Trojan Horse Strategies

A pro-Trump consultant and the Banderites

Trojan Horse, Çanakkale, Turkey. This image was found on the homepage of the Wooden Horse Strategies website, making obvious the inspiration for the name of the firm.

Meet Brian Mefford, a senior non-resident fellow at the Atlantic Council since 2014, and the owner of Wooden Horse Strategies, a Kyiv-based consulting firm he founded in 2016. After a decade of serving as the director in Ukraine of the International Republican Institute (IRI), the “democracy promotion” arm of the Republican Party, the Kyiv Post named Mefford as one of Ukraine’s most influential expats in 2010. That year he advised the doomed re-election campaign of President Viktor Yushchenko, who controversially declared the mid-20th century Ukrainian fascist leader Stepan Bandera a “Hero of Ukraine” shortly before leaving office.

“To many Kyivans,” said Ukraine’s oldest English language newspaper, “Brian Mefford is known as a khaki-wearing, diehard supporter of the Republican Party whose slight Southern twang isn’t cloaked when speaking Ukrainian.” A quick look at his Twitter profile indicates that he is a Trump supporter. A little deeper digging into the social media accounts of Mefford and his consulting firm suggests that he has something of a soft spot for the Banderites, as in members and fellow travelers of what remains of Stepan Bandera’s Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B).

On Facebook, Brian Mefford is friends with at least half a dozen prominent Banderites, including several representatives of “Free People,” an NGO created by the OUN-B’s anti-Semitic “Youth Nationalist Congress” (MNK). Free People evidently spearheaded the launch of the so-called “Capitulation Resistance Movement” last year. Mefford is also Facebook friends with several problematic friends of the OUN-B, such as Yuriy Syrotyuk, a spokesperson for the neo-fascist Svoboda party who organizes the “Bandera Readings,” an annual event in Kyiv that brings together numerous far-right groups.

Furthermore, on Facebook, Brian Mefford “likes” the MNK and two Free People pages, including the latter’s branch in Ternopil, which launched the far-right led “Protect Ukraine” campaign that was later renamed the “Capitulation Resistance Movement” (Рух Опору Капітуляції, ROK). The MNK, Free People, and ROK all share their headquarters in Kyiv with the OUN-B, which apparently aspires to utilize this ultra-nationalist nexus to lead a new “Maidan” revolution in concert with the far-right to purge the Ukrainian government of all “pro-Russian” influence.

In February 2018, Wooden Horse Strategies posted a photo of Brian Mefford with a Facebook friend, Free People’s Sergey Vystotsky, who is a member of the ROK leadership, or “Coordination Council.” A few weeks later, at least a few representatives of Free People, including Serhii Kuzan and Dmitri Gumenyuk, were invited to attend a Mardi Gras-themed office party thrown by Mefford’s firm. At that time, Gumenyuk’s Facebook profile picture showed him standing in front of a backdrop of the Atlantic Council and featured a superimposed banner of the MNK. Gumenyuk and Kuzan had joined a Free People delegation that visited the United States in October 2017, led by Andriy Levus—the head of Free People, a leader of the ROK, and a Facebook friend of Brian Mefford. The Kyiv-based senior fellow of the Atlantic Council follows Levus and Vysotsky on Instagram.

Wooden Horse Strategies Mardi Gras party, March 2018. Serhii Kuzan is standing in the middle, with Dmitri Gumenyuk to the right. That appears to be Olesia Horiainova, another member of Free People, on the left.

Earlier in 2017, Mefford spoke at an event in Washington organized by the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations (CUSUR), which is tied to the OUN-B. Also speaking that day was Stefan Romaniw, the international leader of the OUN-B since 2009, and Andriy Parubiy, a white nationalist politician (at the time the chairman of Ukraine’s parliament) who co-founded the 1990s neo-Nazi “Social National Party.” We can guess that is how Mefford wound up Facebook friends with Romaniw and Parubiy. Twice that year, Andriy Levus spoke at other CUSUR events in DC. Since its creation in 2000, the influential Banderite-led Center has provided Ukrainian nationalists a platform to network in the US capital, and in recent years it has hosted representatives of the MNK, Free People, and ROK numerous times.

Borys Potapenko, yet another Facebook friend of Brian Mefford, and Inna Levus, the wife of Free People leader Andriy Levus, also joined the Ukrainian nationalist delegation that visited the US in October 2017. Potapenko is the president of the International Council in Support of Ukraine (ICSU), the global coordinating body of OUN-B affiliated NGOs. Free People officially joined the ICSU in 2018. Inna Levus is the head of the Free People Foundation, which Mefford likes on Facebook. Inna and Andriy Levus met in the MNK.

In November 2018, over a year after the Free People delegation visited the United States, members and allies of the Banderite NGO spoke to the Ukrainian parliament’s foreign affairs committee about Russian hybrid warfare. Free People’s Olesia Horiainova, a Facebook friend of Brian Mefford who appears to have also attended the Mardi Gras party earlier that year, made a Facebook post about their testifying to members of Ukraine’s parliament. In it she tagged 34 Ukrainians, and one other person: Brian Mefford. He liked the post. A few months later, former MNK leader Serhii Kuzan announced his allegedly amicable departure from Free People with another Facebook post. He tagged 46 Ukrainians, plus his Facebook friend, Brian Mefford, who once again liked the post.

In June 2019, Wooden Horse Strategies updated followers on social media that Brian Mefford met with Ukrainian nationalist historians Volodymyr Viatrovych and Yaryna Yasynevych, who are married, tied to the OUN-B’s Center for Research of the Liberation Movement, and Facebook friends with Mefford. A Ukrainian “Next Generation Leader” at the McCain Institute commented, “Working on a new political project? With these two — I am in! 😉” Viatrovych and Mefford both liked the comment. The former is well known as a problematic historian and the architect of Ukraine’s controversial decommunization laws. At the time of his meeting with Mefford, he was soon to be dismissed as the chairman of the Ukrainian Institute of National Remembrance. Back in 2016, Foreign Policy published an article about Viatrovych titled, “The Historian Whitewashing Ukraine’s Past.”

I have already written about OUN-B influence in the Atlantic Council, which some regard as the unofficial think tank of NATO. But when I did so, I didn’t know about Brian Mefford, who might just be the Banderites’ best friend in the Atlantic Council. Their evidently warm relationship raises the question: is Free People among the NGOs that Mefford has advised? The name of his consulting firm is alarmingly ironic, because as Jonathan Brunson, a political warfare analyst, tells us:

A diaspora-funded cabal of western Ukrainian anti-communists and crypto-fascists has been quietly plotting to take over the rest of Ukraine since independence in 1991. They have patiently interpenetrated ruling spheres of electoral politics, culture, education, civics, and the power ministries to outlaw opponents and ensure the impunity of their own political violence specialists in public service. They have also convinced the West to support them in rewriting the primarily Soviet history — hence illegitimate to nationalists — of the Holocaust by Bullets in World War II-era western Ukraine.

Trojan Horse Strategies, indeed.

UPDATE: Since writing this I noticed that last year, Mefford had something to say about a selfie posted by OUN-B leader Stefan Romaniw on Facebook. The international OUN-B leader is smiling goofily, sandwiched between two “great friends.” Walter Zaryckyj, looking very serious, is the executive director of the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations, and allegedly the U.S. leader of the OUN-B. Marko Suprun, a Canadian Ukrainian info-warrior, put his head on Romaniw’s shoulder for the picture. A founder of Zaborona, a Ukrainian media outlet, fled the country this year after an article she co-authored that was largely about Suprun’s far-right ties got her doxxed. His “Patriot Defense” NGO shares an address with the OUN-B headquarters building in Kyiv, the Stepan Bandera National Revival Center. The same whistleblower complaint that last year accused Walter Zaryckyj of being the U.S. leader of the OUN-B referred to Suprun as “a [formerly] very active OUN (R) [i.e. OUN-B] member in USA, born and trained in Canada, today running assignments for OUN (R) in Ukraine.”

“a dangerous crew…” — Brian Mefford

Left to right: Marko Suprun, Stefan Romaniw, Walter Zaryckyj