Meet Some of America’s Newest Best Friends
With barely a whisper of protest from either the media or the American people, Barack Obama and Joe Biden supported and empowered a group of far-right, Nazi-idolizing, Hitler-worshipping, anti-Semitic militias to fight against Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine.
Members of these militias had participated in the violent and illegal overthrow of the democratically elected government of Ukraine because—well, because they did not like how chummy it was getting with Russia.
Obama’s elite team of foreign policy advisers—Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power—did not like the fact that Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych, was having sensible second thoughts about joining the EU (European Union) and possibly NATO, because it would antagonize Russia, which was not only its major trading partner, but also a touchy nuclear power with which it shared a porous 1,400-mile border.
But what did the concerns of the Ukraine government matter? They were irrelevant. Such disobedience to U.S. wishes was simply not to be tolerated. What right had any government to interfere with the privileged desires of an imperial hegemon like the United States?
Ukraine 2014—A Historical Turning Point
The year 2014 was a major turning point in modern Ukrainian history and the history of the new Cold War.
In February of that year, using a playbook almost identical to the one they used to overthrow the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953 (not to mention the governments of Chile, Guatemala, Iran, Iraq, Laos, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Honduras, Libya, Venezuela, and many more) the CIA helped organize and fund a faux grass-roots revolutionary movement that succeeded in toppling the legally elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
He was replaced by the pro-Western, neo-liberal, NATO-affiliated interim president Arseniy Yatsenyuk, who was succeeded by billionaire oligarch Petro Poroshenko.
When the Maidan Square protesters were unable to collect enough signatures to force Yanukovych’s impeachment, they forced him to flee the country through violence, while massacring trade union activists in the city of Odessa. Under the new regime, eight suspicious suicides of former supporters of Yanukovych occurred.
John McCain was among the U.S. politicians to visit Ukraine to spur on the Maidan protests, appearing on stage with Oleh Tyahnybok, leader of the far-right Svoboda Party, which was given one-quarter of the Cabinet positions in the post-coup government.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland famously handed out “cookies” to the demonstrators while revealing that the U.S. had spent $5 billion in “democracy-promotion” in Ukraine since 1991.
Later, a call would leak between Nuland and U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt in which they discussed their choice of Yatsenyuk to head the new Ukrainian government.
It did not matter to them that Yatsenyuk enjoyed little support among the Ukrainian people, polling at around one percent.
In the same phone call, Nuland famously told Pyatt “Fuck the EU.”
In March 2014, Russia made its countermove by annexing the Crimea peninsula, whose people voted to rejoin Russia (which it had been part of for more than 200 years) in a referendum in which over 97% voted in favor of rejoining Russia.
Turnout for the referendum was 89%, an impression figure when compared to the anemic voter turnouts in U.S. elections.
However, instead of accepting this overwhelming demonstration of the popular will, the Washington foreign policy establishment and politicians denounced the supposed Russian aggression and supported Ukraine’s cruel water blockade of Crimea.
The stage was now set for the third chapter of the conflict when a grass-roots protest movement in Eastern Ukraine turned into a full rebellion, called the Novorossiya Rebellion.
To aid in the suppression of the rebellion, the United States has provided more than $2.5 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since 2014, including $275 million in military aid that has been announced in the last five months under President Biden.
A key grievance underlying the Novorossiya Rebellion was a new language law enforced on the Eastern provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk along with a desire to sustain close ties with Russia and general opposition to the Western-imposed junta in Kyiv, which ranked near the bottom of global corruption indices.
The Ukrainian military, which lacked organization and basic fighting supplies, was slow to act against its own citizens in the Donbas and sustained very heavy losses in the fighting that broke out. This left a vacuum filled by nationalist militias—financed by regional warlords—which engaged in brutal ground warfare.
One of those civilian militias made up of mostly far-right soccer ultras was the Azov Battalion or Regiment, which was incorporated into Ukraine’s formal military structure.
Lost Boys—The Azov Regiment
The Azov Regiment used a copy-cat image of the Nazi Wolfangel, though they claim it stands for “national idea.”
When a journalist with The Guardian, Shaun Walker, interviewed one of its members, named Dmitry, he said that Putin was not Russian “but a Jew” and waxed lyrical about Hitler being a great military leader while expressing belief that the Holocaust never happened.
Walker found that many of the Azov members had “disturbing views” and that “almost all were intent on bringing the fight to Kiev”—implying that they supported a fascist military coup.
In December 2019, Daily Beast reporters Will Cathcart and Joseph Epstein interviewed an Azov Regiment drill sergeant named Alex, who wore a patch depicting Thor’s hammer, an ancient Norse symbol appropriated by neo-Nazis. Alex admitted that he was a Nazi and said he and his comrades were supporting strong leadership in Ukraine, like in Germany.
According to the German magazine Lower Class, Azov mounts a semi-underground outfit which recruits among neo-Nazi youth in Germany, France, and Scandinavia. Muslim Chechens and Crimean Tatars with a deep loathing of Russia have also fought with Azov.
One former volunteer referred to the Azov recruits as “idiots basically or lost boys. A lot of people have lost their way. They’re wanting to be accepted, and they’ll say, ‘Yeah, fuck the Jews. Fuck the n***ers.’”
Azov’s original leader, Andriy Biletsky—who served as a member of the Ukrainian parliament from 2014 to 2019—said that the mission of Ukraine was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].”
Called “the white chief” by his comrades, Biletsky—like many of his colleagues—dreams of the Reconquista, where Eastern European nations would be put under the control of a white supremacist dictatorship that ruled Ukraine during World War II.
In 2008, Biletsky had helped create the Social National Assembly (SNA) and Patriots of Ukraine whose members were arrested in connection with the Vasylkiv terrorist case—an attempt to blow up a statue of Russian Communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin in the Ukrainian city of Boryspil in August 2011.
The Patriots of Ukraine were known for “xenophobic and neo-Nazi ideas and were engaged in violent attacks against migrants, foreign students and anyone opposing their views,” according to Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv human rights group.
Honoring Ukraine’s Fascist Past
Biletsky graduated with a degree in history from the University of Kharkiv where he wrote a thesis on the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which engaged in guerrilla warfare against the Soviet Union during World War II and collaborated with the Nazis.
The Ukrainian Insurgent Army was the military arm of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). It emphasized the fascist ideals of national rebirth, militarism, and ethnic purity.
The OUN for many years was led by Stepan Bandera whose vision of Ukraine was resurrected by Biletsky and Azov decades later.
Historian Karel Berkhoff, among others, has shown that Bandera, his deputies, and the Nazis shared a key obsession, namely the notion that the Jews in Ukraine were behind Communism and Stalinist imperialism and must be destroyed. “The Jews of the Soviet Union,” read a Banderist statement, “are the most loyal supporters of the Bolshevik Regime and the vanguard of Muscovite imperialism in the Ukraine.”
When the Germans invaded the USSR in June 1941 and captured the East Galician capital of Lvov (now called Lviv), Bandera’s lieutenants issued a declaration of independence in his name. They further promised to work closely with Hitler, then helped to launch a pogrom that killed 4,000 Lvov Jews in a few days, using weapons ranging from guns to metal poles. “We will lay your heads at Hitler’s feet,” a Banderist pamphlet proclaimed to Ukrainian Jews.
After the war, British intelligence used Bandera to help run agents into Ukraine to gather intelligence and to help the Ukrainian underground against the Soviets. The CIA used some of Bandera’s former cronies for similar reasons, but never used Bandera himself—as Ukrainian sources concluded that “fighting people in the homeland … [were] not prepared to accept [Bandera] as a dictator,” and that Bandera’s program “was unacceptable to the resistance movement inside [Ukraine].”
When the Soviet Union collapsed, Ukrainian politicians revived Bandera’s legacy to create a new sense of Ukrainian national identity. In 2007, the city of Lviv put up a statue of Bandera; multiple other cities followed its lead with statues of their own.
In the middle of the Maidan Square protests, 15,000 Ukrainians conducted a “torchlight procession” to celebrate Bandera’s birthday. A giant portrait of Bandera also appeared during the protests.
Human Rights Atrocities in the East
Not surprisingly given their pedigree, the Banderite forces have committed legions of atrocities in Eastern Ukraine.
A UN investigation found that the Azov Regiment in and around Shyrokyne (31 km east of Mariupol) participated in the looting of civilian homes and targeted civilian areas between September 2014 and February 2015.
Another OHCHR report documented an instance of rape and torture, writing:
“A man with a mental disability was subject to cruel treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence by 8 to 10 members of the ‘Azov’ and ‘Donbas’ (another Ukrainian battalion) battalions in August–September 2014. The victim’s health subsequently deteriorated and he was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital.”
A report from January 2015 meanwhile stated that a Donetsk Republic supporter was detained and tortured with electricity and waterboarding.
One mother of a victim even claimed to have received her son’s head in a box—indicating the adoption of the ISIS tactic of beheading.
Inspiring Right-Wing Extremists across the Globe
Azov’s exploits inspired right-wing extremists across the globe. The Australian [Brenton Tarrant] who, in March 2019, murdered 51 worshipers at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, claimed in his manifesto that he had traveled to Ukraine; during the attacks he wore a symbol used by the Azov Battalion.
The FBI director, Christopher Wray, warned that American extremists were traveling overseas for paramilitary training. Among those who have trained with Azov are several of the men responsible for fomenting violence at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017.
Not a Fringe Group in Ukraine
Azov it should be noted is not some fringe group within the Ukraine, but is supported at the highest levels of the Ukrainian government.
Anton Gerashchenko, the deputy interior minister, called the Azov Battalion’s efforts “heroic” in their fight against “terrorists” sent by Putin in the East.
Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s Interior Minister of 2014-2021 calls Azov Battalion members “patriots.” In his view, any effort to criticize them is part of a Russian disinformation campaign to weaken the Ukraine.
Though campaigning on an Obama-type platform of hope and change, Ukraine’s current president, Volodymyr Zelensky (2019-present), retained Avakov as Ukraine’s Interior Minister and in April 2021 appointed another far-right extremist, Serhiy Sternenko, as head of the Odessa security services.
Sternenko, as former head of the Right Sector in Odessa was implicated in the 2014 trade union house massacre of 46 people, and is a convicted criminal currently under investigation for murder.
Financed by oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, Zelensky is a zealous proponent of Ukraine’s joining NATO.
He has enhanced the growing authoritarian climate within Ukraine by banning pro-Russian television outlets ZIK, NewsOne, and 112 Ukraine, which are affiliated with pro-Russian opposition leader and oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk, who favors a negotiated peace settlement with Moscow and the Donbas separatists.
Zelensky’s dangerous push for a confrontation with Moscow over Crimea and the Donbas is not too surprising, considering that, during the 2019 election campaign, he had criticized the incumbent Petro Poroshenko—the butcher of Eastern Ukraine—for being too friendly with Moscow.
U.S. Mercenaries—The Whores of War
In the early days of fighting in Eastern Ukraine, about 40 American mercenaries traveled to join the fight on either side as Buzzfeed News reported. Among those was Brian Boyenger, a U.S. army veteran from North Carolina, who is alleged to have recruited Georgian mercenaries during the Maidan Square protests to carry out black-flag terrorist attacks and sniper killings that could be blamed on Viktor Yanukovych’s security forces in order to discredit them.
Another Azov recruit was Craig Lang, an ex-U.S. army soldier who was described by a contemporary as a “maniac” who “got [his] rocks off firing Kalashnikov automatic rifles or the battalion’s machine gun and shoulder-fired rocket-propelled grenade launchers.”
David Plaster, an American who fought in Azov with Lang, said that Lang liked to boast about “fucking people up” and doing “extrajudicial shit” in the war zone, especially to enemy combatants captured by Right Sector.
Today, Lang is set to be extradited back to the United States to stand trial for a double murder in Florida. He and another army officer, Alex Zwiefelhofer, robbed and then killed a couple to amass the funds that were needed to travel to Ukraine.
Robert Rundo, the American neo-Nazi who started the Rise Above Movement (RAM) in southern California, was another American who has travelled to Ukraine to enjoy the “playground for white supremacy.”
Grayzone investigative journalist Ben Norton reported also on the FBI’s arrest of Jarrett William Smith, a U.S. soldier who sought to join Azov.
While serving in the U.S. military, Smith had given fascist militants in Ukraine and other countries information on how to build bombs.
U.S. Government Support for the Azov Battalion
In November 2017, photos that the Azov Battalion put up on its website showed U.S. military advisers directly meeting with the Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia (see below).
Images of the encounter showed American army officers poring over maps with their Ukrainian counterparts, palling around and ignoring the Nazi-inspired Wolfangel patches emblazoned on their sleeves.
A Daily Beast reporter was earlier told by a sergeant in the Azov Battalion that U.S. medics, volunteers, and engineers had been working with Azov.
A year later, photos turned up on Azov’s website showing its fighters testing these very same RPG launchers. The Voice of America subsequently reported that the sale of the launchers had been authorized through very close coordination with the U.S. embassy, U.S. State Department, U.S. Pentagon and UK government”—a fact confirmed later by the pro-NATO Atlantic Council.
The Azov Battalion additionally received weapons from U.S. proxy Israel—despite its anti-semitic ideology.
Azov’s website in 2018 showed Israeli-licensed Tavor rifles in the fascist group’s hands.
In 2015, the U.S. Congress unanimously passed a bipartisan amendment to H.R. 2685, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015, sponsored by John Conyers and Ted Yoho, that blocked the Azov Battalion from receiving military training.
During budget meetings in 2016, the Pentagon effectively lobbied Congress to remove the amendment, though it passed in 2018—albeit without any mechanism to enforce it.
On October 16, 2019, a group of 40 Democratic Party lawmakers led by Rep. Max Rose (NY) signed a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demanding to know why the Ukrainian National Guard regiment Azov had not yet been designated a terrorist organization—making them susceptible to sanctions—when Russian ultranationalist groups that fought in the Donbas had been.
As of yet there has been no response.
Clandestine Financing: Burisma and Kolomoisky
Besides official channels, there is evidence to suggest that the Azov Battalion received clandestine financing through profits from Burisma, the energy company on whose board Hunter Biden sat.
According to journalist John Helmer, the central shareholder of Burisma was Ihor Kolomoisky, Ukraine’s most powerful oligarch who controlled Burisma through the two directors of Burisma’s board—Anzelika Pasenidou and Riginos Kharalambus.
Russia in response issued a warrant for his arrest for organizing the killing of civilians.
The high-level state support for Kolomoisky and his importance to the war effort in the East was apparent in his appointment as Governor of his home Dnipropetrovsk region near the war’s front line.
Ukrainian media furthermore reported that Prosecutor General Vitaly Yarema was ousted on February 11, 2015, because he had reopened the Burisma investigation aiming not at Burisma’s official CEO, Mykola Zlochevsky, but Kolomoisky, who had him fired.
Joe Biden—Hawk on Ukraine
Though heralded in The New York Times as a new FDR, America’s 46th president, Joe Biden, bears as much responsibility for the U.S. alliance with fascists in Ukraine as almost any other government official.
FDR it should be remembered led the U.S. crusade against fascism in World War II and supported an alliance with Russia after the war ended under the February 1945 Yalta agreements—whereas Biden has pushed for confrontation with Russia.
During his vice presidency (2009-2017), Biden was appointed as the Obama administration’s point person on Ukraine and traveled there a record six times.
Biden’s foreign policy adviser, Michael Carpenter, stated that “Ukraine was one of the top three foreign policy issues we were concentrating on. Biden was front and center.”
Biden, during his December 2015 visit, gave a stirring speech to the Ukrainian parliament in which he said that the world had been “transfixed” by the “thousands of brave Ukrainians storming the Maidan, demanding a revolution of dignity” and then was “horrified” when the peaceful patriots were met by violence.”
No mention was made of the presence of neo-Nazi elements among the “peaceful patriots” even though Bandera’s portrait was widely on display.
When war broke out in Eastern Ukraine, Biden referred to the Donbas rebels as “separatists, thugs and criminals” –terms which helped legitimate Ukrainian government actions in the eyes of the U.S. public.
Within the Obama administration, Biden promoted greater economic aid and military support to Ukraine for a conflict that has resulted in the deaths of more than 14,000 people and displacement of over one million more.
On a 2014 Easter visit to Kyiv, Biden pressured the Ukrainian government through aid inducements to sustain the war effort in the face of troop desertions.
Biden in turn spearheaded the effort to send U.S. troops to train Ukrainian Special Forces, to provide critical military equipment, including armored Humvees and surveillance drones, and valuable security and intelligence support—knowing full well that this would be used by the right-wing militias that were integrated into the Ukrainian military.
Biden further lobbied for the provision of Javelin anti-tank missiles and other lethal weapons, which were authorized only under President Donald Trump.
Predictably, Biden, as President, has continued to escalate U.S. military support to Ukraine and to praise the Ukrainian government, without mentioning its infiltration by the far-right Right Sector.
That the American public is not bothered by all this is a testament to the success of the incessant anti-Russian propaganda that has been promoted over the last decade—and since the 1917 Russian Revolution more broadly.
The internalization of this propaganda has made alliance with Neo-fascist elements acceptable—much like during the early Cold War.
- See Jeremy Kuzmarov and John Marciano, The Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2018). ↑
- Roger Kareen introduction in Ekaterina Blinova, Unveiling Lies of the Cold War: What Lay Beneath Anti-Soviet Myths (Red Star Publishers, 2016), iv; “Ukraine ally of ex-President Yanukovych found dead,” BBC, April 15, 2015, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32329512 ↑
- Svoboda evolved out of the Patriots of Ukraine, which drew support from right-wing football hooligans and neo-Nazi skinheads. ↑
- Richard Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine: Crisis in the Borderlands (London: I.B. Tauris, 2016), 86. ↑
- One Sevastapol resident, Nikolay Drozdenko said: “We came back home to Mother Russia. We came back home, Russia is our home.” Sevastopol is the key Crimean port where Russia leases a naval base. ↑
- Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine, 148-149 ↑
- See Chris Kaspar de Ploeg, Ukraine in the Crossfire (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2017). ↑
- Shaun Walker, “Azov fighters are Ukraine’s greatest weapon and may be its greatest threat,” The Guardian, September 10, 2014. ↑
- Will Cathcart and Joseph Epstein, “Is America Training Neonazis in Ukraine?” Daily Beast, December 8, 2019. ↑
- The OUN and Banderites were also behind the massacre of tens of thousands of Poles in Volhynia and Eastern Galicia during World War II and the Katyn massacre in Belarus where an entire village was wiped out 50 km from Minsk. Blinova, Unraveling Lies of the Cold War, 58. ↑
- Norman J. W. Goda, “Who Was Stepan Bandera?” History News Network, https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/122778. Bandera was assassinated by the KGB in his apartment building in Munich in 1959. See also Christopher Simpson, Blowback: The First Full Account of America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Disastrous Effect on the Cold War, Our Domestic and Foreign Policy (New York: Macmillan, 1989);↑Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine, 17. ↑
- Sakwa, Frontline Ukraine, 19. ↑
- Jason Melanovski, “Ukrainian President Zelensky Deepens Alliance with Far Right,” World Socialist Website, April 30, 2021, https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2021/05/01/ukr-m01.html. In the Western press Sternenko is often depicted, despicably, as a “pro-democracy” and “anti-corruption” activist who has been unfairly prosecuted. ↑
- Boyenger fought for a period in the Georgian Legion. ↑
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About the Author
Jeremy Kuzmarov is Managing Editor of CovertAction Magazine.
He is the author of four books on U.S. foreign policy, including Obama’s Unending Wars (Clarity Press, 2019) and The Russians Are Coming, Again, with John Marciano (Monthly Review Press, 2018).
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