war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Russia’s Conflict of Narratives

Halya Coynash
Russian opposition activist, Dmitry Semenov is facing charges for reposting a photo of pro-Russian separatist, Pavel Gubarev. Semenov has been charged because the offending photo showed self-proclaimed ‘people’s governor’ of Donetsk, Gubarev wearing the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party’s version of a swastika.

Pro-Russian militant, Pavel Gubarev with his Russian National Unity party’s neo-Nazi symbol . Russian media reports cannot show the photo which has been used to bring charges against a Russian opposition activist, but it is likely to be this one, or that below, both genuine

A Russian opposition activist, Dmitry Semenov is facing charges for posting on VKontakte a photo of pro-Russian separatist and unquestioned hero of the Russian media, Pavel Gubarev.  This should not be interpreted as a shift in Russian support for the militants currently engaged in bloody battles in the Donetsk region. Semenov has been charged because the offending photo showed self-proclaimed ‘people’s governor’ of Donetsk, Gubarev with the swastika-like emblem of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party.

Semenov is not charged with defamation but over ‘public demonstration of Nazi symbols or those of extremist organizations’ (Article 20.3 of the Russian Code of Administrative Offences).  There is indeed no defamation since the photo is genuine and 31-year-old Gubarev was once a member of this neo-Nazi party.  now banned in Russia.  He later joined Natalya Vitrenko’s far-right and somewhat misnamed Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine.  Vitrenko has close ties to Alexander Dugin,  whose Eurasian supremacy ideology and wish to restore the Russian empire by, among other things, partitioning off Ukraine, has many fans in the Kremlin and Russian military.  Dugin is reported to have instructed the militants in Donbas.

Gubarev is now one of the main spokesmen for ‘Novorossiya’, the self-proclaimed state formed from the union of the so-called Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.  The Russian Foreign Ministry and media treated him as Ukraine’s ‘political prisoner No. 1’ after he was detained for leading a crowd which violently stormed the Donetsk regional administration.  After declaring himself ‘people’s governor’, Gubarev proceeded to demand a referendum on the region’s secession and call for Russia to intervene militarily.  Russia’s foreign ministry demanded his release, and his exchange on May 8 for Ukrainian Security Service [SBU] officers captured, badly beaten and publicly humiliated was apparently welcomed by Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Gubarev and his cronies have now declared total ‘independence’, and are effectively waging war against Ukraine as a ‘foreign state’.  As threats of sanctions against Russia mounted prior to the elections, the Kremlin began making marginally more conciliatory noises, and the militants in eastern Ukraine in turn obliged by concentrating on ‘independence’ rhetoric.  They have, however, stated openly on a number of occasions that they want to join Russia, and the ‘address’ given by Gubarev on May 27 next to a photo of Putin and under the ‘flag’ of the self-proclaimed Novorossiya,  

Gubarev claims that the Kyiv authorities are committing war crimes against their own people, that residential areas are under fire by artillery in Slovyansk, with civilians, children, women, journalists dying.  He speaks of “fascist hordes’ from the west attacking them like 70 years ago. For somebody who not so long ago was espousing neo-Nazi views, the comparison is startling.  The whole pathos-filled address does, however, correspond fully to the version of events put forward by the Kremlin and in the Russian media.  This version clearly places the blame on America who is supposedly arming and directing the murderous miscreants in Kyiv, and promises to bury all such fascists and traitors.

There is a confusing mixture of narratives, and men with automatic rifles behind each of them.  The militants are now receiving open military help from Chechen fighters probably organized by Ramzan Kadyrov, Putin’s choice for Chechen President.  This choice of fighting partner is curious given the Slavic supremacy views of other comrades.  According to Viacheslav Likhachev who monitors xenophobia and anti-Semitism in Ukraine,  various radical Russian nationalist parties, including RNE, Black Hundred; the Eurasian Youth Union; and the National Bolshevik Party have been actively helping their pro-Russian militant friends in Ukraine.  RNE leader, Alexander Barkashov even dismissed SBU claims of having intercepted a phone call where he advised a local militant on how to falsify the May 11 pseudo-referendum on secession.  Why, he said, would he talk by telephone if he’s in Donetsk right now anyway?

Likhachev believes that at least part of the activities by Russian neo-Nazis in Ukraine are coordinated by the Russian FSB [Security Service].  It is probably the FSB who are involved in the charges against opposition activist Dmitry Semenov in Chuvashia [Russian Federation].  Semenov, a member of the opposition Solidarnist and Parnas movements, was undoubtedly pointing out Gubarev’s ideological affiliations, ones that he himself finds repugnant.  He now faces either administrative arrest for 15 days or a steep fine.  Russia’s enforcement bodies were considerably more tolerant of neo-Nazi symbols displayed extremely publicly on May 1 processions this year.

  Russian opposition activist Dmitry Semenov who is facing charges effectively for demonstrating Gubarev’s neo-Nazi leanings 

The significant European Parliament election gains by far-right parties on May 25 [against minimal support for such candidates in Ukraine’s presidential elections] have finally alerted the wider public to Russia’s long-standing conflict of narratives.  Anti-fascist rhetoric and the anti-Semitism card have both been used, with minimal or no justification in propaganda directed against Ukraine, but have not impeded significant support for fascist and / or neo-Nazi parties in France, Hungary and other EU countries, as well as in Russia.  Nor have they prevented primitive anti-Semitism being used against Ukrainian political figures.  As the charges against Semenov demonstrate, laws like those outlawing the use of Nazi symbols are applied as a weapon against the political opposition or for propaganda purposes, not against those spreading hatred and primitive ideology.

The spectre of far-right primitivism is once again haunting Europe, and it would be well to consider the motives and the danger presented by those overtly manipulating - and encouraging - such ideology for their own ends. 

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