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"The West gave us weapons because we have fun killing"
Analysis of the neo-Nazi group 'C14' and its leader's recent speeches at the 'Bandera readings' conference.
On February 5th, an event called "Bandera readings" took place in Kiev – a forum about the goals and objectives of nationalists, involving representatives from various such groups. The organizer was the party "Svoboda" and the conference was chaired by one of its members, former People's Deputy of Ukraine Yuriy Sirotyuk.
Yevgeny Karas, second from the left, at the ‘Bandera readings’. Bandera, a WW2 Nazi collaborator, is pictured at the right.
Yevgeny Karas, the leader of the far-right group C14 (recently C14 has rebranded itself as "The Basis of the Future"), said some quite interesting things about Ukrainian nationalists and their relation to western Europe and the USA at this conference.
Before we get to what he said, what is C14? According to some estimates, it only has around 350 active members, while more well-known rightwing organizations in Ukraine like the Azov movement have around around 10 thousand active members. So why worry about C14? Plenty of liberal commentators like to emphasize how Nazi groups in Ukraine are marginal and focusing on them is part of ‘the Kremlin narrative’. So what is C14, and how marginal is it to Ukrainian politics?
The name, of course, refers to the famous neo-Nazi ’14 words’ ‘We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children’. Older C14 posts stated this openly, though more recently C14 has sued a liberal Ukrainian newspaper for calling them neo-Nazis – a court case won by C14. The neo-Nazi views of their members are well-documented.
C14 originally emerged as a group of people who found the Svoboda party not radical enough for them. The International Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium describes it as a ‘a paramilitary right-wing radical group’.
Like many rightwing groups, the events of Euromaidan brought it to political influence – it was largely C14 members who occupied the Kiev City Administration building, leaving neo-Nazi graffiti behind them.
Among C14’s acts of ‘activism’ have been their attacks on Roma settlements, burning their camps, pepper-spraying and throwing rocks at the inhabitants, and posting videos on the internet of it all. In 2019, one attack by a different neo-Nazi group on a Roma camp involved the murder by stabbing of one 19-year-old Roma man and caused injuries to 4 others.
A C14 member burning a Roma settlement to the ground in 2018
According to the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, C14 also received state funding from the Ministry of Youth and Sport:
Three organizations were successful in the competition for ‘national-patriotic education projects’. ‘Educational Assembly’ [«Освітна асамблея»], founded by the head of C14, Yevhen Karas; ‘C14 Sich’, founded by Volodymyr Karas, who shares the same patronymic, surname and address as the head of C14; and Holosiyiv Hideout [«Голосіївська криївка»], whose founders include several members of Svoboda.
Three events by ‘Educational Assembly’, as well as a C14 Sich children’s camp will all get 440 thousand UAH (a little over 14 thousand euros), while Holosiyiv Hideout will receive 760 thousand UAH (nearly 25 thousand euros) for four festivals. The successful projects included ‘National-patriotic education as guarantor of Ukraine’s information security’, a nationwide distance learning centre for such national-patriotic education, and the use of historical simulations as a means of popularizing Ukraine’s historical heritage.
The ministerial commission which chose C14 as the recipient of these grants was chaired by Mykola Lyakhovich, the head of the Ministry of Youth and Sport’s Department for National-Patriotic Education. In the words of the same human rights group, Lyakhovich himself ‘has a background in the UNA-UNSO [Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian People’s Self-Defence], an extremely far-right movement with views similar to those espoused by Svoboda and C14.’
In 2015, Oles Buzina, a ‘pro-Russian’ Ukrainian journalist, was murdered, for which a member of C14 was arrested. In any case, they were clearly acting on higher political orders, though the court case, naturally, does not deal with this question. Years later, no one has been punished for his killing.
The two nationalists charged for the murder of Buzina. Both are veterans of the war in Donbass.
C14 is also closely linked to ‘Municipal Guard’, a highly controversial para-police public organization financed by the Kiev city government which is filled with open neo-Nazis and various veterans of the war in Donbass. According to its facebook page, it is dedicated to ‘protecting public order and the national borders’. Here is Sergei Bondar (left), one of the leaders of Municipal Guard in Kiev and a member of C14, posing with Karas:
Although it hasn’t existed for very long, Municipal Guard has already been involved in a long list of ‘controversies’, to put it mildly. Among them: public beatings of homeless and drunken individuals, captured on camera, such a degree of white supremacist views among its members that even the official Kiev police refused to work with the group, racist declarations about the ‘national mentality’ of Roma and constant harassment of them on camera, and recently, the illegal storage of grenade-launchers and other weaponry taken from the war in Donbass.
Bondar hard at work humiliating a homeless man in Kiev.
The grenade launchers stored by Municipal Guard, found by the Security Service of Ukraine on a raid
Bondar’s social media also features the following posts, openly praising the fascist collaborationist governments of WW2-era Ukraine and Belarus, which were responsible for hundreds of thousands of murders of Soviet citizens:
‘The president’s office should return to its historic appearance!’ – pictured is the president’s office in Kiev under Nazi occupation in 1941, with the swastika edited out.
‘Good protection against Colorado beetles [a derogatory term for ‘separatists’ and ‘pro-Russians’] for your money. A European producer. I recommend it.’
‘For a European Belarus!’ A photo from the Nazi occupation of Belarus, featuring the Nazi occupation flag (which is advocated by the ‘pro-democracy’ and ‘pro-European’ ‘Belarussian opposition’ leaders like Svetlana Tikhanovskaya).
Karas has also openly admitted to cooperation with the Security Service of Ukraine (SSU). In an interview, he said that C14 engages in delivering people he judges to be ‘separatists’ to the SSU, and that the SSU ‘transmits C14 information’ about upcoming ‘separatist’ political activity – in other words, that the SSU tells C14 which unfriendly political figures to attack. One wonders what the SSU told C14 about Oles Buzina, the journalist murdered in 2015. Karas gave as an example of ‘separatist protests’ the events of May 2nd 2014, when 42 ‘pro-Russian’ protestors were burned to death and killed in various ways by armed nationalists in Odessa, a crime for which no one has been charged. According to him, the SSU tells C14 in advance about such events – ‘it’ll be a mess, come along and help us’.
Former member of the SSU Ivan Stupak confirmed the organization’s cooperation with the SSU. In his words: "There has always been this idea - to take secret control over any public organization that has a power bloc. The SSU at certain stages involved in its operational contacts, that is, found certain common points of view with the leaders of "C14" and sent them to solve certain operational tasks. For instance, the search for and detection of separatists, whom the SSU for some reason cannot detain due to legislature - while if you send a public organization, it can break the car or inflict bodily harm.’
Karas also said that C14 cooperates with a wide range of elected politicians in various parties – including Yuri Lutsenko, a member of Poroshenko’s ‘European Solidarity’ party and prosecutor general of Ukraine at that time (2017). During one of the most politically important moments of Poroshenko’s presidency – the official creation in 2019 of a Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church in Istanbul – Karas was photographed to the left of Yuri Lutsenko.
Now, onto Karas’s talk at the ‘Bandera Readings’. He spoke at the discussion titled “the tasks and forms of activity of the nationalist movement”. He began by discussing whether the nationalists should go into official politics or stay on the streets and in the civil sector. According to Karas, the presence of nationalists on the street during mass protests "was the form that gave it a fighting color and encouraged people to use force."
Thanks to this, from 2006 to 2010, "we captured all public spheres purely by means of occupational activity." This is referring to the years of President Yushchenko’s reign and the "orange" government that came to power after the proto-euromaidan events of 2004.
"Leftists hold actions in trade unions – squeeze it away from them. We did more, and faster, better" – this is how Karas describes how this "occupation" worked. He gave several more examples of how the nationalists copied the methods of leftist forces.
"There was a strike in Donbass in 2013. The leftists initiated the action. I thought: let's overtake them. We gather an hour earlier, the leftists are standing with posters, and we were already breaking into Akhmetov's [the richest businessman in Ukraine] office".
Such tactics provided an influx of supporters who were constantly offered some kind of "action". And after Maidan in 2014, the role of such groups grew so much that many of their leaders did not even need to go into politics - their influence and value were higher on the street, "because everyone is afraid of them," Karas frankly explained.
Here is the reason why the ordinary claim that ‘neo-Nazis are politically irrelevant in Ukraine’ is so wrong - their role isn’t to win elections, its to repress and terrorize political opponents of the post-euromaidan regime. Karas also admitted in these talks that Igor Kolomoisky, one of the richest men in Ukraine, financed the nationalists to drive former president Viktor Yanukovych out of the country, who at that time was centralizing economic and political power in the country to an extent that was unacceptable for big business.
Because of this, the nationalists have been having "the best time in the last three hundred years." "And even if half of us get killed, the other half will have fun, because they will get more happiness and success."
Karas explains the successes of the nationalists by their "hyperactivity". In percentage terms there were no more of them than other small groups, but their effectiveness was far higher according to him.
However, these self-serving paeans don’t quite correspond to reality, as we saw through the wide-ranging links C14 enjoys with the Ukrainian state. C14’s success isn’t just due to their organizational genius. C14 is also supported by businessmen– the C14 facebook page featured an announcement in 2018 that read ‘C14 works for you. Help us keep afloat, and we will help you. For regular donors, we are opening a box for wishes. Which of your enemies would you like to make life difficult for? We’ll try to do that’. In his older interviews, Karas was open about being financed by business, including wealthy diaspora Ukrainians. Although one of C14’s official purposes is ‘to fight corruption’ (a nice dovetailing with the post-maidan liberal discourse), what this means in practice - public attacks on businesses labelled ‘pro-Russian’ or ‘supporting separatist terrorism’ - is often hard to distinguish from another weapon in capitalist competitive struggles. Some of C14’s attacks on Roma settlements also seem to be motivated by the interests of construction companies to free up space for their projects.
Now, for some of Karas’s most juicy comments - about Euromaidan and Ukraine’s place in the world.
The head of C14 said that in fact, the goal of Euromaidan was not to move into Europe: "Maidan was a victory for nationalist forces. All that talk about European integration and EU flags - they disappeared. All this "euro" disappeared like in a comedy."
Regarding Ukraine’s place in the ‘European community’, he stated that "in terms of geopolitics, these 38 million are not at all like 60 million Germans or 80 million French, but are much stronger, because this is a public with drive."
"We're having fun. Putin will attack, but we're having fun, it's cool. Or maybe we'll attack him first?"
Therefore, "if nationalists come to power in Ukraine, it will become a problem not only for the EU, but also for many countries of the world."
Further, Karas said that at the same time, the West is not trying to neutralize the nationalists as a factor, because they "perform the tasks of the West." While Europe is weak and losing influence, "Ukrainians all piled into Europe, but they still want to attack it".
"We were given so many weapons now, not because we are good. Not because "they want us so much." Because we are fulfilling the tasks of the West. Because we are the only ones who are ready to fulfill them, we have fun, it's fun to kill and it's fun to fight"
Members of the Azov batallion posing with US-supplied grenade launchers
The head of C14 also said that Ukraine is the "flagship" of an informal alliance between Britain, Poland and Turkey, because "we started a war that has not been seen for the past 60 years."
While imagining a fantastical situation whose contemplation is adored by Ukrainian nationalists and liberals alike - “the collapse of Russia”, Karas discusses how Ukraine could hit European countries.
"Imagine how many weapons and veterans we have. And now imagine - Russia is disappearing ... do you understand what kind of eyes Budapest will have, for example, if we turn around towards it? We already have the most Javelins in Europe ... If we come to power, it will be both joy and problems for the whole world, for countries that are trying to prick us," Karas prophesies. He is probably referencing Budapest due to the large Hungarian population in Western Ukraine, which nationalists often suspect of preparing for a Budapest-supported separatist war.
All in all, some slightly ‘worrying’ statements from a figure who, as we saw earlier, is far from ‘marginal’ in Ukrainian politics. C14 makes up for its numerical weakness with deep links with the Ukrainian Secret Services and neo-Nazi paramilitary organizations like ‘Municipal Guard’, which itself is financed by the Kiev city government.
Plenty of liberals like to downplay the relation between Euromaidan and neo-Nazi groups - Karas, on the other hand, proudly admits that C14 and other nationalist, rightwing groups were catapulted to political power by Euromaidan, and that the ‘revolution’ had little to do with ‘European values’ (unless one has the same interpretation of these values as Karas’s friend Bondar).
For Karas, the singular value of Ukraine on the international arena is as a sacrificial warrior against Russia. By being the most bloodthirsty and willing to die for Western goals, Ukraine gets the ‘prize’ of being filled with weapons and a strong neo-Nazi movement.
Finally, isn’t it so familiar hearing Karas’s simultaneous disdain for the West, and his joy that the West is pumping him and his friends full of weaponry to achieve their geopolitical aims? The word ‘blowback’ comes to mind.