November 29, 2016 -
By Eduard Popov for Fort Russ - translated by J. Arnoldski -
On November 27th, the first congress of the Union of Political Emigrants and Political Prisoners of Ukraine was held in Moscow. The event was attended by around 100 delegates from various Ukrainian regions, including Odessa, Kharkov, Slavyansk, Dnepropetrovsk, Zaporozhye, Lvov, as well as representatives from the militia of the Donbass republics. The purpose, as outlined at the congress, was to discuss the present and future of their long-suffering homeland.
The union apparently intends to extend its representation not only to political emigrants and prisoners from Ukraine (whose number in Russia is relatively small), but also the broad masses of refugees from the war and economic migrants. According to very rough estimates, around 3.5 to 5 million Ukrainian citizens (including refugees from Donbass) now reside in Russia.
The congress voiced the organization’s programmatic point on assisting refugees from Ukraine in Russia. In abbreviated terms, the program boils down to the following points: (1) simplifying the procedure for obtaining Russian citizenship for Ukrainian migrants (whom the organization estimates to number more than 2 million) and proposing a procedure for recognizing joint Ukrainian-Russian citizenship; and (2) introducing “Russian cards” for Russian compatriots in other countries comparable to the Polish and Hungarian cards that give the holder numerous rights and privileges in Russia except those exclusive for citizens.
According to the congress’ elected chairman, the former prime minister of Ukraine, Mykola Azarov, the main task of the event was to attract the attention of the Western public to the political repression being committed by the current Kiev government.
Still, the main focus of the congress was dedicated to resolving the situation in the former Ukraine. The union proposes to establish a coordination center for exchanging prisoners of war and political prisoners between the Lugansk and Donetsk republics and Ukraine, as well as monitor the situation of prisoners of conscience in Ukraine. The organization also wants to get the shocking situation to the European press by organizing mass media support and even support the airing of a pro-Russian TV channel in Ukraine.
Despite the rather scanty information available on the event, several conclusions can be drawn for the time being.
The congress has positioned itself as a not necessarily political organization. However, it is clear that the former Ukrainian prime minister and his group dominated the congress, which has several implications. A number of senior functionaries from the former government headed by Azarov himself founded the Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine, which also included some politicians that were in opposition to the Yanukyovych regime (such as the Verkhovna Rada deputy from Odessa and the leader of the Rodina party, Igor Markov). This deputy, however, is perhaps the only exception to the rule. The Committee for the Salvation of Ukraine is an association largely representing the former Ukrainian establishment.
Judging by everything, the union and its congress represent an attempt by Azarov and his entourage to create a wider venue relying on the millions-strong community of refugees and economic migrants from Ukraine. Given that independent experts estimate the actual population of Ukraine to be 36-37 million (the official figure is 42 million), the size of the Ukrainian diaspora in Russia (3.5-5 million) could potentially hand Azarov and his new union a very influential tool in political struggle.
The Russian authorities have at least no intention of bothering Azarov or hindering his activities. While prime minister, he was always a comfortable and rational, albeit “light” partner for Russia. But doubts do arise as to whether Azov and co. can indeed accumulate a force capable of presenting unpleasantry to the Poroshenko regime out of the millions of refugees and guest workers from Ukraine.
The overwhelming majority of these people are preoccupied with questions of employment and legalization and hardly take interest in politics. As far as I can judge based on meetings with such Ukrainian economic migrants, they are harshly critical towards the Poroshenko regime, but this does not mean that they automatically support Azarov. Donbass itself harbors a strong hate for ex-President Yanukovych for betraying Ukraine’s Russians. The shadow of this government inevitably falls on its former prime minister, Azarov himself.
It is impossible to analyze such a complex problem in the framework of a small article. Indeed, I plan on preparing a more in depth material on this question at a later date. For now, allow me to express two theses:
1. The establishment of the Union of Political Emigrants and Political Prisoners of Ukraine is in itself a step towards institutionalizing both the political and legal legitimization of anti-fascist forces from Ukraine who left the country against their own will. If it pursues a competent cadre and ideological policy, then the union could become an analogue to the historical Free French Forces group.
2. However, I am skeptical that the union will be able to develop cadre and a professional social leadership out of the mass of “political emigrants” from Ukraine. Most likely, this work will produce one limited, although important result: a legal and political center will be created claiming the role of a government and parliament in exile with an eye towards the anti-fascist struggle in Ukraine.
Only the future will show whether Azarov will prove himself to be a Ukrainian de Gaulle or second Kerensky (who the Americans wanted to groom into the head of a Russian government in exile during the Second World War).
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