Fake ‘Ukrainian fascist’ jailed for pro-Russian separatist rally
A court in the Kherson oblast has passed sentence on Edward Kovalenko, a Ukrainian whose involvement in fake far-right movements and separatist scandals dates back to at least 2004. The Henichesk District Court found Kovalenko guilty of obstructing the legitimate activities of Ukraine’s Armed Forces and other military formations (Article 114-1 of the Criminal Code) and sentenced him to 5 years’ imprisonment. Kovalenko was taken into custody in the courtroom.
The criminal charges against Kovalenko were brought over an anti-mobilization rally which he organized on January 27, 2015. During the rally, he issued an ultimatum, threatening that, if mobilization did not stop in Ukraine, the protesters would block roads and seize control of the military recruitment office, police and administrative buildings.
The rally and accompanying threats came as Ukrainian soldiers were fighting a major offensive by Kremlin-backed militants and Russian soldiers trying to recapture Debaltseve in the Donetsk oblast. That fighting continued after Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed a ceasefire as part of the Minsk II Agreement on Feb 12, 2015, and investigative journalists have provided evidence suggesting that it was Putin himself who ordered the offensive against Debaltseve.
Judging by the crowd around Kovalenko, the threats to storm administrative buildings may have been empty, however similar action, backed by Russian arms and manpower, had resulted in seizure of control in large parts of Donbas less than a year earlier and the ensuring military conflict. The charges were brought immediately, but Kovalenko does not appear to have ever been held in custody. On the eve of the verdict, Kovalenko posted his version of the facts on the website of his party SPAS [‘Social-Patriotic Assembly of Slavs’]. Although he claims that he is facing 5 years as “leader of SPAS”, the website, and possibly the party also, appear to be a one-man show. Kovalenko asserts that he is charged “for addressing a rally against the war in Donbas and mobilization of Ukrainian civilians to serve oligarchs”. He allegedly spoke out “for truth and justice” and claims that in “blaming (Ukrainian President Petro) Poroshenko for the genocide of the Ukrainian people” he was trying to counter the zombifying of the masses.
He writes that he had been advised to flee, and was thinking about it. It is possible, however, that he was not expecting a real sentence, although the judge gave almost exactly what the prosecutor had demanded.
The sentence will almost certainly be challenged, and it remains to be seen whether it is upheld at appeal level.
Although various pro-Russian websites have reported the sentence, treating it as political persecution, only a couple of neighbours attended the court hearing on Monday.
Kovalenko has certainly not been inactive over the last 2 years. In November 2016, he was reported as being behind a petition to Sergei Aksyonov, installed as Crimean leader by Russian soldiers in February 2014, with Aksyonov in turn writing to Putin with a request to ‘help Henichesk with gas’.
In July 2016, he was directly implicated in the fabrication of a supposed demand from local Ukrainian Bulgarians for a Bulgarian autonomy. The report from July 4, 2016 was entitled ‘Ukraine’s Bulgarian diaspora demands territorial autonomy from Poroshenko and attached a letter allegedly signed by Yury Palichev, who in the report itself is described as one of the leaders of the Bulgarian diaspora. In one of the questionable reports, Kovalenko claimed that Palichev had “dared” to write such a letter and was now facing persecution. He said that he had spoken personally to Palichev. The latter had never heard of either Kovalenko or the letter he was supposed to have written (details here).
Kovalenko is also well-known for taking part in very openly pro-Russian and anti-Ukrainian media broadcasts.
This, however, was not always the persona he adopted. He comes in for well-deserved mention in a 2014 article by Anton Shekhovtsov, entitled ‘Pro-Russian network behind the anti-Ukrainian defamation campaign’ .
Kovalenko, the author explains, played a critical role in efforts to associate the democratic presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko with the extreme right.
Shekhovtsov explains that “a certain Eduard Kovalenko, leader of the virtual far right party Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA), declared that he and his party would hold a march in support of Yushchenko as a presidential candidate”. Yushchenko’s office had no interest in such support, and said so, however Kovalenko ignored this and went ahead anyway.
“At the meeting that was held after the march, Kovalenko declared: "We, the right-wing nationalist party, are supporting the only one candidate from the right-wing forces: Viktor Yushchenko. One Ukraine, one nation, one people, one president!". And he gave a Hitler salute.”
It was suggested at the time by a genuine nationalist leader, that this whole stunt had been organized by Viktor Medvedchuk, then the Head of Leonid Kuchma’s Presidential Administration, then and now a close friend of Vladimir Putin. Medvedchuk’s role over the 13 years since then has changed considerably, though has never ceased to cause concern.
Both the attempt to associate democratic processes and Maidan protests with the far-right and efforts to either stir up or simply fabricate evidence of ‘rampant separatist’ movements throughout Ukraine are standard methods used by Moscow, with maximum engagement by the Russian and pro-Russian media.