The subtlety of neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine – ignored by our media

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

"Behind him is Bandera, the Nazi who organized the Volyn massacre, in the first week this bastard executed 15,000 Jews and 5,000 Ukrainians. Europe continues to support this commander-in-chief and his country with arms and money." - Twitter comment.

Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. “Behind him is Bandera, the Nazi who organized the Volyn massacre, in the first week this bastard executed 15,000 Jews and 5,000 Ukrainians. Europe continues to support this commander-in-chief and his country with arms and money.” – Twitter comment.

Before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, our media tended to be relatively honest about the neo-Nazio problem in Ukraine. They covered things like the Azov battalion and the role of ultra-nationalist groups in the 2014 coup which overthrew the democratically elected government. Social media, like Twitter and Facebook, banned posts by the Azov battalion because of its neo-Nazi nature, and the US Congress attempted to ban the transfer of US weapons to the Azov battalion for the same reason.

Nowadays it’s a different story. Any talk of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi problem is jumped on. Citing these former stories in your social media posts and you will be accused of being a “Putin puppet.” And there are numerous articles devoted to whitewashing Ukraine. Explaining that the president is Jewish so how can Nazis have any influence, etc., etc.  You have probably heard all the excuses.

But the fact remains that ultranationalists, many with neo-Nazi characteristics, have a strong influence in Ukraine. After independence (and to some extent before independence) in 1991, there was a growth in ultranationalist influence. There have been strong moves to rewrite the history of Ukraine and to establish ultranationalist Nazi collaborators as Ukrainian state heroes. Building monuments to them. Naming streets after them. And so on – you get the picture.

The recent photograph of Valerii Zaluzhnyi, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, illustrates the neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine. President Zelensky may be a Jew. There may be few evident neo-Nazi political parties elected to the Rada, the parliament. But the growth of ultranationalism means that the neo-Nazi influence is everywhere.

General Zaluzhnyi may not be an open neo-Nazi – but he has been photographed in front of a portrait of Stepan Bandera. Such photographs are common. Local officials and Mayors are photographed in front of such portraits because they are so everywhere in Ukrainian government structures – a bit like the Queen’s portrait in our government departments (or is it King Charles these days?)

Kiev

The Babi Yar memorial in Kiev stands at the end of two avenues which have been named after Nazi collaborators and mass murderers the Ukrainian government considers as national heroes – Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych

And then there are the memorials to these recent heroes who were Nazi collaborators and committed horrible crimes of genocide. I have illustrated some of these before (see Once again, those Russian neo-Nazis – the Wagner group), but the street names in Kiev are surely shameful. The avenues leading up to the Babi Yar memorial are now named after the two most prominent Nazi collaborators during World War Two – Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych.

Babi Yar

A German Einsatzgruppen soldier talks to two unidentified women at the top of the Babi Yar ravine, where more than 33,000 people, mostly Jews, were massacred on September 29 and 30, 1941. © Wikimedia

Unfortunately, these vital details (and there are a lot more) are not talked about these days. Our media no longer discusses the Ukrainian neo-Nazi problem. And I will be accused of being a “Putin puppet” or worse for daring to mention it.

Where are Ukrainian refugees going? – an update

How Unrest in Ukraine Is Sending a Wave of Refugees to Russia

A temporary tent camp set up for Ukrainian refugees in Donetsk, in Russia’s Rostov region near the Russian-Ukrainian border, June 22, 2014 (Reuters/Eduard Korniyenko). Source: How Unrest in Ukraine Is Sending a Wave of Refugees to Russia

In August I discussed Ukrainian refugee data in my post You can’t understand Ukraine without acknowledging its deep divisions and how this illustrates the deep divisions in the country. Unless these divisions are acknowledged and all the data considered one simply cannot understand the problems.

Ignoring the refugees from the Donbass and eastern Ukraine, who mainly fled to the Russian Federation, distorts the situation. Unfortunately, our media often falls into that trap.

Also, ignoring the refugees from those areas who fled between 2014 (when the civil war broke out) and February 24 2022 (the date used by the UN for the start of the refugee problem) misrepresents the situation. Our media persists with this fundamental mistake that the Ukrainian conflict started on February 24 thi\us purposely misrepresenting the Russo-Ukraine war.

Here I update the UN figures for refugees. The data is mainly for November 2002, although there is some variation (e.g. the data for the Russian Federation is for October 2022). I have also corrected my mistake of not including the refugees in the period 2014 and February 24, 2022.

The tables below for the refugees since February 2014 are taken from the UN – Ukraine Refugee Situation. However, the pie charts below are more complete as I have included an estimate of the number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing to the Russian Federation in the period between 2014 and 2022. This estimate is 1.5 million. I don’t know if this includes the estimated 120,000 who fled to the Russian Federation in the period just before the 24th of February 2024. This was caused by an increase in Ukrainian attacks on civilian areas just before the invasion.

Ukrainian refugees since 2014

This pie chart shows a fact our media ignores – Russia is bearing the main costs of supporting Ukrainian refugees – 48% of the refugees fled to the Russian Federation. This is understandable if one thinks about it. The war is taking place mainly in the east and south of Ukraine. This is where homes are being destroyed and lives are under threat. The people here are mainly Russian, ethnically. They have close ties with Russia including family ties. It is natural that most of the refugees from these areas will flee to Russia

Ukrainian refugees since February 24, 2022

Even considering the data only for those fleeing since the start of the Russian-Ukrainian war in February 2022 we see that Russia is still bearing the major brunt of the refugee problem. Russia has received 38% of these refugees – more than any other country.

There are problems in Western Europe because refugees are not always welcome. But this is unlikely to be the case in the Russian Federation because the refugees speak the same language and have the same cultural and religious background. Family ties are also common.

But the Russian Federation is obviously bearing most of the economic costs of the Ukrainian refugee problem. Russia also has the cost of restoration of housing and facilities destroyed by the war in the areas they have liberated and annexed.

Some of the new housing being built in Mariupol where most houses were destroyed during the early weeks of the war.

UN data for refugees in Europe since February 24, 2022

Fake news about Ukrainian refugees

The main misrepresentation is that Ukrainian refugees are fleeing mainly to rich western countries and that Western Europe is bearing the main burden. This is obviously not true but is a common theme in western media. (For example, Number of refugees entering Europe grows as power is cut in Ukrainian towns, or Ukrainian refugees: Challenges in a welcoming Europe which lists the “top ten countries hosting Ukrainian refugees” but purposely excludes Russia).

The other common distortion is to claim that refugees hosted by Russia were forcefully deported (eg –Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians forced to Russia, U.S. claims). This is ridiculous but is one of the more fanciful claims disseminated by the authorities in Kiev which are often uncritically picked up by the western media.

*NOTE

It is hard to find complete figures for the refugees fleeing the country between 2014 and 2022 so I have used the commonly accepted estimate. I will update this post when I get my hands on the relevant data from reliable sources. So far, the UN data I have found has been for only individual years.

The refugee numbers are increasing all the time. The recent evacuation of Kherson will mean an increase in the number of refugees in the Russian Federation. The current attacks on services like water and electricity throughout Ukraine will increase the number of refugees fleeing to Western Europe. This parallels the situation in Donbass where such attacks on essential services since 2014 (as well as the indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas) has caused many refugees to flee to the Russian Federation.

Most recently the authorities in Kiev have claimed that the entire population of Ukraine will have to move to other countries in winter because of the Russian destruction of electricity and water services. This claim is extreme and obviously aimed at involving NATO forces directly in the conflict by threatening Europe with the problem of increasing refugee numbers. There is no doubt that the destruction of essential services will lead to more emigration.

There are also rumours of the outbreak of civil unrest in Odessa as civilians oppose the poor response of the city administration to the loss of civilian services. It is possible such civil unrest will spread and this may also promote emigration and an increase in refugee numbers.

Finally, we should never forget the large number of refugees that have been settled within the country who must be supported by Ukrainian institutions and international humanitarian agencies.

Is New Zealand covertly supporting the glorification of neo-Nazism?

Ukrainian veterans of the Azov Battalion, formed by a white supremacist and banned from receiving U.S. aid, attend a rally in Kyiv on March 14, 2020. Source “Ukraine’s Nazi problem is real, even if Putin’s ‘denazification’ claim isn’t” Vladimir Sindeyeve / NurPhoto via Getty Images.

That’s what it looks like if we consider the changes in New Zealand’s voting behaviour at the UN General Assembly.

This month New Zealand changed its voting behaviour on the annual resolution on Combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.” Whereas in the past our country had chosen to abstain from this resolution, this year it voted against it.

The voting record shows that a year ago only two countries, the USA and Ukraine, voted against this resolution (Green in favour, Yellow abstained and red agianst

This November the numbers voting with the US and Ukraine to effectively oppose the combating of the glorification of Naazim rose from 2 to 52 – including New Zealand.

The European Union countries refer to the war in Ukraine to justify their change in their vote (see EU Explanation of Vote – UN General Assembly: Draft Resolution on Combating glorification of Nazism.” Traditionally abstaining, this year they voted to oppose the resolution.

It appears that this war somehow means we should not combat the glorification of Nazism. But what has changed? Surely our attitude to the glorification of Nazis should remain strong. It should not be affected, or thrown away, because of this war – or by the propaganda and geopolitical pressures accompanying it.

Surely our principles should be a lot stronger than this.

This worries me. The outbreak of the war has brought home to me that many of our principles seem to be shallow. We have willingly accepted censorship. We don’t speak out about the effective racism in blaming the population of a country for the decisions of its leaders, we have fallen into the trap of collective responsibility. Our principles on the sanctity of ownership have been abandoned in the rush to impose and support sanctions that amount to great power robbery. And all rational thought on the war gets jumped on. A real discussion of the Ukrainian war, its causes, and its consequences has become impossible.

This vote raises an important question. We changed our vote without consulting our people or political representatives. The change was in response to great power pressure (as many votes in the US are). It was not a democratic decision.

If we vote this way over such a fundamental question related to our values simply because the USA and other NATO countries pressure us to – what has happened to our sovereignty?

Following the war in Ukraine – an update

SLOVYANSK, UKRAINE – APRIL14: Ukrainian troops ride tanks on the way toward Slavyansk on April 14, 2014 in Ukraine. Tension has been rising in Ukraine, with pro-Russian activists occupying buildings in more eastern towns and a Russian fighter jet making passes over a U.S. warship in the Black Sea. (Photo by Ilia Pitalev Kommersant Photo via Getty Images)

My post, How is the war going?, from two months ago recently got a lot of attention. Probably because of recent changes on the ground in Ukraine. A lot has changed in those two months, and I have found other military analyses that are worth following for their daily updates. So here is a list of the sites I currently think anyone interested in this war should follow.

Of course, one should never take any particular analysis as gospel. Everyone has their bias and different skills – I have sometimes been shocked at the poor knowledge of the Ukrainian events of 2014 or of the concern about European security that some analysts show.  That is why it is worth following several analysts and making one’s own critical assessment of what they present.

So here is my current list of YouTube channels I watch that are usually updated daily. I have ranked these with those I consider the best first.

Military Summary Channel

The guy running the Military Summary channel seems to be a military expert. His summaries often provide information like the number of battle groups in each area, which is lacking in other summaries. It is worth remembering that this war probably has more to do with the destruction of enemy forces than the capture of territory. He also does get into speculating on the likelihood of impending battles (interesting but not necessarily correct – the hardest thing to predict is the future). He comes across as knowledgeable but objective

Defense Politics Asia

Defense Politics Asia is run by a guy from Singapore. He has a Singaporean sense of humour and is always checking and reevaluating his sources and information so often makes changes when he can get verification of a claim.

New World Econ

This is a newer channel I have come across with far lower subscription numbers – but still worth following. It has regular posts and often does short posts on breaking news.

THETI Mapping

Another new channel with lower subscription numbers but valuable analyses.

Weeb Union

Yet another newer channel with lower subscription numbers but valuable analyses.

The subscription numbers for these last three channels are growing rapidly as more people become aware of their work.

War in Ukraine

The War in Ukraine summaries of harder to understand, if only because his maps are less detailed. He does also provide extra information which I find sometimes good (like his analysis of the situation in Lithuania regarding the blockage of the Kaliningrad) and sometimes not so good.

He definitely has a pro-Ukrainian bias (he is Ukrainian) but has no illusions about the dire state of the Ukrainian economy and the widespread corruption there.

Denys Davydov

Denys Davydov is a Ukrainian pilot and is clearly biased toward Ukraine – he comes across as a bit naive. Still worth watching because he does give an idea of what Ukrainians may be pinning their hopes on.

While he continues to present a propaganda message which is unfortunately common on social media, his predictions are often fanciful. Some people prefer his simplistic messages. (One of my followers recently combed through my list and ended up reposting only Denys – obvious confirmation bias.

The economic and geopolitical wars

There is also an economic war, based on the sanctions and their effect on the Russian economy and Western economies – particularly those of the NATO countries but also the rest of the world. It’s much harder to find convincing and objective information on this. It is up to readers to use the sources they feel most comfortable with. However, for those interested in this aspect I recommend Alexander Mercouris. His analyses are always thoughtful and I learn a lot from him. For example, he was the only analyst I am aware of who suggested the Russia Military would withdraw from Izyum several days before it happened. He argued that Izyum no longer had military value to the Russians.

War and the loss of young lives are horrible, but I think the economic and geopolitical wars will end up being more important than the military war as their outcome will affect us all.

Russian anti-war protester goes to see for herself

Maria was a Russian who fiercely opposed the invasion of Ukraine. She was adamant it was wrong, and she had no hostility towards the Ukrainian people. As she said, like most Russians she saw the Ukrainians as practically family. That in fact, many Russians and Ukrainians belonged to the same families. She could not understand the reason for the war and basically believed the western propaganda about the war.

But her attitude changed after she got the opportunity to travel to Donbass as an interpreter for an independent journalist, John Mark Dougan. What she saw shocked her. As well as interpreting she helped bring humanitarian aid to the people there who were suffering from the war – which for them had been going on since 2014.

Now she understands that the war was inevitable, even necessary. And that the western propaganda she had formerly largely believed was false – full of lies.

Her story is interesting and informative. t gives an insight into the beliefs of many liberal Russians who opposed this war when the invasion occurred in February 2022.

 

You can’t understand Ukraine without acknowledging its deep divisions

Our media insists on telling us that Ukraine is a unified country suffering aggression from its neighbour the Russian Federation. But it is hardly unified. A violent civil war has raged there since the overthrow of the democratically elected government in February 2014.

This civil war arose from deep divisions within Ukrainian society. These divisions and their political effects are one of the reasons for the current war.

Richard Sakwa, in his book Frontline Ukraine, describes these divisions as between “the monist Ukrainian nationalist aspirations of creating culturally uniform Ukrainian-speaking nation, by contrast with the pluralist concept of Ukraine as culturally and linguistically diverse.” With the rise of ultranationalism after independence this was manifest in conflict between ultranationalist political forces and those recognising the fact of cultural diversity in the country and the need for friendly relations with their ethnically similar neighbour, Russia. In the end a conflict between the ultranationalists and the ethnic Russians living in the east.

So, it is no surprise that many people in eastern Ukraine may prefer living in an area administered by Russia. They may be interested in travelling from Ukrainian administered parts of the country into Russian administered parts of the country, even moving there, as indicated in the video above.

But these facts contrast with stories we usually get from our mainstream media.

UN refugee data

The refugee data also conflicts with the mainstream media narrative.

Far from seeing the Russian Federation as a brutal enemy, many Ukrainians that flee the country as refugees go to Russia. In fact, the UN data shows that the country hoisting the largest number of Ukrainian refugees who fled the country since February this year is the Russian Federation. With almost two million refugees, Russia is hosting a much larger number than Poland which has the next highest number of about one and a quarter million.

See the data below which was taken from the Ukraine Refugee Situation on the UN Operational Data Portal.

Beware of simple stories

Understandably, simple stories are promoted in a war situation, and they may well appeal to many people. Understandably and many people “pick sides” and have a desire to confirm their bias.

But simple stories rarely convey the truth of a situation. And in the case of Ukraine one simply cannot understand the conflict of one does not recognize the divisions in that country. In fact, ignoring those divisions means one easily falls into the trap of believing the propaganda from the preferred side and inevitably aligning with that side – no matter how unjustified their position is.

Once again, those Russian neo-Nazis – the Wagner group

The Wagner Group is a private military company – effectively mercenaries. It has been used for the military activity of the Russian Federation in various parts of the world. Currently, it is operating in Ukraine and apparently has a reputation as a very brave and effective force in the battle for Donbass. Its name comes up frequently in the reports from the Military Summary Channel I referred to in How is the war going?

As the video above shows even Russian reporters treat the group as somewhat of a mystery – although an effective mystery. It would be nice to dig deeper into its formation and history but that is not the purpose of this post. I will only say I am not a fan of private military or mercenary companies – they seem to be a way governments use capitalism to do their dirty work. A way of handling problems but refusing to take responsibility.

The sole reason for this article is that it was requested on Twitter by Grae O’Sullivan (@GraeSullivan). It is another one of those requests people who discuss the problem of ultranationalism in Ukraine are often confronted with – “Russia has neo-Nazis too.” Or “Putin supports neo-Nazis.” It’s usually a way of diverting the discussion away from the Ukrainian problems. And rather than discussing any evidence for the assertions, I am usually confronted with only a citation or a link – as I was in this case.

Grae insists I “explain away the Wagner Group’s links to neo-Nazi ideology because he (ME) thinks the Ukr govt’s links to the Azov battalion gave RU a reason to invade.” Incidentally, he misrepresents me as I have never “justified” the current war that way. Putin may have given denazification as one of his aims in this war, but my analysis is aimed at understanding the situation, not justifying the action of any country. Still, it seems that the minute one tries to apply reason and evidence to the situation in Ukraine someone will accuse you of “parroting Putin” or being a “Putin puppet.”

Responding to this request is probably a waste of time and I have been burned before by someone who has made a similar request and then refused to engage with any discussion on my analysis of his citation (see Confusion about neo-Nazis in Ukraine-Russia war, Neo-Nazis in Ukraine – stages of denial, and What about those Russian neo-Nazis? which were responses to a similar request from Peter Ballie). But Gae has assured me he won’t run away from the analysis like Peter did and will engage with it – so here goes.

Grae has insisted I discuss the evidence in the article Neonacizmas Rusijos samdinių tarpe by Lucas Andriukaitis.  Originally in Lithuanian, the English title is “Signs of neo-nazi ideology amongst Russian mercenaries.”

I will start by explaining that Lucas Andriukaitis is a researcher at the Atlantic Council DFR Laboratory. The Atlantic Council is well known to be strongly linked to NATO and funded by it. Ukrainians occupy many of the Council’s fellowships. Its articles are usually rather polemical in a naive sort of way, and I see it as one of the main conduits for spreading disinformation on geopolitical issues. These sorts of organisations and think tanks are often used by governments, military and intelligence groups to get opinions into the media without tainting with the associations of the real source. Bellingcat and The White Helmets are similar fronts for this purpose.

I don’t wish to condemn the article by describing the source and association. Let its claims be judged by the evidence presented in the article.

The article makes a few completely unsubstantiated claims to set the scene for the reader. Sentences like “the type of far-right ideology expressed in Russian mercenaries is showing homage to Nazi ideology,” “the numerous mercenaries who went to fight in Donbass, Syria and Libya are neo-Nazis themselves,” and its final conclusion –“open-source evidence suggests that fighter sporting neo-Nazi symbols serve in military groups associated with the Kremlin, including the founder of the infamous Wagner group.”

So what evidence is presented in the article?

Very little, really. Just some vague tattoos, a hat and some insignia noticed on military vehicles or in other countries where the Wagner group was meant to have served.

Tatoos

The article refers to tattoos on a single individual, Dimitry Utkin. It’s all very vague, though, as are tattoos.

The photo on the left is claimed to be of Dimity Utkin bearing neo-Nazi tattoos. Somehow the Microsoft safe recognition software was used to prove the two people are the same.

The article says:

“When this photo surfaced, some concerns online were expressed about the person in the photo. In order to check if the person in the photo is really Utkin, an old passport photo of him was used with Microsoft Azure face recognition software. This software allows to compare two photos and give a confidence rating of how likely it is that the two faces belong to the same person. A score above 0.7 suggests with high reliability that it is the same person. In this case, the score given by Microsoft Azure was 0.71723.”

Yeah, right. Rather shonky evidence and it smacks of the sort of tricks Bellingcat uses in their open source “research.” But, one person with a few tattoos!

This article was pointed out to me because there are plenty of online photographs of Ukrainian ultranationalists sporting pro-Nazi tattoos. I should remind readers, however, that questionable tattoos may be quite common in young men that are conscripted for military service. To some extent the tattoos of Azov battalion soldiers could well have originated from their days as soccer hooligans. The Azov groups were originally financed by the Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky who owned a football club with an accompanying fan club from which he recruited young men for the group.

So, by itself, the presence of a tattoo is not evidence of a crime or war crime and I do feel a little bit sorry for the way Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered in Mariupol, Ukraine, recently were first filtered by checking for tattoos. No one should be made to suffer for the indiscretions of their youth.

Frankly, I find this sole evidence of the ideological leanings of the claimed founder of the Wagner group very pathetic.

But wait. There is more

The only other evidence offered for the far-right ideological leanings of this founder of the Wagner group is this photograph showing someone wearing a “Wehrmacht hat.”

Photo allegedly taken in Syria The man in the Wehrmacht hat is alleged to be Utkin

This is extremely weak evidence to support the claim of the ideological views of the individual concerned. As the article says:

” Even though the exact location of the photo is unknown and the faces of the soldiers in the photo are blurred, the man in the [photograph] wearing the hat is suspected to be Utkin. The bald head and the shape of an ear visible in the photo suggests that the person in question could be Utkin.”

Let’s move on to the only other individual mentioned in this article, Yan Petrovsky. Apparently, he was “deemed a war criminal by the Ukrainian authorities.” No detail of his alleged crimes, although another Ukrainian report links them to “torturing and killing POWs from the Ukrainian Aidar Volunteer Battalion.” The Aidar battalion is one of the neo-Nazi or ultranationalist militias which has also been accused of torture and killing of citizens of Donbass in the war that has raged there since 2014.

Thi is presented as evidence that Petrovsky is a neo-Nazi

But this article mentioned Petrovsky because of his alleged Nazi salute in Syria (see photo) and his “posing for numerous photos with hate symbols.” The photos from Syria are very vague but the article assures as they “show exactly where he was, but also his identity was verified despite the blurred faces in the photos.” Context is left to the readers, even if we assume the identity was correct. Is he pointing to something, lecturing to other soldiers or making a Nazi salute to some unidentified person or object?

Runes and symbols

Petrovsky posing with far-right symbols: Valknot (left image), Tyr rune (right image)

Neither of these vague bits of evidence refers to any specific crimes – only to the use of particular symbols. We have no indication if they are associated with real neo-Nazi ideology and actions, represent indiscretions of youth or are used for ideological reasons.

The Vaknut has a “variety of purposes in modern popular culture.” It is a national symbol of Norway but has been used by some white supremacists.  “Nonracist pagans may also use this symbol, so one should carefully examine it in context rather than assume that a particular use of the symbol is racist.” (See Valknot).

The Tyr rune is an ancient European symbol commonly used by Germanic neopagans to symbolize the veneration of the god Týr. But it has also been used by Nazis and neo-Nazis today. “Because today the Tyr rune continues to be used by non-racists as well, including members of various neo-pagan religions, one should not assume that use of the symbol is racist but instead should judge the symbol carefully in its specific context.” (See Tyr rune).

So, the symbols portrayed in these photos(and other photos in the article where they appear in graffiti and on a military vehicle) may result from far-right ideology or the views of members of the Wagner group. Or they may be more innocent. But these very few instance are nothing compared with the evidence for the far-right ideology of the ultranationalist groups in Ukraine.

Comparing Ukraine and Russia

Nothing in this article compares with the reported incidents of war crimes or the treatment of Russian and Roma ethnic minorities in Ukraine and videos of them torturing and killing Russian POWs.

Street names and monuments

There is no evidence that members of the Wagner group treat Nazi collaborators who committed massacres in WWII as heroes in the way that Ukrainian ultranationalists do. Hell, the growth of ultranationalism in Ukraine since independence has lead to moments to these “heroes” and naming streets aftyet them.

Let’s just consider Roman Shukhevych and Stepan Bandera who were associated with the massacre of thousands of Poles and Jews in west Ukraine and with similar atrocities in Belorus (for example the massacre in Khatyn, see Don’t put all the blame on the Germans – a lesson from World War II).

Kiev Street map. The road to the Babi Yar Holocaust Memorial is along the avenues named after Stepan Bandera and Roman Shukhevych – ultranationalist collaborators with Nazi Germany during World War II.

A statue of Ukrainian Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera stands in Ternopil, Ukraine. Stepan Bandera was a Ukrainian nationalist leader, politician and theorist of the militant wing, who served as head of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, an organization responsible for ethnic cleansing and implicated in collaboration with Nazi Germany Image Credit: Times of Israel

Monument to Shukhevych in Krakovets, Ukraine. Roman Shukhevych was one of the commanders of Abwehr’s Nachtigall Battalion, a hauptmann of the German Schutzmannschaft 201 auxiliary police battalion, a military leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army , and one of the organizers of the Halych-Volhyn Massacre.Image Credit: Wikipedia

Of course, the Ukrainian President is not a neo-Nazi, but prominent members of ultranationalist groups such as The Right Sector commonly in government and local government positions. That is not the case in the Russian Federation. Nor has there been a coup in Moscow led by ultranationalist or neo-Nazis as there was in Kiev in February 2014 when the democratically elected government of Ukraine was overthrown.

And consider this. Ultranationalist or neo-Nazi rallies have been common in Ukraine over the last decade – but not in Russia.

Activists of various nationalist parties carry torches during a rally in Kyiv, Ukraine, Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022. Image credit: The Times of Israel: Hundreds of Ukrainian nationalists march in honor of Nazi collaborator.

In fact, the Lithuanian article I have used actually points out:

“The strong despise towards anything Nazi and Fascist, which in Russia often come as synonyms, is deeply rooted in the society.”

That is why the equivalent street demonstration in Russia are more likely to be those of the Immortal regiment.

Image credit: Valeriy Sharifulin/TASS

Tass said in ‘Immortal Regiment’ march breaks record in Moscow with over 1mln participants – police:

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.

Finally, the Immortal Regiment marches held on Victory Day underline the difference between Ukraine and the Russian Federation when it comes to the attitude towards neo-Nazis. Whereas these demonstrations are annual events throughout Russia that have only become possible again in eastern Ukraine after the defeat of the Ukrainian ultranationalist like the Azov Battalion.

Russian soldier guarding the “Immortal Regiment” march in Melitopol, 9 May (Credit: Telegram/RIA “Melitopol”) Geneva Solutions.

A heartwarming story about a Ukrainian prisoner of war

After the incredibly sad story about the deaths of over 50 Ukrainian POWs in a Ukrainian missile attack on the prison they were housed in (see Over 50 POWs killed. A military accident or a cynical war crime?) I came across the heartwarming story about another Ukrainian POW.

It’s about a woman whose husband was captured in the fighting in Southeast Ukraine. She had done everything she could think of in Ukraine to get information on him and his status – with no help. She had travelled to Europe – still no help. Finally, she travelled to Moscow (where her mother lives) and from there to Donetsk in the DPR. The authorities there managed to locate her husband and there was a very heartwarming reunion.

In contrast journalists on a Ukrainian TV channel that interviewed her seemed to think she had no right to find out the fate of her husband and certainly had no right to travel to Donetsk to find him.

A couple of points of interest. This example shows how interrelated the Russian and Ukrainian people are – for them this war is a tragedy. Their experience also shows how Ukrainian youth have been kept ignorant about their country’s history. Her husband had to learn some of the facts from books during his time in prison. Also, it shows that many soldiers may be quite ignorant about the reasons for the war they are participating in.

Another interesting fact. I got this video from Anatoly Shariy’s YouTube channel. Shary was the head of a political party in Ukraine (the Party of Shariy which won 52 seats in the 2020 Council Elections) which was recently made illegal (like all the opposition parties there). He fled to Spain to avoid arrest and Ukraine is currently attempting to extradite him. Most opposition leaders currently face charges of treason – even the previous president Petro Poroshenko

Over 50 POWs killed. A military accident or a cynical war crime?

British mercenary Aiden Aslin, now a prisoner in the Donetsk People’s Republic, expressed real concern that he may die from the Ukrainian shelling of Donetsk. He has experienced many missile attacks that came close to the prison.
Is he still alive?

Understandably, we are always shocked about the losses of civilian lives during wars. Particularly relevant at the moment in the current war in Ukraine. But I find myself even more shocked by the news which broke last night that over 50 Ukrainian prisoners of war had been killed in a missile attack on their prison barracks prison near the village of Yelenovka in the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR).

I was confused by my emotional reaction. After all, these prisoners were captured in Mariupol where Ukrainian units were using the civilian population as human shields.  Refugees from the city almost uniformly reported incidents of cruelty, looting, rape and even murder – particularly by the ultranationalist Azov Battalion in that city.

Many people might say they deserved to die. But whatever their alleged crimes they deserved their day in court, and the prisoners were being processed to collect evidence for an upcoming war crime tribunal hearing. Some of the collected testimony has been leaked in videos on social media.

But these prisoners were collected together in (presumably crowded) barracks. With no means of escape. Sitting targets shot like fish in a barrel. This explains the high casualty rate – something like 53 deaths, with 75 injuries (many serious) among 193 prisoners (as of this morning). Several prison guards were also killed. This almost seems worse than other reported cases where a smaller number of innocent civilians have died in similar attacks. And there have been many such attacks in Donetsk.

I guess the lack of freedom to take evasive action is a reason for our general abhorrence of crimes against POWs.

Collateral damage?

This could have been an accident – collateral damage inevitable in war. After all, Donetsk has been shelled continually for 8 years. Many innocent civilians, quite a few of them children, have been killed in what looks like indiscriminate shelling by the Ukrainian military.

The British mercenary Aiden Aslin, who was captured in Mariupol, was also kept in this prison camp. He has a YouTube channel which I watch. Strangely, I have got to like the guy. He makes good points. He seems sorry for his military roles in Syria and Ukraine. I don’t think he deserves the death sentence he has been handed down. I hope his appeal is successful.

But in the video above he describes some of the Ukrainian shelling near the prison and his fear that he may die from such an attack before his death sentence is carried out. Rather an ironic thought as he was fighting for the Ukrainians.

I certainly hope he survived. I understand that the prisoners in the shelled barracks were mainly from the Azov battalion or other Ukrainians who were providing evidence of war crimes. So, he may be safe – he didn’t serve in the Azov battalion and is extremely critical of it. I will keep an eye on his YouTube channel to see if he is and what his experience has been.

A cynical war crime?

I hope this is not the case. The deliberate targeting of one’s own soldiers who have been taken prisoner would be the height of cynicism. However, these prisoners were providing evidence which may have implicated the Ukrainian military or political leadership in war crimes. Indeed, some of the leaked testimony refers to soldiers receiving orders from the leadership on how they should torture or kill prisoners, etc.

Perhaps their political or military leadership decided to remove this evidence, no matter how cynical this seems. And no matter that these prisoners had been presented as heroes in Ukrainian propaganda.

One piece of evidence pointing to this possibility is the apparent use of HIMARS missiles in the attack. In the past Ukrainian missile attacks on Donetsk have not been accurate but the recent acquisition of HIMAR systems from the US has made possible pinpoint attacks which may have been the case here.

Confirmation bias is rife – a proper investigation is necessary

I follow The Military Summary Youtube channel which provided a summary of the attack and the way it was reported in Russia and Ukraine as well as the DPR. He is very objective (one could say to a fault) but at least he provides both sides. Here is his latest summary where he discusses the attack

It seems that the Ukrainian are denying their attack (they usually don’t provide reports of such attacks) and are instead going with the fantastical charge that this was a Russian atrocity. That the Russian killed the prisoners to cover up the evidence of torture.

I have been shocked how, during this war, people have been ready to believe anything to protect the honour of their “own side.” They will invent fantastic stories to explain away unpleasant evidence.

But this incident certainly raises the possibility that a very cynical and massive war crime has been perpetrated. The appropriate bodies should collect evidence and enable a proper investigation of the event.

Surely the victims of this attack are owed this – whatever other own crimes in the past.

 

Ukraine/Russia war, an intelligence operation or a sting, Ukrainian and UK spies, and Bellingcat

It sounds like a story from spy fiction or a James Bond film, but it was a real-life drama involving an intelligence plan to entice a Russian pilot to defect to Ukraine with his high-tech plane – if you believe the Russian side. Or a scam by a group of maverick non-intelligence Ukrainian which recovered intelligence information for the Ukrainians.

The Russian side claims they were given important military information which enabled them to r=eradicate a number of targets in Ukraine. The other side claims their little plot enabled them to expose a number of Russian intelligence agents – members of the FSB. If you believe the self-styled investigative agency Bellingcat, which was allegedly involved.

It could also be that whatever the truth this episode could be the reason a large number of members of the Ukrainian intelligence agency, the SBU, were recently sacked and now face charges of treason.

The story itself does not interest me – readers can get the Russian side of the story from the video above. Also useful are comments from a British guy, iEarlGrey, currently living in St Petersburg, who produces a YouTube channel with daily critical commentary on the news in Russian and Western media.

What does interest me is that a leading member of Bellingcat was involved. This outfit markets itself as an objective investigative news agency but actually receives funding from western government and intelligence agencies (see How Bellingcat launders National Security State talking points into the press).

The involvement of a high-ranking Bellingcat member, or indeed a member of any media agency, in an intelligence action, is concerning. It should ring alarm bells to readers. How can a news agency which is closely involved with intelligence agencies and actively working in intelligent actions be considered as providing anything like reliable news?

People on the Russian side who claim they were to receive cash from Ukrainian and NATO intelligence agencies for the hijack of the plane have outed Christo Grozev, the Bellingcat investigator, as their contact for the cash and orders. Effectively Grozev admitted in Twitter posts to being involved in the operation.

I have followed Grozev on Twitter for quite a while – probably initially because of his Bellingcat links. But lately, I have experienced him as someone who is naively pro-Ukraine – continually tweeting some of the more fantastic stories Ukrainians have produced about this war. So, someone who does not come across as an objective journalist. In fact, I had come to see his accounts as just another one of the many accounts to Ukrainian government has set up to spread disinformation about the war.

No one should trust Bellingcat

Anyone who has followed the activities of Bellingcat and its founder Eliot Higgens will be aware that it is not a trustworthy news or investigative source. It clearly has strong links with intelligence agencies and NATO governments. It presents a picture of rigorous investigation of open-access sources and is consequently often used by the mainstream media as a source. Like the White Helmets in Syria which is linked to jihadi antigovernment and terrorist sources, it is often used by governments and intelligence agencies to plant disinformation in the mainstream media. A bit like many think tanks. This method is used to overcome the lack of credibility most governments have.

Now and then I experience people assuring me of the facts of a particular news item by referring to their source as Bellingcat or the White Helmets. All that tells me is that the person giving me these assurances has not bothered to really check the information. They may have simply been fooled by the description of the White Helmets or Bellingcat as non-governmental groups funded by public donations. In most cases, these people are simply indulging in confirmation bias, and think citing the names of these groups lends credibility to the information.

It doesn’t.