This post is a response to a request from Peter Baillie. I don’t know him from Adam and I suspect he was attempting sarcasm but I offered to give him a response. I would welcome any comments or discussion he could add – but that is up to him.
Here’s a link to the article Peter mentions.
Let’s start at the beginning of that article because these few sentences allow us to assess the purpose of that article and its quality.
The author, Robert Horvath, says:
“Many commentators have already debunked Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absurd claim to be waging war to “de-nazify” Ukraine.
Some have pointed out the far right received only 2% of the vote in Ukraine’s 2019 parliamentary elections, far less than in most of Europe. Others have drawn attention to Ukraine’s Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and the efforts of the Ukrainian state to protect minorities like Crimean Tatars and LGBTQ+ people, who are subject to brutal persecution in Russia.”
This is a give-away. The fact that Ukrainian President Zelensky is a Jew and the low electoral support for carefully selected political parties are common arguments used by those who wish to deny the presence and influence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine. Reality is so much more complicated than this and use of such naive arguments by this author, who is a Senior Lecturer at La Trobe University, in my mind destroys his credibility right at the start. His motive is obviously to deny the presence and influence of neo-Nazis in Ukraine and to divert attention from the real facts.
A simple appreciation of the problem with neo-Nazis in Ukraine was given by Zelensky himself, before he became president, and I analysed some of those comments in Neo-Nazis in Ukraine. Comedians are often more truthful than politicians.
There so just so much evidence for what has happened with the revival of ultranationalism in Ukraine and its neo-Nazi character. It’s not hard to find in-depth media reports (although these have disappeared since the current war started) or academic studies of the problem. But here I will just repeat material very recently tweeted by Russians With Attitude (@RWApodcast) who I follow and have found accurate and relatively objective in their war coverage. This is a thread about the history of the neo-Nazi Azov groups which are in the news lately with the massive surrender in Mariupol – see https://twitter.com/RWApodcast/status/1528023220225466374
The roots of “Azov” can be found in the Neonazi soccer hooligan scene of Kharkov. Andrei Biletsky was the central figure of the nascent movement for the longest time. A Kharkov native, he joined numerous nationalist organizations, e.g. the Lvov-based “Tryzub”
He also actively supported the Kharkov cell of the “Social-National Party of Ukraine” (nowadays “Svoboda”). In 2006, Biletsky founded “Patriot of Ukraine”, a nationalist organization that engaged in street violence & even terrorism.
Biletsky’s patron during this period was Arsen Avakov, Armenian-Ukrainian “entrepreneur” & politician. In 2005-2010, Avakov was the governor of Kharkov oblast. During this period, “Patriot of Ukraine” was unofficially deputized by Kharkov police.
Biletsky’s gang helped the police patrol the streets for illegal immigrants, & also to combat illegal businesses. Aside from their political activities, they serves as enforcers for Avakov’s “business ventures”. That’s how they reached a significant level of political protection.
Avakov, of course, also became Minister of the Interior after the Euromaidan coup d’etat; their fruitful relationship continued. Russian Neonazi Sergei Korotkikh aka “Botsman” is a personal friend of Avakov’s son. Botsman also leads a separate Azov unit, the “Botsman Boys”.
In 2011, Biletsky and several of his comrades were arrested for organized robbery; in early 2014, Avakov became Minister of the Interior & had them released from prison. Even before that, Biletsky’s “Patriot of Ukraine” had joined the Euromaidan protests & the “Right Sector”.
Biletsky’s men took part in the civil strife that followed the Euromaidan coup d’etat. Then known as “Little black men from Kharkov”, they published threatening video messages to the Russian population; they rode around the country & engaged in political violence.
They came to Odessa & participated in the May 2nd massacre; they attacked Anti-Maidan protests in Kharkov or straight up had pro-Russian acvitists “disappeared” with the help of Ukrainian security services.
This is a long introduction, but it’s important. Soon after, the civil strife turned into civil war. The Euromaidan government in Kiev realized that Ukraine doesn’t have an army. Its elite military units were getting humiliated by coal miner militias in Donbass.
That’s when, under the patronage of Avakov, the “Volunteer Battalions” were created. Azov, Aidar, Donbas, Tornado, Dnipro — these & many other Ministry of the Interior formations are infamous for their horrifying reign of terror in Eastern Ukraine.
Some documentary reports of neo-Nazi crimes
These are images posted in the tweets
Entry into Mariupol
Azov’s only “battle” in this period occurred when they entered Mariupol after the Kremlin had forced the Donetsk Militia to retreat from the city. They started looting, raping, shooting random civilians, kidnapping, torturing & murdering pro-Russian activists, etc.
Aside from that, Azov’s involvement in the Donbass War was minimal. The places where they were stationed (Shirokino, Zolotoye, Mariupol) saw (almost) no fighting. This, however, didn’t stop Azov from becoming famous. They ran the secret black site prison in Mariupol with the SBU.
Azov transformed from a hooligan militia into a proper military unit with generous funding provided by Ukrainian oligarchs — not just Avakov, but also Kolomoyskyi & Akhmetov. “Patriot of Ukraine” became the “National Corps”, Azov’s political arm.
Not a mere political party, Azov’s “civilian” organizations engaged in paramilitary training for radicals, children’s education, charity, literature & many other things. They built a whole business empire ranging from publishing houses & tattoo parlors to brothels & drug dealing.
Peacetime Azov was involved in high-profile expropriations & hostile takeovers. Biletsky became a Member of Parliament. There were rumors that they tried to buy an island in Latin America. With political protection, mob ties & US sponsors they became a “state within the state”.
After Biletsky’s departure into politics, the nobody Prokopenko was left in charge of the military unit. He became recognizable to the general public only when he refused to salute Zelensky at an awarding ceremony (a fashionable trend among the Ukrainian military at that time).
Mariupol became Azov’s headquarters — a Russian-speaking (e.g. enemy) city given to them as a feudal fief. The city housed the headquarters and one of the regiment’s battalions. Other battalions, including the most numerous, were established in Kharkov & Dnepropetrovsk.
The leaders & iconic figures of the movement are concentrated in Kiev. Now, the regiment’s headquarters & Mariupol branch have been destroyed. Azov has been replenished with numerous supporters from the civilian corps & their own mobilization reserve.
An Azov franchise is currently being formed in Kiev; the Kharkov branch (“Kraken” & “Freikorps”) was the one responsible for videos of Russian prisoners of war getting executed. Azov’s political arm, the “National Corps”, has established a military dictatorship in Kharkov.
Thus, Azov is neither just a “Nazi militia” or a “regular military unit” — they’re a large & successful political movement with deep ties to the government in Kiev, to organized crime, to domestic & foreign intelligence services & to extremist organizations all over the world.
These three videos also give a brief history of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. Produced by Vasily Prozorov who was employed by Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) From 1999 to 2018.
Note: This is of course just the beginning to an analysis of the article mentioned by Peter Baillie. I am happy to continue the analysis and respond to criticism of this post if Peter wishes to engage.
I am grateful to Russians With Attitude (@RWApodcast) for this outline and encourage any interested reader to follow them for their valuable in formation.