In December of 2021, Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky awarded Right Sector commander Dmytro Kotsyubaylo on the floor of the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian Parliament). The contradiction was clear: why was the Ukrainian head of state, a man of Jewish heritage, celebrating an open neo-Nazi paramilitary leader and declaring him a “hero of Ukraine”?
Western media has recently attempted to explain away these reports, and has since portrayed the Ukrainian paramilitary organization, despite having a few bad apples, as not inherently racist or anti-Semitic, and that it has no real ultra-nationalist or “Nazi” basis, that Putin has gotten it wrong, and that it fundamentally portrays a skewed version of history.
The truth is far from this.
The reality lies in the history of the Ukraine in the 20th century. After WW2 and a very bloody 8-year-insurgency that ended in failure, the OUN (organization of Ukrainian nationalists) was effectively expelled. Their notorious leader, Stephan Bandera, who had conspired with German Nazi’s during WW2 to facilitate Jewish genocide in Ukraine, was finally brought to justice in 1959 when the KGB assassinated him during his exile in Munich. Much of the Ukrainian diaspora consisted of ex-OUN members and sympathizers, mainly concentrated in Poland initially, but with large and influential communities in Germany, Britain, Canada, and the United States.
Over the next 40 years, Ukrainian nationalism was fed by the growing anti-communist movement across Europe and America. Far-right groups, centered on their absolute hatred for everything Russian and the USSR, were gently coddled and supported by a combination of intelligence agencies and networks of other ultra-right wing groups throughout the western world. It was simply enough to be anti-Soviet to become part of this club, with semantic ideological divergences from liberalism overlooked. Old ties forged between the OSS in the 1930’s and 40’s became new ties with British and American intelligence. Their primary organization was called the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations(ABN). Their unique correspondence and co-ordination with the CIA has been well documented. In 1988 then vice-presidential candidate George H.W. Bush spoke at an ABN rally at the Ukrainian Cultural Center in Warren, Michigan.
Meanwhile in the Ukrainian SSR, people enjoyed a relatively cohesive and successful period of peace accompanied by industrial progress from 1955 to 1991, as evidenced by their birth rates in the post war period. The Ultra-Nationalism that had plagued the country in the 30’s and 40’s dissipated into an externalized political force, one that also had become part of the western hegemon and threatened the existential validity of the Soviet Ukrainian Republic itself.
After the fall of the USSR, the dynamic changed again. The Ukrainian SSR was the hardest hit by the shock doctrine, and life expectancy went down by a decade as the poverty rate increase easily made it the poorest country in Europe. As people suffered immensely, the Ukrainian Nationalist diaspora returned to the country, reforming several political parties like the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists. They blamed the Russians for every aspect of the calamity, even as Russia itself suffered incalculable misery at the hands of the western policies during the same period.
But the efforts of the Nationalist movement were not particularly successful. Despite reforming in 1993, the CUN and countless other far-right political organizations failed to produce a political result – despite winning minor successes in the Rada and placing some actors in various governmental roles. While many of the more moderate forces in Ukrainian politics continued to promote liberal bourgeois democracy and a pro-NATO stance, the ultra-nationalists lacked focus. From 1991, many attempts at gaining sizable numbers in the Rada were thwarted despite ultra-nationalist party co-ordination attempts. They failed to reach a 5% minimum to qualify as late as 2019. Despite their funding and ideological fervor, they did not have the trust of the people.
The key road to power for the ultra-right came in 2014 after the Euromaidan coup. During the referendum and return of Crimea to Russia, the Ukrainian government was faced with having to secure the Donetsk and Luhansk regions in the east from the separatists using brutal force. As 75% of the Ukrainian Navy was defecting to the Russian side in Crimea during the annexation, the Ukrainian military met stiff civilian and civilian militia resistance in the Donbass. Underpaid, disorganized, and with a lack of ideological commitment, most of the Ukrainian military was in an uphill fight. This represented an existential threat to the legitimacy of Euromaidan: how would it be possible to deal with pro-Russian sentiment and separatism if the military could not be relied upon to act in the harshest ways? Who would do the actual dirty work of containing and restraining the growing democratic movement of secession from the Ukraine?
The answer came in the form of tens of millions of dollars from one of the richest Ukrainian oligarchs, Ihor Kolomoyskyi. A Jewish man himself, Kolomoyskyi’s family and fortune were deeply tied to Crimea. He had lost millions after Russia’s annexation and his remaining interests hinged on access to western funding and cooperation. In early 2014 he had offered bounties for the heads of Russian-backed separatists. Over the next 2 years, he would fund the creation of the Dnipro, Aidar, Azov, Dnepr, and Donbass battalions. Kolomoyskyi is also a close personal friend of Zelensky and was also his former boss, when the actor and comedian worked for him on one of the Ukraine’s most popular TV shows.
At this point we might ask the simplest question: how is it that Kolomoyskyi, a very powerful Jewish man, was involved in the creation, funding, and Nazification of the Ukrainian paramilitary? The reality is that this was a coordinated move with pro-NATO elements, US Intelligence, and the Poroshenko and Zelensky regimes that knew average Ukrainians, including those in the Ukrainian Military, were not overabundantly willing to suppress the threat of separatism violently. They needed ideologically driven people who hated Russians and the people of Donbass.
Politics makes strange bedfellows is apt. Without a legitimate basis for dealing with the separatist crisis, the Ukrainian government had to resort to one of the worst instantiations of ultra-nationalism into power since 1933 Germany. The efforts also included pushing far-right ideologically driven leadership throughout the regular Ukrainian Military and government. Military expert Scott Ritter described in a recent interview exactly how paramilitary battalions were gradually increased to brigades, then broken into individual units that were dispersed across the entire regular Ukrainian Military.
The paramilitary in Ukraine, although dismissed in western media, is a major factor in the current conflict. When Putin, in his Feb.24 TV address, stated “Denazification” was one of Russia’s primary goals in the Ukraine Military Operations, this is what he was directly referring to. Nearly 50,000 troops (2019 estimate) are involved in the Ukrainian National Guard, of which close to 10,000-15,000 are members of the Dnipro, Aidar, Azov, Dnepr, and Donbas battalions. These specific battalions openly flaunt Nazi symbols and are suspected of serious war crimes against civilians in the Donbas. They make up the backbone of the forces in Mariupol, the major Ukrainian city that sits right between the Crimea and the Donetsk People’s Republic. This large paramilitary structure in the Ukraine didn’t even exist before the 2014 Maidan Coup; the entire National Guard had been disbanded in 2000.
It isn’t beyond reason to sympathize with the predicament of Kolomoyskyi and especially Zelensky, who have been put in horrible positions by a combination of Western Imperialism and American Hegemony. They find themselves caught in an ideological and economic trap, one that they chose to be a part of in the hopes that hired fascist thugs could save some semblance of authenticity in the Euromaidan movement; that they could rely on the ultra-right to remain a marginalized factor whilst providing the muscle to achieve their political goals. Oh how horribly they miscalculated. Russia saw this as an ultimately unacceptable escalation of the crisis.
As comrade Dimitrov said famously in his 1935 report delivered at the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International:
“Fascism undertakes to overcome the differences and antagonisms within the bourgeois camp, but it makes these antagonisms even more acute.”