by Isabel Sawkins
Friday, 25
February 2022
Factcheck
15:51

Ukraine does not need to be ‘de-Nazified’

The smear is an oft-cited part of Vladimir Putin’s playbook
by Isabel Sawkins
Credit: Getty

“Do not let Bandera and neo-Nazis use your children, wives and old people as human shields,” said Vladimir Putin in an address to the Ukrainian people today. “Take power into your own hands, it looks like it will be easier for us to come to an agreement.”

The focus on ‘de-Nazifying’ Ukraine has been an oft-cited theme in Vladimir Putin’s playbook. When the Russian President declared war on Ukraine, Putin claimed that he was doing so in order to achieve the “demilitarisation and de-Nazification of Ukraine”. The reason Putin does this is to emphasise Russia’s civilisational exceptionalism. It exploits the traumatic history of the Great Patriotic War (the Russian phrase for World War II) by reframing the sacrifice of the Soviet army for geopolitical reasons. In doing so, he delegitimises Ukrainian claims of sovereignty.

This has been a common theme of Putin’s since the Euromaidan in 2013, when he repeatedly referred to Ukraine as ‘fascist’. In 2014, the state justified its annexation of Crimea by noting an upsurge in ‘fascist’ activity, and now a similar kind of thing is happening today. Each day, Russian television refers to fashizm [fascism] and banderovtsy, the followers of Ukrainian nationalist and wartime partisan leader Stepan Bandera. They are thus presented as direct descendants of the Ukrainian Nazi collaborators defeated by the Soviet Red Army at the end of World War II.

It is, however, true that there are some active neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine. Groups like the Azov Battalion are filled with white supremacists and anti-Semites who wear the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner. Some of them are also tattooed with swastiskas. They proved instrumental back in the 2010s when they helped resist rebel groups in the early stages of the occupation of Donetsk and Lukhansk. 

Nevertheless, these militias represent a very small and extreme minority. In fact, the current President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, is himself Jewish and lost family members to the Holocaust. Shortly before Putin’s televised address announcing the invasion of Ukraine, Zelensky noted:

The Ukraine on your news and Ukraine in real life are two completely different countries — and the main difference between them is: ours is real. You are told we are Nazis. But could a people who lost more than 8 million lives in the battle against Nazism support Nazism?
- Volodymyr Zelensky

He then turned to his own family history as a rebuttal against Putin’s egregious comments: 

How can I be a Nazi? Explain it to my grandfather, who went through the entire war in the infantry of the Soviet army, and died a colonel in an independent Ukraine.
- Volodymyr Zelensky

Putin’s accusations also overlook the fact that Russia has its own neo-Nazi problem. For example, Russian National Unity is a neo-Nazi political party openly operating in Russia, members of which have even joined pro-Russian forces in occupied areas of Ukraine.

Putin’s claim that the Russian Army needs to “de-Nazify” Ukraine is therefore unfounded. As Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University, noted, there is a thick layer of behind Putin’s actions: ‘Putin appears to be ‘fighting a war the way that actual Nazis did’ by invading neighbours on the pretext that their borders are irrelevant.’ Putin’s efforts to delegitimise Ukraine are thus completely hypocritical as well as ahistorical, and we must not let him re-write history.

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Sean Meister
Sean Meister
5 months ago

I mean it’s an obvious propaganda tool but the Azov Battalion and their crimes in LDPR over the last 8 years are well known in Russia. The understanding is that Zelensky, being a Jew, is obviously not a Neo-Nazi but that he is a stooge for the US/NATO. It’s that willingness to be a stooge and allow for these bad elements to not only exist but flourish (we must remember that Azov was an illegal paramilitary group until the Ukrainians officially made them parts of the National Guard) which is the crux of Putin’s casus belli. Again you may disagree with it as a sound legal case for war but there’s a clear continuity of thought here.

George Glashan
George Glashan
5 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

If Trudeau can with a straight face call protesting truckers a nazi occupation then its probably fair enough for Putin to call out actual nazi’s Azov Battalion as Nazi’s.

George Glashan
George Glashan
5 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

If Trudeau can with a straight face call protesting truckers a Jazzy occupation, then whats to stop Putin calling the actually Jazzy Azov Battalion out as Jazzy.
Take that auto censor

Last edited 5 months ago by George Glashan
Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
5 months ago
Reply to  Sean Meister

RT really has done its job well. I think that you’ve stretched the meaning of ‘continuity, ‘sound’ and ‘clear’ to their breaking point.

Lennon Ó Náraigh
Lennon Ó Náraigh
5 months ago

I call Godwin’s Law on President Putin!

Leto McAllister
Leto McAllister
5 months ago

Is it called factcheck? What are your sources? May I point out that you slightly overlook the fact that Russia being a vastly diverse, multicultural and multinational country has no issues with neo nazis, antisemitism or, btw, black lives (which is less surprising as it has not done African slavery). Russia used to have a problem with neo nazis in the 90s, right when Mr. Navalny headlined some of “Russia for the Russians” marches. He later apologised, by the way, and explained that he just needed to connect with the real people.

LCarey Rowland
LCarey Rowland
5 months ago

Thank you, Isabel, for joining the resistance against Putinian disinformation.