KYIV, March 12 – A powerful nationalist group on Thursday confronted President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s security official after he had described the war in Donbas as an ‘internal conflict’ rather than a conflict between Ukraine and Russia.
Serhiy Syvokho, a former comedian who is now deputy chief of the National Security and Defense Council, at a conference repeated the narrative that has been promoted by Moscow propaganda, angering the group.
The development is the first sign of a brewing resistance to a rapid change in Ukraine’s policy that some believe may be an attempt by Zelenskiy and allied business groups at bringing the country closer to Russia’s sphere of influence.
Members of the National Corps that includes veterans of the conflict, denounced the conference in Kyiv and Syvokho’s comments as a betrayal of Ukraine's interests. They surrounded Syvokho and forced him from the podium.
“The situation in the east isn't an internal conflict, but part of the Russian occupation," said Serhiy Tamarin, a member of National Corps. He charged that people who describe the fighting in the east as Ukraine's internal conflict serve Russia's interests.
It is a common understanding among U.S. and European Union officials that Russia has created and fueled the conflict in Ukraine in a bid to weaken the country after occupation and annexation of Crimea in March 2014. However, Moscow’s propaganda channels, including an army of hired social media trolls, have been relentlessly promoting the idea that the war is an ‘internal conflict’ and Russia has nothing to do with it.
The confrontation between the nationalist group and Zelenskiy’s security official comes a week after a major change in Ukraine’s political establishment that followed the government’s reshuffle.
Zelenskiy’s party voted to replace the government of young technocratic reformers with little known officials that are believed to have close ties to well-connected Ukrainian businessmen, such as Ihor Kolomoyskiy and Rinat Akhmetov.
Kolomoyskiy, who is believed to have helped Zelenskiy win the presidency in April 2019, has repeatedly voiced ideas that Ukraine must soften to Russia and perhaps find some common ground.
Zelenskiy has denied any plans of bringing Ukraine closer to Russia, but has vowed to end the conflict in Donbas. His decisive reshuffle of the government last week indicates major policy changes.
The conflict in Ukraine's eastern industrial heartland flared up in April 2014, weeks after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula. More than 14,000 people have been killed in fighting between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists.
At the conference organized by nongovernmental organizations, the National Security and Defense Council undersecretary emphasized the need for a strategy for bringing the rebel-controlled regions known as Donbass back under the government's control.
“We are ready to jointly develop a workable policy of reintegration for Donbas,” Syvokho said before a dozen National Corps activists pushed him from the podium, bringing the conference to a halt. (tl/ez)