Washington embraces the Azov Brigade
Should America's politicians not be more careful about meeting the far-Right group?
In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Western commentariat and political class have been unsurprisingly vocal in praising the heroism of Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his countrymen. More surprising, perhaps, is that this acclaim is now extended to far-Right militias like Ukraine’s Azov Brigade.
Azov, which has been labelled a neo-Nazi group, has increasingly been embraced by the American establishment. This was particularly apparent in October, when members of Azov spoke at Stanford University at an event where Michael McFaul, the former United States Ambassador to Russia, gave a speech with the organisation logo in clear view on the board behind him. This logo is a variation of the Wolfsangel, an emblem worn by an SS Panzer Division, and its fighters are also commonly seen wearing the Totenkopf.
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More recently, Paul Massaro, a US Federal Government employee and senior policy advisor at the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, posted a photo of himself on Twitter proudly holding up an Azov flag. A few days later, this was followed by a picture of him wearing a Stepan Bandera patch in a now-deleted tweet. Arguing with one objector, he asserted that “Azov made a heroic last stand at Azovstal and are considered heroes in Ukraine”, adding that “Bandera is viewed through the lens of the struggle for Ukrainian independence.”
Azov has long been the subject of both Western media attention and Russian propaganda. The group’s activities date back to April 2014, after a collection of ultranationalists evolved into an irregular military detachment. The organisation took part in early post-Maidan hostilities in Mariupol against pro-Russia separatists, and was later formally incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard. The contingent has expanded over its history, becoming a battalion and, more recently, a brigade.
Azov has been the source of much controversy due to its ideology, symbols, and war crimes, including accusations of torture. Though the group is far from monolithic, elements of its leadership and many of its rank-and-file members evidently continue to espouse ultranationalist and neo-Nazi views. It also has a history of attracting radical foreign fighters, and has developed a sizeable international online following. Further, connections remain to the extremely ghoulish Misanthropic Division (MD) movement — this link becomes obvious with a quick glance at MD’s Telegram channels.
Any criticisms finally disappeared after Azov put up a long and intense defence against the Russians in the coastal city of Mariupol last year. Its fighters resisted for weeks after being surrounded, earning Azov the status of ‘Defenders of Mariupol’ and gaining much fanfare amongst commentators who would not otherwise be mistaken for far-Right mouthpieces.
After a prisoner exchange, in which Azov soldiers who surrendered at Azovstal were released, the New York Times wrote glowingly that “Commanders of Ukraine’s celebrated Azov Battalion have held an emotional reunion with their families in Turkey.” Without once mentioning Azov’s historical ideological orientation, the paper said that the group “has become a powerful symbol of the suffering inflicted by Russia and the resistance mounted by Ukraine”.
Surviving Azov fighters from the Mariupol siege were subsequently invited to meet members of Congress and toured the United States. Ironically, just years prior, that very same Congress passed bills including a ban on US aid to Azov, on the grounds that the outfit had neo-Nazis in its ranks.
It is certainly understandable to not want to disparage an invaded people, or to draw undue focus on segments of a certain group at risk of stigmatising the Ukrainian military as a whole. Yet whitewashing and valorising groups like Azov, which have violent extremists in their midst, is patently irresponsible.
The cognitive dissonance is breath taking. Viktor Orban is an existential threat to democracy, but the Azov Brigade are the great defenders of democracy.
And, in contrast, if you see a single nuzi flag at a Canadian trucker or Dutch farmer protest, being ignored by the rest of them, it shows that all those truckers and farmers are right wing Nuzis.
Even worse, that single flag at the truckers protest is widely believed to be planted. When the protestors went to confront the guy about the flag, he fled. No one really knows who was even carrying the flag.
“What do you want Yahtzee?”
“See that guy that you are fanboying over with the suspicious S shaped lightning bolts and other racial supremacist symbols on his arm? Yeah, he is an actual Yahtzee.”
“Shut up, you don’t know anything! You are just an evil Yahtzee white supremacist!”
“Well at least I tried.”
Yeah. Marine LePen is a far-right Nazi who must be disavowed and ignored, but actual Nazis are celebrated as brave freedom fighters for liberal democracy.
The really amusing thing is that the Azovs have equivalents in Russia – Pamyat is gone now, but there are current replacements.
Yet whitewashing and valorising groups like Azov, which have violent extremists in their midst, is patently irresponsible.
Couldn’t agree more, this issue does not get enough attention. Good article unherd.
Those who write the history of these times are going to have their minds tied into knots….
To begin with, we must accept without question that Nuzis or anyone affiliated with them or carrying their flag, are “far right” – which is true, only as long as you ignore the second half of their name, the “envy” based thinking that is perennially true of Marxist / Socialist systems (those kulaks / Jews/ White supremacists are the reason we are doing poorly), and the reality of government controlled industries, social systems and policies in place in Germany 1933-34.
And, additionally, while pushing the narrative of the “brave” Ukrainian resistance, we must conveniently ignore the Russian majority in Donbass and Crimea who went along with Ukrainian independence, saw the prime minister they got elected being forced to flee for his life by “peaceful protestors”, dozens of their own burnt alive with no redressal, seeing their language and culture being stamped out, attacked by well armed army troops for nearly a decade…..
And of course, their noble, moral supporters in the West, who detest the warmongers of Russia, fresh from destroying Iraq and Libya….
This isn’t 1984. This is the reality that makes fiction, even that from the fertile mind of Orwell, appear feeble and unimaginative.
“If Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference of the Devil in the House of Commons.” Young men won’t fight and die without something rousing to believe in.
Is that an actual quote? Who by? (Churchill?)
Thanks for bringing it to my attention!
Apparently it was Churchill. Or at least attributed to him.
The good news is they do not have rainbow flags with lines through them on their uniforms. That would be OTT.
We embraced and lionized Stalin, and his barbarous Red Army. These guys are pikers compared to them.
Use them as cannon fodder. Win-win.
You’re forgetting that “Azov’s historical ideological orientation” is, well, historical.
There are extremists on both sides of this conflict Indeed, the fact that numerous Russian TV programmes routinely advocate killing any self-identified Ukrainian suggests why there are “extremists” like Azov.
Extremists never gained more than 2% of the vote. in Ukraine, considerably less than in many Western nations.
Just defeat Russia and the problem disappears.
You’ve sure got some people here who don’t like you. Down-votes all over the place.
Hang on, the title of this article implies the Washington establishment – i.e Congress, White Office, Federal depts etc, are suddenly supportive of Azov. That’s clearly misleading. One federal employee is mentioned and a photo with a Congressman. That’s hardly indicative of Washington.
I daresay there are some who support, or have developed a more sympathetic view since the Mariupol defence but the article title is another example of trying to grab attention via headline distortion.
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