “act of terrorism” by Ukrainian authorities. This has led the Ministry of Foreign of Affairs (MFA) to initiate a damage control campaign out of concern that this euro-zone danger-close incident could contaminant preliminary negotiations for future visa-free travel between the EU and Ukraine.
On July 12th 2015, approximately 30 well-armed members of Right Sector in uniform displaying their unit’s insignia launched an offensive against local authorities, which then spilled into the targeting of nearby business owners. Right Sector then found themselves in another standoff with Ukrainian officials, this time outside of the town of Mukachevo which has left as many as three dead and 11 wounded, nine of which are still hospitalized. In response Right Sector constructed illegal checkpoints outside of Kiev. This has led to the deployment of as many as seven unmarked armored vehicles that have fortified a Right Sector base near Skole in the Lviv region, following a Right Sector’s declaration to close their training bases in Western Ukraine. Reports are conflicting as to who owns the armored vehicles, being that of Ukrainian law enforcement or Right Sector.
In response to the Mukachevo incident, Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) agents supported by police and units of the National Guard, cordoned the area with armored vehicles supported by rotary-wing aircraft and conducted a special operation to defuse the situation in the area of Mukachevo controlled by Right Sector. The operation was not a complete success; allowing many Right Sector members to evade capture by shooting their way out of the cordon with small arms, vehicle-mounted heavy machine guns and the liberal use of grenade launchers permitting them to retreat into the nearby mountains.
The group has continued their refusal to surrender, and has threatened to engage any authorities who attempt to detain them. Although Ukrainian officials have asserted that two members have surrendered as of Sunday night, Right Sector has countered these claims as an act of aid and mercy because the surrendered members in question were in need of medical attention. The current situation has resulted in a blame tug-of-war between the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Right Sector over who initiated the escalations of hostilities.
This public blame-game is rooted in a behind the scenes “turf war” between regional MP Mikhail Lanyo and Right Sector over control of local businesses. Lanyo is said to have initiated negotiations with Right Sector over the situation in response to several Right Sector raids on disputed contraband routes. Right Sector stands by its claims that it is not responsible for the escalation of force and it is the fault of local authorities whom Right Sector claims are under the authority of a corrupt government and that they were only interested in disbanding the Trans-Carpathian contraband routes. Despite the claims, it is most likely that Right Sector made a power-play for control of these smuggling routes and allowed the subsequent negotiations for a settlement of them to breakdown. In a sequence of events that is very much in line with volunteer battalion’s lurid history, they have completely overreacted and the chain of events which will unfold over the next few days will likely get far worse for Right Sector.
Internal strains between Kiev and Right Sector have been an ongoing issue for the Ukrainian government. Government officials, which hoped to appease the group following their last standoff that resulted in a comfortable government position for Right Sector’s Leader Dmytro Yarosh, has now flipped one-hundred and eighty degrees in the opposite direction. The SBU released a statement on Sunday stating, “to prevent possible bloodshed, the Security Service and Interior Ministry demand that the illegal armed group lays down [its] arms and surrender.”
Although members of Rights Sector refuse to yield to any orders other that those given by Dmitry Yarosh, which has been “to continue protests for indefinite term until those guilty in the [Mukachevo] tragedy are arrested.” Right Sector has also turned up the heat with the establishment of checkpoints on the outskirts of Kiev, in a weak attempt to prevent any government reinforcements from moving on to Mukachevo. Over the weekend, Right Sector organized protests around the parliament building in downtown Kiev, in response to government demands that the group disarm. They added theatrics to their demonstration by holding a candlelight vigil in memory of the causalities of the Mukachevo incident. Kiev’s reaction has resulted in the placement of additional troops near Right Sector bases, to deter the group from consolidating and reorganizing.
Right Sector is supported by a growing number of activists demonstrating in approximately 17 cities including Kiev, Dnepropetrovsk, Odessa, Zaporozhye, Ternopol, Mariupol, Kherson, Kramatorsk, Poltava and other cities across Ukraine. In Kiev approximately 200 people, mostly in military regalia showed up to lend their support of Right Sector. Right Sector is presenting themselves to the world as liberators of Ukraine whom are fighting back against corruption and on the grounds of self-defense.
According to a declaration on their website; “Our brothers acted within the framework of necessary defense,” going on to place blame on Kiev for the entire situation. Right Sector further ramps up its audacity on their front page with “Our Requirements” which are: “The resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov; Prosecution of Trans-Carpathian Ministry of Internal Affairs management; Prosecution of crime boss and former Regions Lan and his gang; The opening of a criminal case against the Kremlin henchmen Medvedchuk, financed and controlled deer clan; The release from detention all prisoners of the regime.”
Reports by the Ukrainian media stated that Right Sector has abandoned its positions in the Donbass region, which is thought to be a move to consolidate their arms and forces for another move against Kiev, but Right Sector’s leader Dmytro Yarosh has dismissed these reports as hearsay. On Monday, the deputy commander Donetsk People’s Republic’s (DPR or DNR) forces, Eduard Basurin, issued a statement that Right Sector forces have indeed begun to withdraw form their positions in the Donbass regions and have begun movement in the direction of Kiev.
Sources in Ukraine have reported that new defensive positions in and around Kiev have sprung up as well as the largest deployment of rotary-wing aircraft since the early days of the conflict. These preparations are warranted as Right Sector is well-armed and somewhat organized. Most of the weapons in Right Sector’s possession were issued in a Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) rapid deployment, but the group is believed to be further equipped with a plethora of arms and equipment that is suspected to have been stolen from a MIA depot as Euromaidan was at its chaotic peaks. Right Sector’s overtly alarming tone and actions as well as its rejection of Kiev’s orders is leading to a revolutionary deterioration of Ukraine’s internal security and stability.
Right Sector is an increasingly radical UVC which operates more as a movement than a military organization. In November 2013, Right Sector was initially established as static alliance for ultra-nationalist groups such as Trident and White Hammer. Although Right Sector really found its footing at Euromaidan where it evolved it as a UVC and a political party under the administration of the leadership of, Dmytro Yarosh. Right Sector maintains an ultranationalist, far-right agenda, and attempts to emulate the antiquated Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). Much like the OUN, Right Sector has attempted to imitate their operational structure by organizing into a military and a political wing. The group has previously claimed to have 10,000 volunteers ready for battle in Eastern Ukraine, although more realistic estimates place the number between 500 and 800.
Right Sector is unique in its attempt to represent itself as a responsible party. Their actions show an irresponsible disregard for the rule of law and an ongoing campaign to disrupt Kiev has done more harm to the group and Ukraine than good which has led to new speculation that the group is being influenced by a pro-Russian agenda. Dmytro Yarosh has warned that Right Sector can mobilize as many as 5,000 armed members, nationwide to support its party and agenda.
The troops are to support one of many threats issued by Right Sector to Kiev such as: “If we have to, we’ll send reserve battalions against the Presidential Office and the Interior Ministry.” Despite the incident with authorities in Mukachevo, Right Sector continues its threats against Kiev with words and actions such as the use of illegal checkpoints at the access points of the capital. A representative for Right Sector, Alexei Byk, during a Sunday press conference Sunday in Kiev said: “On the highway between Schitomir and Kiev there is already a checkpoint set up.” Artyom Skoropadski the public affairs officer for Right Sector continues the rhetoric on this deteriorating situation by insinuating that more checkpoints would appear as deemed necessary by Right Sector stating: “Not just up to Kiev, but also in other places, so the police cannot get through, neither to Trans-Carpathian nor to Kiev.” Further he would not completely dismiss the reassignment of the Right Sector units pulled from the front to Kiev.
A contingent from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE,) Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) which responded to the Mukachevo incident, reports that Kiev is increasing troop levels in the Trans-Carpathian region. The observations in their SPOT report include: “Ukrainian Armed Forces convoy moving towards Mukachevo, comprised of 11 APCs, two trucks loaded with soldiers and one fuel truck.” The SMM made further observations en route to Mukachevo; they denoted observable heightened force protection and policing efforts to include the deployment of several checkpoints.
SMM reporting from the area state that “At one such checkpoint, north of Mukachevo, about 2km from the alleged incident scene, the SMM saw the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) arriving, with 10 armored vans and two minibuses.” The SMM also had its own recent incident with Right Sector in Avdiivka 15km from Donetsk, where the SMM was “stopped by armed members of the Right Sector, who did not allow it to proceed further to a [Joint Center for Control and Co-ordination](JCCC) observation post.” In response the SMM immediately opened a line of communication between Ukrainian military command and Right Sector, demanding access for the SMM. Right Sector contended that they are not under the command of the Ukrainian military and that would not allow access for the SMM because they have their own internal orders to not allow them access to their area of operations.
The SMM and the world continues to watch Ukraine already in turmoil deal with its internal misbegotten agitators as Right Sector draws support with nationwide nationalist rallies, President Poroshenko assembled a War Cabinet on Monday with Mukachevo as the chief focus.