War is never inevitable, despite what the masters of war say. But what is inevitable are the relentless propaganda, censorship and disinformation disseminated by the mainstream media, politicians and pundits in the ongoing coverage of the war in Ukraine. In the last few months, the corporate-owned MSM and social networks have been working overtime to spread Cold War propaganda against Russia, while restoring the US, rising from the ashes of its retreat in Afghanistan, as the re-emergent champion of Good and Democracy against Russian aggression. The demonization of Putin and Russia runs wild in the media, while dissenting voices are condemned or silenced as being "Russian stooges." The genuine and moving stories of Ukrainians clutching their frightened children, fleeing from Russian bombs, are manipulated to fuel public hatred for Putin/Russia and escalate demands for a no-fly zone, more weapons and sanctions to punish Russia. Critical thinking is replaced with What-aboutism, which is used to shut down open debate or crucial questions. Investigation is limited to recycling blather from politicians and ideologues. Who could watch without revulsion the war criminal Condoleeza Rice, proclaiming with a straight face on Fox News that invading a sovereign country amounts to a war crime? Often, the truth is purged when facts challenging the official narratives are white-washed or dismissed. All this contrived mass war hysteria reminds us of Noam Chomsky’s assertion that the mainstream media’s real role is to manufacture consent for the official narratives of the US Empire.
In its coverage of the war in Ukraine, one of the MSM’s most egregious offenses is its silence or downplaying the significance of the neo-Nazis in Ukraine. The MSM has dismissed Putin’s charge about the neo-Nazis threat in Ukraine as "Russian propaganda." While the neo-Nazis cannot be used to justify the Russian war on Ukraine, they are a real threat in Ukraine. Their influence and actions in Ukrainian politics, military and social life are not a secret, as they operate openly in Ukraine. The Western media, including the NY Times, The Guardian, BBC, NBC and Time Magazine are well aware of their actions, which they reported in articles and documentaries in past years. However, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine this year, the MSM has been busy denying or whitewashing the neo-Nazis. When Michael McFaul, former US ambassador to Russia stated that "there are no neo-Nazis in Ukraine," the MSM reported it without question. Malcolm Nance, who worked for US Intelligence for 36 years, and is a frequent commentator on MSNBC, recently stated that the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion were "officially cleansed of Nazis."
The neo-Nazis captured global attention in the 2014 coup in Ukraine, where they played a pivotal role in ousting Viktor Yanukovych, a democratically elected president. What began as a popular resistance against his weak and corrupt government became increasingly violent when the neo-Nazi groups, mainly Azov Battalion, Right Sektor, Svoboda Party and its youth wing, C14, arrived and took control. Roman Koral, a Right Sektor leader, boasted that the coup "would never have happened" without them. Yerhen Karas, a C14 leader, stated that without them, "the whole thing would have turned into a gay parade."
They weren’t kidding. They clashed violently with the police, led marches, smashed through police lines with bulldozers, raided weapons from a police armory, seized govt. buildings, painted Nazi symbols on them, and demanded that Yanukovych be overthrown. Dmytro Yarosh, a leader of Right Sektor, urged the crowds in the Maidan to reject a govt. proposal to hold elections later that year and refused to back down until Yanukovych was removed.
On Feb. 20, 2014, as the violence escalated, 45 protesters and 4 police were killed by unidentified snipers. In a documentary produced by Oliver Stone entitled "Ukraine Under Fire," eyewitnesses claimed that the shots came from buildings seized by the neo-Nazis. To this day, the crimes remain unsolved, and no-one has been held accountable.
Many independent journalists reported that the 2014 coup occurred with US support and complicity. A leaked phone call recorded Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State under Obama, telling US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt that the US was plotting to overthrow Yanukovych and replace him with Arseniy Yatsenyuk, "Yats is the guy." She had also told Ukrainian business leaders that the US had spent $5 billion in promoting "democracy" in Ukraine.
After the coup, the neo-Nazis were awarded for their effectiveness. When "Yats" took power with US support, he appointed neo-Nazis to 4 ministries in his govt. Andriy Parubiy, a founder of Svoboda, and a commandant of the 2014 coup’s "self-defense forces," became the national security chief. Right Sektor and the Azov Battalion were incorporated into the National Guard of the military. Poroshenko, who succeeded Yatsenyuk, praised them as "great warriors" and dispatched them to fight the ethnic Russians and separatists in the Donbas in eastern Ukraine.
The Right Sektor, Svoboda and other far-right nationalist groups hold annual marches in Kyiv to honor their war-hero Stepan Bandera, who was a ultra-nationalist and Nazi collaborator. He fought with the Nazis to kill thousands of Russians, Jews and Poles during WWII. There are many streets named after him in many cities including Kyiv. On May 2, 2014, neo-Nazis, including Right Sektor, stormed peaceful anti-coup protesters in Odessa. When the protesters ran into a trade union building, the neo-Nazis set it on fire. They beat and shot people who tried to flee from the burning building. The rest were burned alive. The neo-Nazis spray-painted swastikas and Nazi symbols on the building. The NY Times managed to report the incident without using the "N" words: "As the building burned, Ukrainian activists sang the …national anthem. Those outside chanted "Burn, Colorado, burn"…witnesses said. Swastika-like symbols were spray painted on the building along with graffiti reading "Galiciam SS" though it was unclear…who had painted it." (Colorado beetles have black and red colors like the pro-Russian ribbons). 42 people were killed. No one has been prosecuted.
Shortly after, Donetsk and Luhansk seceded from Ukraine. The Ukrainian military attacked and bombed the pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk for over 8 years. Once again, the neo-Nazis were sent to the frontlines. The Azov Battalion led attacks on the separatists, and took back the city of Mariupol. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) estimated that since 2014, 14,000 people have been killed, including over 3000 civilians. Over 7000-9000 civilians have been injured, and 1.5 million people displaced. In 2016, the OHCHR accused the Azov Battalion of war crimes including mass looting, unlawful detention and torture.
The Azov Battalion is probably the most infamous and active far-right nationalist militia. They claim they are not neo-Nazis, just nationalists. But their symbols, words and actions contradict their claim. They display the SS Wolfsangel (Wolf’s hook) and other Nazi symbols on their flags and uniforms. According to the Guardian, Andriy Biletsky, Azov’s leader, declared in 2010 that Ukraine’s mission is "to lead white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led untermenschen (subhumans)." The BBC (2018 documentary) was alarmed that the far-right neo-Nazi militias were "on the rise," and that they act freely to intimidate politicians and patrol the streets with police cooperation.
According to Time Magazine correspondent Simon Shuster (Jan. 7, 2021), the Azov Battalion is well-organized, trained and armed. They run training bases, and summer boot camps to teach kids how to fight. They operate an extensive global network online to connect with other extremists worldwide, and to recruit new members from France, Italy, Canada, Sweden and the US. They parade openly in the streets, waving flags with Nazi symbols, chanting "Ukraine above all," and "Kill the Russians." Shuster reported that "more than 17,000 foreign fighters have come to the Ukraine over the past 6 years from 50 countries."
The Guardian reported (March 13, 2018) that the Azov militia stormed a city council meeting in Cherkasy in 2018 and forced city officials to pass a new budget. According to Reuters commentary by Josh Cohen on March 19, 2018, Azov and other far right militias have attacked officials, media, anti-fascist protesters, foreign students, Jews, LGBT and Roma communities. Amnesty International condemned them for attacking International Women’s Day marches in several cities in 2018.
The Daily Beast reported in 2019 that the Azov Battalion had received training from the US military. Sgt. Ivan Kharkiv, an Azov officer, confirmed that US trainers had worked with them. Photos on Azov’s website (deleted) show Azov members shaking hands and receiving training from the US military. However, several US officials have denied providing training to neo-Nazis, though they acknowledge the difficulty in screening out the neo-Nazis from other recruits.
The US Congress was sufficiently alarmed to unanimously pass HR 2685 Dept. of Defense Appropriation Act of 2015 to ban US training of the Azov Battalion.
It is obvious that the Azov militia could not operate freely with impunity without the tacit support of the state, the military and law enforcement agencies. According to the BBC in a 2018 documentary, one of Azov’s powerful benefactors was Interior Minister from 2014-2021, Arsen Avakov. He appointed Vadim Troyan, an Azov commander, to be a deputy and put Azov men on the payroll. Another benefactor is Igor Kolomoisky, the oligarch who also bankrolled Zelensky’s presidential campaign to run for president. Other Azov members who were appointed to state and security positions were Biletsky, who was elected to Parliament in 2014-2019, and Sergei Korotkykh, who served as a high ranking police official.
In a recent confrontation with Zelensky, the Azov Battalion has shown that they are not attack dogs that can be reined in, once they are set loose. Zelensky was elected president because he promised to bring peace to Ukraine. In 2019, he met with the Azov battalion in Zolote to end the fighting which was in violation of the Minsk Agreement. Zelensky implored them to disarm, "I’m the president…I’m not a loser. I told you…remove your weapons." They told him to fuck off. Interestingly, in Dec. 2021, Zelensky awarded the "Hero of Ukraine" citation to Dmytro Kotsynbaylo, a Right Sektor commander.
Since the start of the Russian war on Ukraine early this year, the MSM has remained silent, or minimized the significance of neo-Nazis in Ukraine. They dismiss any reference to them as Russian propaganda. In 2015, the NYT described the Azov Battalion as "openly neo-Nazi." But today, the NYT claims they are "far-right," a much more palatable description. FAIR (1-28-2022) reported that between Dec. 6, 2021 and Jan. 6, 2022, the NYT ran 228 articles on Ukraine without any reference to neo-Nazis. When PBS News Hour recently interviewed Artem Semenikhin, Mayor of Konotop, presenting him as a hero resisting the Russian army, there was a portrait of Stepan Bandera on his wall. PBS resolved its oversight by blurring Bandera’s portrait. These efforts to obscure this inconvenient truth reveal how important it is to maintain the official narrative that the Ukrainians are a homogenous people, bravely resisting the Russians. Supporting neo-Nazis even to fight Russians is just bad PR for the US. The MSM also seems to ignore the deep divisions in Ukraine, where many people in western Ukraine support the neo-Nazis and perceive them as nationalists, while those in eastern Ukraine view them as fascist terrorists.
It is clear that the the US, with the complicity of the MSM, is willing to overlook the neo-Nazi ideology of these far right militias, as long as they can be used to fight a proxy war in Ukraine against Russia. However, Azov Battalion and other right wing groups are not a marginalized faction with little or no impact on Ukrainian society. They have infiltrated the state, military and security of Ukraine. While they have been used to intimidate or attack certain targeted peoples, they have also demonstrated that they are not under the control of their "masters." They answer to their own leaders, and they will not hesitate to use violence to achieve their own goals. They are also trained, organized and well-armed with US cutting edge weapons including anti-tank missiles, drones and machine guns. No one knows how the war will end, but one thing is certain. If the far right, ultra-nationalists and neo-Nazis emerge as empowered war heroes, their ideology of white supremacy, ultra-nationalism, fascism and hate will not bring the peace that the Ukrainian people have sacrificed so much for.
Bette Lee is an Asian-American activist for justice for over 30 years. She is a substitute teacher at an alternative high school for mostly African American and Mexican students in Portland. She can be reached at email@example.com.