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Avakov-aligned activists target president with violent attacks

Avakov-aligned activists target president with violent attacks

11 March 2019

Nationalist activists, widely recognized to be backed
by Internal Affairs Minister Arsen Avakov, led violent protests on March 9
against the president’s alleged involvement in illegal purchases of Russian
military parts. The several thousand activists included members the National
Corps, the political party wing of the Azov paramilitary battalion, and the
National Squads, a self-described activist group that is criticized for being
similar types of street thugs used by the Yanukovych administration. After a
political rally on the maidan, they marched to the Presidential Administration
where they immediately began attacking the rows of hundreds of policemen lined
up, targeting them with kicks and punches. Both sides sprayed tear gas at each
other. Two police and one National Guardsman were injured, the National Police
said.

 

President Poroshenko had left the administration
building by the time of the clashes, already giving an outdoor campaign speech
in the city of Cherkasy. Yet the National Corps and National Squads fighters
targeted him there as well, with scores approaching the campaign event and
attempted to confront the president, only to clash with police officers. The
president’s motorcade was video recorded speeding away from the violent
protestors, who were reported to have inflicted injuries on 22 police officers.
In a Facebook post, Internal Affairs Minister Avakov condemned the actions of
the National Corps and National Squads as unacceptable. “Righteous anger over
the corrupt crimes is justified, but should it generate other criminal acts? Obviously
no,” he said. “It’s obvious that many of the aggressive youth wanted hard core
action, but not justice and lawfulness.”

 

The attacks targeting the president on March 9 were
coordinated by “pro-Russian revanchists and oligarch-fugitives,” said the Petro
Poroshenko Bloc party in a statement the next day. “For the entire time since
the start of Russian aggression against our state, we have reaffirmed the right
of Ukraine to be free and independent,” the statement said. “That’s precisely
why no one will be able to set ablaze or break Ukraine from within. The
decisive actions of law enforcement bodies must stop all those who attempt to
provoke violence and spill the blood of Ukrainians on our streets to fulfill
their ambitions.”

 

Zenon Zawada: The violent
protests are truly the elections campaign strategy of Avakov, working in tandem
with presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko, to capitalize off the momentum of
the Russian military parts scandal to attack the president, both in the media
and on the streets. The protests had to be violent in order to draw the
attention of the mass media and the public. Indeed the Tymoshenko campaign has
worked hard to keep the Russian military parts scandal at the focus of public
discussion, staging various media events and protest events to keep in it the
news cycle.

 

Not only does Avakov seeks to make electoral gains
with these protests, but he’s also seeking to intimidate the president in an
ongoing feud involving law enforcement structures throughout the election
campaign. Previous clashes between law enforcement structures include the Feb.
9 detention of C14 activists (controlled by Poroshenko) by police (controlled
by Avakov) at a Tymoshenko rally, as well as
the Feb. 21 conflict in Sumy in which police reported vote-buying
allegations
, drawing criminal charges from
officers of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU, controlled by Poroshenko). In
the March 9 incident however, both the police and the violent protesters are
widely recognized to be controlled by Avakov, which is an enormous advantage
that he exploited on Tymoshenko’s behalf.

 

The use of law enforcement structures and street
fighters to score political points and intimidate others is a dangerous
precedent for these elections that will only escalate as election day draws
nearer. It’s already foreseeable that officers with the National Police
(controlled by Avakov) and Security Service of Ukraine (controlled by
Poroshenko) will be clashing on election day, claiming to be acting to prevent
election fraud by “opposing campaigns” while filing fraud reports at the same
time.

 

We can be confident that Tymoshenko won’t recognize
the vote results (no matter what they are) and Avakov will confirm her
allegations of mass vote fraud by the Poroshenko campaign, including claims of
a nationwide vote-buying network that he is already investigating. In which
case, the Poroshenko campaign will be aggressively using its wide network of
state resources to ensure that he will qualify for the second-round runoff
against Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

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