|A lunatic Chaplin imitator|
and his greatest fans
|First as tragedy|
|Then as farce|
|It never changes|
|A view to kill|
The Azov Battalion (Ukrainian: Полк Азов), more recently known as the Azov Regiment or Azov Brigade, is a volunteer military unit in Ukraine. While it is officially part of Ukraine's National Guard (i.e., gendarmerie), it also has paramilitary and political elements. Since its founding as an ultranationalist militia in 2014, the group has been something of a magnet for neo-Nazi figures such as Olena Semenyaka, who has spoken with American wingnuts Kevin MacDonald and Jared Taylor. (Needless to say, Katie Hopkins loves her.) Additionally, the unit has long used various Nazi-era symbols, such as the Sonnenrad. While Azov (officially) abandoned the Sonnenrad in 2015, it kept using its more famous ꑭ logo, a mirrored version of the Wolfsangel,[note 1] well into 2022. Azov's spokespeople claim that the ꑭ represents the phrase "Idea of the Nation" ("Ідея Нації," or ideya natsiyi), but the similarities are undeniable.
Despite the fact that the battalion, at the time of Russia's invasion, numbered only 900 to 1500 people (many of them foreign volunteers) while the entire Ukrainian armed forces had 245,000 personnel, and despite the fact that Russia has its own neo-Nazi military groups which are also much larger, such as the infamous Wagner Group (about 6000 mercenaries as of 2017), the mere existence of the Azov Battalion is a wet dream for pro-Russian propaganda groups, who frequently bring it up as evidence that Ukraine is a neo-Nazi state and that all Ukrainian nationalists are Banderites.
If one thought the CIA had a monopoly on training Nazis, one would be disappointed: a major European security firm trained them too. Popular critics of Russian propaganda would gain a lot more credibility if they pointed out how military interventions are well known to exacerbate problems with extremist groups rather than solve them, instead of insisting on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's (Jewish) ancestry (when some Azov members falsely believe that Putin is a Jew) and dismissing the problem with election results, when the scary part is their military power and international connections, not popular support. Ukraine actually saw a rise in crimes against Romani people in 2017-2018, which are regularly ignored when the original Nazis are mentioned and are clearly also not high in Putin's list of priorities. Oh, and the original Nazis weren't too fond of Slavs either, which means that Slavic Neo-Nazis are for all intents and purposes suicidal and don't even realize it.
Prior to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, the US Congress banned funding of weapons and training to the group due to the its far right ties, while the United Nations and Amnesty International accused the group of human rights abuses. In spite of this, Azov members received training from the Canadian military in as late as 2020.
2022 Russian invasion
Putin's "denazification" pretext
The Azov Battalion was obliquely used as a pretext by Putin for Russia's war of extermination against Ukraine, claiming that it would "de-Nazify" Ukraine. The claim of de-Nazification flies in the face of Ukraine being led by Zelenskyy, who is both democratically-elected and Jewish. But furthermore, The Azov Battalion is fighting to keep Zelenskyy in power, something very un-Nazi. While there is little doubt that the Azov Battalion has far-right leadership and is nationalist, it is not so clear that the current leadership are neo-Nazis, though the leadership admits that there are extremists and neo-Nazis within their ranks. Andriy Biletskiy, a former commander in 2014, was reported to have made neo-Nazi-type statements (e.g., that Ukraine was to "lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen"), which he has denied making. Biletskiy however has claimed that Azov has attracted both Jews from the Israeli Defense Forces and Chechen Muslims, as well as liberals and anti-fascists.
Defense of Mariupol
The city of Mariupol (located on the Sea of Azov, for which the battalion is named) is symbolic for the Azov Battalion, and has been referred to as their "spiritual home". The battalion helped to recapture the city in 2014 from pro-Russian forces. They were also significant in the 2022 Siege of Mariupol, which bought time for Ukraine yet ultimately saw the city's capture by Russian forces. The battalion suffered significant casualties as a result of the siege, but have managed to regroup elsewhere. Some top commanders for the regiment that fought in Mariupol have been captured and held in Moscow. Other Azov soldiers have been returned in prisoner exchanges.
- See the longer Wikipedia entry Azov Battalion.
- See the Wikipedia article on Operation Gladio.
- Sabra Ayres, "Driven by far-right ideology, Azov Battalion mans Ukraine’s front line," Al Jazeera, July 24, 2014.
- Oleksiy Kuzmenko, "'Defend the white race': American extremists being co-opted by Ukraine’s far-right," Bellingcat, February 15, 2019.
- Tom Parfitt, "Ukraine crisis: The neo-Nazi brigade fighting pro-Russian separatists," The Telegraph, August 11, 2014.
- "Mariupol, Ukraine: June 2014", Flickr photo album by the Atlantic Council.
- "The Azov Battalion: Extremists defending Mariupol", Deutsche Welle, March 16, 2022.
- "Ukraine's Azov Regiment visits Israel: 'Mariupol is our Masada'". The Jerusalem Post. December 20, 2022.
- A European heraldic device that was adopted by the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich
- Jared Holt, "Far-Right Ukrainian political party to appear alongside U.S. white nationalists," Right Wing Watch, Jan. 2, 2019, as displayed Aug. 7, 2019.
- Putin’s fascists: the Russian state’s long history of cultivating homegrown neo-Nazis by Robert Horvath March 21, 2022 3.05pm EDT) The Conversation.
- Putin Wants to Win, But Not at All Costs: His military strategy is far more calculated than his predecessors'. by Leonid Bershidsky ((December 5, 2017, 11:00 PM PST) Bloomberg.
- What is the Wagner Group, Russia’s mercenary organisation? Supposedly active in Ukraine, it has been accused of human-rights abuses and has ties to the Kremlin (Mar 7th 2022) The Economist.
- Russian mercenaries in Ukraine linked to far-right extremists: Wagner Group connected to white supremacists, Tech against Terrorism investigation finds by Mark Townsend (20 Mar 2022 05.15 EDT) The Guardian.
- Kuzmenko, leksiy. "Ukrainian Far-Right Fighters, White Supremacists Trained by Major European Security Firm". "Since 2016, the European Security Academy (ESA) an EU-based company that offers advanced training programs for security, law enforcement and military professionals, has provided sophisticated training geared towards combat application to elements of Ukraine's controversial Azov Regiment, also known as the Azov Battalion, which has been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard in Mariupol."
- Azov fighters are Ukraine's greatest weapon and may be its greatest threat by Shaun Walker (10 Sep 2014 08.36 EDT) The Guardian.
- Like, Share, Recruit: How a White-Supremacist Militia Uses Facebook to Radicalize and Train New Members (January 7, 2021 6:20 PM EST) TIME.
- Ukraine: A year after attack on Roma camp in Kyiv, no justice for victims (April 16, 2019) Amnesty International.
- Canada failed when it trained Ukrainian troops linked to the far right, says Nazi hunter (Apr 13, 2022) Ottawa Citizen.
- Right-wing Azov Battalion emerges as a controversial defender of Ukraine: Militia with far-right views says it welcomes all volunteers, regardless of ideology, in the fight against Russia by Sudarsan Raghavan et al. (April 6, 2022 at 2:00 a.m. EDT) The Washington Post.
- Zach Bikus (March 21, 2019). Zach Bikus, "World-Low 9% of Ukrainians Confident in Government". Gallup. Quote: "Currently in the lead -- according to other national polls in Ukraine -- is comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky [...] Zelensky is campaigning largely on an anti-corruption platform -- which likely resonates with many voters."
- Tash Mosheim (April 3, 2023). "How Jewish is Volodymyr Zelensky?". The Jewish Chronicle.
- (May 17, 2022). "Last defenders of Mariupol: what is Ukraine's Azov Regiment?". Reuters.
- Virginia Harrison (May 16, 2022). "Hundreds of Ukrainian troops evacuated from Mariupol steelworks after 82-day assault ". The Guardian.
- (May 21, 2022). "Who were Mariupol's last defenders?". The Associated Press.
- "Azov Movement". Mapping Militants. Stanford Institute for International Security and Cooperation.
- Michael Schwirtz, Marc Santora and Ivan Nechepurenko (June 29, 2022). "Ukraine announces largest prisoner exchange yet, including Mariupol fighters." The New York Times.