Different human rights bodies, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International, have accused members of Azov Battalion, along with those form other neo-Nazi groups, of human rights violations, including torture, kidnappings, and extra-judicial executions. Writes Vijaya Laxmi Tripura
America and its Western allies clearly are repeating their Afghanistan blunder by incubating a new Al Qaeda named Azov Battalion, which is Nazi-fascist group that looks for spreading terrorist activities throughout the world targeting everyone who oppose fascism and racism. This dangerous terrorist outfit began as a military infantry unit made up of civilian volunteers drawn from far-right, neo-Nazi groups. In 2014, Azov Battalion was integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine.
Different human rights bodies, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Amnesty International, have accused members of Azov Battalion, along with those form other neo-Nazi groups, of human rights violations, including torture, kidnappings, and extra-judicial executions. Over the years, the United States stance on the Azov has swung between proscription (driven by acknowledgement of its neo-Nazi politics) and sly collaboration. In 2015, the US Congress passed a resolution stating that military aid for Ukraine cannot be used for funding, arming or training the Azov Battalion. But in 2016, the ban was rolled back, reportedly under Pentagon pressure. Since then, there have been unsuccessful efforts by Congress members — one of whom has described it as a neo-Nazi paramilitary militia — to designate the Azov as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. For all that, Azov social media channels are rife with videos of militia members training with American-made weapons.
Commenting on the notoriety of Azov Battalion, Natasha Louis, a specialist in transnational security affairs, focusing on human rights, conflict, and counter-terrorism wrote in a article:
In the wake of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine on 24 February, neo-Nazi movements in the West are eyeing Ukraine as a training ground to gain combat experience for future race wars they believe are coming to their home countries. One such group, which began in Texas in 2015, is Atomwaffen Division (AWD), aims for a collapse of civilization so that a whites-only society may rise up. The group, whose name is German for “nuclear weapons”, has also been linked to five murders across three states in the United States. AWD was believed to be dead last year when its leader, 24-year-old Cameron Shea, pled guilty to terror related crimes.
But the AWD is not dead yet. According to a report by the Combating Terrorism Center, a German affiliate of AWD emailed death threats to Green Party politicians in 2019. “The German news magazine Der Spiegel reported that an email to one of them, Claudia Roth, read: ‘You are currently the second name on our hit list’ and was signed ‘Sincerely, Atomwaffen Division Deutschland’.” In addition to Germany, AWD has branches in the United Kingdom, Canada, the Baltics, Russia, Italy, Finland, and France. Last September, a 20-year-old in Germany was arrested on suspicion of planning a terrorist attack and was found with 600 home-made explosives.
Investigators stated he was in contact with the AWD. In December 2021, five men who were members of AWD were arrested for a terror plot with a significant number of weapons and tens of kilos of explosives.
Since 2015, over 17,000 foreign fighters have gone to Ukraine from fifty countries. While the majority of these fighters are not radical ideologues, security consultant and former FBI agent Ali Soufan finds similarities between the current situation in Ukraine and the power vacuum left by the US after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989. “Pretty soon the extremists took over. The Taliban was in charge. And we did not wake up until 9/11. This is the parallel now with Ukraine.”
Hate is a Global Network
What is particularly alarming in this crisis is that Ukraine has its own neo-Nazi militias. The Azov Regiment has a network that extends from California to New Zealand: “It has its own political party; two publishing houses; summer camps for children; and a vigilante force known as the National Militia, which patrols the streets of Ukrainian cities alongside the police. Unlike its ideological peers in the U.S. and Europe, it also has a military wing with at least two training bases and a vast arsenal of weapons, from drones and armored vehicles to artillery pieces.”
In 2020, two members of AWD attempted to join the Azov Regiment in order to gain combat experience and were deported by the Ukrainian government. The recruitment center for Azov is a building called Cossack House in the center of Kyiv, right in the middle of the action. Olena Semenyak, the head of international outreach for Azov, told Time in 2019 that “Azov’s mission was to form a coalition of far-Right groups across the Western world, with the ultimate aim of taking power throughout Europe.” The narrative of Right-wing “lone wolf” attackers no longer matches reality. Neo-Nazi movements are a part of a global network with the aligned goal of inciting a race war. With a militia like Azov already well-established in Ukraine, groups like AWD will gain the knowledge and experience they seek to bring back home.
Recently, the Counter Extremism Project released an notice that: “Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked online activity from far-Right white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups, supplementing the existing movement of extremists emboldened by Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine.” Groups like AWD and Azov exploit calamities in order to “maximize their impact on domestic politics.” There is a need for perspective with this. As David Malet, a professor in the School of Public Affairs at American University, has pointed out, while Russian propaganda has pushed the message that Ukraine’s foreign fighters are all Nazis, the reality is that such radicals are joining both sides of the conflict—and the Russian state has instrumentalized the far-Right in a more systematic way, with its Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) acting as the fountainhead for white supremacist groups across the West.
Radical Atrocities Impact International Mindset
Even if those who travel to Ukraine are not neo-Nazis, there is a risk that foreign fighters will be radicalized in-theatre after arrival. It has been widely known among extremism experts that Ukraine has “emerged as an important hub in the transnational white supremacy extremism network.” The evidence for the risks of radicalization and recruitment have been indisputable for some time.
In late February 2022, days after Russia began its effort to destroy Ukraine, the Ukrainian National Guard tweeted a video of Azov members covering their bullets in pig fat, intended as an insult targeting the “Kadyrovtsy”, the Muslim Chechen units within Russia’s army that are controlled by Chechnya’s Putin-appointed ruler, Ramzan Kadyrov. According to a report produced by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) from 2016, “A man with a mental disability was subject to cruel treatment, rape, and other forms of sexual violence by eight to ten members of the ‘Azov’ and ‘Donbas’ battalions in […] 2014.” In 2015, a man was tortured by electrocution, waterboarding, and having his genitals beaten in order to gain information about government checkpoints.
The efforts of groups like AWD should be of high concern to various nations of the West. Approximately one-third of the terror plots that have been foiled in the UK since 2017 have been by Right-wing extremists. In the US, far-Right radicals perpetrated two-thirds of terrorist attacks and plots in 2019 alone.
AWD also has a history of threatening journalists. Their presence in Ukraine is concerning in terms of what effect it may have on media coverage, especially in cases of human rights abuses. The world has yet to see a war of this magnitude presented to them so continuously via social media and such a massive media presence. Radicalized local and foreign fighter groups will continue to capitalize on social media networks and easily promote their disinformation campaigns. The manipulation of messaging and minds will not be limited to only those inside Ukraine. Right-wing extremist groups have proven their capability in distorting the truth and altering perceptions throughout the West. The tumultuous combination of groups like AWD and Azov joining forces is incredibly alarming for countries who may have returnees, but primarily for military forces, aid workers, journalists, and civilians in Ukraine at this time.
With the current state of chaos in Ukraine and porous borders near Poland, members of Atomwaffen Division and other neo-Nazis will be welcomed with open arms and plentiful resources provided by the Azov Regiment.
Several European leaders have supported their citizens going to Ukraine to fight, referencing—often a historically—past struggles like the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War. The unfortunate irony of this sentiment is that it may end up creating the fascist side that they once faced and are now in fear of.
According to another article by Christelle Néant dated March 2022:
On 20 March 2022, while we were conducting a humanitarian mission near Sartana, on the north-eastern outskirts of Mariupol, we came across many civilians who had recently fled Mariupol thanks to the advance of Russian and DPR (Donetsk People’s Republic) troops. One of them, Nikolay, agreed to talk on camera about the crimes committed by the neo-Nazi Azov regiment against the inhabitants. A testimony confirmed by other civilians who managed to evacuate the city.
As we deliver the last of our food supplies and baby nappies to the fifth village in our humanitarian mission near Sartana, a man comes out of the house where he is staying and starts talking to us. We discover that he has recently managed to flee Mariupol, after three weeks of horror.
I ask him if he knows by any chance what really happened in the Mariupol maternity hospital and theatre, about which the Western media have recently made their headlines. And there surprise, Nikolay knows what happened there, he saw with his own eyes, how the maternity hospital was transformed into a military position and a firing position by the fighters of the Azov regiment (which he still calls Azov battalion by the way). He confirms that the hospital had been evacuated to another area and was therefore no longer in working order.
He also explains that the dramatic theatre in Mariupol was not destroyed at all by a bombing by the Russian army, but that the fighters of the Azov regiment blew it up!
Nikolay goes on to explain that Ukrainian soldiers (whether from the regular army or the neo-Nazi Azov regiment) would not let civilians out of Marioupol, he says that they shot at a column of cars trying to evacuate the town, and that bodies still lie along the highway they drove on.
Nikolay ends with some chilling facts about how his 17-year-old niece was almost dragged into the basement where the Azov fighters are holed up. He says that other girls, including minors, have been taken there by Ukrainian neo-Nazis. He does not talk openly about rape, as there are children nearby when we discuss it, but he simply says that “everyone knows what they do to them”.
This testimony reminds me of others. Former prisoners recovered by the DPR during exchanges had told me in private discussions that young girls were disappearing in Mariupol, that they were raped by neo-Nazi fighters and then executed.
A former prisoner who had been tortured in a neo-Nazi battalion prison, and who was interviewed by my colleague Laurent Brayard at the beginning of 2016, recounted how several other prisoners had been raped by Ukrainian fighters, before some of them suddenly disappeared.
A technique also used by the SBU in the famous secret prison called “the library”, located in the basement of Mariupol airport, as revealed by a former prisoner, Yulia Prosolova.
The airport has just fallen under the control of the DPR’s popular militia (which invalidates Western media reports that the Russian army is no longer advancing, or even retreating, in Mariupol), which will make it possible to investigate and try to find evidence of the crimes denounced by numerous testimonies of former prisoners, but also by the former SBU agent, Vasily Prozorov.
Currently 50% of the city of Mariupol is now under the control of the Russian army and the DPR people’s militia, including the Azovstal factory, which shows that the advance is continuing, contrary to what the Ukrainian propaganda and the Western “media” say.
Further north, the DPR People’s Militia has taken Maryinka, Verkhnetoretskoye and Slavnoye. The battle for the capture of Kamenka, Novosselovka II, and Avdeyevka continues.
In the newly liberated territories, municipal services are working hard to restore electricity, gas and water supplies. Electricity has been restored to 16 new settlements in the DPR, including Staromarievka, Granitnoye, Novosselovka and Andreyevka, and gas to 11 villages including Pavlopol, Bougas, Novognatovka, Nikolayevka and Donskoye.
In Volnovakha, the DPR also started work on repairing the hospital, which had been used as a firing position by Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed, so that it would be operational again as soon as possible.
The LPR People’s Militia has taken control of Kalinovo Popasnoye, Novoalexandrovka, Stepnoye and Boguslavskoye.
The use of civilian infrastructure by Ukrainian soldiers has been documented in places other than Donbass. For example, the Russian army published a video filmed by one of its drones, showing how a Ukrainian multiple rocket launcher firing from Kiev went to refuel in a shopping centre transformed into an ammunition stockpile! A shopping centre that was then destroyed by a Russian missile strike.
Meanwhile, in the Ukrainian media, it seems that journalists and guests of the programs are having an ignominy contest. So after the journalist Fakhroudine Charafmal, who quoted Adolf Eichmann and said that he was ready to kill Russian children in order to destroy Russia (for which he was not even fired from the TV channel, and merely apologized saying that he had gone too far), we had a Ukrainian “Mengele doctor”, Guennady Drouzenko, who said (on the same TV channel) that he had ordered his doctors in the field hospitals to castrate captured Russian soldiers, because the Russians would not be humans, but cockroaches that must be destroyed.
After the Russian Investigative Committee launched proceedings against him, the Ukrainian “Dr Mengele” also put his statement down to emotion, and denied that he had given the order to castrate the captured Russian soldiers.
And against a backdrop of Nazi-like statements on Ukrainian TV, the Western media are competing in terms of shameless lies, from Associated Press claiming that there are no more journalists in Marioupol, whereas TF1, Éric Tegnér and I went there with Russian and Italian journalists, and Christopher Miller of RFI, who distorts a statement by the Russian defense ministry to make it appear that the ministry is threatening military tribunals against anyone who does not evacuate Marioupol, whereas the threat is directed at the local authorities who are doing nothing to help the population.
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