The Roots of Domestic Anti-Fascism: Who Has the Issues with the Azov Regiment


Anti-fascism as a narrative of the Russian propaganda

The anti-fascist narrative has dominated the Russian propaganda since the annexation of the Crimea and throughout the seven years of the war in the Donbas. At first, the Crimea was “saved” from the “Nazis” and “Bandera,” and then anti-fascist rhetoric became central to the propaganda of the “LDNR.”

It includes the popular cult of Stalin and the so-called Great Patriotic War, as well as the ubiquitous labels like “junta,” “punishers” or “Odessa Khatyn.” The last label marked the death in a fire of separatists in Odessa, who, with the tacit consent and inaction of the police, tried to create conditions for the occupation of the city.

This propaganda approach was chosen not accidentally, and the main reason for this choice is the strong mental associations with the word “fascist” rooted in Soviet times. As you know, the previous generation of the Ukrainians was brought up in the spirit of Soviet patriotism, which was built and is still being built on the basis of the cult of personality of Stalin as the great architect of the victory over the brown plague.

Of course, 1939-1945, as the true date of the beginning of the Second World War, is tactfully omitted in favor of 1941-1945 in order to hide unfavorable historical facts.

Accordingly, the average Russian and Ukrainian, who has never knew another version of history, continues consuming subconsciously the Soviet historical myths. If we add to this the habit of trusting everything that is said on TV, the results will not be delayed, especially when one part of the population continues watching Russian channels, and the other part Medvedchuk’s channels, which, in fact, are no different.

If we talk about the Russian aggression, the Russian interpretation of May 9 and the Second World War is dangerous, primarily because it is also aimed at those Ukrainians who speak Russian and have been in the Russian information field since Ukraine’s independence.

In essence, Putin used the technology known as “Rally ‘round the flag’,” the purpose of which is to divert public attention to a conditional external threat personified by the “Ukrainian fascism” and “Banderites” in order to achieve the regime’s domestic political goals.

The main problem is that this call from Russia has affected the Ukrainians in the Crimea and the Donbas, too.

Nazi vise – how did the Russian propagandists find points of intersection with the Western press?

Under the slogans of fighting fascism and Nazism, Russia expected to organize the annexation of the Crimea and to use the blitzkrieg tactics in the Donbas to create conditions for the political capitulation of Kyiv and the federalization of the Ukrainian political system.

Russian political technologists, however, did not take into account such a factor as the volunteer battalions, which were formed in the chaos of post-revolutionary anarchy and were the first to oppose Russian troops and the terrorist groups of the “LNR” and the “DNR” led by them.

Accordingly, the Kremlin set out to discredit the volunteer battalions as the structures that were largely a part of the National Guard of Ukraine but still differed significantly from the old composition of internal troops and the police whom no one trusted.

The Russian propaganda demonized the most the Azov Regiment, and during the latest meeting in Paris Putin even said that the Ukrainian army could not be allowed to gain control of the Donbas, because the nationalists would “arrange the second Srebrenica there.”

This statement is at least interesting, for in 2015 Russia used its veto power in the UN Security Council to block a British resolution on the international recognition of the events in Srebrenica as a genocide.

Of course, Putin meant the volunteer battalions, and he presented the events in the Donbas only in the light of humanitarian intervention aimed at stopping the “extermination of the Russian-speaking population.”

Russia’s discourse about “Nazi battalions killing civilians” is actively supported by some Western journalists who are not interested in covering the situation in Ukraine truthfully. Resources such as Buzzfeed or TIME magazine continue replicating Russian propaganda myths while teaching the Ukrainians the journalistic ethics and BBC standards.

The significant level of ignorance of the Western press when it comes to the political realities of Ukraine and viewing them solely through the prism of the rule of law in the interpretation of Thomas Hobbes’ “Leviathan” and John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government” fit perfectly with the Russian message about Ukraine as a failed state.

From the point of view of the Western liberal press’ representative, civilians cannot take up arms and take over the functions of the police and army; however, he does not take into account that under conditions of a thoroughly corrupt legal system and weak state institutions the state itself frees a niche for more radical elements of a society.

The fight against right-wing terrorism – a double standard and a new trend in American politics

A separate threat to the Azov Regiment and Ukraine are lobbyist attempts by the former FBI agent Ali Sufan in the US Congress to recognize “right-wing terrorism” as a threat to world security equal to Islamic fundamentalism. Ali Sufan, an expert on Islamic terrorism, is trying to transfer the American experience of countering Islamists to Ukraine.

He compares Ukraine to Afghanistan, arguing that Kyiv now attracts right-wing terrorists just as Afghanistan once did.

Besides, Sufan said that about 17,000 militants (sic!) are being trained in Ukraine, who then supposedly return to the United States and Europe to carry out violent actions and terrorist attacks.

It is worth starting with the fact that measuring Ukraine by the standards of Afghanistan is absurd, at least because in Afghanistan an abstract rule of law exists solely due to the constant presence of the US and NATO troops.

Quite big territories, as in the case of Ukraine, are controlled by militants who have outside support. Yes, unequivocally, jihadists of all stripes went to Afghanistan to join the holy war.

However, the key question to ask at this point is as follows: who did the potential Islamic terrorists join?

Primarily the groups like the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who are not regular troops in the Afghan Armed Forces or any of the states that officially recognize the Taliban regime.

States that recognize the Taliban regime as a legitimate government include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates. It is worth noting that the United States cooperates with all three countries, including in the military sphere.

That is, on the one hand, the United States prohibits any assistance to the Azov Regiment because of the alleged threat of neo-Nazism, but, on the other hand, it is not afraid to cooperate with countries that recognized the terrorist regime as a legitimate one.

It is also noteworthy that Ali Sufan himself, in his 2020 report “Assessing the U.S.-Saudi Security and Intelligence Relationship,” claimed that Saudi Arabia was involved in supporting the Talibs with technology and finance. In the same report, he claims that the terrorists responsible for the explosions in Sri Lanka in 2019 had access to the funds receiving financial assistance from the Saudis.

It follows that it is possible to have official security contracts with a country which, according to Ali Sufan’s claims, is involved in the financing of Islamic terrorism, but at the same time to refuse to help the regiment whose involvement in terrorism has been refuted by both experts and the Ukrainian Ministry of the Interior.

If the United States continues cooperating with the Saudis, then it believes that the evidence in the above-mentioned report is either insufficient, or too weak.

Then we should ask the following question:

Why, then, in the case of Ukraine, Sufan’s frankly weak allegations are enough to raise in Congress the question of recognizing the Azov Regiment as terrorists?

All the volunteer battalions, particularly demonized in the press Azov, are integrated into the structure of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and, consequently, act in accordance with the Constitution of Ukraine and the Law of Ukraine on the National Guard and Defense of Ukraine.

This argument alone shatters any comparisons between the Azov Regiment and the terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan.

Ukraine itself has been fighting terrorism sponsored by Russia already for 7 years, and the special purpose Azov unit of the National Guard of Ukraine has always been on its front line.

One of the tactics of propaganda against the Azov Regiment is to deliberately ignore such an aspect as distinguishing between the actions of servicemen who have signed a contract and who are subordinate to the commanders of their unit and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and veteran servicemen whose contract has expired and for whose activities neither the Ministry of the Interior, nor the regiment do not carry responsibility.

Accordingly, if a veteran of the Azov Regiment has committed a crime or really has ties to organizations that fall under the criteria of terrorists, the use of the principle of collective responsibility is a direct manipulation to artificially create such criteria, but only for the special purpose Azov unit of the National Guard of Ukraine.

In the report “White Supremacy Extremism: the Transnational Rise of the Violent White Supremacist Movement” prepared by the Soufan Center, all the accusations against the Azov Regiment are only general assumptions.

For example, the Azovets camps, where veterans are involved in the patriotic upbringing of children, are designated as indoctrination camps, where 9-year-olds are taught the ideology of white supremacy.

Of course, such testimonies are based on conjecture, as well as stories about 17,000 foreigners who were trained or wanted to join Azov.

The report states that Ukraine is a training ground for the Nazis, however, for some reason the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies have not received any inquiries about such activities of potential extremists in Ukraine. As for belonging to the structures of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Soufan Center report states that it is only “theoretical.”

As mentioned, Ali Sufan, the former FBI agent and the founder of the aforementioned think tank, is a major lobbyist in the fight against right-wing terrorism.

However, in the section of the above-mentioned report entitled “High-Profile Attack Case Studies,” the fighters with “white supremacy” were able to indicate as many as 2 (sic!) cases of such attacks. These include the terrorist attack in Oslo and the shooting at a children’s camp on the island of Utoya by Anders Breivik and the terrorist attack in New Zealand by Brenton Tarrant.

To compare, in the European Union, according to Europol, only in 2015 17 terrorist attacks were committed; in 2016, this figure dropped to 13, and in 2017 increased to 33 attacks.

The total death toll in the course of three years is 347 people, while the gap between the terrorist attacks of Breivik and Tarrant is 8 years.

Regarding terrorism in Ukraine, its level is estimated as average against the background of the whole of Central and Eastern Europe. This assessment is due to Russian aggression, not to some rampant Ukrainian far-right terrorist organizations.

Such data were provided by the American research center named National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland in the United States.

According to the Global Terrorism Index report, between 2014 and 2016, 234 terrorist attacks were committed in Ukraine, killing a total of 777 people.

The fundamental difference is that “the Donetsk People’s Republic” is responsible for the terrorist attacks and these victims, not the mythical white extremists who were allegedly trained in Ukraine.

Somehow it is strange that the Soufan Center is trying to find terrorists among the Ukrainian volunteers, and in support of its data provides information that can hardly be called evidence.

There is no need to talk about the rhetorical value of the report, as well as its competence when it comes to the situation in Ukraine – it equals zero.

Fighting the ideology of white supremacy and a new chance for Putin

During the events of September 11, 2001, Vladimir Putin was the first foreign leader to call George W. Bush and express his condolences over the tragedy of the American people.

The terrorist attack itself gave rise to a phenomenon known as the war on terror, which continues up to this day.

In October 2001, the United States launched Operation Enduring Freedom aimed at invading Afghanistan and overthrowing the Taliban. Russia, which was fighting in Chechnya at that time, also joined the operation, declaring its solidarity in the US fight against Islamic terrorism.

Thanks to the media wave caused by September 11, Putin was able to convince the international community that the Russian campaign in Chechnya is the same fight against Islamic terrorism as the US campaign in Afghanistan.

Given the rise of a new media wave against the “right-wing terrorism” and some US Congressmen’ attempts to recognize the Azov Regiment as a foreign terrorist organization, Russia produces media precedents to create the reference framework for its fight against the “Ukrainian Nazis.”

One could wonder, what all of this has to do with the domestic “anti-fascists” doing rallies in memory of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova demanding the disbandment of the Azov Regiment?

This action is a consistent strategy of the struggle of the Russian Federation against Ukraine and the Azov Regiment through its delegitimation in the Ukrainian and international legal field with all the relevant consequences of this process.

This version is supported by the fact that Russian propagandist Anatoly Shariy has repeatedly invited left-wing parliamentarians to his propaganda activities, who have condemned “Nazism” and political persecution in Ukraine.

Russia’s goal is simple – to convince the United States and the European Union that Ukraine supports Nazism, and that Russia is only protecting its population from violent Ukrainization and the “new Srebrenica” in the Donbas.

If the Azov Regiment is recognized as a terrorist organization in the United States, Russia will naturally become a fighter against the ideology of white supremacy and right-wing terrorism, as it was the case with the war in Chechnya.