Tag Archives: neo-Nazis

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.

Ukraine war – a failure of honest diplomacy and reason

People should think for themselves. Peter Hitchens says “Not since the wild frenzy after the death of Princess Diana have I ever met such a wave of ignorant sentiment. Nobody knows anything about Ukraine. Everyone has ferocious opinions about it.” See “Can anyone explain to me why this was called evacuation and not surrender?

I am amazed this article by Viktor Yanukovych has had so little publicity. It’s by the fourth President of Ukraine, who was overthrown in a coup in 2014. It contains a succinct summarily of the problems which led up to the coup, and to the current war Ukraine-Russia war.  Yet it has only become available because it was posted on Facebook by Yanukovych’s lawyer. It saw a brief comment from a Polish news outlet (the ex-president did refer to Poland’s interest in territory in western Ukraine) – but that is all I can find.

The article is On the Verge . . .  The Fate of Statehood of Ukraine is Being decided now

I followed developments in Ukraine during the crisis in 2013/2014. In my mind Ukrainians had to choose between two different futures:

  1. Their role as a bridge between West and East. At that time, I thought a future Ukrainian membership of the EU would be consistent with that role.
  2. A hostile frontier between West and East with the promise of eventual NATO membership for Ukraine

Of course, underlying these two alternatives were the basic ethnic differences in Ukraine with the rise of Ukrainian nationalist forces in the west and the large numbers of ethnic Russians in the East. The crisis partly reflected this ethnic conflict.

Yanukovych writes:

“The nationalist forces demanded creation of a mono-ethnic state, from a diverse country, whose indigenous people, due to historical circumstances, belonged to different cultures and ethnic groups. This was a breeding ground for accumulation of internal political contradictions, which ultimately resulted in the political crisis of 2014.”

That programme for a mono-ethic state seems so stupid in this modern day and age. Many countries accommodate diverse populations through sensible language laws and political and regional representation. But this was prevented in Ukraine because of the ascendency, and dominance after the coup, of ultranationalist forces.

Failure of diplomacy and political reason

  1. In February 2014 the European Union helped broker an agreement on settlement of political crisis in Ukraine. This was signed on 21 February 2014 by the President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych and the leaders of the parliamentary opposition. It provided for constitutional reform, early presidential election, handing in of illegal weapons and a move away from the confrontation between the government forces and demonstrators. It seemed to be a good start, but it was rejected by the ultranationalist forces which controlled the demonstrations. They carried out a coup – with the support of the US which was clearly opposed to the agreement.
  2. Later, in an attempt to stop the civil war that resulted from the coup, the Normandy Countries (France, Germany and Russia) brokered agreements for a ceasefire, control of arms in the region and a political settlement based on elections, recognition of a degree of autonomy and constitutional changes. These were the Minsk Agreements which were signed by the Ukrainian president and by leaders of the break-away regions.But they have never been carried out – despite the current president Volodymyr Zelenskyy standing on a peace platform and receiving overwhelming electoral support in the 2019 presidential elections (he received 73 per cent of the vote in the run-off to Poroshenko’s 25 per cent).

    The fact that ultranationalist forces were able to prevent any progress in the Minsk agreements or the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the war zone shows they had overwhelming influence despite their apparent poor election results.

  3.  The Minsk Agreements had broad international support – they were endorsed by the UN Security Council (of which New Zealand was a member at the time). Despite this, western politicians simply gave lip service to them and, in effect, supported the Ukrainian refusal to carry them out. This represents a huge diplomatic failure by mainly western countries, and they must bear responsibility for the current war which the agreements could have prevented.

    If the Minsk Agreements had been carried out Ukraine’s territorial integrity would have been preserved. That is no longer possible.

Rational advice from high-ranking diplomats and experts

Referring to Henry Kissinger’s recent comments on the Ukraine-Russia war Yanukovych writes in his article:

“But Mr. Kissinger only repeated the thoughts he expressed long before 20122. The former US National Security Advisor and Secretary of State during the presidencies of Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon told me at the time that, based on political realities, he saw no alternative for Ukraine’s role as a bridge between Russia and the West. Attempts to change the status quo would inevitably lead to a conflict with Russia, which potentially carried very serious consequences not only for Ukraine, but for Europe as well.”

These warnings had also been voiced by many academic experts on Russia and Ukraine. One would have thought, then, that there would have been serious diplomatic moves to overcome the serious security problems in Europe caused by the lapse and withdrawal from important arms control and similar security treaties.

But again, diplomacy failed the world. The Russian Federation did make public proposals for the settlement of these problems, but they were not taken seriously by diplomats in NATO and the US. Nor were the Russian warnings that refusal of serious negotiation would lead to Russia taking their own unilateral steps of a “technical-military” nature.

Failure of diplomacy or pursuance of geopolitical interests?

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the current war was motivated by geopolitical interests. Refusal to carry out agreements reflected the interests of the USA and NATO as well as the nationalist Ukrainian groups. The refusal to carry out serious European security negotiations served the interests of European and US leaders who have promoted hostile policies to the Russian Federation for some time and had been responsible for the withdrawal from previous arms control agreements.

Certainly, the more vocal western opinion formers on social media, people like Bill Browder, Anne Applebaum, Michael McFaul, Anders Åslund, etc., simply could not hold back. They are salivating because all their dreams had come true. The Russian invasion of Ukraine meant that governments would now carry out the extreme economic warfare measure they had been advocating for years. They believe the economic and military war would precipitate regime change in the Russian Federation – even leading to the breakup of that country

In recent years I have lamented the absence of any genuine peace movement anymore. I also lament the lack of rational and honest diplomacy in today’s world – and that is dangerous. In the 1980s we were seriously concerned about the nuclear arms race. The peace movement was large. But there were also sensible political leaders in the East and West who did sit down and negotiate sensible arms control measures.

It would be a lot better today if we had a mass peace movement of people who could think for themselves rather than succumb to the current approved group thinking. It would also be better if we had rational political leaders prepared to negotiate security and arms control treaties rather than seeking to impose their own geopolitical aims on the world.

What about those Russian neo-Nazis?

Some defenders of Ukrainian neo-Nazis claim Nashi is a Russian neo-Nazi group or at least links the Kremlin to a neo-Nazi subculture. Image credit: Wikipedia

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.

Kiev 2022

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.

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.

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.

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

Neo-Nazis in Ukraine – stages of denial

Some people are still in the denial stage regarding the presence and role of neo-Nazis in Ukraine. OK, I can understand how people who don’t know the history behind this current war and are influenced by the wartime campaigns of virtue-signalling may hold to this denial stage. It’s not easy to accept you may be supporting neo-Nazis and it is easy to just reject any evidence you come across as “Russian propaganda” or disinformation.  This denial is helped by widespread censorship – including self-censorship.

Hell, even someone as influential as Micael McFaul who should know better embarrassed himself with this tweet.

I suppose he relies on censorship to hide the truth but even he must see the widespread use of swastikas in the body tattoos of soldiers in the Azov and similar battalions revealed in the recent massive surrender of 2500 Ukrainian troops in Mariupol.

Some of the body tattoos on Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered in the final stages of the Mariupol battle this month.

Many people have gone on from outright denial but are still at the bargaining stage – they accept there are neo-Nazis in Ukraine but attempt to explain it away by claiming the tattoos are harmless, only used to scare Russian soldiers, etc., etc. But I came across a novel explanation in response to my last post – blaming Ukrainian neo-Nazis on Putin. This is the “Putin did it” part of the bargaining stage of denial.

Putin did it

Peter, who asked me to analyse the Conversation article I am discussing in this series of posts appears to accept my arguments so far but comments:

“You chose to focus on neo-nazi ties to Ukraine, as if they weren’t formed while Ukraine had a puppet ruler appointed with the approval of Putin.”

Peter really needs to read up on the history of the revival of ultranationalism/neo-Nazism in Ukraine after independence. Here are a few quotes from a very reputable source:

Rudling, P. A. (2107). The OUN, the UPA and the Holocaust: A Study in the Manufacturing of Historical Myths. The Carl Beck Papers in Russian & East European Studies, 2107.

“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.”

One can go further back than that president but Viktor Yushchenko is considered anti-Russian and represented that side of the electoral conflict between Ukrainian non-Russians and Ukrainian-Russians (who generally supported Victor Yanukovych who defeated Yulia Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential elections, where Yushchenko lost at the run-off stage).

“By turning Bandera, Shukhevych, the OUN(b), and the UPA into official heroes and denying their murders, Yushchenko’s legitimizing historians helped cement a stereotypical identification of Ukrainians with banderivty. Many Poles hold “Ukrainians” collectively responsible for the crimes of the UPA. Ironically, some of the historical interpretations of his successor Viktor Yanukovych and his electorate in the east and south of the country are more in line with the rest of Europe than those Yushchenko, who describes his political orientation as oriented toward the West.”

So, Peter’s naive denial simply holds no water at all. Yanukovych was the democratically elected fourth president of independent Ukraine until he was overthrown in an ultranationalist/neo-Nazi coup supported by the USA. And no, Putin didn’t appoint him, and he was not a Russian puppet. While standing for good relations with the Russian Federation his own policies often differed from those of Russia. (He was, for example, a critic of the return of Crimea to Russia in 2014).

I gather Peter is critical of voters in the east of Ukraine, mainly ethnic Russian Ukrainians, but these were the people who opposed neo-Nazism after the 2014 coup and routinely celebrated the defeat of Hitler’s armies every May 9 – Victory day.

Further:

“As one of his final acts in office, Yushchenko officially designated Stepan Bandera as a Hero of Ukraine, in a polarizing and much-criticized move. The Ukrainian Canadian Congress, of which both OUN wings and veteran organizations of the UPA and the Waffen- SS Galizien are members, enthusiastically endorsed Yushchenko’s decree and called “upon the Government of Canada to make changes to Canada’s War Veterans Allowance Act by expanding eligibility to include designated resistance groups such as OUN-UPA.” Under
Yanukovych, a sharp reversal in the field of memory management followed. Yushchenko’s posthumous designation of Bandera and Shukhevych as national heroes was declared illegal by the courts, and the order was recalled.”

And there is more.

Simply – one should look at the evidence and stop making unsupported declarations based on personal political bias or wishful thinking.

 

Neo-Nazis in Ukraine. Comedians are often more truthful than politicians.

Israeli news media and politicians often complain about the activity of neo-Nazis in Ukraine. “Activists and supporters of Ukrainian nationalist parties hold torches as they take part in a rally to mark the 112th birth anniversary of Stepan Bandera, in Kyiv, Ukraine, January 1, 2021. Credit: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

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.”

Examples of vigilante justice in Ukraine are common. Often victims are accused of looting or similar but may be guilty of being Roma or Russian speakers.

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.”

The Ukrainian translation of the Christchurch shooter’s manifesto amongst other neo-Nazi material promoted by the Azov movement in Ukraine. Image credit “The Russians and Ukrainians Translating the Christchurch Shooter’s Manifesto

The capture of headquarters occupied by neo-Nazi groups like the Azov Battalion, Aidar Batallion, Right Sector, etc., reveals that these groups are reading classical fascist literature.

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.

Some sense on the Russia-Ukraine war

It’s a truism that the first casualty in war is the truth. But a close second is rational thought. We face this now where partisanship, wishful thinking and disinformation dominate what we read about the Ukraine-Russia war in our media.

So, it is refreshing to come across an informed and reasoned discussion of the situation. In this video, Aaron Maté interviews Richar Saska about the current situation, the lead up to the war, the resulting repression in Russia and Ukraine and the prospects for a final resolution of the war. He makes interesting comments on Ukrainian President Zelensky – impressive as a comedian and actor but an absolute disaster as a statesman.

Aaron Maté’s podcasts, videos and articles are always informed and interesting. This is no exception and once again he is interviewing a real expert on this subject.

Professor Richard Sakwa is a specialist on Russian and European politics at the University of Kent, He has written extensively on Ukraine and its problems and the nature of the Ukraine-Russia conflict. I can highly recommend his book Frontline Ukraine, which was written soon after the 2014 coup which overthrew the democratically elected government in Kiev.

I note that Richard Sakwa has a new book out Deception: Russiagate and the New Cold War which looks very interesting. Like a lot of academic books, it is expensive so I will keep an eye on its availability at local libraries.

Russiagate created so much confusion and there are very few proper analyses of what happened during that period. What motivated it and what the real aims of the media hysteria were.

I look forward to tracking this book down and reading it.