Provocation in Western Ukraine: The European Far Right Serving Russian Interests

It was through a provocation of far-right activists connected to the Russian regime that the already tense relations between Ukraine and Hungary worsened further. The evidence behind this attack now leads all the way to the German political party AfD (Alternative for Germany). The cooperation between Putin’s Russia and the European ultranationalists is not a coincidence. It has been purposefully taking place for years and it helps to advance Russian interests in Europe.

When an arson attack on a Hungarian cultural centre took place on February 4, 2018 in the Ukrainian city of Uzhhorod, the Ukrainian and Polish security forces apprehended three men linked to the Polish right-wing extremist scene. During the ongoing trial in the Polish city of Krakow, one of the accused, Michal Prokopowitz, stated that he was hired to execute the attack by a German far-right journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter. The action was designed to place the blame on Ukrainian nationalists and therefore to worsen the already tense relations between Kiev and Budapest.

 

Nationalist and extremist groups make up a European network of organisations used by Russia to advance its agenda. 

 

In the past, Ochsenreiter has repeatedly appeared on Russian state media, where he voiced his support for the pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine and criticised European policies towards the Kremlin. Since September 2018, he was working as an advisor of German MP Markus Frohnmaier, a member of the radical wing of the AfD and a stern critic of economic sanctions against the Russian regime. As a result of the testimonies from the trial, German authorities have launched an investigation into Ochsenreiter’s links to the attack. He has also since stepped down from his advisory role to the German MP on his own request.

According to the political scientist Anton Shekhovtsov, a specialist on European extremism, the Polish arsonists have links to the Polish extremist sphere. The middleman Michal Prokopowicz is a member of the Polish neofascist Falanga and a pro-Russian party Zmiana (“Change”).  The members of Falanga sympathize with Putin’s Russia and they have also actively supported the separatist camp in the war in eastern Ukraine. The founder of Zmiana Mateusz Piskorski is currently serving a sentence for espionage for the Russian secret service. He has also organised election observation missions for the separatist regions in eastern Ukraine, attempting to provide legitimacy for the controversial elections taking place there. Notably, the above-mentioned German journalist Ochsenreiter has also participated in these missions.

 

The main goal of the provocation has been achieved, even though the perpetrators have been exposed.

 

This case clearly illustrates the ways in which nationalist and extremist groups with links to Russia come to cooperate. These groups make up a European network of organisations used by Russia to advance its agenda. The Kremlin is also establishing links to European political parties, for example the French National Front, the Austrian FPÖ, Jobbik in Hungary, Northern League in Italy and many others. However, the Russian interests can also be advanced with the help of groups that are more marginal and that operate on the edges of the European political scene.

The main goal of the provocation has been achieved, even though the perpetrators have been exposed. Kiev has been accused by Hungary of not being able to provide security for the Hungarian minority in western Ukraine. After a previous controversy surrounding new education legislation, which the Hungarian government views as discriminatory against the Hungarian minority in Ukraine by not allowing teaching in Hungarian, the arson attack has damaged the relationship between the two countries even further. At the same time, good neighbour relations are crucial for Ukraine and its chances on a membership in the European international organisations.

About author: Petr Fena

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