Are Putin's Claims About Ukrainian Nazis Real?












over the past few weeks Putin has given a whole load of slightly long-winded speeches justifying his invasion of Ukraine he's talked about the shared ethnic heritage of the Russians and the Ukrainians NATO's Eastwood expansion and even claimed genocide against ethnic Russians in Donbas but the argument that has particularly confused western audiences is Putin's claim that Ukraine is run by neo-Nazis after all Zelensky himself is Jewish and the far-right coalition got just 2.5 percent of the vote in the 2019 parliamentary elections so, in this blog, we thought we'd try to figure out whether there really are Nazis in Ukraine or whether it's all just Kremlin propaganda now before we get into this blog a quick disclaimer all these terms fascist neo-Nazi nationalists are nebulous and different people define them differently so, in order to mitigate any semantic confusion, for the most part, we're going to use the term far-right as a sort of catch-all umbrella term and you can decide for yourself about whether the groups described a neo-Nazi or fascist we're going to split this blog into two parts first we're going to do a quick overview of the far-right in Ukraine and explain their origins second, we're going to look at how much power they really have in the country whether they secretly control the government as Putin says or whether they're just your usual bunch of maligned hooligans so, let's get into the first bit of the blog a quick overview of the Ukrainian far-right now as is the case with the far-right in any country, it's difficult to generalize there are lots of different far-right groups in Ukraine all with their own little subcultures but the preeminent far-right group in Ukraine are clearly as of if you've been doom-scrolling twitter since the invasion began you've probably seen one of their blogs they're usually of Ukrainian soldiers taking Russian military equipment or Ukrainians firing on Russian position Azov began as a volunteer battalion back in 2014 for those of you who don't know when Russian-backed separatist claimed parts of Donbas as independent territory back in early 2014 the Ukrainian army was underfunded and under-equipped to fight back against separatists the Ukrainian state relied on 30 or so volunteer battalions which were basically just groups of Ukrainians who were willing to defend Donbas one of these volunteer, battalions was called the Azov battalion a significant fraction of Azov's membership came from a group called Patriot of Ukraine a self-described revolutionary nationalist organization led by a guy called Andrey Bielecki Beletsky is a pretty unsavory bloke back in 2010 he allegedly said that his mission was to lead the whit races of the world in a final crusade against semite-led unto mention which is German for subhumans Azov's logo is a combination of the wolf angel and a black sun symbols both used by the German Nazis anyway, as of were and are a remarkably effective fighting force they helped Ukrainian forces retake Mariupol in June 2014 and gained a reputation for brutality amongst Ukrainian and Russian-backed separatists the office of the United Nations high commissioner for human rights or ohchr connected them to war crimes such as mass looting unlawful detention and torture in November 2014 the Azov battalion were formally integrated into the Ukrainian national corps when they became the Azov regiment Azov maintained a civil faction called the Azov civil corps which has since spiraled out into a political party the national corps and a wider Ukrainian nationalist organization the Azov movement since their integration into Ukraine's wider military Azov have moderated both their image and their ideology today as of reject the neo-Nazi label and prefer to identify as Ukrainian nationalists they claim that the wolf's angel in their logo is an abbreviation of the national idea and a battalion spokesperson told USA today in 2015 that around 10 to 20 percent of the units identified as Nazis boletsky who now leads the national corps and was a member of the Ukrainian parliament from 2014 until 2019 has also toned down his language he's denied that he's either racist or an antisemite and cited Israel and Japan as model countries for Ukraine's future development today membership estimates range from between ten thousand and twenty thousand people so on to the second bit of the blog how powerful are as of well they're at least tolerated by the Ukrainian government open democracy claimed that Azov had established political control of maripol and in January 2018 Azov rolled out its national drazina street patrol unit a sort of vigilante police force which pledged to restore Ukrainian order to the streets Azov members have destroyed Traveller's settlements and interrupted left-leaning cultural events like academic lectures and women's day marches they stormed a municipal council and forced legislators to pass a delayed budget for the most part Ukrainian police forces have stood on the sidelines and let them do what they want in 2019 the Kiev government even announced that the national drazina would be used to monitor elections so how come they're tolerated by the government well they've been helped by their connections Arsene arvakov Ukraine's interior minister used to be the regional governor in Kharkiv beletsky's patriot of Ukraine organization cooperated with avakov's administration acting as muscle in business and political disputes and it's widely believed that biletsky and avakov maintained a relationship avakov has also appointed another Azov veteran Vedam troyen as deputy minister but perhaps the overriding reason they're tolerated is that well they've helped Kiev fight Russia and the Ukrainian state needs help fending off its superpower neighbor this is understandable just imagine your home country being invaded by someone else you'd be a lot more tolerant to far-right ideologies if they were protecting you from occupation and while they're tolerated out of necessity this does not mean that Ukraine is run by Nazis as Putin claims the Azov regiment with about 1000 members represents less than one percent of Ukraine's estimated 200000 personnel now it's obviously more than a bit unusual that a far-right group have their own column of tanks and we shouldn't downplay this fact but then again, Kiev would probably argue that this is necessary to maintain Ukraine's territorial integrity against Russian aggression it's also worth noting that the far-right zvoboda coalition which includes bale ski's national core party won only 2.5 percent of the vote at the 2019 election failing to win a single seat boletsky himself declined to run in the 2019 presidential election after polling in the single digits which was ultimately won by Zelenski a Ukrainian jew all in all while the far-right are definitely more prominent in Ukraine than other European countries, this is at least partially explained if not justified by the fact that the Ukrainian state has had to resort to desperate measures to defend against Russian aggression furthermore while they might be more prominent than average Putin's claims that Ukraine is run by Nazis is wildly overblown as of make up less than one percent of Ukraine's army and far-right parties have zero seats in parliament it's far from true that neo-Nazi groups are any kind of leading force in Ukraine or Europe.