Five years ago, the Ukrainian far-right Svoboda (Freedom) party could legitimately brag about their vast contacts with European far-right movements and parties. Even Svoboda’s predecessor, the Social-National Party of Ukraine (SNPU, renamed into Svoboda in 2004), was a member of the Euronat, an international far-right organisation formed at the end of the 1990s by the French National Front (FN). And it was the FN, then still headed by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who advocated granting Svoboda an observer status in the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM) formed in 2009.
Svoboda, in order to still maintain international contacts, had to turn to more extreme organisations. Taras Osaulenko, head of Svoboda’s international relations, took part in the “Vision Europa” conference organized by extreme-right Party of the Swedes in Stockholm on 23-24 March 2013. The conference also hosted representatives of the New Force (Italy), Land and People (France), Party of the Danes (Denmark), National Democracy (Spain). In May 2013, Svoboda’s MP Mykhaylo Holovko visited the Landtag of Saxony to speak to the local office of the neo-Nazi National-Democratic Party of Germany (NPD). Furthermore, in June that year, representatives of the New Force, including its leader Roberto Fiore, visited Ukraine where they discussed the creation of a new group of European far-right movements with representatives of Svoboda.
It all went rather well, but the Ukrainian revolution in 2014 messed things up for Svoboda. At first, however, it did not look this way. For example, John Morgan, the co-founder of the far-right Arktos publishing house that published, in particular, translations of Russian fascist Aleksandr Dugin’s works, visited Kyiv during the revolution upon the invitation from Svoboda’s Yuriy Noevy. But after the revolution and the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war, the FN and Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), being – like Jobbik then – openly pro-Kremlin, criticised Ukraine and, thus, distanced from Svoboda. The year 2014 essentially became the end of Svoboda’s international contacts. Roberto Fiore’s New Force even deleted from its website a report on his visit to Kyiv in 2013.
Other Ukrainian far-right organisations also failed to either establish or re-establish contacts with European far-right movements. There were a few exceptions, of course. The Italian fascist CasaPound was split on the “Ukrainian question” – some of its members supported Ukraine, while some others supported Russia. And several members of minor European extreme-right movements went to Ukraine to fight on the Ukrainian side against pro-Russian separatists and Russian military.
In 2016, the Azov Civic Corps, a Ukrainian extreme-right organisation founded on the basis of the Azov regiment, cautiously started to reach out to European far-right organisations. On 10 November that year, a representative of the Azov Civic Corps participated in a far-right conference that took place in Warsaw and hosted representatives of the Polish Niklot group and CasaPound movement. Against the background of the epidemic support for Putin’s Russia among the European far right, the conference that hosted European and Ukrainian far-right activists was quite unique, but still largely insignificant.
In the beginning of 2017, the Azov Civic Corps was renamed into the National Corps and re-activated its search for European allies. The main driving force behind those attempts was Olena Semenyaka, a representative of the Traditionalist wing of the Ukrainian far-right scene. She already had experience in building international far-right relations. She cooperated with Troy Southgate and contributed to publications of his Black Front Press; she also had contacts with John Morgan and Aleksandr Dugin but severed ties with the latter because of his rampantly anti-Ukrainian stances.
While building a bridge to European far-right movements and organisations, Semenyaka’s challenge was to re-inform them on the “Russian question” and convince them to support Ukraine, rather than Russia, as the majority of far-right parties in the West do. As the recent developments show, she chose a rather successful strategy. First, she built contacts with remaining anti-Kremlin far-right movements in Central and Eastern Europe. Second, after securing support for the Ukrainian far right from them, she used her knowledge of the works of Julius Evola and Ernst Jünger (who are revered by the European far right of all geopolitical convictions) to reach out to European far right who are less friendly to Ukraine.
In October 2017, the Young Nationalists (JN), a youth wing of the NPD, announced a conference called [RE]generation.Europa to take place on 11-12 May 2018. The JN listed a dozen of participating far-right organisations, including Svoboda, which would be represented by Yury Noevy, and Russian Imperial Movement (RID), which became notorious for its logistical and material support for pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine. In February 2018, as Noevy found out of the RID’s participation in the conference, he cancelled his participation, possibly out of fear of confronting the Russian enemy in real life. The JN also listed five guest speakers, including Olena Semenyaka (without mentioning her affiliation with the National Corps), who eventually took part in the conference.
According to various reports from the event, Noevy’s decision to cancel his participation was strategically misguided: the RID’s representative chose a wrong strategy to present the Russian cause and promoted Russian imperialism which was not well accepted by many participants of the conference who considered imperialism as an antithesis to their ultranationalism. During a drinking party, the RID’s representative was even punched by a member of the Czech National and Social Front. At the same time, Semenyaka (and one more female member of the National Corps) seem to have built even more international contacts.
It remains to be seen whether the National Corps will be able to strengthen their relations with the NPD (and the broader West European far-right milieu): the German neo-Nazis are largely pro-Kremlin and will not be easily “re-informed”. The NPD’s Udo Voigt, who was listed as a guest speaker at the conference, participated in the fascist conference in St. Petersburg in 2015, while the NPD itself is a member of the pro-Putin, extreme-right Alliance for Peace and Freedom led by Roberto Fiore. However, it is already significant that the National Corps’ representatives took part in an event organised by the very same people who were the last most significant allies of Svoboda until 2014.