Western Media Caught in Web of Lies as Kiev Loses Control of Its Neo-Nazis
Western media insists any mention of neo-Nazis in Ukraine is Russian propaganda. Now that neo-Nazis have flooded the streets of Kiev, what comes next?
For months, the New York Times and other major U.S. news outlets have insisted that it’s just Russian propaganda to say that a significant neo-Nazi presence exists inside Ukraine, but thousands of these “non-existent” neo-Nazis battled police on Tuesday outside the parliament building in Kiev demanding recognition of their Hitler-collaborating forebears.
The parliament, aware of the obvious public relations fiasco that would follow if it bowed to far-right demands to honor members of the Nazi-affiliated Ukrainian Insurgent Army (or UIA), defeated the proposal. That touched off riots by an estimated 8,000 protesters led by Ukraine’s right-wing Svoboda party and the Right Sektor.
But Svoboda and Right Sektor activists are not just neo-Nazi street protesters. They were key figures in last February’s violent uprising that overthrew elected President Viktor Yanukovych and established a coup regime that the U.S. State Department quickly recognized as “legitimate.” Many far-right militants have since been incorporated into the Ukrainian military in its fight to crush resistance to the coup regime from ethnic Russians in Ukraine’s east.
Though played down by the Western press, the neo-Nazi affiliations of these militants have occasionally popped up in news stories, including references to displays of Nazi insignias, but usually these citations are mentioned only in passing or are confined to the last few paragraphs of lengthy stories or are dismissed as “Russian propaganda.”
But this neo-Nazi reality continues to be an inconvenient truth about the U.S.-backed coup regime that seized power in Kiev with the overthrow of Yanukovych on Feb. 22. Several government ministries, including national security, were given to these far-right elements in recognition of their key role in the putsch that forced members of Yanukovych’s government to flee for their lives.
At War in the East
As the U.S. government and media cheered this “anti-terrorist operation,” the neo-Nazis and other right-wing battalions engaged in brutal street fighting against Russian ethnic rebels. Only occasionally did this nasty reality slip into the major U.S. news media. For instance, an Aug. 10 article in the New York Times mentioned the neo-Nazi paramilitaries at the end of a lengthy story on another topic.
“The fighting for Donetsk has taken on a lethal pattern: The regular army bombards separatist positions from afar, followed by chaotic, violent assaults by some of the half-dozen or so paramilitary groups surrounding Donetsk who are willing to plunge into urban combat,” the Times reported.
“Officials in Kiev say the militias and the army coordinate their actions, but the militias, which count about 7,000 fighters, are angry and, at times, uncontrollable. One known as Azov, which took over the village of Marinka, flies a neo-Nazi symbol resembling a Swastika as its flag.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “NYT Discovers Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis at War.”]
The conservative London Telegraph offered more details about the Azov battalion in an articleby correspondent Tom Parfitt, who wrote: “Kiev’s use of volunteer paramilitaries to stamp out the Russian-backed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’… should send a shiver down Europe’s spine.
“Recently formed battalions such as Donbas, Dnipro and Azov, with several thousand men under their command, are officially under the control of the interior ministry but their financing is murky, their training inadequate and their ideology often alarming. The Azov men use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites.”Based on interviews with militia members, the Telegraph reported that some of the fighters doubted the reality of the Holocaust, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and acknowledged that they are indeed Nazis.
Andriy Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” according to the Telegraph article which quoted a commentary by Biletsky as declaring: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”
In other words, for the first time since World War II, a government had dispatched Nazi storm troopers to attack a European population – and officials in Kiev knew what they were doing. The Telegraph questioned Ukrainian authorities in Kiev who acknowledged that they were aware of the extremist ideologies of some militias but insisted that the higher priority was having troops who were strongly motivated to fight. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ignoring Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]
“Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags fly over Mariupol’s burned-out city administration building and at military checkpoints around the city, but at a sport school near a huge metallurgical plant, another symbol is just as prominent: the wolfsangel (‘wolf trap’) symbol that was widely used in the Third Reich and has been adopted by neo-Nazi groups. …Nazi Insignia on Helmets
“Pro-Russian forces have said they are fighting against Ukrainian nationalists and ‘fascists’ in the conflict, and in the case of Azov and other battalions, these claims are essentially true.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Seeing No Neo-Nazi Militias in Ukraine.”]
More evidence continued to emerge about the presence of Nazis in the ranks of Ukrainian government fighters. Germans were shocked to see video of Azov militia soldiers decorating their gear with the Swastika and the “SS rune.” NBC News reported: “Germans were confronted with images of their country’s dark past … when German public broadcaster ZDF showed video of Ukrainian soldiers with Nazi symbols on their helmets in its evening newscast.
“The video was shot … in Ukraine by a camera team from Norwegian broadcaster TV2. ‘We were filming a report about Ukraine’s AZOV battalion in the eastern city of Urzuf, when we came across these soldiers,’ Oysten Bogen, a correspondent for the private television station, told NBC News. “Minutes before the images were taped, Bogen said he had asked a spokesperson whether the battalion had fascist tendencies. ‘The reply was: absolutely not, we are just Ukrainian nationalists,’ Bogen said.”Despite the newsworthiness of a U.S.-backed government dispatching neo-Nazi storm troopers to attack Ukrainian cities, the major U.S. news outlets went to extraordinary lengths to excuse this behavior, with the Washington Post publishing a rationalization that the use of the Swastika was merely “romantic.”
This curious description of the symbol most associated with the human devastation of the Holocaust and World War II can be found in the last three paragraphs of a Post lead story published in September. Post correspondent Anthony Faiola portrayed the Azov fighters as “battle-scarred patriots” nobly resisting “Russian aggression” and willing to resort to “guerrilla war” if necessary.
The article found nothing objectionable about Azov’s plans for “sabotage, targeted assassinations and other insurgent tactics” against Russians, although such actions in other contexts are regarded as terrorism. The extremists even extended their threats to the government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko if he agrees to a peace deal with the ethnic Russian east that is not to the militia’s liking.
“If Kiev reaches a deal with rebels that they don’t support, paramilitary fighters say they could potentially strike pro-Russian targets on their own — or even turn on the government itself,” the article states. (The riot outside the parliament building on Tuesday is an early indication that such a threat is real.)
The Post article – like almost all of its coverage of Ukraine – was laudatory about the Kiev forces fighting ethnic Russians in the east, but the newspaper did have to do some quick thinking to explain a photograph of a Swastika gracing an Azov brigade barracks.
So, in the last three paragraphs of the story, Faiola reported: “One platoon leader, who called himself Kirt, conceded that the group’s far right views had attracted about two dozen foreign fighters from around Europe.
“In one room, a recruit had emblazoned a swastika above his bed. But Kirt … dismissed questions of ideology, saying that the volunteers — many of them still teenagers — embrace symbols and espouse extremist notions as part of some kind of ‘romantic’ idea.”
Now, this inconvenient truth — this neo-Nazi extremism in Ukraine — has reemerged in violent clashes outside the parliament building in Kiev.
And this is why.
A peaceful, pro-democracy protest in 2004 on Kiev's Maidan Square toppled Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, but led only to bitter disappointment and Yanukovych's return. So this February, huge crowds once more braved the cold and riot police on Maidan to topple the government and demand reform -- and now their greatest fear is being let down yet again.
"There won't be a third Maidan if that happens," Feshchenko, 38, said in the frenetic headquarters of the Dnipro-1 volunteer militia in Dnipropetrovsk, in eastern Ukraine, where he is deputy commander. "There'll be a military takeover."
It might be hard to imagine how Ukraine, nearly bankrupt and being steadily dismembered by Russian troops and heavily armed pro-Russian separatists, could get more chaotic. Angry veterans heading to Kiev would accomplish that.
"We're going to give them half a year to show the country has somehow changed, that even if it's hard, there's light ahead," Yuriy Bereza, Dnipro-1's popular commander, told AFP.
Asked what would happen should that deadline pass, another paramilitary member at headquarters, a tall man in civilian clothing with a pistol strapped to his side, didn't hesitate."A coup," he said.
- VOLUNTEERS TO THE RESCUE -
When Russian troops swarmed into Ukraine's southern region Crimea in March, Ukrainians dizzy with the success of the latest street revolution in Kiev were caught flat-footed. Their country of 45 million people, it turned out, barely had an army -- no more than 6,000 combat ready troops, according to the then defence minister.
That's when thousands of civilians, in large part activists from the Maidan, began joining hastily thrown together battalions funded by everything from oligarchs to grassroots charities.
Crimea, where entire bases of regular Ukrainian troops surrendered without a shot, was already lost, but a new crisis erupted in the industrial east, where separatists closely linked to Russia were taking over strings of towns.
Deploying alongside Ukraine's regular army, the sometimes barely trained, but enthusiastic volunteers helped stem the tide, forcing separatists into today's stalemate.
Military analyst Sergiy Zgurets said the regular army had weapons, but low morale, while the volunteers "had high fighting spirit, but, temporarily, a lack of equipment."
"The volunteer battalions did their task," Bereza, the Dnipro-1 commander, said. "They halted the aggressors. They stopped a second Crimea."
- GUNS AND MONEY -
Dnipro-1's headquarters are on the ground floor of the Dnipropetrovsk administration building. Upstairs sits the regional governor, Igor Kolomoisky.
The arrangement is no accident: Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine's most controversial billionaires, funds the paramilitary, which returns the favour in these troubled times by boosting the banking and industrial tycoon's personal security and political clout.
All the signs are of a flourishing military enterprise.
Young men with Kalashnikovs and pistols and several well dressed women working on laptops fill the anteroom to Bereza's office.
Inside, maps, aerial photos and a picture depicting Adolf Hitler as a father figure to a child-sized Russian President Vladimir Putin line the walls. Ammunition boxes lie in the corner. On Bereza's desk: three mobile phones, a laptop, the Ukrainian flag, and an icon of the Virgin Mary.
The commander repeatedly breaks off an interview with AFP to take calls, sign papers, or approve the purchase of a fleet of new pick-up trucks that will serve as machine-gun platforms.
When a young woman comes in to complain about difficulties in booking a theatre for a Dnipro-1 benefit concert, Bereza dials the theatre manager and yells for a full minute, before gently asking: "So, is there a problem? No. I didn't think so."
The woman leaves happy.The interior ministry, which oversees the paramilitaries, was quoted saying in September that there are now 34 such groupings and Zgurets estimates that the country's total of combat ready troops now tops 50,000 men.
Although the army retains control over heavy weaponry, the motivated -- and increasingly well equipped and skilled -- volunteer groups remain crucial.
Dnipro-1 members have been in several of the biggest battles in the seven-month conflict, which has killed more than 3,700 people, including at the fierce, continuing standoff around Donetsk airport.
"It's not so easy for Russia now," said Bereza, who like most Ukrainians believes they are up against an undeclared Russian invasion, not just local separatists. "We were demoralised in the summer, but now we have a lot more experience."
Dnipro-1 has 700 men -- "officially," Bereza says with an enigmatic smile.
"Unofficially, it's 7,000."
- DARK SIDE -
Questions over the far right leanings of some volunteer groups and allegations of involvement in the murder of civilians cast a long shadow.
One of the most controversial is the Azov Battalion, which uses the Wolfsangel insignia -- an ancient design that was resurrected in Hitler's Germany. The Azov has been linked to Oleg Lyashko, a politician accused of neo-Nazi sympathies.
Right Sector, an ultra-nationalist party, also has its own battalion of several hundred men on the frontlines, even if the government refuses to register or pay them.
Dasha Slutskovska, a 29-year-old volunteer from the battalion in Dnipropetrovsk, conceded that Right Sector has an image problem -- they are relentlessly portrayed in Russia's state-controlled media as fascists. But she insisted her comrades only want the Maidan goals of ending corruption and steering Ukraine into Europe.
"Nationalists does not mean Nazis. We're just normal people," she said, adding with a laugh: "Well, maybe a bit more radical."
- BETRAYAL AND PAYBACK -
Amid Ukraine's increasingly feverish patriotism, Putin is seen as bordering on the diabolical.
"It's sadomasochism," Svyatoslav Oliynyk, deputy to the Dnipropetrovsk governor Kolomoisky, said of Kremlin policy.
"Putin is mad, a schizophrenic," Bereza said. "If we don't stop them here, Russian tanks will go all the way to Berlin."
But among the volunteer battalions there is almost equal hatred for the corrupt bureaucrats running their country and the military top brass responsible for bloody fiascos like the massacre of troops retreating from Ilovaisk in August.
Which is why if the government doesn't act quickly on those promises to rebuild Ukraine, today's battle might move to the capital, where the revolution began.
"The people who were in the war won't accept any sliding back," Oliynyk says.
Slutskovska's eyes shone with anger in Right Sector's dingy Dnipropetrosk office, when asked how she would react to failure of reforms.
"We'll just go straight there with weapons," she said. "There'll be a coup."