Imperialist Press Fawns Over
Ukrainian Ultra-Nationalist Militias
U.S./NATO-Backed Nazi-Fascist Mass Murderers!
The Truth About Ukraine’s
March of the Azov Battalion, Svoboda, Pravy Sektor, National Corps and other fascist groups, 14 October 2017, to mark 75th anniversary of founding of anti-Soviet Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) which was part of German Nazis’ World War II invasion of the Soviet Union.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24 was announced by Russian president Vladimir Putin in a speech declaring a “special military operation” to “de-nazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine. The bourgeois press in the United States and in the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) imperialist countries immediately mocked the notion. As the Russia-Ukraine war has ground on, the imperialist “opinion makers” have insistently ridiculed the idea that the Ukrainian government is riddled with fascists and Nazis. Thus in one week, the house organ of U.S. imperialism wrote:
–that Putin has referred to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, “who’s actually Jewish,” and “the people around him as, quote, ‘drug-addled Nazis,’ on Russian TV, even though this is just a completely outlandish, intentional distortion of the truth” (“The Daily,” New York Times, 14 March);
–that in a televised videoconference with top officials, “he once again falsely described the government in Kyiv, led by a Jewish president and prime minister, as being ‘pro-Nazi’ and on its way to acquiring nuclear weapons.” And then “he went deeper into unreality,” saying that “that there is a real humanitarian catastrophe in cities held by neo-Nazis and armed criminals” (New York Times, 17 March); and
–that the “language of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been dominated by the word ‘Nazi’ – a puzzling assertion about a country whose president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish,” while having “long referred to Ukraine’s pro-Western revolution of 2014 as a fascist coup…. The ‘Nazi’ slur’s sudden emergence shows how Mr. Putin is trying to use stereotypes, distorted reality and his country’s lingering World War II trauma to justify his invasion of Ukraine” (“In Conjuring ‘Nazis’ in Ukraine, Putin Stokes Russian Memories,” New York Times, 18 March)
And in his March 26 tirade in Warsaw demanding Putin’s ouster, U.S. president Joe Biden declared that the Russian leader’s war aim of de-nazifying Ukraine was “cynical” and “a lie” because the Ukrainian president is of Jewish origin.
The reference to “drug-addled” is a bit off, but the Ukrainian state apparatus, particularly its repressive forces, is in fact riddled with fascistic nationalists, outright fascists and Nazis, would-be ethnic cleansers, some of whom are openly anti-Semitic and admirers of Hitler. Fascist militias are a large component of the military forces that have relentlessly besieged the Russian-speaking population of the Donetsk and Lugansk self-proclaimed “people’s republics” that broke away from Ukraine eight years ago. Moreover, many of these fascist and pro-Nazi squads have been financed, armed and trained by the U.S. and NATO, even over objections from the U.S. House of Representatives (in a unanimous 2015 joint resolution authored by liberal Democrats and right-wing Republicans) and from the Pentagon itself. The U.S.’ willful “blindness” to Ukrainian fascism is in part a cover-up for its own role in creating this monster.
At March 5 “No War with Russia” demo in New York City's Times Square, Internationalist Group calls to defend Russian-speaking Donbass against murderous siege by fascists and Ukrainian nationalists. Instead of a nationalist Russia-Ukraine war, for internationalist class war against U.S./NATO imperialism.
Having called for years – and continuing to call – to “defend self-rule in the breakaway regions of southern and eastern Ukraine,” upon the outbreak of war we wrote:
“This is now a war between the Russian capitalist state, with its nationalist ruler in Moscow, and that of Ukraine, whose nationalist regime in Kiev has acted as a cat’s paw of Western imperialists and uses fascist forces to besiege the Russian-speaking population of southeastern Ukraine. We Trotskyists call for revolutionary defeatism on both sides in this reactionary nationalist war, for internationalist proletarian struggle against both capitalist regimes and, above all, against the U.S. and European rulers who set off this conflagration.”
–“Behind the War: U.S./NATO War Drive Against Russia, China,” The Internationalist, 28 February
We added that “even if the fascist and ultra-nationalist Ukrainian militias besieging the embattled Donbass regional republics can be militarily neutralized, the war will increase the weight of fascistic forces within the Ukrainian state.”
Nazi-Fascist Shock Troops for Nationalist War
The imperialists’ bald-faced attempt to deny the reality of fascists' and even outright Nazis’ role in Ukraine today is deeply cynical. The fact that Ukrainian president Zelensky is fronting for these ultra-nationalists is not negated by his Jewish origin. The media equate fascism exclusively with Hitler’s genocide against the Jewish people. Yet Mussolini’s fascist movement, which originated the term, was not initially particularly anti-Semitic, and the first ones to be thrown into Nazi concentration camps in Germany were not the Jews but the Communists. Moreover, Zelensky is far from the first nationalist of Jewish origin to work with outright fascists. As we have pointed out, “Zionists going back to Ze’ev Jabotinsky (and David Ben Gurion) have a history of collaboration with Nazis and other anti-Semites to promote Jewish immigration to Palestine.”1 Rather, the fascists are shock troops of nationalist capitalist reaction, to be unleashed when “the ‘normal’ police and military resources of the bourgeois dictatorship … no longer suffice” to keep the lid on. As Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky analyzed the beast:
“Through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralized lumpenproletariat – all the countless human beings whom finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.”
–What Next? Vital Questions for the German Proletariat 
Azov Regiment of Ukraine’s National Guard marches, 20 May 2016, to denounce elections in the breakaway region of Donbass. Fascist stormtroopers have spearheaded the Ukrainian government siege that has killed 14,000.
In addition to being the advance guard of anti-communism and serving as goon squads for the bosses, fascists are ultra-nationalists, spearheading revanchism and irredentism (to recover “lost territories,” as in Italy), expansionism (the Nazi drive for Lebensraum, or vital space for national greatness), or attacking sections of the population considered “foreign” bodies, that “pollute” national purity. The Ukrainian fascists are definitely of the latter ilk. Fascism is a movement to mobilize masses for violent suppression of the exploited and oppressed in support of the capitalist state. The danger of fascist squads today resides above all in their ties with the official repressive forces, and in Ukraine, the fascists have been directly integrated into and lead key military and police forces.
More sophisticated deniers of Ukrainian fascism argue that the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine’s parliament) has hardly any far-right or fascist members these days, being comprised mostly of Zelensky’s populist “Servant of the People” party, which was voted into office in 2019 on the hopes of a peace settlement with the Donetsk and Lugansk separatists. True, on both counts. Yet as we have noted, almost immediately after Democrat Joe Biden took office as U.S. president early in 2021, Zelensky switched gears and began staging one anti-Russian provocation after another. The Democrats blamed Moscow for Hillary Clinton’s loss of the 2016 presidential election to Russia-friendly Republican Donald Trump, and are deeply involved with Ukrainian nationalism, having orchestrated anti-Russian coups d’état in Kiev in 2004 and 2014. Ukraine’s rulers figured Biden’s victory was a green light to escalate their nationalist war plans.
While the fascists have little parliamentary strength, they have a hammerlock on Ukraine’s policy towards Russia and Russians. Fascists are not anti-parliamentary per se, contrary to the illusions of various reformist leftists who want to deny the existence of mass fascist parties today, such as the French National Front (now rebranded as National Rally) and the Freedom Party of Austria, dismissing them as mere right-wing populists. In Italy in the 1920s and Germany in the 1930s, the fascists actually came to power by parliamentary means. But their strength depended on the power of fascist squads like Mussolini’s Black Shirts and Hitler’s Brown Shirts to intimidate and terrorize through extra-parliamentary violence, aided by the state. Ukraine today is crawling with paramilitary fascist militias, which have political veto power far exceeding the number of votes their parliamentary fronts may win. Their program: to “cleanse” Ukrainian lands of Russians.
One need only ask, what would happen if Ukrainian president Zelensky agreed to Ukrainian neutrality, independence for Donetsk and Lugansk and the unification of Crimea with Russia? Speaking to the New York Times (10 February), a far-right “activist and militia member” of the “Democratic Ax” party vowed that “if anybody from the Ukrainian government tries to sign such a document,” there would be blowback in the streets “and that government will cease being the government.” This is no idle threat. In 2015, after the signing of the Minsk accords for a ceasefire and constitutional reforms for autonomy in Donetsk/Lugansk, Dmytro Yarosh, head of the fascist Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), refused to implement them, declaring that his Ukrainian Volunteer Corps would fight “until complete liberation of Ukrainian lands from Russian occupants” who live there (Euromaidan Press, 14 February 2015). The blocking of those accords was key to Putin’s February 22 recognition of the independence of the two breakaway republics, as he concluded that the Minsk accords were a dead letter.
The fascists and Nazis who hold this veto power are literal mass murderers. In 2014, after anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalists seized power in the “Euromaidan” coup,2 the multi-ethnic, Russian-speaking population of the coalmining Donbass region in eastern Ukraine rose up in arms in April, forming the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk people’s republics. A May referendum was announced to vote on self-rule and seceding from Ukraine. But on 2 May 2014, over 1,000 fascists, led by Pravy Sektor, stormed through the streets of the Russian-speaking city of Odessa, burning down the House of Trade Unions and incinerating some 50 anti-Maidan activists trapped inside as police stood by.3 On May 9, the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion attacked the Russian-speaking city of Mariupol, where previously thousands had marched in anti-Maidan rallies called by the Communist Party. The Nazis trapped 30 supporters of the Donetsk people’s republic in the police headquarters, 20 of whom were killed as it was burned to the ground.
Subsequently, more than two dozen ultra-nationalist and Nazi-fascist paramilitary groups were integrated into the Ukrainian military, with the Azov Battalion concentrated in the National Guard while the Pravy Sektor controlling much of the Territorial Defense Force. In the following eight years of siege of the breakaway Russian-speaking republics, some 14,000 people have been killed, over 80% of them by Ukrainian government and nationalist forces. Today, the bourgeois press is filled with stories of average Ukrainians – dog walkers, hair stylists, doctors, etc. – signing up to join Ukraine’s Territorial Defense Force to fight the invading Russian military. Video of a 79-year-old woman being trained to shoot a Kalashnikov rifle went viral. Yet the “Azov granny” was being trained by fascist/Nazi paramilitaries, as even the U.S.’ Radio Free Europe admitted:
“The training was run by a Ukrainian National Guard unit connected to the far-right Azov Battalion, which the FBI linked in 2018 with neo-Nazi ideology and white supremacist organizations.”
–“Ukrainian Children and Pensioners Get Training on Weapons of War from a Far-Right Military Unit,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 31 January
Now, at the invitation of Ukrainian president Zelensky, an International Legion for the Territorial Defense of Ukraine has been formed to bring adventurers, soldiers of fortune and ultra-rightists from all over the world, under the control of the same fascist ethnic-cleansers, who have now been transmogrified in the Western press into heroic freedom fighters.
The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International have emphasized that the threat of fascist movements today lies particularly in their role as an auxiliary of state repressive forces. In the U.S., fascist and fascistic groups often provide support to and work closely with the police in menacing anti-racist protesters. But in Ukraine, the fascists are not mere auxiliaries – they are a power unto themselves and can very easily counter any decisions made by the Ukrainian government that is deemed to be conciliatory to Russia. All the reference to Zelensky being Jewish as proof against Ukraine being infested by fascists is a smokescreen – he continues to rule because he has been carrying out the program of anti-Russian Ukrainian nationalism, and he has used the U.S./NATO imperialist war drive to bolster the fascists’ ranks.
Genealogy of Ukrainian Fascist Nationalist Militias
Thousands march in Kiev on 1 January 2015 in annual march to honor WWII Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, carrying the red-and-black banner of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists with portrait of Bandera.
The various Ukrainian fascistic ultra-nationalist parties and Nazi/fascist militias date from the explosion of anti-communist nationalism in the counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union in 1991-92. Politically, they “promote Ukrainian ethnic nationalism, social conservatism, anti-communist and anti-immigrant sentiments.”4 They are virulently anti-Russian and many are explicitly anti-Semitic, tracing their lineage back to the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA) led by Stepan Bandera, who collaborated with the Nazi occupiers of Ukraine in World War II. Bandera was a murderous anti-Semite, calling Jews the prime supporters of Bolshevism. His OUN-B5 carried out mass executions of as many as 100,000 Poles. It also led pogroms in which thousands of Jews were killed by Ukrainians in Lviv in July 1941, starting the day the OUN-B proclaimed Ukrainian independence6 as German troops moved into the city. And it rounded up Jews for the Nazis’ mass executions.
In 1990, the Ukrainian National Assembly (UNA) was formed in Lviv, the epicenter of Ukrainian nationalism. Its first leader was the son of Roman Shukhevych, a commander of a Nazi auxiliary police battalion in the World War II German occupation of Ukraine and a leader of Bandera’s UPA. In 1991, the Social-National Party (SNPU) was founded in Lviv. Its name was a direct reference to Hitler’s National Socialist Party (Nazis), and the SNPU adopted as its symbol the Wolfsangel, the swastika-like “wolf hook” that was used by the SS Division Das Reich in World War II, which fought in eastern Ukraine. In 1992 the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) was founded by émigré veterans of the OUN-B. (After World War II, the CIA covertly supported remnants of Bandera’s outfit.) So when Canada’s deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland joined a pro-Ukraine rally holding a red-and-black banner (Bandera’s flag) with the slogan “Glory to Ukraine” (Bandera’s slogan), it is this Nazi heritage she is embracing.
The later-day banderovtsy (Banderaite) Ukrainian
ultra-nationalists all formed Nazi-fascist action squads.
Early on, the UNA spawned the Ukrainian People’s
Self-Defense (UNSO), while the KUN formed Tryzub
(Trident), led after 2005 by Dmytro Yarosh. In 2004, the
SNPU rebranded itself Svoboda (Freedom), seeking a
more populist posture, but kept the Nazi Wolfsangel
symbol. In 2005, Andriy Biletsky, one of the two founders of
the SNPU, along with Andriy Parubiy founded Patriot of
Ukraine as the paramilitary youth group of Svoboda,
as anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim neo-Nazis who specialized in
beating up Communists. Later, Svoboda separated from Patriot
and founded a new youth group in 2010, S14 or Sich,
also pro-Nazi but more generally white racist.7
In the 2013-14 “Euromaidan” protests, Patriot of Ukraine,
S14, the UNA-UNSO, White Hammer and Tzyub joined to form
Pravy Sektor (Right Sector), which acted as “security” goons
while the other founder of the fascist SNPU-Svoboda, Oleh
Tyahnibok, was Maidan’s leading spokesman.8
Dmytro Yarosh, leader of the neo-Nazi Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) storm troops, speaking at the Maidan, 21 February 2014. This fascist coup leader was made deputy defense minister of Ukraine, formed the Ukrainian Volunteer Corps and later Ukrainian Volunteer Army, and is now an advisor to the commander of Ukraine’s military.
The turning point in the Maidan events was a 20 February 2014 massacre in which 48 protesters were murdered, along with three police. The uproar that this caused led to the seizure of power in a coup d’état by rightist Ukrainian nationalists and the flight of Ukraine president Viktor Yanukovych a day later. The post-coup regime, the U.S. government (which shelled out $5 million to support the Maidan protests) and the imperialist media in lockstep all blamed the Yanukovych government and its Berkut riot police for the massacre. This is a flat-out lie. Detailed investigation over several years by a Canadian academic of Ukrainian origin who was present in Kiev at the time, along with evidence from numerous TV reports and video footage as well as testimony from surviving victims, conclusively shows that most of the deadly fire came from buildings controlled by Maidan protesters.9 The head of the Maidan sotnia (hundreds) goon squads was Andriy Parubiy, founder of the pro-Nazi SNUP, Patriot of Ukraine and Pravy Sektor.
Ukraine’s Fascist-Infested Military/Repressive Apparatus
The same fascist Parubiy was then named secretary (head) of the post-coup National Security and Defense Council, which included the “power ministries” and commanders of all of Ukraine’s military and police forces. In that guise he oversaw the dispatching of the ultra-nationalist paramilitaries from Maidan in a so-called “Anti-Terrorist Operation” (ATO) to fight the uprising of the Russian-speaking oblasts (districts) in eastern Ukraine in April-June 2014. This was done explicitly because the army was considered unreliable in suppressing the population. From the outset, these storm troopers sought to terrorize leftists and Russian-speakers generally in the areas they occupied. The various militias included the Donbas Battalion, the Dnipro Regiment, the Azov Battalion, Aidar and Sich Battalions and two dozen smaller outfits. These “volunteer forces” were soon given heavy weaponry and paid salaries triple those of regular (contract) soldiers. These Nazi-fascist mercenary forces initially numbered around 7,000.
Soon they were integrated into Ukraine’s repressive apparatus. The largest paramilitary squad was the Azov Battalion. Its first commander was Andriy Parubiy’s confederate from the SNUP, Patriot of Ukraine and Pravy Sektor, Andriy Biletsky. By September 2014, the battalion had been expanded into a regiment and made part of the National Guard, as was the Donbass Battalion. The Dnipro, Sich and other smaller squads became special police tactical units. Also, the head of Ukraine’s presidential administration in the post-coup regime was one Serhiy Pashynskyi, who in February 2014 together with Volodymyr Parasyuk, one of the Maidan paramilitary commanders, reportedly brought bags of sniper weapons from the square to the Hotel Ukraine where he instructed former Georgian army officers to shoot at protesters and police alike (and took part in the shooting himself).10 Parasyuk, who began as a member of the KUN, went on to become part of the Dnipro Battalion commanded by Yuri Bereza, also of the KUN, while Pashynskyi became head of the presidential office of the post-coup regime.
Although it is hushed up – and outright denied – the fascist infestation of the Ukraine state apparatus is a fact … and has been widely reported on for years. A detailed and well-sourced guide is to be found in the article by Lev Golinkin, “Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Are on the March in Ukraine,” in The Nation (22 February 2019). Golinkin notes:
“What Ukraine’s far right lacks in polls numbers, it makes up for with things Marine Le Pen [leader of the fascist National Rally in France] could only dream of – paramilitary units and free rein on the streets.
“Post-Maidan Ukraine is the world’s only nation to have a neo-Nazi formation in its armed forces.”
Golinkin quotes Azov founder (and future member of Ukraine’s parliament) Andriy Biletsky writing that Ukraine’s mission is to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhuman in German].” The full quote, from the program he wrote for Patriots of Ukraine, is even more damning:
“Healing our national body should begin with the Racial cleansing of the nation…. And then a Racially healthy body can translate into a healthy National Spirit, as well as the culture, language and everything else that comes with it. Apart from the question of purity, we must also pay attention to the full value of a Race. Ukrainians are a part (and, at that, one of the largest and most qualitative) of the European White Race. [Of] the Race-Creator of a great civilization [with] the highest human achievements. The historic mission of our Nation in this crucial century is to lead the White Peoples of the world in the last crusade for their existence. A crusade against the sub-humanity led by the Semites.”
–cited in Andreas Umland, “Irregular Militias and Radical Nationalism in Post-Euromaydan Ukraine: The Prehistory and Emergence of the ‘Azov’ Battalion in 2014,” in Terrorism and Political Violence, Vol. 31:1 (2019)
Andriy Biletsky (center), founder of Azov Battalion, with Wolfsangel Nazi symbol behind him giving fascist salute. Biletsky wrote that the mission of the Ukrainian nation was to lead the white peoples of the word in a last crusade.
Biletsky relates this racist program directly to Russian-speakers in eastern Ukraine. In an article titled “Language and Race: the Prime Question,” the future Azov Brigade leader wrote that “Ukrainian social-nationalism considers the Ukrainian Nation a blood-racial community”:
“If we talk about the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine … we must first of all awaken their racial consciousness, after which they will automatically become linguistic nationalists. The issue of total Ukrainization in the future social-nationalist state will be resolved within 3-6 months with the help of a tough and balanced state policy.”
–quoted by Vyacheslav Likhachev, head of Ukraine’s National Minority Rights Monitoring Group, in “What WE don't like about THEM-I: Andrey Biletsky” (in Russian), Этнографическое Oборзение (Ethnographic Review), 5 November 2014
Shortly before Biletsky’s election to Ukraine’s parliament he was asked whether his views had changed. He replied: “Everything that Azov has in its soul comes from its right-wing ideology, from the heritage of the Patriot of Ukraine.”
This is the racist filth spewed by the fascists that under the symbol of the Nazi “wolf hook” have for the last eight years fought against the Russian-speaking people of Donbass and have held the city of Mariupol hostage. Azov may be the most ideological of the ultra-nationalist militias, but they are all criminal enterprises. A 2014 Amnesty International Briefing reports: “Members of the Aidar territorial defence battalion, operating in the north Luhansk region, have been involved in widespread abuses, including abductions, unlawful detention, ill-treatment, theft, extortion, and possible executions.” That same year, Amnesty International reported that Aidar and the Dnipro-1 battalion were blocking food aid to the civilian populations of Donetsk and Lugansk. A 2016 Human Rights Watch report details how Azov and other paramilitaries detained and tortured civilians in the Donbass and together with the Ukrainian SBU (secret police) held them incommunicado to be used for prisoner exchanges.
Ukraine Bourgeoisie Sponsors the Fascists
Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) neo-Nazis march in Kiev on “Ukraine Defender Day,” 15 October 2015, with the red-and-black flag of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera’s World War II Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
While the Azov Regiment chose to integrate itself into the structure of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (AFU), in exchange for a certain autonomy in command, some smaller militias ran afoul of the defense and interior ministries. In early 2015, an “OUN” brigade in Lugansk oblast was disarmed by the AFU, while in 2016 the Donbas Battalion (which had joined in blocking food shipments to Donetsk) was demobilized. Also in 2015, Pravy Sektor’s Ukrainian Volunteer Corps (DUK) led by Dmitro Yarosh was ordered to submit to the military chain of command or leave the Mariupol area, which it refused; later in the year, the DUK was involved in a shootout with local police in western Ukraine. Following these clashes, Yarosh split from Pravy Sektor and formed a Ukrainian Volunteer Army (UDA) and his own personal political party. Late last year, Yarosh announced that he had been made an advisor to the commander in chief of the AFU, to ready the UDA for war with Russia. But Pravy Sektor is still active in Mariupol, where last month both it and Azov forces fired on residents seeking to evacuate from the besieged city.
The “Azov movement,” meanwhile, has expanded to be much broader than the Regiment, its military arm. It has a political wing in the National Corps Party, a paramilitary street patrol, the National Militia, and it leads a veterans association. Altogether, Azov supporters are estimated at around 20,000, and they are actively spreading fascist terror. In 2018, National Militia members in balaclavas stormed city hall budget meeting in Cherkasy, holding it hostage until the budget was approved. Four months later, Azov’s National Militia burned down a Romani11 camp in Kiev, with the tacit endorsement of the police. That same year another fascist group, Svoboda’s youth group S14, also attacked a Romani camp in Kiev and a demonstration commemorating the murder of an anti-fascist activist and a human rights lawyer. The upshot? S14 was awarded funding by the Ministry of Youth and Sports to organize “national patriotic education” (NPE) projects at a children’s camp, and was allowed to form a municipal guard to patrol Kiev’s streets.
Azov Regiment receives government contracts for camps to indoctrinate Ukrainian youth with anti-Russian, white supremacist fascist politics along with military training.
Azov also runs government-funded NPE programs at paramilitary youth camps where they wear t-shirts with the Nazi Wolfsangel symbol, practice fascist salutes and receive weapons training to prepare to fight Russians. Azov has from the outset worked closely with the capitalist state and bourgeois patrons. In particular, Azov leader Biletsky has been promoted by Arsen Avakov, dating back to pre-Maidan days when the latter was mayor of Kharkov and Patriot of Ukraine squads acted as mafia-like enforcers for local businesses; and then when Avakov was Ukraine’s interior minister from 2014 to 2021. Michael Colborne in his book, From the Fires of War: Ukraine’s Azov Movement and the Global Far Right (ibidem, 2022), details “allegations of shady and outright criminal behaviour – including alleged murders – that have, like a thick cloud of smoke, enveloped Azov from its very beginnings.”12 Biletsky and future Azov Regiment commander Ihor Mykhailenko were arrested in 2011 on charges of attempted murder, and senior Azov figures have been linked to a number of murders, including of former confederates.
Colborne notes that Azov spokesmen have posted Instagram photos of themselves throwing Hitler salutes at a neo-Nazi concert, declaring that having “Jews involved within our nationalist political sphere has damaged our reputation,” and similar anti-Semitic utterances. In addition to using the Wolfsangel, he points out that Azov also uses the “black sun,” a symbol specially designed for Nazi SS leader Heinrich Himmler. Azov also serves as an umbrella group offering a home to openly Nazi-fascist outfits such as the Wotan-Jugend and Nordstrom, whose members are active in the National Corps and Centuria, as the rebranded National Militia is now calling itself. Azov and Centuria have also been active in the international fascist scene, working closely with the III. Weg (Third Way) Nazis in Germany, while members of the Atomwaffen Division neo-Nazi terror group have trained with Azov in Ukraine. A semi-clandestine Nazi “Misanthropic Division” also operates under the Azov umbrella.
While Colborne confirms with extensive detail that Azov is indeed fascist, terrorist and criminal, debunking those who would make it seem harmless, his most notable point is how it has been sponsored from the outset by powerful bourgeois forces. This is true of all the ultra-nationalist militias. The Azov, Dnipro and Donbas battalions were initially bankrolled by the Israeli-Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi (founder of the Privat banking group), who in 2014-15 was governor of the Dnipropetrovsk oblast and reputedly spent some $10 million in financing the fascist squads. And while the Ukrainian ultra-nationalists began as small sects, their expansion was due to the embrace of the legacy of Nazi collaborator Bandera by the pro-Europe Ukrainian governments of Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko following the so-called “Orange Revolution” of 2004. (In 2010, Yushchenko officially proclaimed Bandera “Hero of Ukraine.”) As for the 2014 “Euromaidan” protests, Colborne noted in a recent interview: “The sad reality is that mainstream society and the far right needed each other on Maidan.”13
U.S./NATO Imperialists Sponsor Ukraine Fascists
Republican senator John McCain (center) and Democratic senator Chris Murphy on stage at Kiev's Maidan together with Oleh Tyahnibok, leader of the fascist Svoboda party, 15 December 2013. Anti-Semitic anti-communist Tyahnibok railed against “Muscovite-Jewish mafia,” and then was embraced by U.S. imperialism.
It is not only the Ukrainian bourgeoisie that needs and finances the Azov movement and the rest of the ultra-nationalist Nazi squads and militias, the U.S. and NATO imperialists are deeply tied to these fascist killers, as part of a relentless drive toward war with Russia and China. It was the United States (under Republican George Bush II) that pushed to oust the pro-Russian premier Yanukovich in 2004, and the U.S. (under Democrat Barack Obama) that a decade later pushed to oust Yanukovich again, in both cases using the services of the banderovtsy fascist nationalists to whip up anti-Russian fervor. In 2014, top State Department official Victoria Nuland handed out cakes and met with the Pravy Sektor Nazis in the Maidan, while Republican senator John McCain and Democratic Senator Chris Murphy spoke from the platform together with anti-Semite Oleh Tyahnibok, head of the fascist Svoboda party.
The U.S. and NATO imperialists have been neck-deep in funding and training Ukraine’s fascist cadre for years. The National Military Academy (NAA) in Lviv, which trains the AFU officer corps, has since 2018 been the headquarters of a not-so-secret society of officers called Centuria. According to a report by the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University, Centuria describes itself as being at the forefront of “reshaping the country’s military along right-wing ideological lines and defending the ‘cultural and ethnic identity’ of European peoples against ‘Brussels’ politicos and bureaucrats’.” More than just far-right Western chauvinists, Centuria is fervently racist and fascist, choosing for its banner the “Sun Wheel,” which the Nazis considered a Nordic symbol of the sun. It is the emblem of Norwegian and Danish Nazis, as well as of Azov’s renamed National Militia, now also called Centuria. The report noted:
“The group, led by individuals with ties to Ukraine’s internationally active far-right Azov movement, has attracted multiple members, including current and former officer cadets of the NAA now serving in the Armed Forces of Ukraine. Apparent members have appeared in photos giving Nazi salutes and made seemingly extremist statements online.”14
Cadet supporters of Centuria at Ukraine’s National Army Academy pose on the fifth anniversary of the Azov Battalion with their banner featuring the Nazi Wolfsangel and the Sonnenkreuz (sun wheel) symbol used by Nordic fascists.
The report documents Centuria’s deep ties to the Azov movement: giving lectures to Azov soldiers in the National Guard, promoting Azov events and counting Azov members within its leading ranks. Many Centuria members have gone on to lead AFU units after graduating from the NAA. Moreover, as of 2021, the NAA hosted “permanent advisors from Germany, Canada, and Denmark, as well as experts of NATO’s Defense Education Enhancement Program.” The IERES report says that Centuria brags that “members have participated in joint military exercises with France, the UK, Canada, the US, Germany and Poland.” And it notes that a lieutenant-colonel of the German Bundeswehr “currently works as Military Advisor to the NAA.” So as Wehrmacht and SS officers trained OUN collaborators to fight against the Soviet Union during the Nazi occupation of Ukraine, today the “democratic” German imperialists train fascist Azov officers for war against Russia.
The academy is linked to the International Peacekeeping and Security Centre, located near Lviv, where NATO officers have trained Ukrainian forces in recent years, and where in the last several months Ukrainian officers have trained international volunteers flocking to Ukraine. This is the military base that was struck by Russian missiles on March 13, successfully taking out close to 200 of these recruits who would have gone on to join the “Odin Unit” of the fascist-led Territorial Defense Force. (The Nordic god Odin is a favorite symbolic reference of Nordic fascists, including for example the “Soldiers of Odin,” an anti-immigrant neo-Nazi group founded in Finland during the 2015-16 wave of immigration from the Middle East. It is linked to the Nordic Resistance Movement, with which Azov has had relations.)
NATO arms and trains Ukrainian fascists. Here Azov Regiment receives British NLAW anti-tank weapons and training. In the past, the U.S. Congress banned weapons deliveries to Azov, but in Biden's 2022 request for $500 million in weapons delivery to Kiev, that provision was dropped.
Today, mainstream news media report favorably on the likes of the Azov Regiment and the Odin Unit without any reference to their fascist nature and connections, portraying them as courageous Ukrainian patriots. The New York Times has been doing this for years to such an extent that it has to be a conscious cover-up, qualifying the paper as an actual fascist apologist. Yet while in 2018 liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress, worried about the optics of providing weapons to an openly fascist organization, formally banned the use of U.S. budget funds “to provide arms, training, or other assistance to the Azov Battalion,” this was hardly enforced. Now in 2022 the legislation introduced to send $500 million for arms purchases to Ukraine contains no such prohibition. Just as the CIA enlisted the OUN during the anti-Soviet Cold War, to promote war with Russia, the rehabilitation of Nazism is underway.
“Ukrainization” at Gunpoint
Many analysts have written that there are fascist groups similar to the Azov movement and Pravy Sektor elsewhere in East Europe. The counterrevolutionary destruction of the USSR and the former Soviet bloc workers states was accompanied by the rise of fascist groups everywhere. But there is a difference, as in Ukraine these Nazi forces are directly integrated into the state apparatus, with support at the highest levels. A main reason for this difference is that elsewhere the nations are largely consolidated. Conflicts have been particularly bloody, and the growth of fascist paramilitary groups most pronounced, in multinational countries being torn apart to restore capitalism along national lines, such as the former Yugoslavia. But Ukraine is far from consolidated as a nation, including large areas in the East and South that are ethnically and linguistically distinct, along with Crimea, which was historically part of Russia. Thus the unique role of the fascist ultra-nationalists in Ukraine is as shock troops to enforce Ukrainization at gunpoint in regions where much of the population does not consider itself Ukrainian.
What this ultimately points to is genocide of the Russian population in the Donbass. This was openly advocated when the uprising broke out in the east in March 2014. A journalist from Ukrainskyi Tyzhden (Ukrainian Week), Bogdan Boutkevitch, declared in an internet TV interview (29 April 2014):
“Donbass, in general, is not simply a region in a very depressed condition. It has a whole bunch of problems, the biggest of which is it is severely overpopulated with people nobody has any use for…. If we take, for example, just Donetsk oblast, there are approximately 4 million inhabitants, at least 1.5 million of them are superfluous. We don’t need to ‘understand’ Donbass, we need to understand Ukrainian national interests. Donbass must be exploited as a resource, which it is…. The most important thing that must be done, no matter how cruel it may sound, there is a certain category of people that must be exterminated.”
The digital media outlet that aired this vile call for mass murder, Hromadske.tv, is an NGO (non-governmental organization) that started up in 2013 with funding by the Netherlands embassy, the U.S. embassy, George Soros’ International Renaissance Foundation and later (2014) from the Canadian government. Historian Alexander Dyukov, who is coordinator of the Information Group on Crimes Against the Person, denounced this abomination, but said that such views were widely accepted, noting:
“I remember how during the Maidan, representatives of the Ukrainian intelligentsia distributed a letter stating that the inhabitants of southeastern Ukraine are an undeveloped, lower sort of people and a kind of ghetto must be built for them, where they will live in accordance with their ways.”
–“There Is No Intolerance for Nazism in Ukraine,” IGCP Ukraine, 4 August 2014
The issue of the Russian-speaking population came to a head over language policy, as the ultra-nationalists have insisted on imposing the use of Ukrainian, even though Russian was the language of the education, commerce and just about every other sphere of public life. In the Soviet Union, following the national policy of the Bolsheviks under Lenin, there was no official language, although given the weight of the Russian-speaking population, Russian was inevitably the lingua franca of the multinational USSR. In the early years of Soviet rule, there was a conscious effort to promote the use of Ukrainian as part of the policy of korenizatsiya, or “putting down roots,” to facilitate the integration of non-Russian nationalities. This policy was later reversed by Stalin as a Great Russian nationalist bureaucracy overthrew the internationalist policies of Lenin and Trotsky. But under capitalism, organized around the nation-state, enforcement of a single language is often key to development of nations. In France, the Revolution enthroned the French language that was only spoken by a minority in 1789, while the suppression of Occitan (langue d’oc), Breton, Basque and other languages predominant in different regions took place over time.
In seeking to consolidate a nation at a forced-march pace in a deeply ethnically and linguistically divided state with a powerful neighbor, imposing the “national” language can be a bloody affair. According to the aphorism, a language is a dialect with an army and navy. A section of Ukraine’s capitalist rulers figured that since independence in 1991 they have the army and navy. But in seeking to impose Ukrainian, which until the 1990s was only predominant in peasant areas and the western half of the country, they required the aid of forces unrestrained by democratic considerations. Hence the role of the Azov movement, Pravy Sektor and the other Nazi-fascist Ukrainian ultra-nationalists in waging the eight-year war against the breakaway regions of the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country. The counterpart is that the alternative to brutal fascist suppression of the population points to the separation of the predominantly non-Ukrainian areas, with the delineation decided on the field of battle.
As proletarian internationalists, our goal is not to build the Ukrainian (or Russian) nation, but to further the unity and revolutionary struggle of the workers of all countries against their capitalist rulers. As we wrote at the outset of the present reactionary nationalist Russia-Ukraine war:
“A Soviet Ukraine in a multinational USSR could have overcome regional and ethnic tensions, although Stalin’s brutal centralization negated that. But ever since Ukraine’s 1991 independence as a bourgeois state, it has been a deeply divided country, ruled by an inveterately corrupt, self-dealing oligarchy using ultra-nationalist and fascist shock troops as a battering ram to enforce ‘Ukrainization’ on the Russian-speaking east and south.”
–League for the Fourth International, “Defeat U.S./NATO War Drive and Sanctions Against Russia!” The Internationalist, 23 February 2022.
Killer elite: Azov Regiment of Ukraine's National Guard in Mariupol, June 2017. These storm troopers conquered the Russian-speaking city in June 2014, carrying out a massacre of the day before the population voted overwhelmingly for self-rule and separation from Ukraine. The fascist forces that have besieged the Donbass republics for eight years, killing over 10,000 people must be rooted out and permenently stopped, their program of nationalist ethnic cleansing smashed by internationalist workers action.
The ultra-nationalist fascists and Nazis embedded in the Ukrainian state and its repressive organs – who played the central role in the killing of over 10,000 people in the Donbass region – must be rooted out, and as we have written, “permanently stopped and brought to justice, and their program of ‘ethnic cleansing’ smashed.”15 While Putin proclaimed his war aim to be “demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine,” to have a lasting effect this must be accomplished by the working people themselves, on an internationalist basis. By waging a nationalist war on Ukraine as a whole, and not just against the fascist/nationalist forces threatening the embattled eastern republics, Russian forces may eliminate some hundreds or a few thousand fascist Azov fighters, many of whom are actual war criminals, but thousands more Nazis and other ultra-nationalists will be created and portrayed as heroes of national resistance. And now that foreign fighters are flocking to Ukraine, it is all but guaranteed that those who return to their countries will pass on their knowledge and training to be used against leftists, minorities and all the oppressed “at home.” Their glorification by the makers of “public opinion” has already begun.
Once again, U.S. imperialism and its NATO allies are promoting and financing an insurgency that will come back to haunt them, as the arch reactionary mujahideen used to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan eventually did. As we wrote in the declaration of the League for the Fourth International on the eve of the war, “As the imperialists continue to whip up war fever and impose escalating sanctions that ultimately point to world war, those who follow the internationalist program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks fight for world socialist revolution against all the bourgeois ruling classes.” ■
- 1. See “Down with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in Ukraine!” The Internationalist No. 37, May-June 2014.
- 2. The pro-Europe, anti-Russia mobilization in Kiev’s Independence Square (Maidan Nezalezhnosti) in 2013-14, is often referred to as Maidan (square) in short.
- 3. See “Down with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in Ukraine!” The Internationalist No. 37.
- 4. Anton Shekhovtsov, “From Para-Militarism to Radical Right-Wing Populism: The Rise of the Ukrainian Far-Right Party Svoboda” in Right-Wing Populism in Europe: Politics and Discourse (2013).
- 5. In 1940, the OUN split in two, the OUN-B following Bandera and the OUN-M following Atanasovych Melnyk. The latter looked to Mussolini’s fascists (Melnyk was living in Italy at the time), while Bandera’s followers preferred the Nazis. Melnyk’s grandson is now Ukrainian ambassador to Germany. Both OUN-B and OUN-M worked with and were financed by German intelligence, and two battalions of OUN supporters under German command and in Wehrmacht uniform joined the attack on Soviet Ukraine.
- 6. The proclamation declared: “The newly formed Ukrainian state will work closely with the National-Socialist Greater Germany, under the leadership of its leader Adolf Hitler which is forming a new order in Europe and the world and is helping the Ukrainian People to free itself from Moscovite occupation.”
- 7. The Sich were military centers of Ukraine’s Cossack bands, while the “14” is said to refer to the “fourteen words” slogan (“We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”) of the founder of the U.S. Nazi terror group, The Order.
- 8. For a dissection of the role of fascist and fascistic ultranationalists in leading the Maidan protests, see the section on “Fascists and Ukrainian Nationalists Lead Kiev Mobilization,” in “Down with the Imperialist-Backed Fascist/Nationalist Coup in Ukraine!” The Internationalist No. 37.
- 9. See “Question Answered: Who Was Behind the 2014 Maidan Massacre?”
- 10. “Shoot at Everyone on the Maidan” (in Russian), RIA-Novosti, 14 February 2018.
- 11. The Romani or Roma are a traditionally nomadic people, widely referred to in English with the pejorative term gypsy, numbering over 6 million in East and West Europe. The Romani were subject to genocide in Nazi extermination camps during World War II and are today scapegoated almost everywhere on the continent, subject to vicious official repression and attacks by racist/fascist groups.
- 12. Colborne is no leftist, and works for the Bellingcat weapons investigation site, closely linked to the British and NATO militaries, that specializes in fraudulently “authenticating” bogus charges against Russian and Russia-linked forces from Syria to Ukraine.
- 13. “‘Azov owes its very existence to war’,” Bell Tower, 23 February.
- 14. IERES-GWU, Far-Right Group Made Its Home in Ukraine’s Major Western Military Training Hub (September 2021).
- 15. See “Behind the War: U.S./NATO War Drive Against Russia, China,” The Internationalist, 28 February.