The recent very undiplomatic statements by Russia’s top diplomat, Sergey Lavrov, created a bit of a media storm. But the beat up over these statements obscures the real issues. Ukraine does have a problem with neo-Nazis. These neo-Nazis have a lot of influence in the Ukrainian military. Consequently, they receive arms and training from NATO countries – mainly the USA. Cooperation with this military means cooperation with neo-Nazis.
No surprise that in the current war hysteria there is an attempt to deny the existence and influence of these Ukrainian neo-Nazis. Specifically, Foreign Minister Lavrov was reacting to one of these attempts, the argument about Ukrainian president Zelensky “How can there be Nazism in Ukraine if he is a Jew?”
Lavrov’s interviewer from the Italian television network, Mediaset, expressed this argument with the question:
“He (Zelensky) believes denazification doesn’t make any sense. He is a Jew. The Nazis, Azov – there are very few of them (several thousand). Vladimir Zelensky refutes your view of the situation.”
Perhaps it’s worth looking at what Zelensky has said about this problem in the past. And I refer to Zelensky the comedian – not Zelensky the politician. We all know politicians tell lies as part of their job – perhaps comedians can be more truthful
This video clip from one of Zelensky’s stand-up performances in 2014 is a good summary of the situation. (Sorry about posting this as a tweet – it is a real problem directly including videos now because of YouTube censorship).
Zelensky is reading a fictional letter from someone serving in one of the ultranationalist military brigades:
He says things are better because he is “in the ranks of the Banderites.”
The Banderites are the ultra-right, ultranationalist, neo-Nazi groups which were converted into national guard battalions during the civil war after the 2014 coup. Stepan Bandera has been promoted to a national hero in Ukraine since independence. He was one of the leaders of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army which cooperated with the German Nazis in the second world war, which was responsible for the massacre of Poles, Jews, Russians, and others at the time and before the war.
Per Anders Rudling, a historian specializing in the areas of nationalism, wrote in “The OUN, the UPA and the Holocaust: A Study in the Manufacturing of Historical Myths:”
“During the past decade, particularly under the presidency of the third Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko (2005–2010) there have been repeated attempts to turn the leading figures of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and its armed wing, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) into national heroes. As these fascist organizations collaborated with the Nazi Germany, carried out ethnic cleansing and mass murder on a massive scale, they are problematic symbols for an aspiring democracy with the stated ambition to join the European Union.”
He adds “My salary is small but that is not a problem since we are allowed to take money and property from then Russians.”
The revival of neo-Nazi Ukrainian heroes together with the involvement of thugs, football hooligans, etc., has produced brutish behaviour in Ukrainian society. During the leadup to the 2014 coup these thugs intimidated elected councils and businesses. They often beat up politicians they disliked. They will tie people they consider criminals (e.g. looters) or pro-Russian to lampposts to be abused by passers-by.
The ultranationalists often intimidate people as part of their campaign against the use of the Russian language.
“Earlier the same applied to the Jews. But then the main Bandera man Kolomoyski prohibited it.”
Ihor Kolomoyskyi is one of the richest oligarchs in Ukraine and helped to get Zelensky elected. He is also a funder of one of some of the neo-Nazi military groups. Kolomovski is also a Jew.
This underlines the point that neo-Nazis are not about attacking Jews – they have moved on. In Ukraine, they attack other minorities, the Roma for example, but their main concern is with the largest ethnic minority – Russians. Their attacks range from bullying over language, kidnap and even murder of officials they consider “pro-Russian,” to their involvement in the war against Russian speaking separatists since 2014.
“I am learning English to forget Russian with the help of American mercenaries; they’re all over the place.”
The USA has been involved in Ukraine ever since independence in the early 90s. They have been happy to support the anti-Russian prejudices promoted by Banderites and the evidence is that the USA was involved in the anti-democratic coup in February 2014.
“Our president, the most important one Barack Obama, has promised that we will join NATO soon, as an American henchman of course.”
Interesting aside there. Ukraine was never a serious candidate for NATO membership but was in fact incorporated into NATO in all but name. NATO training, arms supplies and intelligence. In the current war, one can say the aim of the Americans is to fight to the last Ukrainian in their attempt to destroy Russia.
“If you can please send me Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf.” They are sold out here.”
Interestingly, the manifesto of the Christchurch terrorist, Tarrant, while banned in New Zealand, was translated into eastern European languages and is used by groups like the Azov Battalion. During the shooting, Tarrant wore a flak jacket with a symbol commonly used by the Azov Battalion which even the New York Times describes as “a Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary organization.”
Of course, things are not simple. More can be said about the overwhelming support Zelensky received in his election because of his support for peace and the steps outlined in the Minsk Agreements. How the ultranationalist/neo-Fascist groups and their allies demonstrated against his peace policies, threatened his presidency – even his life, and his eventual back down as shown by the fact that Ukraine never carried out their obligations under the Minsk agreements.
But I think those people who wish to support Ukraine in this war should be aware of the role of neo-Nazis. Supporters of Ukraine who attempt to deny the existence of the neo-Nazis, or downplay their importance, are simply making excuses for the fact that they are effectively supporting a disreputable movement.