Russian President Vladimir Putin has claimed that he ordered the invasion of Ukraine to “denazify” its government, while Western officials, such as former U.S. ambassador to Moscow Michael McFaul, have called this pure propaganda, insisting, “There are no Nazis in Ukraine.”
In the context of the Russian invasion, the post-2014 Ukrainian government’s problematic relations with extreme right-wing groups and neo-Nazi parties has become an incendiary element on both sides of the propaganda war, with Russia exaggerating it as a pretext for war and the West trying to sweep it under the carpet.
The truth behind the propaganda is that the West, along with its Ukrainian allies, have opportunistically used and empowered the extreme right of Ukraine. First, they pulled off the 2014 coup. Second, they redirected it to fight separatists within eastern Ukraine. And far from “denazifying” Ukraine, the Russian invasion is likely to further empower Ukrainian and international neo-Nazis, as it attracts fightersFrom all over the world, and provides them weapons, military training, combat experience, and the opportunity to share their passions with the rest of the world.
Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Svoboda Partyand its founders Oleh TyahnybokAnd Andriy ParubiyTyahnybok played a leading role in the U.S.-backed coup of February 2014. Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, and U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt both mentioned Tyahnybok among the leaders they were working alongside in their notorious leak phone callThey tried to exclude him from a position in the government after the coup, but he refused.
The peaceful protests that had been held in Kyiv turned into pitched battles with the police and violent, armed marches to attempt to break through the police barricades to reach the Parliament building. Svoboda members as well as the newly-formed Right SectorMilitia led by Dmytro YaroshHe battled police, led marches and raided an armory of police for weapons. These men with guns were de facto leaders in the Maidan movement by mid-February 2014.
We won’t know what kind of political transition in Ukraine peaceful protests could have produced, or how different the new government would be if a peaceful process were allowed to unfold without interference from the U.S. and violent right-wing extremists.
Yarosh, however, was the one to take the Maidan stage. rejectedThe Feb. 21, 2014 agreement was negotiated by the French and German foreign ministers. Viktor YanukovychOpposition political leaders also agreed to hold new elections later in the year. Instead, Yarosh (right Sector) refused to disarm and led a climactic march on Parliament which overthrew the government.
Since 1991, elections in Ukraine have been swinging back and forth between leaders such as Yanukovych, a Donetsk native with close ties to Russia, and Western-backed ones like President Viktor Yushchenko, who was elected in 2005 after the “Orange Revolution” that followed a disputed election. Ukraine’s endemic corruption tainted every government, and rapid public disillusionment with whichever leader and party won power led to a seesaw between Western- and Russian-aligned factions.
2014 was a great year for Nuland and State Department. Arseniy YatsenyukHe was elected prime minister of the government after the coup. He served for two years before he too lost his job to interminable corruption scandals. Petro PoroshenkoThe post-coup president lasted a bit longer, to 2019, even though his tax evasion schemes were exposed during the 2016 election Panama Papers2017 Paradise Papers.
Yatsenyuk was rewarded for his role as prime minister. Svoboda’s role in the coup with three cabinet positions, including Oleksander Sych as deputy prime minister, and governorships of three of Ukraine’s 25 provinces. Svoboda’s Andriy Parubiy was appointed chairman (or speaker) of Parliament, a post he held for the next five years. Tyahnybok was unsuccessful in his bid for the presidency in 2014. He received only 1.2% of votes and was not reelected.
Ukrainian voters turned their backs on the extreme right in the 2014 post-coup elections, reducing Svoboda’s 10.4% share of the national vote in 2012 to 4.7%. Svoboda was unable to win support in areas it controlled, but it had failed to live up the promises it made. The party’s support is now split because it is no longer the only party that uses explicitly anti-Russian slogans.
After the coup Right SectorYarosh, their leader, described the actions as “helping to consolidate and break up anti-coup protests”. Newsweek as a “war” to “cleanse the country” of pro-Russian protesters. The massacre of 42 anticoup protesters in a capital city on May 2 culminated this campaign. fiery infernoAfter being attacked by Right Sector attackers, they took refuge in the Trades Unions House at Odessa.
After anti-coup protests morphed into declarations of independence (in Donetsk/Luhansk), the extreme right in Ukraine switched gears to full-scale, armed combat. The government formed new National Guard units because the Ukrainian military was reluctant to fight its own people.
Right Sector formed a battalion. The neo Nazis also dominated. Azov BattalionThe other was foundedBy Andriy Biletsky, an avowed white supremacist who claimed that Ukraine’s national purposeTo eliminate the country’s Jews and other inferior races. It was the Azov battalion that led the post-coup government’s assault on the self-declared republics and retook the city of Mariupol from separatist forces.
The Minsk II2015 saw an agreement that ended the worst fighting and created a buffer zone surrounding the breakaway republics. However, civil wars of low intensity continued. An estimated 14,000 peopleSince 2014, have been killed. Ro Khanna, D.Calif., and other progressive members attempted for several years to stop U.S. military aid the Azov Battalion. They finally succeeded. did soIn the fiscal 2018 Defense Appropriation Bill Azov was reportedly still receiving U.S. arms and trainingDespite the ban.
The Soufan Center tracks terrorist and extremist groups all over the globe in 2019, and will continue to do so in 2019. warned: “The Azov Battalion is emerging as a critical node in the transnational right-wing violent extremist network. … [Its] aggressive approach to networking serves one of the Azov Battalion’s overarching objectives, to transform areas under its control in Ukraine into the primary hub for transnational white supremacy.”
The Soufan Center described how the Azov Battalion’s “aggressive networking” reaches around the world to recruit fighters and spread its white supremacist ideology. Foreign fighters who train with the Azov Brigade then return to their home countries to learn and recruit others.
Violent foreign extremists with links to Azov have included Brenton Tarrant, who massacred 51 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019, and several members of the U.S. Rise Above Movement who were prosecuted for attacking counter-protesters at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. Other Azov veterans are now in Australia, Brazil, Germany and other countries.
Despite Svoboda’s declining success in national elections, neo-Nazi and extreme nationalist groups, increasingly linked to the Azov Battalion, have maintained power on the street in Ukraine, and in local politics in the Ukrainian nationalist heartland around Lviv in western Ukraine.
After President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s election in 2019, the extreme right threatened himWith removal from office or death if he negotiated and followed up on the Minsk Protocol with separatist leaders from Donbas. Zelenskyy had run for election as a “peace candidate,” but under threat from the right, he refusedHe even tried to talk to Donbas leaders, who he dismissed to terrorists.
During Trump’s presidency, the U.S. reversed Obama’s ban on weapons sales to Ukraine, and Zelenskyy’s aggressiveThe rhetoric is raised new fears in Donbas and Russia that he was building up Ukraine’s forces for a new offensive to retake Donetsk and Luhansk by force.
The civil war has combined with the government’s neoliberalTo create fertile ground to support the extreme right with economic policies The post-coup government imposed more of the same “shock therapy” that was imposed throughout Eastern Europe in the 1990s. Ukraine was granted a $40 billion International Monetary Fund bailout. The deal saw 342 state-owned enterprises privatized, with a 20% reduction in public sector employment, pension cuts, and privatization of health care.
Coupled with Ukraine’s endemic corruptionThese policies resulted in the theft of state assets and corruption by the corrupt ruling class. falling living standardsAusterity measures for everyone else. The post-coup government upheld Poland as its model, but the reality was closer to Boris Yeltsin’s Russia of the 1990s. Ukraine is still the leader despite a nearly 25% decline in GDP between 2012 – 2016. poorest countryEurope
As elsewhere, the failures in neoliberalism fuel the rise of right-wing extremism, racism, and now war with Russia promises to provide thousands for the alienated young menThey come from all over the globe with combat experience and military training, which they can then bring home to terrorize their own country.
The Soufan Center has compared the Azov Battalion’s international networking strategy to that of al-Qaida and ISIS. Similar risks exist when NATO and the U.S. provide support for Azov Battalion. their supportFor al-Qaida linked groups in Syria 10 years ago. These chickens quickly returned to their nest when they spawned ISIS, and turned against their Western supporters.
Right now, Ukrainians are united in their resistance to Russia’s invasion, but we should not be surprised when the U.S. alliance with neo-Nazi proxy forces in Ukraine, including the infusion of billions of dollars in sophisticated weapons, results in similarly violent and destructive blowback.