As the war in eastern Ukraine stretched on, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky visited Zolote, a town firmly located in the “grey zone” of Donbass, where over 14,000 people had been killed, largely on the pro-Russian side. There, the president met the hardened veterans of extreme right paramilitary organisations fighting separatists just a few miles away.
Zelensky, who was elected on a platform of de-escalation with Russia, was eager to implement the so-called Steinmeier Formula, which was devised by then-German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier and called for elections in the Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
In a face-to-face encounter with radicals from the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, who had launched a campaign to destroy the “No to Capitulation” peace movement, Zelensky met a wall of obstinacy.
Zelensky broke down on television as his appeals for disengagement from the frontlines were rebuffed. “I am the President of Ukraine. My age is 41 years. I’m not a slacker. I came to you and told you to remove your weapons,” Zelensky pleaded with the fighters.
Zelensky became the victim of a furious response as video of the tense altercation emerged across Ukrainian social media sites.
Andriy Biletsky, the proudly fascist Azov Battalion leader who once pledged to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen”, vowed to bring thousands of fighters to Zolote if Zelensky pressed any further. Meanwhile, a parliamentarian from the party of former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko openly fantasized about Zelensky being blown to bits by a militant’s grenade.
Though Zelensky achieved a minor disengagement though a pullout, the neo-Nazi paramilitaries escalated their “No Capitulation” campaign. And within months, fighting began to heat up again in Zolote, sparking a new cycle of violations of the Minsk Agreement.
Azov had been formally merged into the Ukrainian military, and its street vigilante branch, known as the National Corps, was deployed around the country under the supervision of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry and alongside the National Police. Zelensky would be shown in December 2021 presenting a “Hero of Ukraine” award to a fascistic Right Sector leader during a ceremony in Ukraine’s parliament.
A full-scale conflict with Russia was approaching, and the distance between Zelensky and the extremist paramilitaries was closing fast.
In its bid to deflect from the influence of Nazism in contemporary Ukraine, U.S. media has found its most effective PR tool in the figure of Zelensky, a former TV star and comedian from a Jewish background. It is a role the actor-turned-politician has eagerly assumed.
But as we will explain, Zelensky 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.
US media acts as propaganda tool:
Hours before President Putin’s February 24 speech declaring denazification as the goal of Russian operations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “asked how a people who lost eight million of its citizens fighting Nazis could support Nazism,” according to the BBC.
Raised in a non-religious Jewish family in the Soviet Union during the 1980’s, Zelensky has downplayed his heritage in the past. “The fact that I am Jewish barely makes 20 in my long list of faults,” he joked during a 2019 interview in which he declined to go into further detail about his religious background.
Today, as Russian troops bear down on cities like Mariupol, which is effectively under the control of the Azov Battalion, Zelensky is no longer ashamed to broadcast his Jewishness. “How could I be a Nazi?” he wondered aloud during a public address. For a U.S. media engaged in an all-out information war against Russia, the president’s Jewish background has become an essential public relations tool.
For instance, On MSNBC, Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner said Putin’s “terminology, outrageous and obnoxious as it is—‘denazify’ where you’ve got frankly a Jewish president in Mr. Zelensky. This guy [Putin] is on his own kind of personal jihad to restore greater Russia.”
Behind the corporate media spin is a complex and increasingly close relationship between Zelensky’s administration and the neo-Nazi forces invested with key military and political positions by the Ukrainian state, as well as the power these open fascists have enjoyed since Washington installed a Western-aligned regime through a coup in 2014.
Indeed, Zelensky’s main financial backer, Ukrainian Jewish oligarch Igor Kolomoisky, has been a major supporter of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and other extremist militias.
The Azov Battalion, which is now a part of the Ukrainian National Guard, is regarded as the most ideologically passionate and militarily driven unit fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donbass region.
With Nazi-inspired Wolfsangel insignia on the uniforms of its fighters, who have been photographed with Nazi SS symbols on their helmets, Azov “is known for its association with neo-Nazi ideology…[and] is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing U.S.-based white supremacy organizations,” according to an FBI indictment of several U.S. white nationalists that traveled to Kiev to train with Azov.
When Zelensky took office in May 2019, the Azov Battalion maintained de facto control of the strategic southeastern port city of Mariupol and its surrounding villages. As Open Democracy noted, “Azov has certainly established political control of the streets in Mariupol. To maintain this control, they have to react violently, even if not officially, to any public event which diverges sufficiently from their political agenda.”
Attacks by Azov in Mariupol have included assaults on “feminists and liberals” marching on International Women’s Day among other incidents.
Just days after Zelensky’s meeting with Karas and other neo-Nazi leaders in November 2019, Oleksiy Honcharuk—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 antisemitic metal bands, she promoted the concert on Facebook.
A month later, as war with Russia drew closer, Zelensky awarded Right Sector commander Dmytro Kotsyubaylo the “Hero of Ukraine” commendation. Known as “Da Vinci,” Kosyubaylo keeps a pet wolf in his frontline base, and likes to joke to visiting reporters that his fighters “feed it the bones of Russian-speaking children.”
When Russian forces entered Ukraine this February 24, encircling the Ukrainian military in the east and driving towards Kiev, President Zelensky announced a national mobilization that included the release of criminals from prison, among them accused murderers wanted in Russia. He also blessed the distribution of arms to average citizens, and their training by battle-hardened paramilitaries.
With fighting underway, Azov’s National Corps gathered hundreds of ordinary civilians, including grandmothers and children, to train in public squares and warehouses from Kharviv to Kiev to Lviv.
On March 1, 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.
Human rights violations:
A 2016 report by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHA) has accused the Azov regiment of violating international humanitarian law.
The report detailed incidents over a period from November 2015-February 2016 where Azov had embedded their weapons and forces in used civilian buildings, and displaced residents after looting civilian properties. The report also accused the battalion of raping and torturing detainees in the Donbas region.
US response to Azov:
In June 2015, both Canada and the United States announced that their own forces will not support or train the Azov regiment, citing its neo-Nazi connections.
In October 2019, 40 members of the US Congress led by Representative Max Rose signed a letter unsuccessfully calling for the US State Department to designate Azov as a “foreign terrorist organisation” (FTO). Last April, Representative Elissa Slotkin repeated the request – which included other white supremacist groups – to the Biden administration.
Transnational support for Azov has been wide, and Ukraine has emerged as a new hub for the far right across the world. Men from across three continents have been documented to join the Azov training units in order to seek combat experience and engage in similar ideology.
Facebook legitimises Neo- Nazism:
In 2016, Facebook first designated the Azov regiment a “dangerous organisation”.
Under the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy, Azov was banned from its platforms in 2019. The group was placed under Facebook’s Tier 1 designation, which includes groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and ISIL (ISIS). Users engaging in praise, support or representation of Tier 1 groups are also banned.
However, on February 24, the day Russia launched its invasion, Facebook reversed its ban, saying it would allow praise for Azov.
“For the time being, we are making a narrow exception for praise of the Azov regiment strictly in the context of defending Ukraine, or in their role as part of the Ukraine national guard,” a spokesperson from Facebook’s parent company, Meta, told Business Insider.
Russia turns Azov into POW’s:
But Zelensky and his Neo-Nazi warriors’ jubilation was short-lived. As expected, Ukraine lacks the institutional structure to fight strong nations like Russia. Only a few days after the war began, Russia seized hundreds of Azov warriors as POWs and imprisoned them in Russian jail cells in Eastern Ukraine.
This was a watershed moment in the Russo-Ukraine conflict. Putin might have used his authority over Neo-Nazi organisations in a variety of ways. Evidence of these groups’ war crimes could be documented and presented to international tribunals. This, in turn, may have drastically altered the war’s narrative.
Today, the entire world sees Putin as the invader and a reincarnation of Hitler’s fascist Reich. However, evidence of Azov fighters may have drastically transformed this perception.
Zelensky is intelligent enough to recognise this. This is why Ukraine began missile attacks on the territory where Azov fighters were imprisoned. The mainstream media has built a tight dichotomy in which Putin is the villain and Zelensky is the hero. If the ubiquity of Neo-Nazi groups had been highlighted, this binary would have broken and Zelensky’s phoney image would have been shattered.
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