How the Kremlin tried to incite conflict between Budapest and Kyiv using the Hungarian minority in Transcarpathia
The Mérce online portal reported that the Polish Internal Security Agency (PISA) had identified the three men who presumably tried to set the offices of the Cultural Association of the Transcarpathian Hungarians (KMKSZ) ablaze in early February 2017 and then attempted to place the blame on Ukrainian extremists. Polish prosecutors will accuse the suspects of committing a terrorist act. The investigation has led authorities to a German journalist who was allegedly entrusted with organising the attack by Russian secret services.
Although the abovementioned attack against the Hungarian minority was unsuccessful, yet unidentified assailants succeeded in setting the KMKSZ offices alight in late February. Ukrainian authorities are treating the second attack as a pro-Russian terror act as well. The attacks fit into the Russian hybrid warfare concept, which uses the services of extremist organisations in foreign active measures, described earlier by Political Capital.
Ever since Vladimir Putin’s election as Russian president in 2000, the Kremlin has put a strange emphasis on diplomatic, political and intelligence cooperation with mainly far-right and paramilitary groups, which became an integral part of its influencing operations in Europe and the post-Soviet space. A good example for this is the formerly Jobbik-affiliated Hungarian MEP Béla Kovács, who was not only accused by Hungarian authorities of spying against the European Union (the criminal lawsuit is still ongoing), but also had a personal relationship with the man who murdered a police officer in Bőny, István Győrkös. Győrkös was the leader of the Hungarian National Front (MNA), a neo-Nazi paramilitary organisation trained by Russian military intelligence (GRU). In Poland, Béla Kovács’s former associate, the head of the pro-Russian Zmiana (Change) party, Mateusz Piskorski, was arrested in 2016 by the PISA for spying and committing sabotage on the territory of a foreign state. The activists of Zmiana and the Polish far-right party Congress of the New Right (CNR) committed similar provocations against minorities in 2014, when they damaged Ukrainian nationalist statues to incite conflict between the Ukrainian majority and the Polish minority right after the eruption of the Crimean crisis. Another common point between the two cases is that the pro-Russian Zmiana was originally recruited from the ranks of the Polish far-right Falanga group, which, according to Transcarpathian Governor Hennadiy Moskal, the perpetrators of the recent attacks can also be linked to.
An earlier study of Political Capital revealed that the destabilisation of the region – including Ukraine – became one of Russian hybrid warfare’s objectives in the wake of the Crimean crisis and the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Far-right/paramilitary organisations using and promoting narratives on historical revisionism against neighbouring states and nationalist demands are perfect tools in the Kremlin’s hands. These groups are all on great terms with Moscow, look up at Russian imperial nationalism and their ideology is defined in opposition to NATO and the European Union.
Attacks against Poles and Hungarians, anti-minority intelligence operations immediately find their way into the official communication of the Kremlin. Violent attacks, provocations against minorities are not only used to justify the cover story for the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 (“Ukrainian fascists attacked the Russian minority in Eastern Ukraine”), but are also perfect for undermining Ukraine’s further European integration by highlighting the alleged “illegal” anti-minority measures implemented by Kiev. The attack on the Hungarian minority exacerbated tensions between Budapest and Kyiv even further after the two sides got into a diplomatic tit-for-tat after Ukraine approved its new language law, while maintaining the region’s international and defence policy instability.
Lóránt Győri is a sociologist and political analyst, with a masters in social sciences from Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest, where he is currently working as a geopolitical analyst for the Political Capital think-tank on issues such as Russian soft power, disinformation, and populism in Europe.
Photo: Nemes János / MTI, Index