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ASPartOfMe
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10 Apr 2022, 9:41 am

Jacobin

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Since Russian president Vladimir Putin launched an invasion of neighboring Ukraine a month ago, something curious has happened with Western media coverage of the country’s far right. Amid the global wave of indignation at Russia’s war of aggression, which Moscow has justified on the pretext of “denazification,” the Western press — fixated for the last five years on the prospect of fascism and the far right at home — have begun playing the issue down.

The Ukrainian far right, we’re now told, is negligible, no different or more influential than its counterparts in the West and irrelevant thanks to its lack of electoral success. Any claim to the contrary is mere Putinite propaganda. How could it not be, when the country’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is himself Jewish? As for the movement’s most famous name — the neo-Nazi Azov Regiment that was officially incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard in 2014 — well, Azov, we’re told, is not really even far right anymore.

With the Kremlin doing its best to paint the entire population of Ukraine as fascists while reducing schools and hospitals to rubble, you can see why this line of argument might be tempting. But the emerging narrative is baseless — a betrayal of journalism’s truth-telling mission, and one that risks silencing debate about a dangerous and violent movement whose existence is highly relevant to questions of Western policy toward the war. There are better ways to support Ukrainians as they fight to restore their country’s independence and safety than pretending their local far right isn’t a danger — or even rehabilitating actual Nazis.

The most audacious part of this campaign of counterpropaganda is a push to whitewash the Azov Regiment, for many years virtually synonymous with Ukraine’s entire far right. Now, we’re being told, it is nothing of the sort.

After Azov was brought into the National Guard, German broadcaster Deutsche Welle tells us, “There was a separation of the movement and the regiment, which still uses right-wing symbols, but can no longer be classified as a right-wing extremist body.” A BBC segment informs us it’s “not the same force as it was in 2014,” as a talking head affirms that its “radical core was drowned out by the mass of newcomers,” while its white supremacist founder, Andriy Biletsky, left in 2016 to start a political party, the National Corps. With an “evolving membership” and with the group’s social media showing no outward signs of extremism, the BBC concludes there’s nothing to see here.

These aren’t isolated examples.

The Azov Regiment maintains close ties to the National Corps,” says the University of Ottowa’s Ivan Katchanovski. “This is a rebranded Patriot of Ukraine and a civilian wing of the Azov Regiment. Therefore, the Azov Regiment can be best described as far-right-led or far-right-linked.”

“I believe they’re absolutely part of the same movement, and I have been presenting evidence thereof,” says Oleksiy Kuzmenko, an investigative reporter published by influential open-source intelligence outlet Bellingcat and George Washington University’s Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.

There are better ways to support Ukrainians than pretending their local far right isn’t a danger.
The National Corps is still connected to the regiment, paying tribute to its soldiers, raising awareness about Azov members being prosecuted — or, in their eyes, persecuted — by the government, and promoting a defense conference in Mariupol last May that featured Azov’s current commander Denis Prokopenko, as well as government officials and veterans of the war. The latter group included a member of the National Corps’s High Council.

That conference also involved National Corps founder and leader Biletsky, who once wrote that Ukraine’s “historic mission” was to “lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival” against “the Semite-led Untermenschen” and who continues to have ties to the Azov Regiment. Whether he’s celebrating the anniversary of Azov’s founding — noting in 2019 that he would “forever remain in the ranks of the large Azov family, which over the last five years has formed around the regiment” — or attending events with Prokopenko to commemorate recent casualties, it’s a stretch to say Biletsky is no longer involved.

In fact, he’s not just involved but instrumental. In a 2019 interview with UMN (Ukrainian Media Network), the Azov Regiment’s chief of staff responded to a question about why Azov was so well supplied and looked better than other parts of the National Guard:


We have a leader, Andriy Biletsky, an independent MP in the Verkhovna Rada [Ukrainian parliament]. On top of being an MP, he is always visiting us at the shooting range encampment, for example. Taxpayers haven’t contributed a dime to its improvement, development, and functioning. Andriy Biletsky looks for sponsors, businessmen that can contribute to what we have now, for instance, good clothes, procuring, good shooting ranges, etc. . . . A lot of volunteer battalions stopped existing in the same way as we do, and we remained in this sphere, because Andriy, unlike others, isn’t preoccupied with his own business but is always visiting, always helping us.


Here’s Biletsky at the Azov Regiment’s fourth anniversary celebration, standing with Prokopenko in front of Azov’s modified Wolfsangel, the ancient medieval rune famously adopted as a symbol by the Nazi SS. Azov insists with an implied wink that that the figure is merely a combination of the letters “N” and “I,” for “the idea of the nation.”

f the Azov Regiment is unconnected to the wider Azov movement or the far right as a whole, then why, just last year, was the “Youth Corps” of its political arm trained on one of the regiment’s bases, with Prokopenko there to give a kickoff speech? What then explains this National Corps–produced video from 2019, in which Prokopenko sits down with Ihor Mykhailenko, former Azov commander and now head of the Azov movement’s National Militia paramilitary, and Maksym Zhorin, another former commander and Hitler admirer who now heads the central office of the National Corps?

Prokopenko himself has a suspect background, one somewhat shrouded in mystery thanks to the fact that, as Spain’s El Mundo put it, information about him seems to have been scrubbed from the Ukrainian internet. What is known is that Prokopenko has been with Azov since its earliest days, making it harder to argue its current iteration is a radical break from its origins.

Prokopenko was one of the leaders of the Dynamo Kiev ultras, one particular faction of the violent and virulently racist soccer hooligans who made up some of the earliest recruits of Azov and other anti-Russian paramilitaries. Only a few weeks ago, one of these “ultra” groups, the White Boys Club (WBC), paid tribute to Prokopenko, “the legendary commander of the ‘A’ regiment that also represents our platform,” in their words.

According to Reporting Radicalism, an initiative of the US government–funded Freedom House, the group’s emblem uses a picture of Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev, hailed by the modern far right for his tenth-century defeat of the Khazar Empire, whose royalty had converted to Judaism in the preceding centuries. The WBC claim, with a wink, that their name is merely a reference to their team’s colors, but here you can see them wearing Klan-like hoods and brandishing swastikas in front of a sign reading “100% White!”

This whitewashing of Azov is part of a wider trend of playing down the influence of the entire Ukrainian far right. Even the Anti-Defamation League is now assuring people that the far right is “a very marginal group with no political influence and who don’t attack Jews or Jewish institutions in Ukraine.”

This attempt to suddenly cast concerns about Ukraine’s far right as some kind of fringe, Putinist propaganda sits awkwardly with years of mainstream press reporting and establishment warnings about its threat.

A 2020 report from West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) states that while not on the level of jihadi networks in Syria and Iraq, Ukraine is “the favored destination of many American and European white supremacists,” who have “established a web of informal links with similarly minded groups in Europe.” A separate CTC report the following year found that “some of those who met either on the battlefield or in training or at one of the functions that have grown out of the original far-right extremist mobilization effort in the Ukraine war have since created networks of peers” and sometimes “gained crucial know-how, whether military or ideological.”

Human Rights Watch documented at least two dozen violent attacks by far-right groups in the first six months of the year, warning that they were “on the rise,” and admonishing the government for doing little about it or even recruiting members for “policing activities.” “The authorities in Ukraine have consistently failed to prevent and punish violence by ‘far-right’ groups, which has grown steadily since at least 2015,” Amnesty International reported then, charging authorities with “a patent disregard for the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly” of those targeted, and complaining that extremists “plan and perpetrate such attacks openly, and often boast about their violent actions on social media and offline.”

The press today points to the far right’s diminishing electoral success, ignoring that it has coincided with the political center’s opportunistic adoption of parts of the far-right wish list, including glorifying Nazi collaborators and promoting Holocaust “revisionism.” It’s for this reason that the Simon Wiesenthal Center charged in 2018 that “Ukraine has been one of the major propagators of a distorted version of Holocaust history which seeks to hide or minimize crimes committed by Ukrainian nationalists” and that it was “choosing to rehabilitate antisemitism and to censor history.” That was the same year the Israeli government published a report stating that antisemitic attacks in the country had doubled since the previous year and numbered more than the total for all of Eastern Europe combined.

In fact, some of the best reporting on the dangers of Ukraine’s far right has come from the very mainstream Western press now playing it down.

In fact, even the US government–funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty has for years reported on the dangers of Ukraine’s far right, something that would now get it charged with spreading Kremlin propaganda.

The Dangers of Disinformation
The press outlets engaging in this revisionism and even rehabilitating Azov and other far-right extremists are doing an enormous disservice to their audiences and are not helping Ukraine in the process.

“The Western media coverage of the far right in Ukraine during the Russia-Ukraine war can help significantly boost the Ukrainian far-right popularity in the West,” says Katchanovski. “It can help to attract many far-right Western volunteers to far-right or far-right linked armed formations in Ukraine and new far-right followers in Western countries. There are already such signs.”

Before the war, the German government–funded Counter Extremism Project had warned that Ukraine’s paramilitary training infrastructure “presents the risk that violence-oriented right-wing extremist and terrorist individuals from abroad obtain weapons and explosives training in Ukraine,” potentially “increas[ing] the effectiveness of the violence that these individuals may perpetrate in their home countries.” Yet despite years of media fixation on the threat of far-right terrorism — a threat that’s still relatively small at this stage but has the potential to get much worse — this concern, when it’s not dismissed as a Kremlin talking point, goes almost entirely undiscussed in the Western press, even as thousands of foreign fighters, some of them homegrown extremists, stream into the country.

There are serious risks for Ukraine, too. A Western public uninformed about the dangers of the far right is watching its governments, with no debate, send an avalanche of weaponry into the country, where it will fall (and some has already fallen) into the hands of extremists — the same extremists who have serially attacked vulnerable groups, want to institute a dictatorship, have repeatedly threatened and carried out violence against the government, and have already helped overthrow one president. With Zelensky now envisioning a postwar Ukrainian society with more armed people in the streets, and members of the military and National Guard — both institutions where extremists have made a home — patrolling everyday locations, this risk is all the bigger.

Putin’s war on Ukraine has, ironically, been a boon to its far right, which has been further legitimized, better equipped, and supplied with volunteers as a result of his attack. Tragically, the Western press is now also assisting this process, unwittingly advancing extremists’ preferred talking points. We don’t have to pretend there’s no far right problem in Ukraine to give the country our support and solidarity. But by rewriting history and doing PR for literal Nazis, we may be sleepwalking into more disaster.


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10 Apr 2022, 11:06 am

So....

what?


During WWII we helped Stalin in order to defeat Hitler because Hitler was the aggressor- who also threatened us.

Youre telling us now that we are helping the equivalent of "Hitler" because he is being attacked by Stalin?

Except Stalin is more like Mussolini (more a fascist than a Communist). And "Hitler" is a Jewish guy heading a nation that has anti semitic right wing factions.

But the article admits that we should "help Ukraine"? Anyway?



magz
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10 Apr 2022, 11:47 am

Sorry but that is total BS and victim blaming.
Far right has exactly one seat out of 450 in Ukraine parliament.
Speaking that they are "dangerous" when the whole nation is under shelling and thousands of innocent civillians are dying under an exceuse of "denazification" is whitewashing the actual nazis here - Putin's cult army.


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ASPartOfMe
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10 Apr 2022, 10:10 pm

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The press today points to the far right’s diminishing electoral success, ignoring that it has coincided with the political center’s opportunistic adoption of parts of the far-right wish list, including glorifying Nazi collaborators and promoting Holocaust “revisionism.”


What we have here is a "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" situation. Sometimes you got to do what you got to do but when you do so you should not let the emotion of the moment blind you to the risk of blowback. We Americans have over 75 years of experience making these type calculations against the Soviets/Russians/Communists and have had it on occasion blowback on us big time. We calculated the Mujahideen in Afghanistan was the lesser evil, that did not work out. Theiu in Vietnam was corrupt but he was the enemy of our enemy, that one cost over 50,000 American lives and created internal divisions that never really healed. Our support of tinpot dictators cost enough credibility to give Putin a propogada opening.

At least in the above examples, we did not lionize the enemy of our enemy.


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11 Apr 2022, 1:30 am

Keeping Ukrainian far right in spotlight was part of propaganda war preparing to this invasion - so the West would swallow the "denazification" claim.
Following the invasion, mainstream media have realised what they have been conned into.
That's why they're changing their narrative.

Ukrainian far right was never more of a threat than far right in any other nation. They were used to keep the focus away from the actual extreme nationalist threat growing nearby.
Shame to the media who let themselves be used, good they are backing off from it now.


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ASPartOfMe
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11 Apr 2022, 10:30 am

Bad actors will always use things for nefarious purposes. That should not mean we should ignore or cancel these things out of fear of helping the bad actors as we are more want to do these days. Patriotism(not nationalism) is often a good thing. Should I disown flying an American flag or whatever because Trump insurrectionists hijacked the term and made it toxic?

I am for the basic principles of the neurodiversity movement. Autism supremacy and elitism is a thing. People have used this fact to discredit the ND movement with some success. Should we not deal with it because it may help opponents of the movement?

This is a question with no easy answers and is situation based. Ever since 2016 all we have heard is how the ex KGB agent is masterful manipulator and propagandist. To put mildly Zelenskyy has exposed Putin in this regard. Only a tiny minority believes that Russia is Antifa with an army whose motivation is to liberate Ukraine from Nazis. Articles cautioning against overcorrection is not going to change that.


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11 Apr 2022, 10:41 am

ASPartOfMe wrote:
Articles cautioning against overcorrection is not going to change that.
Is sending weapons "overreaction"?

I understand there are boundaries and it's reasonable to hold them also against guys you like. That's fair.
But there are proportions. You don't hold someone fighting for survival to the same standards of calm and good manners you would expect from someone safe and well-off. You first help him get to safety.
Peacetime is to calmly, respectfully sort more complex things out.


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11 Apr 2022, 12:24 pm

magz wrote:
ASPartOfMe wrote:
Articles cautioning against overcorrection is not going to change that.
Is sending weapons "overreaction"?

I understand there are boundaries and it's reasonable to hold them also against guys you like. That's fair.
But there are proportions. You don't hold someone fighting for survival to the same standards of calm and good manners you would expect from someone safe and well-off. You first help him get to safety.
Peacetime is to calmly, respectfully sort more complex things out.

Overcorrection is the media going from investigating the Ukraine right to ignoring or dismissing them.

As far as sending arms as I said sometimes you got to do what you got and that means choosing the option with the least bad consequences. In this case it has been decided that the consequences laid out in the article are less than letting Putin do as he likes. That is a very rational choice based on history. This is not about Ukrainians it is about sphere of influence nothing more, nothing less. This is what countries usually do.

It is damn hard if not impossible to be rational during wartime. This is exactly why this is time to be aware of how emotion effects your decision making. When hopefully Ukraine wins you are not surprised and thus prepared for them.


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11 Apr 2022, 1:03 pm

ASPartOfMe wrote:
Overcorrection is the media going from investigating the Ukraine right to ignoring or dismissing them.
I believe we should drop the topic unless something even remotely comparable to what Russians are doing emerges. We can go back to previous investigations once we're safe. But the context will likely change.

You see, for you it's geopolitics... for me it's future survival.


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11 Apr 2022, 1:11 pm

magz wrote:
. . . for you it's geopolitics . . . for me it's future survival.
The difference between abstract theorizing and real-life reporting.

Stay safe, Magz. Be well.



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11 Apr 2022, 4:42 pm

 ! Cornflake wrote:
Locked by request of OP.


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