The Electronic Intifada 23 December 2022
Representatives of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion have been touring Israel to drum up support for the unit’s imprisoned fighters. They have been meeting with Israeli politicians and soldiers.
Azov intelligence officer Illia Samoilenko was released in a prisoner exchange with Russia in September.
He had been one of the hundreds of Azov fighters who surrendered in May at the end of the long Russian siege of the eastern city of Mariupol.
“Israel values freedom, values strength, Israel values honor. It’s the same things that we also value,” he told Israeli newspaper Haaretz this week.
Samoilenko also told The Times of Israel that “he sees Israel and Ukraine on the same side, the civilized battling the uncivilized in a struggle for the future of humanity,” the outlet summarized.
“We have prosperity, beautiful, prosperous, beautiful civilization, and they have medieval cavemen,” he said. It seems the “they” in this case are the Palestinians and the Russians, who Samoilenko regards as “uncivilized.”
Along for the Israeli tour with Samoilenko is Yulia Fedosiuk, the wife of an imprisoned Azov fighter and a far-right activist in her own right.
Both were on a charm offensive this week, as part of a wider push to whitewash Azov’s image in the West.
Before Russia invaded Ukraine in February, it was widely acknowledged that the Azov Battalion promoted Nazi ideology.
The Anti-Defamation League, a major Jewish communal and Israel lobby group, for instance, warned in 2019 that Azov was a “Ukrainian extremist group” with “ties to neo-Nazis and white supremacists.”
But now with Western governments arming Ukraine, including the Azov Battalion, in a proxy war against Russia, there is a concerted effort to hide this ugly reality from public view.
Consequently – with help from the media and now Israel and its lobby – Azov has in recent months attempted to rebrand itself.
Seeking a stamp of approval from Israel is a time-honored strategy of European and American far-right extremists seeking to gain mainstream legitimacy.
In May The Times of London reported that Azov was planning to change its symbol from the wolfsangel – a far-right symbol associated with a division of the German army during Hitler’s Nazi regime.
But even that surface-level whitewash seems to have been too much of a change for Azov to endure. The symbol remains visible in all of Azov’s online outlets.
Recent Azov social media postings show their fighters still using the wolfsangel.And photos posted by a pro-Azov Twitter account, the “Association of Families of the Defenders of Azovstal” show that Samoilenko and Fedosiuk visited Masada, where Samoilenko wore the Nazi-linked symbol on his uniform.
Masada is the site of a mythical last stand by Jewish fighters against Roman forces. Today, Israel holds swearing-in ceremonies for its new soldiers there, and they pledge that “Masada shall not fall again.”The Azovstal association’s Telegram account posted photos of the Azov members at Masada and stated, “When today in Israel we talk about the defense of Mariupol, the Israelis … constantly repeat: ‘Mariupol is your Masada.’”
As well as Masada, the tweets show that the two Ukrainian militants also met with reservist Israeli soldiers, attended a film screening and met with Naama Lazimi – a leading Israeli politician in the Labor Party, which is part of the outgoing coalition government.
Shortly after publication of this article, the Azovstal Twitter account deleted their post showing their meeting with Lazimi. You can view a screenshot below. Shahar Tenenbaum, a spokesperson for Lazmi, also contacted The Electronic Intifada to ask that her name be removed from this article.
Documented ties to Nazism
During the meeting with Lazimi, Samoilenko “debunked the myths created by Russian propaganda about the Azov regiment,” the Azovstal association claimed on its Telegram channel.
This seems to be a reference to the Russian government’s accurate claim since the start of its invasion of Ukraine in February that the Azov Battalion is a Nazi organization.
But recall that this wasn’t only a claim from Russia, it was widely acknowledged and reported in Western media, including by the EU-funded “investigative” website Bellingcat.
In 2019, Bellingcat extensively documented the battalion’s international outreach to white supremacist groups, noting that “Azov’s interest in reaching American extremists and the Ukrainian group’s comfort in cooperating with neo-Nazis in the US and West was on display” until at least 2018 – four years after the Azov battalion was integrated into Ukraine’s national guard.
But as the US, UK and EU wage their proxy war against Russia in Ukraine, Western media have largely fallen in line, portraying Azov sympathetically as the “defenders of Mariupol,” as misunderstood nationalists and as the victims of “Putin’s propaganda.”
Even the Anti-Defamation League, which previously condemned Azov’s Nazi ties, is falling into line.
After the Russian invasion, the ADL engaged in blatant Holocaust revisionism in order to whitewash Hitler’s wartime collaborators who are today venerated as national heroes in Ukraine even though they helped the German leader murder hundreds of thousands of Poles and Jews during World War II.
The ADL is now also helping to airbrush Azov. Recently, the Israel lobby group claimed that the Azov Battalion’s 2014 integration into Ukraine’s national guard meant that the Azov military unit had split from the broader far-right Azov political movement and from the movement’s founder Andriy Biletsky.
As a consequence, the ADL now says that it “does not see Azov Regiment as the far-right group it once was.”
But in 2019, Bellingcat had already reported on “newly uncovered statements by a senior law-enforcement official” in Ukraine that “suggest that incorporation of the Azov Regiment into the National Guard of Ukraine didn’t affect the far-right ideology espoused by the former’s members – and instead allowed Azov to obtain sophisticated weaponry and build their own political party.”
“Restore the honor of the white race”
In recent months, the Azov Battalion appears to have renamed itself the “Azov Regiment,” another apparent attempt to legitimize itself as a normal element of the Ukrainian state and whitewash its Nazi image while maintaining all the same policies.
This name change was played up in a puff piece by The Jerusalem Post this week, which claimed that “the Azov Battalion [is] the predecessor of the Azov Regiment.”
But just as when the US and its allies have repeatedly attempted to rebrand the Syrian branch of al-Qaida as “moderate rebels,” such cosmetic changes are unlikely to fool anyone outside the ranks of spineless mainstream media journalists.
And despite Samoilenko and Fedosiuk’s charming of the Israeli press this week, there’s absolutely no reason to think that Azov has moved away from its racist, anti-Semitic roots.
As well as still using the Nazi wolfsangel symbol, recent Azov social media postings show that the group’s founder Andriy Biletsky is still a regular presence at Azov parades.
Biletsky has “pledged to restore the honor of the white race” and when he was in parliament he advanced laws forbidding “race mixing.”In 2014 he wrote that “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.”
A dedicated fascist
Despite the sympathetic treatment she has received this year from the same Western media that valorized the Azov Nazis, Yulia Fedosiuk too, is an active part of the Ukrainian far-right.
“One of my best friends, he is a Jew and he is in Azov,” Fedosiuk claimed in a Times of Israel interview this week.
Samoilenko made similar claims in his Haaretz interview, an assertion which the paper noted he was “unable to back up immediately by providing names.”
In a revealing piece on Fedosiuk, researcher Bob Pitt observes that “Azov’s propensity for double-talk and denial is particularly notable in connection with anti-Semitism, where assurances to western journalists that the movement welcomes Jewish members are contradicted elsewhere by expressions of extreme hostility towards Jews.”
Pitt writes that Fedosiuk is a dedicated fascist who rants against feminism and LGBTQ rights and has valorized early 20th century Romanian fascist leader Corneliu Codreanu.
Codreanu was a virulent anti-Semite who once declared that “The historical mission of our generation is solving the kike problem” (“kike” is an extremely derogatory term for Jews.)
As Pitt noted, when Fedosiuk worked for Azov’s publishing house Plomin, it published Ukrainian translations of writings by Codreanu, the Italian fascist Julius Evola and other notorious figures from Europe’s fascist history.
Nazis in power
Israel has close ties to both Russia and Ukraine. Despite President Volodymyr Zelensky complaining that Israel has declined to provide Ukraine with the “Iron Dome” missile system, arms, training and fighters from Israel have reached Ukraine – including the Azov Battalion.
In April, video emerged of Israeli mercenaries fighting in Ukraine, thanking the Israeli government for “helping us” in their war against Russia.
Also that month, video posted online by Azov showed that Israeli anti-tank weapons were being used by the unit.
The Azov Battalion began as a gang of far-right street thugs. Its activists formed the vanguard of the 2014 US-backed “Maidan” coup which overthrew the elected government of Ukraine. Soon after, it was integrated into Ukraine’s armed forces, where it remains.
In 2018, Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack wrote to the Israeli government to object that the country’s aid to Ukraine was being used by neo-Nazis.
In response, the government confirmed that its arms licenses to Ukraine were granted “in full coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government entities” but did not deny arming Ukrainian Nazis.
The Electronic Intifada’s 2018 exposé of Israel’s arming of Ukrainian Nazis caused a minor diplomatic incident, when Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel wrote a formal complaint to Haaretz after the newspaper echoed our reporting.
Mack petitioned Israel’s highest court to stop the state arming Ukrainian Nazis. The government responded by requesting hearings be held behind closed doors and imposing a gag order on the press.
Updated after publication.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada.
- Russia-Ukraine conflict 2022
- Azov Battalion
- Israeli Labor Party
- Illia Samoilenko
- Yulia Fedosiuk
- Anti-Defamation League
- Naama Lazimi
- Eitay Mack
The Labor Party and Azov
Permalink Sheldon Ranz replied on
I suspect Naama Lazimi asked her friends in Azov to remove evidence of their association so as not to undermine the reputation of the Labor Party as a 'socialist' group. Hah!
Permalink tom hall replied on
Does anyone seriously expect the incoming Israeli government to have a problem with visiting delegations sporting Nazi regalia? The Zionist movement stood against the international Jewish boycott of the Hitler regime, and gained key status under the Nazis as sole representative of the Jewish population in Germany. Zionist civic and youth organizations mimicked those of their Nazi overlords, while the Haavara agreement provided much needed trade and revenue to the Third Reich in its formative years. Thus, because there's a long tradition of affinity and cooperation between Zionism and antisemitism- the real antisemitism, it should come as no shock to see Nazi SS symbols like the wolfsangel openly displayed by military tourists to Israel. And with the inclusion of Itamar Ben-Gvir (Minister of National Security) and Bezalel Smotrich (Ministry of Finance as well as rule over the West Bank) in Netanyahu's latest government, the decorative display of fascist sentiments will only become more visible. At this point, symbolism is the least of the problems Palestinians will be facing.
How in the world are they getting away with this?
Permalink Ibn Al Balaad replied on
Usually I'm a wordy but there are no words. I'm speechless.
Neo-Nazis in Ukraine
Permalink Roger Annis replied on
Thank you very much for this important and insightful analysis. I have encouraged my website readers to go to Electronic Intifada and read it.
There is a parallel problem to Israel's sympathies with the far-right and neo-Nazi politicians and paramilitaries in Ukraine, and that is the expressed sympathy by much of the political left in the West with the far-right movement in Ukraine. This 'left' stretches from social democrats to Trotskyists and anarchists. As well, there are many liberal antiwar voices calling on Russia to surrender before the expansionist, NATO juggernaut. This takes the form of calls on Russia to 'cease fire' and 'withdraw from Ukraine', which conveniently ignores the eight-year war against the people of Donbass beginning in 2014 that prompted Russia's intervention in the first place. Russia waited patiently for the Western governments and the regime in Kiev to live up to their professed support of the 'Minsk 2' peace agreement of 2015 for Donbass. Instead, the Western cabal has waged a long war there, which has cost far more civilian lives than has this year's Russian intervention in Ukraine. Russia's actions are strictly intended to end the war threats against Russia and its territories in Donbass and Crimea and bring a lasting peace.
The victims of the war by Ukraine and NATO in Donbass have been unworthy of mention by the Western leftists and liberals. Thus do we see how the relative comforts of life in the imperialist countries and the widespread illusions there in the 'benefits' of imperialist democracy distort perceptions of reality. The political blindness of the Western liberals and leftists over Ukraine ends up as vicious, pro-imperialist prejudice against the people of Donbass, Crimea and Russia as a whole. This is one of great revelations that Russia's intervention in Ukraine has brought about. The left-wing and liberal betrayal over Ukraine merits much attention and analysis in the weeks and months to come.
Neo-Nazis in Ukraine
Permalink pink & blue prince replied on
Biden caused Russia to start a war in Ukraine, he wants to be re-elected and can't handle other issues in politics. Zelensky wants to be seen as a hero but supports Neo-Nazis despite the fact he is Jewish and members of his family were killed in the Holocaust.
Permalink Rachel B replied on
* except when politically inconvenient
Whatever Russia's pretexts in 2014, the intentions of the Minsk agreement, the stated goals on Feb 24, or the status of the Azov Battalion, there is complete clarity on Russia's current goal. For the Ukrainian civilians who didn't die by missiles, gun shots, torture, stepping on mines or freezing to death in their homes, then demolish their cities and infrastructure to make life unliveable, steal their belongings, occupy their houses, wipe out their language and culture, and rewrite the history books to teach about the glorious Russian empire.
This is happening right in front of your eyes.
If you could turn back time to the 1930s and 1940s, what would you have done to prevent the genocide?
What are you doing now to prevent the genocide?
Well, for starters-
Permalink tom hall replied on
"If you could turn back time to the 1930s and 1940s, what would you have done to prevent the genocide?"
One thing comes to mind. I'd have tried to stop all those Ukrainian nationalists from killing all those Jews.
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