On March 12, President Obama welcomed acting Ukrainian Prime Minister Yatsenyuk to the White House. Now, a parade of Members of Congress are turning up in Kiev (or Kyiv, if you speak Ukrainian) for a photo-op with the country’s interim leaders and Sen. John McCain is calling for military aid to Ukraine. But how much do we really know about the “new” Ukrainian leadership?
Take, for example, Ukraine’s English-speaking Prime Minister. Arseniy Yatsenyuk was recently head of Ukraine’s Central Bank and the minister responsible for managing Ukraine’s dysfunctional economy. After the Oval Office, he went to NATO and the European Union delivering a strongly pro-EU, pro-NATO message coupled with a plea for a bailout package in excess of $15 billion. Into whose hands that money would go is an open question.
Ukraine’s interim President and Parliament Chairman, Oleksandr Turchynov, is a supporter of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko, whose corruption and mismanagement plays no small role in Ukraine’s current crisis. While he headed Ukraine’s internal security apparatus, Turchynov tried to protect Timoshenko from prosecution for corruption and conspiracy to commit murder.
One noted right-winger appointed to Yatsenyuks’ cabinet is Deputy Prime Minister Oleksandr Sych. In 2005, Sych’s party, “Svoboda” (Freedom), called for a Parliamentary investigation into the “criminal activities of organized Jewry in Ukraine.” The party has since tried to soften its image, leading the U.S. Ambassador in Kiev to (perhaps naively) praise the party’s “evolution” and to suggest that Svoboda has lately “demonstrated its democratic bona fides” (unless you’re a woman, in which case Sych’s advice that women should “lead the kind of lifestyle that avoids the risk of rape, including refraining from alcohol and being in ‘controversial’ company” might give cause for concern).
Yatsenyuk’s most extreme governing partner is Deputy National Security Chief, Dmitry Yarosh, who heads the “Pravy Sektor” (Right Sector) party. Its headquarters displays the welcome sign, “Nazis Only.” His supporters are widely believed to have escalated the violence during the demonstrations by initiating the use of Molotov cocktails and brick-throwing. Yarosh has provoked Russian President Putin by calling on Ukraine to spread its revolution to Moscow and has sent an emissary to neo-Nazis in Germany seeking support. He opposes “Russian domination” as well as “western decadence.”