Ongoing Issue of Neo-Nazi Battalions

An ongoing issue in Ukraine is the presence of neo-Nazi battalions in its military. These battalions were founded by anti-Russia oligarchs as part of their aim to create hostile relations with Russia. These battalions have been involved in terrorism and ethnic cleansing in eastern Ukraine against Russian-speaking Ukrainians. These forces, with the backing of the U.S. and NATO, were part of the 2014 Maidan coup, that set the stage for Ukraine to be used by the U.S. and NATO to fight a proxy war against Russia.

Among the aims of the disinformation campaign about the conflict in Ukraine at this time is to claim that these forces are no longer associated with neo-Nazism. It is to explain away the open support of neo-Nazi ideology and honouring of Ukrainian war criminals and Nazi collaborators from World War II. In turn, this permits the disinformation that Russia's special military operation -- one of the aims of which is the denazification of Ukraine -- is unilateral and unprovoked.

The current Ukrainian government and its defenders deny the presence of Nazis in its armed forces. However, such claims are disproved by the Nazi insignia that continues to be worn by Ukrainian troops and the tributes paid by the neo-Nazi battalions to Nazi collaborators and war criminals from World War II.

The Azov Battalion was founded by the National Corps, which still leads it politically. National Corps leader Andriy Biletsky espouses white supremacy and hatred against Jewish people. The National Corps, the Azov Battalion and other similar military formations, venerate Stepan Bandera, the Ukrainian collaborator who worked with the Nazis to slaughter Jews and Poles in Ukraine in World War II.

Such activities have implications for the people of Canada and the U.S., where governments have facilitated the immigration of Ukrainians who espouse the memory and reactionary outlook of these Nazi collaborators. These serve as an overseas base of support for the neo-Nazis and their crimes in Ukraine and a source of disinformation about the conflict in Ukraine that favours the U.S. and NATO aims of encircling Russia.

In late September 2022, a delegation of the neo-Nazi Azov movement visited the U.S. to drum up political and financial support for Ukraine and its military, including the neo-Nazi battalions. Since 2018, Azov has been barred from receiving direct funding and training from the U.S. military. Recent trips to the U.S. and other countries by Azov members are aimed at reversing this.

In line with this aim, these neo-Nazis have been making some half-hearted attempts to claim that they do not espouse reactionary ideologies. U.S. writer Moss Robeson, reporting on the delegation's visit, writes:

"Among them is Giorgi Kuparashvili, a co-founder of the Azov Regiment and a leader of its Yevhen Konovalets Military School, named for the founder of the fascistic Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. According to journalist Leonid Ragozin, 'The school functioned outside Ukraine's system of military ed--ucation  one of many reasons to suspect that Azov was highly autonomous and never truly integrated in [the] armed forces.' [...]

"The group first made an impromptu appearance at the Ukrainian American Cultural Center of New Jersey (UACCNJ) in Whippany on Saturday, September 17. The last minute event, thrown together the day before, promised to 'dispel the Russian agitprop that the Azov regiment is Nazi.'"

Robeson also reported on the delegation's visit to a Ukrainian church in Detroit, Michigan at an event organized by U.S. partners of the Azov movement's charity wing:

"Standing on one side of the room was Borys Potapenko, a member of the UACRCM and an international coordinator of Stepan Bandera's Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B) who is also among the leadership of the far-right 'Capitulation Resistance Movement' in Ukraine, which allied with Azov's National Corps against Volodymyr Zelensky in 2019-22."

The church event involved an auction of Azov insignia patches, featuring the Nazi wolfsangel symbol. Kuparashvili claimed that those who say it is a Nazi symbol are mistaken, it is merely the letters N and I from the Latin alphabet superimposed, representing the "National Idea" of Ukraine. Of course, Ukraine uses the Cyrillic alphabet, whose letters do not correspond to this explanation. Meanwhile, the word "Azov" itself appears on the insignia in Cyrillics, not the Latin alphabet. Some Azov insignia includes the "Black Sun" another known Nazi symbol, in addition to the wolfsangel.

Evolution of the Azov insignia. Besides the wolfsangel, the Black Sun in the middle version
is also a Nazi symbol.

While in Washington, DC, the Azov delegation met with Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (California) along with some 20 representatives from both the Republican and Democratic parties.

The Association of Families of Defenders of Azovstal described receiving a warm welcome from the members of Congress who "expressed their sincere support to our delegation and Ukraine as a whole and assured that they have no doubts about the victory of our country in this war, and also repeatedly emphasized their admiration for the heroic Azov regiment."

Azov Battalion Leader Welcomed by Zionists

In December 2022, Illia Samoilenko, an officer in the Azov Battalion, received a warm welcome in Israel, where he carried out a similar disinformation campaign to claim that the Azov Battalion had disassociated itself from neo-Nazism. Also on the trip was Yulia Fedosiuk, who had earlier in the year travelled to the U.S.

Samoilenko, speaking to The Times of Israel, claimed that those who espoused neo-Nazism were "marginal" and left the battalion early on. The Times cited a purported expert who claimed, without basis that "there were neo-Nazis among the group's founders in 2014, but [...] most far-right ideologues left by the end of the year."

Fedosiuk, using the cliché defence of those accused of racism, told The Times, "One of my best friends, he is a Jew and he is in Azov."

In a similar vein, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which claims to "fight all forms of anti-Semitism and bias," in November 2022, reversed its prior course from just months before and defended the Azov Battalion, also claiming that it is not the same organization as before. In response to a hate-incident report filed by a journalist with the Grayzone, regarding a Pentagon-sponsored sports competition hosted in honour of an Azov veteran who openly sports a Nazi tattoo, the ADL stated:

"When it was created in 2014, the Azov Brigade was a private military group fighting the then annexation of Crimea. During this period, it was a group that had a clear far-right influence. In late 2014, the group was brought in as a part of the Ukrainian National Guard and renamed the Azov Regiment. When this happened, the Ukrainian government investigated the group and claims to have expelled it of these far-right members. It was also during this time that its founder Andriy Biletsky left AZOV and has since worked in the greater Azov movement, including founding a far-right political party, the National Corps. In essence, there was a split between the military unit AZOV and the political goals of its founding members. Of course, this is not to say that they have successfully removed all far-right elements from their ranks, but our Center on Extremism also does not see Azov Regime as the far-right group it once was."

The Grayzone noted, "The ADL's stunning defense of Azov as a largely depoliticized fighting unit is undermined most strongly by the ADL's own research material."

As for the purported split between the National Corps and the Azov Battalion, the Grayzone writes:

"Azov's Kyiv recruitment centre and military academy share a location with the offices of the National Corps," a researcher for the U.S. government-sponsored Bellingcat outlet explained in the NATO-affiliated Atlantic Council in 2020. The researcher added that Azov "routinely hosts Biletsky (and other former commanders) at its bases and welcomes his participation in ceremonies, greeting him as a leader."

Video of Ukrainian Soldiers Giving Neo-Nazi Salute
February 2023

For video of Ukrainian soldiers giving the Neo-Nazi salute click here.

This article was published in
Volume 53 Number 1 - February 2023

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