The Atlantic Council and many of its members are busy trying to re-write history and whitewash the AZOV Battalion (fellows from Western Ukraine who have been attacking Russian speaking Ukrainians in the Donbass during the last 8 years) as just a bunch of earnest nationalists.
One person pushing this lie is Oleg Atbashian, a Ukrainian emigre to the United States. Oleg has penned a piece, Ukraine: the Nazi smear of the Azov Battalion is a far-reaching Russian influence operation—Russia can’t beat the Azov fighters on the battlefield, so it uses propaganda to libel them as Nazis. (So far he has not found a place to publish his piece as far as I know, but I received a copy of his proposed piece from a friend). Oleg argues:
Debunking the libel of the Azov battalion as a Nazi organization has been especially difficult because the Russian influence operators have planted those smear stories against Ukraine so widely around the world, all the way to the U.S. Congress, that it would take an entire think tank to shovel through that pile of “evidence.” Why all the effort? Azov is extremely effective against Russian aggression in the Eastern Ukraine. The fact is, Russian aggression was the only reason Azov was formed in the first place, so the Kremlin has only itself to blame for it.
The Azov battalion was organized in 2014, when the poorly armed and unprepared Ukrainian army was forced to fight an unexpected war against the Kremlin-orchestrated “separatism” in eastern Ukraine. Seeing how the military was failing, one of the richest Ukrainian industrialists and the Governor of the Dnipro Oblast, Igor Kolomoisky, spent a hefty chunk of his own money to recruit and arm a volunteer battalion to defend Ukraine. The unit was named Azov after the small Azov Sea in southern Ukraine. This was quickly followed by a series of Ukrainian victories, in which Azov played a part.
The smear is as absurd as if Hitler were to spread rumors about General Patton being a Nazi so as to hinder the American war effort. It’s initial sponsor, Igor Kolomoisky, is Jewish and has since become an Israeli citizen, living in Israel. Not exactly Neo-Nazi material, but the influencers conveniently omit that fact.
I am not a Putin puppet. I am not on the payroll of the Rooskies. I can read and think objectively. I do not know why Oleg ignores the actual history of the neo-Nazis in Ukraine. Here are the facts (thanks to Yaacov Apelbaum for his excellent research):
Oleg’s arguments like the following are apologist propaganda (and likely commercial in nature). They echo the materials developed/distribute by the Atlantic Council and other Ukraine profiteering think tanks. Oleg writes:
“…they chose a bellicose, ominous looking emblem of the crossed letter Z that also reminds of a modified Ukrainian Trident, but to the critics it appears too close to the SS emblem or the swastika. It arguably follows traditional embroidery ornaments, and, after all, we don’t demonize the entire Buddhist community in Asia for the continued use of their traditional swastika symbol.”
The issue is not the poor graphic design choices (i.e. the Azove Battalion’s use of SS iconography) or the poor HR/PR choices (i.e. that they recruit hard-core Neo Nazis). The problem is that large segment of the Ukrainian nationalist movement still embraces violent Nazi ideology.
Stalin/Russia didn’t invent Nazi sympathizers in Ukraine, historically, there was always an extreme violent (and anti-semitic) nationalist element in the Ukrainain society. For example, check out the 1648 Khmelnytsky pogroms. In the 20th century this nationalistic movement fully embraced the Nazi and anti-semitic ideologies as they became manifested through Stepan Bandera and his movement. The 1941 Kiev pogrom was orchestrated and executed by Ukrainian nationalist operatives and the Babi Yar massacre was executed with full Ukrainian nationalist movement participation and collaboration.
As a side note, 19th century Ukrainian nationalism was already highly racialized and predates the Nazi ideology. Bandera and his followers, similarly (and independently) to the Nazis, advocated the selective breeding to create a “pure” Ukrainian race and developed an elaborate anti-Jewish discourse. This was years before the German occupation of Ukraine.
The argument that the Azov battalion and its leadership is not affiliated with Nazi ideology, it patently false. The unit’s first commander was far-right nationalist named Andriy Biletsky, who led the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly and the Patriot of Ukraine.
The claim that The Azov battalion was organized in 2014 as a volunteer force and financed by Igor Kolomoisky in order to defend Ukraine is also factually incorrect. The organization started as a special police company of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It was led by Volodymyr Shpara, the leader of the Vasylkiv, Kyiv, branch of Patriot of Ukraine and Right Sector. As far as the real motivation behind Kolomoisky’s investment in the organization, it was likely more about war profiteering than patriotism.
Besides Yaacov’s analysis we have video from the BBC (not exactly a pro-Putin outfit) reporting on the neo-Nazis playing a key role in the 2014 coup that ousted the corrupt but duly elected President Yanukovitch:
And here is a video from last year with Ukraine Far-right activists celebrating the 78th anniversary of Ukrainian SS division. You read that right–the Ukrainians that many Americans are now cheering were commemorating the memory of Ukraine’s SS division, which fought alongside the Nazis:
The ignorance of most Americans about Ukraine and its history is quite understandable. Many Americans have trouble identifying George Washington and do not know who we fought in the American Revolution.
Rather than worry about Ukraine’s border security, I want our politicians and citizens to focus on our own border. Our southern border in particular. The flood of illegal immigrants and narcotics across that frontier everyday are killing American citizens. Fox reported recently on the carnage:
Fentanyl overdoses have surged to the leading cause of death for adults between the ages of 18 and 45, according to an analysis of U.S. government data.
Between 2020 and 2021, nearly 79,000 people between 18 and 45 years old — 37,208 in 2020 and 41,587 in 2021 — died of fentanyl overdoses, the data analysis from opioid awareness organization Families Against Fentanyl shows.
Ponder that number for a moment. More Americans aged 18 to 45 died from fentanyl overdose than died in the 12 years we were fighting in Vietnam. During four years of fighting in Korea we lost 36,914 military personnel. We have monuments for those who fought and died for America in Vietnam and Korea. I am not suggesting we need a memorial for those who overdosed on fentanyl. But we must do something about the border. We are ignoring those dying in part because our politicians–Republicans and Democrats–refuse to protect our borders from invaders. That is a real threat with a real cost for American citizens.