(Warontherocks.com) (Co-authored with Olga Oliker) Earlier this year, armed protesters used violence and threats to force Ukraine’s government into a substantial policy reversal: a ban on anthracite coal imports from separatist-controlled territory, crucial to the country’s electricity supply. The protesters were representatives of “volunteer battalions” (or pro-state militias), broadly credited with helping Ukraine survive the early days of its continuing conflict with Russian-backed separatists in the East. This incident, and others like it, illustrate how the continued cohesiveness, weapons access, and politicization of these groups threatens Ukraine’s democracy and stability.
When the volunteer battalions (although not all are technically battalions, we will use this terminology as shorthand) first appeared in 2014, their assistance was welcome and necessary, albeit controversial. Although seen as patriots by many, critics deemed these groups undisciplined, politically extremist, and insufficiently controlled by Ukrainian authorities. Some were credibly linked to human rights violations and neo-Nazi sympathies. […]
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