Igor Schatz Profile picture
Mar 29 44 tweets 9 min read
It’s hard to believe how effective Kremlin propaganda by spreading the “Nazis in Ukraine” canard and using Azov as their favorite boogie man. This has been mindlessly regurgitated by the media and recently amplified by MAGA Twitter accounts.. 🧵
Back in 2014 when Russian military took over and illegally Crimea and sent its special forces and GRU agents to instigate a war in Donbas, Ukraine had a standing army of around 120,000 and only 5,000 combat ready troops, and wasn’t prepared for a full-scale conflict 2/
As an aside, for those who are under impression that that war in Donbas was some kind of an organic civil war, it was in fact started by a Russian FSB officer Igor Girkin and a band of Russian special forces from Crimea on 4/12/2014 when they captured the city of Slavyansk 3/
Since Ukrainian government was in disarray and the number of combat ready troops were nowhere nearly enough to address the Russia-led separatist war, a number of volunteer battalions were formed to fill in the gap and to defend the region 4/
These volunteer battalions were sponsored and funded by some of the local oligarchs and businessmen but also in many cases were provided for by a civil volunteer movement that supplied them with food, fuel and vehicles and raised funds for body armor and other equipment 5/
One of the volunteer battalions that was formed in response to the war was Azov. It was formed in the city of Berdyansk on the Azov coast ( hence the name ) by Andriy Biletsky who was the leader of a fringe ultranationalist party Patriot of Ukraine 6/
The battalion was initially deployed to defend the city of Mariupol the day after its founding on May 6th, 2014. It subsequently participated in a number of other battles throughout 2014 and early 2015 along with other battalions 7/
Given Biletsky’s far right background, it’s certainly not surprising that some of the people who joined Azov when it was just formed as a volunteer battalion were fellow ideological travelers, and up to 10-20% of the 900-strong battalion identified as neo-Nazi 8/
Just to pause here and reflect on this, we are talking about 100-200 people in a country of 42 million.. more articles have been written on Azov than the number of self-identified neo-Nazis that were in its membership at the volunteer stage 9/
Biletsky’s Patriot of Ukraine party had the following emblem. These ar in fact, 2 Cyrillic letter that stand for P and U, i.e. the first letters of the party’s name 10/
The flag of that party looked similar but it also looks like some of the symbols used by the Nazis in the past. Biletsky claims that the symbol on the flag represents Latin letters N and I, and stands for Idea of the Nation 11/
When Biletsky spearheaded the volunteer Azov battalion he incorporated this symbol of the party he headed into the battalion’s emblem, even though most of the battalion members were not affiliate with his party 12/
In the fall of 2014, around 5 months after the new government was elected and on the heels of the October elections of the new Rada ( Parliament ), Ukraine’s government replaced the volunteer battalions fighting in Donbas with regular military 13/
At the same time it worked on reforming and incorporating the free-wheeling volunteer battalions into the National Guard of Ukraine which was reestablished earlier in the year after a 14-year hiatus 14/
Azov was one of the units that became part of the National Guard. As part of reforms, it was de-politicized and its ultranationalist leadership including Biletsky have left and started a new party - National Corps Party in 2016 15/
This was basically a relaunching of Patriot of Ukraine that Biletsky folded when he started Azov. The party is said to have a membership roll of 10-15,000 people. To give you an idea of just how popular far right is in Ukraine, in 2019 Rada elections 16/
National Corps, Right Sector and Svoboda parties briefly formed a untied party list but failed to get even a single seat in a 450-seat parliament. For context, a Russian far right LDPR part held around 9% of seats in Russian Duma at the time 17/
There is a 2010 quote attributed to Biletsky where he is allegedly calling on "the white races of the world into a final crusade against Semite-led [Jews] Untermenschen [subhumans]". There is no primary source to the quote and Biletsky himself strongly denied it on various 18/
occasions.. I’ve seen and read various interviews with him and he comes across as someone who is a nationalist but not a Nazi - there is an important difference between the 2 terms. Here is Biletsky giving an interview to Dmitriy Gordon, a popular Ukrainian 19/
journalist of Jewish origin a few years ago 20/

National Corps is affiliated with Azov Civil Corps, an NGO which has similar branding to Azov regiment but does not have any direct ties to Ukraine National Guard. Azov Civil Corps does organize youth camps which are a nationalistic version of Boy Scouts 21/
and have been involved in organizing a controversial national militia along with National Corps.

So now let’s get back to Azov regiment ( expanded from a battalion since being incorporated into National Guard ) 22/
Azov regiment today is not the Azov battalion of 2014: different leadership, different structure, formal status within Internal Ministry hierarchy and de-politicized. There are some individual ties between the veterans of Azov circa 2014 and today’s regiment members 23/
To the extent that Azov did retain some far right elements, I would guess that it’s a lot less than the 10-20% from its free-wheeling paramilitary volunteer stage. So let’s say the number of ultranationalists in Azov is still 5% - that would be around 50 people 24/
Again, for context this is 50 people in a country of 42 million and within a context of 600,000 military personnel between Ukraine Army, Reserves, National guard and territorial defense 25/
Now, let’s just say there are 50 individuals with far right views in Azov. What exactly does that mean in practical terms? How are they exercising their political outlook? Are they committing crimes or using their position in a defense unit of the army inappropriately? 26/
In 2014 there were some allegations about war crimes and torture committed by the members of Azov battalion. But as I’ve outlined, the Azov regiment in 2022 is a different animal with largely different staff and different leadership relative to its paramilitary days 27/
I think that the fact that Azov retained the emblem designed by its founder Biletsky is unfortunate and does it a disservice since it creates something people can point finger at and use for propaganda purposes 28/
Meanwhile, the way propaganda always works is that it takes something that’s true and then distorts and amplifies it. In the case of Kremlin propaganda, they take the far right roots of Azov which are true and amplify them to create a sinister picture of Azov today 29/
and by corollary of all national guard and all Ukraine army. I hear this on Russian state channels all the time: heard just today - “Ukrainian nationalist battalions are holding 4.5 million people in Ukrainian cities hostage” 30/
This is how Russian state media refers to Ukrainian military defending Kharkiv, Mariupol, Izum, Sumy, Chernihiv, etc… you’d think that all of the citizens were ready to roll out the red carpet for the Russian military that’s bombing them, if not for the “nationalists” 31/
that are preventing them from doing that.The propaganda however has been quite effective since I see a lot of people on Twitter who couldn’t find Ukraine on the map a month ago who are now convinced that there are whole Nazi battalions in Ukraine running around and 32/
doing Nazi things.. However, none of them can even say what these “nazi things” they are accusing of are. It gets worse since some of the popular MAGA accounts like @JackPosobiec , @Cernovich and @stillgray are amplifying this propagandist canard 33/
Mind you none of them know anything about the political developments in Ukraine or regional developments between Ukraine and Russia but are all too happy to grab on to Kremlin propaganda to rationalize their reactionary response to US foreign policy 34/
Since Biden admin is the author of the current foreign policy, these MAGA accounts must be automatically against it and it’s all too convenient to parrot Russian state propaganda and proclaim that we are arming “actual Nazis” 35/
Even someone like @ggreenwald who should know better and attempt to do some basic due diligence and journalism latches on to the “actual Nazis” because he has an axe to grind about the Iraq war, and he thinks that any U.S. foreign policy objectives must be as 36/
flawed as the policy that has led to Iraq war. Mind you, none of these propaganda amplifiers have spent any effort to condemn Putin and his policy of bombing cities and killing civilians in an effort to subsume Ukraine into “Russian world” 37/
When people parrot “actual Nazis” they don’t stop and think what it means to be a Nazi in practice, because if they did they would recognize the Russian state today as a nazi state in practice based on classic attributes of Nazism: 38/
When you listen to Russian politicians talk about the special mission of Russian people, it’s not the pride in their culture and some basic nationalism they pronounce, they want to impose the “Russian world” on others beyond their borders by force if need be 39/
as we can witness now. Irredentism and expansionism are integral part of Nazi ideology and it’s practiced today by the Russian state as it was by Nazi Germany which laid claims on its own former “historic possessions,” just like Russia does today 40/
where it thinks that Russian empire within its maximalist borders has to be reconstructed own way or another.. Nazism and fascism are also averse to the very concept of liberal democracy and as we can see in Russia today the politico-economic arrangement that’s 41/
Used by tbt state is a dictatorship that controls business through oligarchy which is allowed to get rich only to the extent that it offers its riches and economic levers to the state and for the benefit of its policies on command 42/
In any case, to go back to the point of this thread, i find it obscene that Russian “Nazi” propaganda is being amplified to slander a country that has elected an ethnic Jew a president by a 73% vote, the members of the government of which have ethnic Russians, ethnic 43/
Armenians, ethnic Georgians and other representatives of ethnic minority groups; a country that’s probably one of the very few on Europe that doesn’t have a far right party in the Parliament because the far right isn’t even popular enough to clear the electoral threshold /end🧵

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