Idiotically and amateurishly Vladimir Putin claimed he was going into Ukraine because drug addled Nazis in the Ukrainian government were posing a risk to Russia. The world laughed at him. They especially guffawed, as the president of Ukraine is Jewish.
But Putin didn’t make the statement for international consumption. He was targeting the Russian 60 plus crowd who might have some direct family experience with WWII. To them, the German invasion of Russia in 1941 could be a very real thing that involved close relatives. They may have heard stories of it at the knees of parents or grandparents. If they are very elderly they could have fought in that war. Anyone before 1991, and after Putin, had certainly got an earful of propaganda over it.
Putin, as demagogues of all ideologies do, was looking for an emotionally volatile, not reasoned or logical, response to his Nazis in Ukraine charge. Also, in keeping with the demagogue playbook, he’s held rallies in front of massed goobers to highlight alleged popular support.
Does he have any leg to stand on whatsoever? Are there those professing a racist or Nazi ideology in power in Ukraine? No. However, are there small elements of the Ukrainian Army who do now or have in the past embraced those sick views? Yes.
What Putin has done is take one National Guard unit out of the entire Ukrainian Army and make it indicative of all of the Ukrainian government. He took a molehill of truth and turned it into a mountain of lies. As such, welcome to the Azov Regiment.
This publication talked to several individuals in US Intelligence with knowledge of this unit. One, an Intel and Special Forces vet who the author served with and who has 40 years experience, briefed thus: It started out about a decade ago as a gathering of extremist soccer hooligans from Russia and Ukraine that formed into a battalion of thugs. Then a couple of fascist organizers got a hold of it. It is now an active unit in the Ukrainian forces, fighting in Mariupol.
From AFP: “The unit was created in 2014 by far-right activists. The battalion’s members wore insignia, such as the so-called ‘Wolfsangel’ (wolf’s hook), that were reminiscent of symbols used by SS units in Nazi Germany.
‘In 2014 this battalion had indeed a far-right background, these were far-right racists that founded the battalion,’ said Andreas Umland at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies. But it had since become ‘de-ideologised’ and is a regular fighting unit, he told AFP. Mot of its recruits now join not because of ideology but because ‘it has the reputation of being a particularly tough fighting unit,’ Umland said.
The Azov battalion, named after the Sea of Azov to Ukraine’s south, became famous for winning back Mariupol from Russian-backed separatists in 2014. Eight years later, it is again fighting for the city that Russian President Vladimir Putin hopes will give him his first major victory in the Ukraine campaign.”
So, bottom line? Yes, they used to be neo-Nazi, but have since dropped that loathsome image and are now a tough as nails fighting force in Mariupol. Are there neo-Nazis still in its ranks? Probably. Does every fighting force have lunatics? Yes. Have they recruited from far right ranks in the region and internationally? Yes. But does one formerly neo-fascist unit typify the entire Ukrainian Army or government? Obviously ridiculous.
The unit should have been disbanded some time ago and its personnel and equipment parceled out into other units, as it’s a public relations nightmare. But when it’s all hands on deck, as it’s now in Ukraine, you take fighters and worry about their former image later.