In Ukraine, nationalists gain influence - and scrutiny | Reuters

When protest leaders in Ukraine helped oust a president widely seen as corrupt, they became heroes of the barricades. But as they take places in the country's new government, some are facing uncomfortable questions about their own values and associations, not least alleged links to neo-fascist extremists.

Two of the groups under most scrutiny are Svoboda, whose members hold five senior roles in Ukraine's new government including the post of deputy prime minister, and Pravyi Sector (Right Sector), whose leader Dmytro Yarosh is now the country's Deputy Secretary of National Security.

Tyahnybok was one of the main opposition figures who negotiated with President Viktor Yanukovich before he fled the country. He met the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Tuesday and previously shared a platform with John McCain, the U.S. Senator, and Victoria Nuland, the senior American diplomat for Europe.

A U.S. official said one of the main reasons that McCain and other Americans met Tyahnybok, who does not have a position in the new Ukrainian government, was because he headed one of the three principal opposition factions leading the Ukrainian protests. The U.S. government says Svoboda is moving away from extremism and trying to become a more conventional political party.

"Since entering the Ukrainian Parliament in October 2012, the Svoboda leadership has been working to take their party in a more moderate direction and to become a modern, European mainstream political party," a senior U.S. official told Reuters.

"The leadership has been much more vigilant about expelling or otherwise punishing individual members who engage in xenophobic behavior or rhetoric."

The party retains policies of banning atheists, former communists and foreigners from being members, according to its website. Svoboda also has links to radical and far-right groups across Europe.

Tyahnybok said that his party had a "cooperation agreement" with France's far-right National Front, had "contacts with many nationalist organizations" and was interested in working with them on the issue of illegal immigration.

However, he added that there were also divisions, saying that some members of the French party had recently expressed support for Russia over Crimea. According to its website, France's National Front has condemned the "removal by force of an elected president" in Ukraine and defended Russia's intervention in the Crimea.“The State Department is trying to play on a shamelessly one-sided interpretation of the events,”)