Between Frontline and Parliament: Ukrainian Political Parties and Irregular Armed Groups since 2014
CBEES Advanced Seminar with Andreas Umland.
Speaker: Dr. Andreas Umland, Senior Fellow, Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation, Kyiv, and General Editor, book series "Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society"
Chair: Alina Zubkovich, PhD in Social Science, Associate Fellow at the Ukrainian Institute of Sweden
Discussant: Per Anders Rudling, Associate Professor in History, Associate Researcher at CBEES
The short-lived Ukrainian armed volunteer movement and its interactions with electoral politics, in some regards, did and, in other regards, did not fit patterns observed in previous case studies and cross-cultural research of irregular armed groups (IAGs). The distinctly short life of the Ukrainian IAGs as more or less independent actors, and the swift integration of most of them into Ukraine’s regular forces was unusual. This was one of the reasons for the relatively low political impact of the IAGs as such – a repercussion somewhat in contrast to the impressive political careers of some IAGs commanders since 2014.
There were various forms of interaction, -section and -penetration between parties and IAGs in post-Euromaidan Ukraine. Several parties, party leaders and MPs took an active part in the creation and development of IAGs in 2014. Some – until then, mostly minor – politicians became soldiers or commanders of IAGs. Later on, there were numerous transitions of formerly non-political IAG members into the party-political realm – either via joining of older parties or through the creation of new political organizations.
Most importantly, by late 2014, a number of IAG commanders had become members of Ukraine’s post-Euromaidan national parliament. Some of them had been active in politics already before their engagement in the armed volunteer movement. Yet, most made the jump into the Verkhovna Rada via, in light, and often with explicit reference to, their service within an IAG. Certain IAG members tried, but did not manage to enter the national parliament as deputies. Still other IAGs representatives were elected to regional and local representative and executive organs, as a result of their participation in the 2015 oblast’ (region), municipal and hromada (community) elections.
Many of the armed volunteer movement’s graduates did not hide their political ambitions, made political careers, and come to influence Ukrainian political affairs, in one or another way. Yet, the IAGs or their successor volunteer units within the regular forces did not seem to have shaped, to a notable degree, Kyiv’s domestic policies, the Ukrainian polity and national-level politics of post-Euromaidan Ukraine, with the exception of decisions taken in relation to the conflict with Russia. Neither in the period 2014-2015, when the IAGs had been more or less independent, nor afterwards, when most of them were integrated into the troops of the Ministries of Interior or Defense, did the volunteer units as such exert a clearly identifiable and relevant impact, on the President’s, government’s or parliament’s decision making, with regard to – narrowly defined – domestic political matters.
Our paper indicates that one of the reasons that this did not happen may have been that the politicians who came out and were linked to the IAGs acquired, as MPs on various levels or executive officials with different functions, new opportunities to exert political impact. To be sure, the mere existence of IAGs may have, as a background condition, had some repercussions for these new politicians’ social standing, and for the public conduct of the President, government, parliament and parties. Yet, there has, so far, never been a situation, in which a direct threat of a military or para-military group to use its arms, determined an, in the narrow sense, major domestic decision, i.e. shaped principally a course of action, appointment of personnel, or choice between alternative options not directly related to the war with Russia – the latter a matter where, of course, the IAGs and their regular successor units exerted considerable influence.