Moving on in my critique of the article mentioned in the first post of this series (see Confusion about neo-Nazis in Ukraine-Russia war). Peter Ballie cited the article as some sort of proof that there are:
“neo-Nazi groups operating, not in Ukraine, but in Russia. Fully aided and abetted by Putin, to quash democratic dissent to his rule and provide an excuse for autocratic extension of power.”
Peter accepts there are neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine – or at least has not criticised my coverage of that aspect in my first and second posts (see Neo-Nazis in Ukraine – stages of denial).
He also accepts my general assessment of the conversation article. I wrote that the author used “naive arguments” in his dismissal of evidence for neo-Nazis in Ukraine and this “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.”
If I am misrepresenting Peter, I hope he comments here to straighten things out. (I am simply interpreting his comments made in another forum).
Now, getting on to what Peter describes as the “central theme” of the article he promoted – the presence of neo-Nazi groups in Russia which are “fully aided and abetted by Putin.” (For reference this is the article by Robert Horvath, Putin’s fascists: the Russian state’s long history of cultivating homegrown neo-Nazis).
Are the neo-Nazi groups in Russia?
Of course they are. There are neo-Nazi groups are in most countries – including New Zealand as we are painfully aware. The Russian Federation is a multi-ethnic country with large numbers of immigrants so it’s hardly surprising that there are groups espousing ideas of ethnic supremacy, hostility to immigrants, hostility to Russian minority ethnic groups and hostility of members of minority ethnic groups against the ethnic Russia majority. If you don’t believe this familiarise yourself with what happened in the Beslan school siege.
No one denies this fact. There is a concise comment by President Putin about this – unfortunately, with the current censorship, I cannot find it. But perhaps readers will accept this comment by Sergei Ivanov, Chief of Staff of Putin’s Presidential Executive Office given in an interview to Russia Today TV Channel. Answering a question about the defeat of Hitler’s Germany and the growing neo-Nazi movement in Europe Ivanov said:
“Well, it’s different in different countries. Let’s put it this way. In Baltic states, in Ukraine now you can see openly Nazi marches. With torches, with Nazi symbols, they are open. And we are very much concerned that local governments do nothing to prevent it. There is also some rise of neo-Nazism in European countries, which you have already mentioned. And I have to be objective, there is some neo-Nazi movement – it’s not very popular, but it exists – in Russia. [My emphasis] And we are very strict in both legal forms of fighting it, and also moral forms. Because if the bulk of Russians knew what Nazism was, what an inhuman ideology it was, it’s like a medical shot, if I may put it that way, to prevent the Nazi ideas or Nazi ideology from spreading. So it’s very important from the point of view of true history and from the point of view of everyone knowing what happened 70 years ago.”
Not as concise as Putin’s statement but it will suffice.
So, Russia does have neo-Nazis. Peter is correct with that part of his assertion, but it is as trivial as saying we have neo-Nazis in New Zealand. Maybe Peter disagrees with Ivanov that they are not popular and are treated strictly – he is welcome to debate this with some evidence. So far, what is the evidence for Peter’s claim that the Russian neo-Nazi groups are “fully aided and abetted by Putin.”
He doesn’t give any and simply cites the Robert Horvath article as “evidence.” Let’s see what this says and what evidence it presents.
The only groups Robert Horvath really mentions, and Wikipedia provides information on, are Nashi and Born
“Nashi” or “Ours”
According to Wikipedia, this group used to be “a political youth movement in Russia which declared itself to be a democratic, anti-fascist, anti-“oligarchic-capitalist” movement. It appears to have been pro-Putin, or pro-Kremlin, electorally and has been compared with the Soviet Komsomol. Russian electoral politics are complex, but the leader of Nashi formed a political party in 2012 and its chairman was elected to the Duma that year. In principle that party would have been in opposition to the Party which supported Putin for president.
Nashi was dissolved in 2019.
I am sure that Nashi had all sorts of scandals, typical of such youth organisations, and had relationships with politicians – but a neo-Nazi group? I think not.
Mind you, the author Robert Horvath seems to get around this by claiming, without evidence, that Nashi and similar groups were bridges between the Kremlin and some undefined “neo-Nazi subculture.” That claim is not convincing – it might conclude with Horvath’s biases, but it is evidence-free.
BORN – Fighting organization of Russian nationalists
Wikipedia describes BORN as:
“a group of right-wing radical Russian nationalists , also known as a neo-Nazi group. The gang members were charged with a series of murders and attempted murders. In 2011, one of the leaders and founders of the organization, Nikita Tikhonov, was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of lawyer Stanislav Markelov and journalist Anastasia Baburova , and his cohabitant Evgenia Khasis received 18 years in prison. In April 2015, Maxim Baklagin and Vyacheslav Isaev were sentenced to life imprisonment, Mikhail Volkov was sentenced to 24 years in prison. In July 2015, the founder of the organization, Ilya Goryachev , was sentenced to life imprisonment for organizing a gang, five murders, and illegal arms trafficking. The existence of BORN as an organized criminal group is questioned by the defendants’ lawyers.”
A nasty group but no evidence that it is “fully aided and abetted by Putin.” Far from it if their leaders are in prison.
Horvath makes vague but unsubstantiated allegations of links of BORN with politicians. But simply citing a TV discussion programme involving a range of people from different backgrounds and organisations is not evidence of a link. And certainly not evidence that BORN was “fully aided and abetted by Putin.”
The sort of evidence presented by Robert Horvath in his article is, in my experience, typical of comparable articles I have read that claim the Russian Federation has a huge problem with neo-Nazis. Misrepresenting existing or liquidated mainstream groups like Nashi, mentioning real neo-Nazi groups which are illegal, referring to members who are currently in prison for crimes, etc., is not evidence for such a claim.
So, yes, there are neo-Nazi groups in Russia – as there are in many countries. But no there is no evidence they are “aided and abetted by Putin.”
Comparing Ukraine and Russia regarding neo-Nazis
The difference between Ukraine and Russia on this question is obvious from these two photographs taken of regular public manifestations regarding Nazis.
Euromaidan press said this about the equivalent 2018 demonstration:
“a relatively peaceful march to commemorate the UPA, Ukraine’s WWII-era Insurgent Army, was held in Kyiv, where roughly 15,000 nationalists, according to the police, marched through the Ukrainian capital. Apart from veterans of the Donbas war, many Ukrainian right-wing parties took part, among them: Right Sector, Svoboda, National Corps (founded on the base of the Azov regiment and civic movements surrounding it), Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, activists of C14 and others. However, not only Ukrainian parties took part: German media noted the participation of Junge Nationalisten, the youth wing of the most radical extreme-right Germany party NPD, which is usually described as Neonazi, in the mix”
Moscow, May 9, 2022
I am not aware of any corresponding regular neo-Nazi marches in Russia, although there appear to have been some occasions of their participation in, or conflict with the organisers of, patriotic marches. But this event is relevant. It occurred in Moscow on Victory Day this year.
The ‘Immortal Regiment’ march is an annual event held throughout Russia and in other countries. The event is dedicated to the victory in the Great Patriotic War (or WWII) that claimed lives of about 28 million Soviet people, both soldiers and civilians. During the march, people carry portraits of their relatives who fought or died during the war.
These photos illustrate the difference between Ukraine and the Russian Federation as far as neo-Nazis are concerned.
In summary, my response to Peter Baillie’s claim is – yes there are neo-Nazis in Russia, but they are not parading in annual street demonstrations, do not have influence in the government and do not have armed militia groups suppressing ethnic minorities.
Peter’s assertion and the claims made by Robert Horvath are simply attempting to divert attention away from the real problem Ukraine has with neo-Nazis. That is also a problem for the rest of the world as the US is very influential and if we remember that the US and Ukraine are the only countries refusing to condemn the glorification of Nazis in the regular UN General Assembly vote on this topic.
A Lesson – citation is not evidence
The main lesson from this discussion is “reader beware.” There is just so much fake information out there – disinformation. We are in the middle of an extreme information war. So, one should read articles like this critically and intelligently. Determine if the stories are credible, if there is evidence presented, and what part bias and wishful thinking are involved.
But a second reason for readers to beware is our own prejudices and wishful thinking. Don’t simply seize on articles that confirm your bias and present them as “proof”. Importantly don’t simply rely on citation of cited articles as some sort of proof. Unfortunately, people who naively rely on citation often have not properly read the article they cite or made a proper judgement of its credibility. When pressed for proper evidence those people often retreat from discussion of the issues.
Peter could have made a better case if he had discussed information he had or thought he had, instead of simply citing an article as evidence. But he can move on and present proper information in the discussion below