The relations of the Azov Βattalion with the West and Putin’s “anti-fascism”

Giorgos Ligouriotis

From the very first moment since the war in Ukraine broke out, the majority of the international media reported on how part of Ukrainian society was preparing to defend their country against the Russian invasion, alongside with the tragic pictures of the war.

The reports portrayed Ukrainian soldiers providing “basic training for the whole family”, “first aid” tips, instructions about how to make Molotov cocktails and “training on how to use weapons” to a group of Mariupol residents, including children and the elderly. Among them, 78-year-old Valentina Konstantinovska, who, arms in hand, was reported as the face of the “Ukrainian resistance”.

However, these reports failed to provide information about the trainers’ identity and explain that these “trainers” are actually members of the neo-Nazi Azov battalion, even though the insignia on their uniforms were clearly visible.

The birth of the Azov Βattalion

The Azov battalion (named after the enclaved sea in southeastern Ukraine) was founded in 2014 by the anti-Semite Andri Biletsky. Biletsky carries a rich neo-Nazi past as he was one of the founding members of the far-right groups Patriot of Ukraine and Social-National Assembly (SNA). 

In a statement dating back in 2010, he mentioned that the nation’s mission was “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [inferior races]”, which leaves little room for doubts about his neo-Nazi profile.

When the Maidan uprising broke out in 2013, far-right and neo-Nazi groups came together under a common umbrella called Right Sector. The Right Sector played a decisive role in this movement, especially in turning peaceful anti-government demonstrations into violent clashes. This uprising resulted in the fall of the pro-Russian Yanukovych government.

In April 2014, the then Interior Minister Arsen Avakov issued a decree allowing the creation of new civilian paramilitary forces comprising up to 12,000 people. 

The Azov Battalion was created on May 5, 2014, and took part in the battles against the separatists in southeastern Ukraine. Members of the Azov Βattalion openly declare themselves neo-Nazis and support the white supremacist ideology. In November 2014, the Azov battalion was integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine and was even praised by the then President Petro Poroshenko.

In 2016, the Azov Battalion created a political party, named National Corps, and in 2018 they founded the National Militia, an assault battalion responsible for a series of attacks against leftists, anti-fascists, members of the LGBTQ+ community, Roma people etc.

The fact that the Azov Battalion is teaching children as young as 6 years old how to use weapons in camps they organise, is striking indeed!

The mass murder of left-wing trade unionists in 2014 

The massacre at the House of Trade Unions in Odessa, in May 2014, where 48 people died tragically, reveals in the most chilling way how ruthless these neo-fascists are. The neo-Nazis attacked leftists and anti-fascists, trapping them in the House of Trade Unions and then set the building on fire. 

Many people recorded scenes from this massacre on their phone cameras. Many videos are available, and in some of them, the faces of the perpetrators are clearly visible. Yet, not a single person responsible for this horrific crime has been brought to justice until today!

Close ties between the government and the neo-Nazis

It is a fact that the neo-Nazis aspired to be elected in parliament but failed. Despite their electoral failure, however, these groups have managed to create strong links with the Ukrainian ruling class parties, and therefore achieve absolute impunity. They have also managed to penetrate state structures.

The most notable relationship is the one the Azov Battalion has with former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. Avakov turned out to be one of the most ardent supporters of the neo-Nazis, as his ties with the Azov Batallion are not a secret.

In 2014, Avokov appointed Vadim Troyan as head of the Kiev regional police in 2014. Troyan is a known neo-Nazi and was deputy commander of the Azov Battalion until this formal appointment.

For his part, Ukrainian President Zelensky had asked former Right Sector leader in Odessa, Serhiy Sternenko, to become the head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) in Odessa. This was revealed by Sternenko himself in an interview dating April 2021. Zelensky never denied this.

Funding and military training from the West

However, the neo-Nazis are not only supported by the Ukrainian establishment, but also by the West: this is actually where they find funding and military training. In order to fight what they coin as “Russian aggression”, the USA has been openly funding the Ukrainian neo-Nazis since February 2014. 

According to the White House, Ukraine had received $2 billion in loan guarantees and about $760 million in “security and technical assistance” until 2016. In fact, the Congress had declined the financing, training and arming of neo-Nazis in Ukraine at first. Yet, the ban was removed under the Pentagon’s pressure.

Meanwhile, the CIA has been secretly training Ukrainian paramilitaries to act as “rebel leaders,” since 2015. A former intelligence official specifically clarified that these would be operational in case Russia tries to invade Ukraine.

On the other hand, according to research by the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) of the George Washington University, Canada, the US, France, the UK and other Western governments have contributed in the training of far-right groups in Ukraine.

So much for the advocates of “democracy” and “freedom”. They offer their best services in arming and strengthening Ukrainian neo-Nazis. These Neo-nazis, in turn, would serve the imperialist interests of the West in the best possible way.

Putin’s relations with the European far right

All of the above is certainly not stated in order to justify Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The so-called “de-nazification” of Ukraine is only used as a pretext for Putin to turn the attention away from his crimes.

Putin speaking in the name of anti-fascism is certainly outrageous. It is no coincidence that all the leaders of the European far-right parties praise Putin. This relationship is actually going both ways: there are close links between the European far right and the Kremlin. So much for Putin’s “anti-fascist struggle”…

Salvini of the Italian far-right League (Lega Nord) has on many occasions expressed his admiration for Putin. He has even signed a cooperation agreement with Putin’s party.

Relations between Putin and the German far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) seem to be similarly close. In April 2019, the BBC revealed a Kremlin document stating that the far-right AfD MP Marcus Fronmeyer “would be fully controlled by Russia”. This document describes in great detail the attempts to influence public opinion and the EU’s decision-making process, particularly on issues such as Crimea, Ukraine and EU sanctions against Russia.

According to an investigation by the French MediapartMarine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally (Rassemblement National) has received a €9 million loan from a Russian bank in 2014, in exchange for her taking a pro-Russian position in the dispute between Russia and Ukraine.

Pretexts for serving imperialist interests

Putin’s “anti-fascism” is nothing more than a pretext for Russian capitalism to advance its own interests in the region. Just as the USA’s campaign for “democracy” is also a pretext to enforce their world domination. At the same time, the West is turning a blind eye to the active presence and participation of Ukrainian neo-Nazis in the conflicts in eastern Ukraine. 

In other words, both sides are hypocritical. In the name of “democracy”, “freedom” or “anti-fascism”, they are pushing people into a war, shedding their blood on the altar of NATO’s or Russia’s imperialist interests.

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