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Azov battalion soldiers

Azov battalion soldiers. Photo: Heltsumani / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0, license and original linked below article

The second part of Glyn Secker's historical and political analysis of the drivers of the war in Ukraine, Russian imperialism and neo-fascism in Europe

Read Part 1 here

The Azov Regiment

‘The Azov movement is able to operate with a level
of impunity their friends in other countries could
only imagine: a literal “land of opportunity”.’ Michael Colborne,
From The Fires of War, p.9.

The National Guard of Ukraine was formed in 2014 to incorporate an array of paramilitary and volunteer battalions which were fighting pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. This included the Azov Battalion, deemed the only force up to the job.

Declassified revealed that the National Guard of Ukraine (NGU) report quotes the Lt. Col. as promising ‘the British military is ready to involve representatives of the NGU in the training activities being conducted today for units of the Armed Forces of Ukraine to develop their combat capabilities.’

One of the West’s strategies was to use right-wing political groups to build opposition to Moscow, hence the rise of Azov, a neo-Nazi military group commanded by the far-right extremist Andriy Biletsky[1] - until his election to the legislature in 2016 - with the extraordinary outcome that it became a formal Special Operations Battalion in the Ukrainian armed forces. Alongside that, similar strongholds were developed in the police and the judiciary, directly funded by the USA (which resumed funding in 2015 after briefly ceasing because of its Nazi identity). In 2017 Der Spiegel reported the battalion was 2,500 strong. UnHerd further reports that:

‘Azov acquired control of a large property, just off Independence Square, from the Ministry of Defence, and turned the building, renamed Cossack House, into its Kyiv headquarters and recruiting centre … It’s an impressive setup; with state funding they provide classrooms for the educational lectures and is the home to Azov’s literary salon and publishing house Plomin, where glamorous young hipster intellectuals busy themselves with organising right-wing seminars and book translations, beneath glossy posters of fascist luminaries such as Yukio Mishima, Corneliu Codreanu, and Julius Evola.’

In 2019, the deputy Minister of the Interior - who controls the National Police - was Vadim Troyan, a veteran of Azov and of the far-right grouping Patriot of Ukraine. In 2014, when Troyan was being considered for police chief of Kiev, Ukrainian Jewish leaders were appalled by his neo-Nazi background. Yet according to The Nation he was also deputy of the department running US-trained law enforcement in the entire nation.

In January 2018, Azov rolled out its National Druzhina street patrol unit, quickly distinguishing itself by carrying out pogroms against Roma and LGBT organisations, and storming a municipal council. In 2019 Kyiv announced the neo-Nazi unit would be monitoring the polls in the presidential election.

Azov’s three annual international conferences, Intermarium, held in Kyiv from 2016, were attended not only by several far-right figures from across central and eastern Europe, but by military attaches from eastern European embassies, including Poland and Hungary. This was repeated with the ‘Paneuropa’ conferences, likewise with attendance by extreme-right groups.[2]

As the US Army’s Combatting Terrorism Center reports, Ukraine ‘is now a Mecca for far-right extremists around the world who come to learn and get training from Azov, including, ironically, Russian white supremacists who were hounded from their country by Putin. Particularly concerning is Azov’s campaign to transform Ukraine into a hub for transnational white supremacy. The Nation reported that the unit has recruited neo-Nazis from Germany, the UK, Brazil, Sweden, and America.’

However, as Denys Gorbach stated in 2018 in Open Democracy,

‘Azov’s leadership has opted for a “long march through the institutions”, extending local patronage networks with criminals and politicians and building a wide network of organisations and side projects. Azov’s network amounts to a far-right “state within a state” – a universe that aims to monopolise the nationalist sector of Ukraine’s political field.’

As Michael Colborne, a Canadian journalist whose reports are based on extensive first-hand experience in Ukraine, observes, ‘It has, with some success, managed to mainstream itself in Ukrainian politics and society despite being extreme to the core.’ The following passages from his book, From the Fires of War:

‘Andriy Biletsky, Azov’s commander, has a platform in Ukraine most of his ideological brethren across Europe and beyond would love to have. Biletsky has his own blog, as do many mainstream politicians and public figures, on Ukrayinska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth), one of Ukraine’s most respected online media outlets. He is often invited onto popular political talk shows on Ukraine’s main (oligarch-owned) TV networks.

‘There are few if any far-right leaders around the world — particularly ones who lead movements as extreme and, ironically, electorally insignificant — who have the level of mainstream exposure Biletsky does.’[3]

But Azov is far more than just a military unit, as its International Secretary Olena Semenyaka told Colborne at Azov’s Cossack House in December 2018: “We probably have now about 45 different projects that we constantly develop … This is our way to create a state within the state.” Under this umbrella, with Azov at the centre, is an extensive array of extremist groups, alongside which are youth, sport and religious groups and the publishing house, Plomin.

‘Under the leadership of Azov Regiment veteran Yevhen Vriadnyk - an anti-Semitic promoter of violence, Plomin has published translations of works by fanatical Romanian fascist Corneliu Codreanu and his Iron Guard as well as Italian far-right terrorists Franco Freda and Pierluigi Concutelli.’[4]

Front of house and behind the scenes

Colborne explains that the Azov movement creates a public-relations front with ‘deliberately sanitized and deceptive rhetoric to mask extreme ideas’, through which it is able to gain entrance into the mainstream ‘with sometimes worryingly little resistance’.

‘But what’s behind the scenes on the backstage is unsubtle, extreme and something Azov would prefer to keep out of the spotlight … senior members and even leaders themselves praising violent neo-Nazi terrorists, throwing up Hitler salutes, preparing to assault their perceived enemies and generally acting and speaking much more like fascists and Nazis of the 1930s and 1940s.’[5]

The official line is that Azov is not antisemitic, but a week after one such assurance, Serhiy Zaikovskyi of the Plomin publishing group, ‘was posting Instagram photos of himself Hitler-saluting and chanting “Sieg Heil” at a neo-Nazi concert, and continues to post openly anti-Semitic content on Telegram.’ This is not a one-off slip. Olena Semenyaka, who had reassured Colborne that ‘Azov has no issue with Jews, would later give an interview to a neo-Nazi organization stating that “having had a minority of Jews involved within our nationalist political sphere has damaged our reputation” and that Jews with “ties to the (sic) international capital” would be expelled from Ukraine if Azov ever took power.’

The leader, Andriy Biletsky, despite claims to the contrary, ‘worked for IAPM, a notorious anti-Semitic institution’, and has an easily searchable history of public antisemitic statements. Furthermore:

‘Other initiatives and individuals affiliated with the Azov movement make ample use of unabashed anti-Semitic rhetoric. For example, Kharkiv-based NordStorm, whose members are active National Corps and Centuria members, wrote on Telegram in December 2020 that “the most important task of the Jews is the destruction and degradation of the white race.”’[6]

Beyond the badly hidden racism, the function of this organisation is also reminiscent of classical fascism:

‘Azov’s finances are opaque, but Oleh Odnorozhenko, a former high-ranking Azov and Patriot of Ukraine member who subsequently fell out with the movement spilled the beans: in 2021 he claimed that the Regiment was paid hundreds of thousands of dollars per month in 2014 to protect the businesses and assets of some of Ukraine’s wealthiest oligarchs.’[7]

Svoboda

Svobda is a neo-fascist parliamentary group, it has major influence in the Ukrainian Government and arguably is one of Europe’s most influential far-right movements. In 1991 Oleh Tyahnybok co-founded Svoboda as an openly far-right nationalist party. It continues to be led by Tyahnybok, who, as Palash Gosh in the International Business Times reports, alleged in parliament that a ‘Muscovite-Jewish mafia’ was controlling Ukraine and threatened the country’s very existence. Tyahnybok also claimed that ‘organized Jewry’ dominate Ukrainian media and government, have enriched themselves through criminal activities, and plan to engineer a ‘genocide’ upon the Christian Ukrainian population. Another top Svoboda member, Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn, a deputy in parliament, often quotes former German Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, as well as other Third Reich luminaries like Ernst Roehm and Gregor Strasser.

ukraine-far-right-march-lg.jpg
Far-right march with Svoboda flags commemorating Stepan Bandera – World War II leader of Ukrainian nationalists that participated heavily in the Holocaust and perpetrated ethnic cleansing of the peaceful Polish population in 1943-44. Photo: ВО Свобода / Wikimedia CommonsCC BY 3.0

Foreign Policy describes how Svoboda began life as the Social-National Party of Ukraine, a name deliberately redolent of the German National Socialist Party, better known as the Nazis. Its logo is the fascist wolfsangel - used by the Nazi’s 2nd SS Panzer Division ‘Das Reich’, the 4th SS Police Panzergrenadier Division and the 34th SS Volunteer Grenadier Division ‘Landstorm Nederland’.  The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the Nazi-hunting organisation in the USA, has placed Svoboda in the world’s top five antisemitic organisations.

The Speaker of Parliament, Andriy Parubiy, was the other co-founder of Svoboda; he also led Patriot of Ukraine, whose members would eventually form the core of Azov. Parubiy left the far right in the early 2000s, but in a 2016 interview he stated his ‘values’ hadn’t changed. Parubiy, whose autobiography shows him marching with the neo-Nazi wolfsangel symbol used by Aryan Nations, regularly meets with Washington think tanks and politicians; yet as Lev Golinkin observes, in his extensive article in The Nation on the deep penetration of the far right into the departments of state, ‘his neo-Nazi background is ignored or outright denied’.

At the time of the 2014 conflict Foreign Policy ran an article by two Israeli based journalists that admitted, ‘Yes, There are Bad Guys in the Ukrainian Government’. It acknowledged that Russian claims that Ukraine had come under the control of ‘neo-Nazis and Nazis and anti-Semites’ were not entirely unfounded. It pointed out that Svoboda, ‘arguably Europe’s most influential far-right movement today’, controlled nearly a quarter of the ministries in the government. Government and public buildings proudly proclaim their allegiance to Ukraine’s fascist tradition, displaying giant posters of Bandera on their facades.

stepan-bandera-kyiv-council-lg.jpg
Kyiv City Council as headquarters of the Euromaidan uprising, 2014, with a portrait of Stepan Bandera. Photo: spoilt.exile / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.0


On the streets

The following quotations are from Lev Golikin, a New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, CNN, and Boston Globe journalist:

‘The celebration of Nazi collaborators has accompanied a rise in outright anti-Semitism. “Jews Out!” chanted thousands during a January 2017 march honouring OUN leader Bandera. (The next day the police denied hearing anything anti-Semitic.) That summer, a three-day festival celebrating the Nazi collaborator Shukhevych capped off with the firebombing of a synagogue.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, and 57 members of the US Congress all vociferously condemned Kiev’s Nazi glorification and the concomitant anti-Semitism. Ukrainian Jewish leaders are also speaking out. In 2017, the director of one of Ukraine’s largest Jewish organizations published a New York Times op-ed urging the West to address Kiev’s whitewashing. Last year, 41 Ukrainian Jewish leaders denounced the growth of anti-Semitism. That’s especially telling, given that many Ukrainian Jewish leaders supported the Maidan uprising.

‘In the spring of 2018 a lethal wave of anti-Roma pogroms swept through Ukraine, with at least six attacks in two months. Footage from the pogroms evokes the 1930s: Armed thugs attack women and children while razing their camps. At least one man was killed, while others, including a child, were stabbed.’

The neo-Nazi group, C14 led a raid to ‘purge’ the Roma people from Kiev’s railway station in collaboration with the City’s police. European Roma Rights reports that they carried out four pogroms of extreme violence on Roma communities in different towns, with official collusion, including that of the police. Also on the roll call is the powerful Right Sector, which, in 2015, BBC Newsnight described as a threat to the Ukrainian government. Lev Golikin reports that:

‘Two gangs behind the attacks—C14 and the National Druzhina—felt comfortable enough to proudly post pogrom videos on social media. That’s not surprising, considering that the National Druzhina is part of Azov, while the neo-Nazi C14 receives government funding for “educational” programs. Last October C14 leader Serhiy Bondar was welcomed at America House Kyiv, a center run by the US government.

‘In 2018 the Ukrainian parliament featured an exhibit commemorating the OUN’s 1941 proclamation of cooperation with the Third Reich.’

As Foreign Policy observed, ‘the uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kyiv’s current government — and the protesters who brought it to power — are, indeed, fascists.’ And the article advises that: ‘If Western governments hope to steer Ukraine clear from the most unsavoury characters in Moscow and Kyiv, they will need to wage a two-pronged diplomatic offensive: against Putin’s propaganda and, at the same time, against Ukraine’s resurgent far-right.’

The tipping point

As Francois Chesnais explains:

‘Ukraine [had been] at the heart of the Tsarist Empire, as [had] Belarus. Before Peter the Great [1682-1725] promoted the rise of Saint Petersburg, the triangle of Moscow, Kyiv and Minsk formed the basis of the power of the Empire. This is a point that Putin emphasises in the presentations and speeches he has devoted to defining his vision of the relationship between Russia and Ukraine. If asked, he would surely have agreed with Brzeziński, who in his The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives wrote that “Russia without Ukraine ceases to be an empire”.’

Putin was faced with his empire shrinking before his eyes. When it became apparent that it could lose access to the Black Sea and an enormous reservoir of natural and industrial resources, coupled with Ukraine becoming the link of a ring of hostile states on its western border, he panicked. The prospect of Nato moving into Crimea was the equivalent for Russia of Russian missiles sited in Cuba. Putin’s response in 2014 was to annex Crimea.

In 2017 the Ukrainian Parliament voted to seek to join Nato, and two years later Volodymyr Zelensky stood for the presidency on a pledge to hold a referendum on the question. Putin responded by starting to move troops towards the border. Successive negotiations at the international level failed and in February 2021, Putin sent troops into the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. On the 24 February 2022, Russia attacked Ukraine. Failure to execute a quick military victory, Putin commenced bombing civilian areas, aiming to terrorise the population into submission.

Walking blindfold into fascism: within and beyond Ukraine

In condemnation of this horror, we cannot lose sight of the Ukrainian far right. The presence of a Jewish leader is no guarantee of insulation against far-right politics and alliances. And we would do well to decry the fact that the development of these politics within and around the European Union goes unremarked upon. The last voting figures (as percentages of the total vote) for extreme right and neo-fascist parties in 2019 were:

Fidesz and Jobbik, Hungary 68%; Freedom Party, Austria, 26%; Swiss Peoples Party, 26%; Danish Peoples Party 21%; Flemish Alliance, Belgium 20%; Conservative Peoples’ Party, Estonia 18%; The Finns 18%; Northern League, Italy 17%; Vox, Spain 15%; National Rally, France, 13%; Freedom Party, Netherlands 13%; AdF, Germany 13%; Freedom, Direct Democracy, the Czech Republic 11%; Patriotic Front, Bulgaria 9%; Kotlebists, Slovakia 8%; Confederation/Liberty, Poland 6.8%. (Source: BBC).

Hungary has recently held a national election and despite the opposition parties this time presenting a united front, Orban’s victory was decisive with 53% over the opposition alliance’s 35% of votes cast. In France the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen secured a 41% vote in the presidential run-off.

The mainstream media paint the conflict not as one about Nato expansion versus Russian resistance to its contraction following the collapse of the Soviet Union, but as a white liberal democracy ‘like us’ being the victims of an unhinged tyrant. The suffering is horrific, but the simplistic narrative of the media signals again how social democracy can walk blindfold into the development of fascism. As Deputy Radutskyi warned three years ago in a BBC programme, Ukraine is like Germany in the 1930s. And like the 1930s, few appear to register the signs.

Zelensky and the far right

The far right will have grown very significantly during this war. Already centrally placed in the institutions of government, they are likely to raise their national credibility greatly as a result of their leading role in the successes in holding back the Russians.

As Alexander Rubinstein and Max Blumenthal report in Grayzone:

‘Zelensky, elected in May 2019, feted by the western press and national parliaments as the symbol of democracy, has not only ceded ground to the neo-Nazis in his midst, he has entrusted them with a front line role in his country’s war against pro-Russian and Russian forces … Igor Kolomoisky, a Ukrainian energy baron of Jewish heritage, has been a top funder of Azov since it was formed in 2014. He has also bankrolled private far right militias like the Dnipro 1 and 2 and Aidar Battalions and has deployed them as a personal thug squad to protect his financial interests.’

Wikipedia records him as having been an ally of Yushchenko. In August 2021, the Azov’s political front, the National Corps, held a press conference at UNIAN, a mainstream news agency owned by Kolomoisky. The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, ‘Express[ed] concern about Kolomoisky’s current and ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions, which pose a serious threat to its future’, and banned him from the US.

The Daily Beast reports that Jonathan Brunson, who worked at the US embassy in Kiev and who was a senior analyst on Ukraine, pointed to Kolomoisky’s role in funding the ultra-far-right Azov battalion with alleged ties to American white supremacists. The State Department has called its political wing  a ‘nationalist hate group’.

In his 2019 presidential bid, Zelensky made anti-corruption the signature issue of his campaign. The Pandora Papers however exposed him and members of his inner circle as stashing away, in a shadowy web of offshore accounts, large payments from his top backer Kolomoisky, the third richest person in Ukraine and among the 2000 richest in the world.

Rubinstein and Blumenthal again:

‘Following his failed attempt to demobilize neo-Nazi militants in the towns of Zolote and Luhansk in October 2019, Zelensky called the fighters to the table, telling reporters: “I met with veterans yesterday. Everyone was there – the National Corps, Azov, and everyone else.” A few seats away from the Jewish president was Yevgen Karas, the leader of the neo-Nazi C14 gang. During the Maidan protest in 2014, C14 activists took over Kyiv’s city hall and plastered its walls with neo-Nazi insignia.’

Grayzone again:

‘The C14 Nazi terror gang had signed an agreement with the Kyiv municipal government to patrol its streets. Not only was this activity sanctioned by the Kyiv city government, the US government itself saw little problem with it, hosting Bondar at an official US government institution in Kiev where he bragged about the pogroms.

‘Just days after Zelensky’s meeting with Karas and other neo-Nazi leaders in November 2019, Oleksiy Goncharuk – then the Prime Minister and deputy head of Zelensky’s presidential office – appeared on stage at a neo-Nazi concert organized by C14 figure and accused murderer Andriy Medvedko. Zelensky’s Minister for Veterans Affairs not only attended the concert, which featured several anti-Semitic metal bands, she promoted the concert on Facebook.

‘Zelensky replaced the regional administrator of Odessa with Maksym Marchenko, a former commander of the extreme right Aidar Battalion, which has been accused of an array of war crimes in the Donbass region.

‘In 1994 Dimitri Yarosh founded Trizub (Trident) which has as its slogan ‘Follow The Leader’ beneath a picture of the Nazi Bandera. In November 2021, as one of Ukraine’s most prominent ultra-nationalist militiamen he announced that he had been appointed as an advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As an avowed follower of the Nazi collaborator Bandera, he led the Right Sector from 2013 to 2015 vowing to lead the “de-Russification” of Ukraine.’

It is clear that Putin’s comment about fighting a fascist regime in Ukraine will resonate with Russians, more of whom died at the hands of fascism in World War Two than all the Allied victims combined (roughly 23 million, though Ukraine lost an estimated nine million). But Putin is also dog-whistling to Russia’s own considerable far right. In Putin's Fascists, Robert Horvath traces ‘the complex interaction between the Kremlin, the far-right, and neo-Nazi skinheads [dating] from Russia's descent into authoritarianism’, and which expanded to become Putin’s policy of ‘managed nationalism’; the recruitment of the far right to attack the democratic centre with its opposition to corruption and gangster capitalism.

In The Conversation, Horvath relates how,

‘in 2008-09, the Kremlin was threatened by Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s efforts to build an anti-Putin coalition of democrats and radical nationalists in Russia. In response, the Kremlin began to work with Russkii Obraz (“Russian Image”, or “RO” for short), a hardcore neo-Nazi group. The Kremlin’s relationship with Russian fascists … made possible a bold experiment to create a pro-Putin neo-Nazi movement.’

RO’s leader, Ilya Goryachev, was a fervent supporter of the neo-Nazi underground, the skinheads who committed hundreds of racist murders in the second half of the 2000s.

Where now?

With tensions rising in the summer of 2021, the Western approach was illustrated when the British navy sent a destroyer into Russian territorial waters in the Black Sea - where it steamed provocatively close to Russian shipping - and the US flew a bomber up to and along the coastline.

In September 2021, the White House made public a Joint Statement on the ‘United States - Ukraine Strategic Partnership’:

‘The United States and Ukraine are reinvigorating the Strategic Partnership Commission (SPC), and Strategic Defense Framework, … deepening cooperation in areas such as Black Sea security, cyber defence, and intelligence … and a new $60 million security assistance package, including additional Javelin anti-armour systems and other lethal and non-lethal capabilities … against Russian aggression. The United States has committed $2.5 billion in support of Ukraine’s forces since 2014.

‘The United States and Allies reaffirmed in the June 2021 NATO Summit Communique … Ukraine’s … aspirations to join NATO and … will continue our robust training and exercise program in keeping with Ukraine’s status as a NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner.

‘In support of Ukraine’s reform efforts, the U.S. government has provided Ukraine with nearly $2 billion in [economic] development assistance since 2014 … to expand corporate governance reform at state-owned energy companies, increase the attractiveness of Ukraine’s energy industry, and attract foreign investment and … in alignment with Ukraine’s International Monetary Fund program, Ukraine intends to reform state-owned enterprises.

‘The United States and Ukraine have finalised a Memorandum of Understanding on commercial cooperation, designed to promote commercial participation by U.S. companies across the Ukrainian economy … The initial amount of $3 billion in support from the Export-Import Bank (EXIM) of the United States … The U.S.-Ukraine Trade and Investment Council is holding its 10th Meeting this fall.’

Published just five months before the February 2022 Russian invasion, this gives the context.

USA Today reported that the Biden Administration has been warning of a Russian ‘false flag’ operation: that Putin could stage an atrocity to justify escalating his attack to the next level, the use of chemical weapons then followed by biological weapons – as he is reported to have done in Syria, with then the option of tactical nuclear weapons. Putin has already deployed hypersonic missiles on a Ukrainian munitions base and on a fuel depot.

As Robert Wade of the London School of Economics says:

‘It seems likely that US and Nato strategists have a second Ukraine trap in mind. The first one was the invasion; the second one is Russia bogged down in another long insurgency, the second after Afghanistan, the second Russian “Vietnam”. As the Afghanistan insurgency against the Soviet military helped bring down the Soviet Union, the western strategists hope that the Ukrainian insurgency against the bogged-down Russian military will help end the Putin regime. From the US standpoint, the longer the Ukrainians can sustain the insurgency and keep the Russian military bogged down the more likely is the end of the Putin regime. This is called “realist politics”!’

As Consortium News state, the invasion was ‘necessary’, just as the Afghanistan insurgency helped bring down the Soviet Union, so the Ukrainian insurgency is meant to topple Putin’s Russia. The United States, it argues, could have easily prevented Russia’s military action. It could have stopped Russia’s intervention in Ukraine’s civil war from happening by doing three things: forcing implementation of the eight-year old Minsk peace accords, dissolving extreme-right Ukrainian militias, and engaging Russia in serious negotiations about a new security architecture in Europe. But it didn’t.

Putin miscalculated, his ground troops became pinned down; he is internationally isolated, with even China blowing cool. He is existing within the Russian bubble that he assiduously created himself, but even in his highly controlled state media a brave journalist has voiced dissent (BBC), while thousands have been arrested in street protests against the war. If he fails in Ukraine, his bubble could burst and so his motivation to raise the brutality level will be high. If Ukraine refuses his floated compromise - Ukrainian neutrality and Russian ownership of and a corridor to Crimea, then the west may well be faced with responding to his use of weapons of mass destruction, a move towards the precipice of a third world war.

Natfali Bennett, Israel’s Prime Minister (hardly someone with the moral high-ground when it comes to discussing the end of occupation) has become an interlocutor, and has said that Ukraine must compromise to avoid a Syrian-scale holocaust or worse: a total international disaster. This might not be justice, but is probably necessary to achieve a negotiated peace. The West might then have to face down the Azov brigade and the establishment sectors it controls.

Ironically it is Putin’s attack on what he labels a fascist regime which has produced the ideal environment for the growth of the far right. As UnHeard explains:

‘Azov’s armed units are expanding, they’re forming new battalions in Kharkiv and Dnipro, a new special forces unit in Kyiv (where Biletsky is organising at least some aspects of the capital’s defence) and local defence militias in western cities such as Ivano-Frankivsk. Along with other extreme right-wing groups such as Karpatska Sich (whose militancy against western Ukraine’s Hungarian-speaking minority, including Roma, has drawn criticism from the Hungarian government), the Eastern Orthodox group Tradition and Order, the neo-Nazi group C14, and the extreme right-wing militia Freikorps, the Russian invasion has allowed Azov to restore its earlier prominence, burnishing its heroic reputation with its dogged defence of Mariupol alongside regular Ukrainian marines.’

azov-mariupol-lg.jpg
Azov battalion in Mariupol, 2021. Photo: Wanderer777 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

Putin’s barbarism is reprehensible, but the USA is fully aware of the game it is pursuing, with the risk that pushing Putin to the edge would create a maelstrom, and with the cynical objective that he would attract all the blame. This is the marque of US foreign policy, played out over decades in southern America, in the Middle East and Europe. America and its Nato allies are the historical and current drivers.

Conclusion

Ukraine is not (yet) a fascist state, but the media’s dismissal of Putin’s characterisation of it as such functions to exclude from the national narrative both the extensive development of the far right and the degree to which Western powers are implicated.

Western think tanks appear to have little appreciation of the lessons of the rise of German fascism. For example, Freedom House argued that ‘current polling data indicates that the far right has no real chance of being elected in the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections in 2019. Similarly, despite the fact that several of these groups have real-life combat experience, paramilitary structures, and even access to arms, they are not ready or able to challenge the state.’

The main progressive Jewish journal, Jewish Currents, makes the same naive error:

‘Far-right parties do exist in Ukraine, as they do in many European countries, but their electoral results have been unimpressive in Ukraine’s multiparty democratic system. Ukraine’s president since 2019, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish, as was its prime minister from 2016 to 2019, Volodymyr Groysman … [There] is a valid concern, but it is unfair to the vast majority of Ukrainians to cast the Azov Battalion as representative of their country’s political leanings.’

They fail to see the significance of the fact that Azov has been an official regiment in the Ukrainian armed forces since September 2014, as documented by Stanford CISA. It was already part of the state. In response to evidence of this nature, one journalist commented that Marie Le Pen would give her right arm for such deep penetration into the national forces of the state.

Labour Heartlands records that Zelensky, ‘the so called champion of “free speech and democracy” ordered the banning of Ukraine’s 11 remaining left-wing opposition parties (Opposition Platform – For Life, which has 43 seats in the parliament, Sharij’s Party, Nashi, Opposition Bloc, Left Opposition, Union of Left Forces, Derzhava, Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, Socialist Party of Ukraine, the Socialists, and Volodymyr Saldo’s Bloc) accusing the now-banned parties as being “pro-Russian”.’ Yahoo News reports that he has nationalised all the independent TV channels, and OpenDemocracy that he has embarked on dismantling trade-union rights.

As Hitler did, the Ukrainian right has built a powerful armed section. Its current low electoral support is like the Nazi’s lean years of the 1920s, but with the Svoboda party embedded in the institutions of government, it is well placed to build a complimentary political force. The Versailles Treaty plunged Germany into poverty, and the 1930s depression, to which the government had no remedy, provided fertile ground for the fascists. Much will depend on the nature of the terms of the eventual agreement which brings an end to the Russian attack on Ukraine, and critically on the size and terms of likely Western finance and loans for its rebuilding.

A Parliamentary deputy from eastern Ukraine warned three years ago that Ukraine was like Germany in the 1930s. That the mainstream media together with the major political parties are silent on the development of the extreme-right infrastructure within Ukraine, and that instead of sounding the alarm, they function as Nato’s propaganda agency, is mind numbing and truly criminal.

As Foreign Policy counselled, ‘If Western governments hope to steer Ukraine clear from the most unsavoury characters in Moscow and Kiev, they will need to wage a two-pronged diplomatic offensive: against Putin’s propaganda and, at the same time, against Ukraine’s resurgent far-right.’   But this may be wishful thinking, as Jonathan Cook comments:

‘The more the Russian army struggles in Ukraine - and fails to achieve its minimal demands for mutual security guarantees in Europe - the more it will lash out with the kind of destructive power the US unleashed on Fallujah in Iraq and Israel regularly inflicts on Gaza.

‘Russians will most likely conclude after Biden’s statement that Putin cannot be allowed to remain in power that the western aim is to overthrow their government. It will confirm to Russians that Putin was right to invade Ukraine - to belatedly stop Washington’s malign intentions towards Russia in its tracks. Both sides will have reasons to entrench rather than compromise. And for that reason alone, the US has to take a big share of responsibility for the horrors currently unfolding – and those still to come – in Ukraine.’

But this is just one dimension of the danger the world is facing, we are witnessing a terrifying two pronged attack on our freedoms: to quote Ilya Budraitskis:

‘Putinism is a frightening sign of a possible future to which extreme right-wing parties striving for power in various European countries could lead. In order to fight for a different future, we all need to reconsider the very foundations of the capitalist logic, which is quietly but persistently preparing the ground for a “move” from the top, which could happen in a heartbeat. The old and somewhat forgotten dilemma of Rosa Luxemburg, “socialism or barbarism,” has become an urgent reality for Russia and for the world since the fateful morning of the 24th of February.’

And we are perilously close to a world war. Let’s hope, if Zelensky does manage to secure a peace deal, that the backing for it outweighs the influence of the Ukrainian neo-fascists, whose mission could well both provoke Putin into escalation and provide him with a justification for doing so.

End note: Palestine and the West’s hypocrisy

For those of us with a life commitment to freedom and justice for the Palestinians, 60% of whom are displaced, are refugees or living under occupation, dating back not weeks but ninety years; for those of us with a knowledge of the mass murders inflicted on nineteen villages which drove the original Nakba in 1948, and the massacres of Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982; and a knowledge of the unspeakable violence of the Occupation with its assassinations and incarcerations of children and the demolition of 60,000 homes since 1967; for those of us who have counted the bombing of Gaza at roughly four-year intervals from 2005, with hospitals, clinics, schools, apartment blocks, water, sewage and power plants laid to waste, and with the deaths of many thousands of civilians including children; and who have recoiled at the slaughter of somewhere between 655,000 and 1,033,00 civilians by the West’s attack on Iraq and the ten million at risk of starvation (HR Watch) and the 377,000 deaths in the Yemen (Aljazeera), or the 606,000 killed in Syria (BBC), we cannot but compare the truly laudable sympathy and outrage expressed for, and the depth of coverage of, the Ukrainian victims of Putin’s atrocities, with the distant, disengaged, unsympathetic, victim blaming coverage of Palestinian, Iraqi and Yemeni suffering.

As Ilan Pappe writes in the Palestine Chronicle,

‘It is not only the hypocrisy about Palestine that emerges when we consider the Ukraine crisis in a wider context; it is the overall Western double standards that should be scrutinized … Even when genuine human solidarity in the West is justly expressed with the Ukraine, we cannot overlook its racist context and Europe-centric bias. The massive solidarity of the West is reserved for whoever is willing to join its bloc and sphere of influence. This official empathy is nowhere to be found when similar, and worse, violence is directed against non-Europeans, in general, and towards the Palestinians, in particular.’

 

[1] Michael Colborne, From the Fires of War (New York: Columbia University Press 2022) p.103.

[2] Ibid.. p.128.

[3] Ibid. p.109.

[4] Ibid. p.71.

[5] Ibid. pp.102-3.

[6] Ibid. p.104.

[7] Ibid. p.91.

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Tagged under: NATO Russia Ukraine Fascism
Glyn Secker

Glyn Secker

Glyn Secker has a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in political science. He is the National Secretary of Jewish Voice for Labour; on the Executive Committee of Jews for Justice for Palestinians; was the Captain of the Irene, the Jewish Boat To Gaza in 2010; supplier and transporter of printing presses to Greek socialist parties, 1974, during the dictatorship of the Junta; information courier to socialist opposition groups in 1980 in Turkey in the period of the military coups; Charter 77 courier to socialist parties in Czechoslovakia in the period preceding the Velvet Revolution of 1989. He is the lifelong partner of Vanessa Stilwell, mother of our two children, who lost a generation of her family in the Holocaust.

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