Who are the soldiers of the Azov Battalion accused of being “neonazis” of the Ukrainian army?

On June 15, 2019, soldiers from the Azov Battalion of the National Guard of Ukraine held a parade in Mariupol, Ukraine, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the liberation of the city from pro-Russian separatists.

This has become a major debate among pro-Russians to defend the war in Ukraine: Kyiv’s army will be attacked by neo-Nazis. Russian President Vladimir Putin said “Denazification” Ukraine, many internet users have shared pictures of Ukrainian soldiers with the Nazi symbol in recent weeks: pictures of the Azov Battalion. They claim that Western nations are arming transnationalists by providing military support to Ukraine.

What is the origin of this Azov Battalion fighting the Russian invasion in some cities of the country today? What is your relationship with the rest of the Ukrainian army? Should all the soldiers that make up it be labeled “neonazi”?

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Originally, a battalion of neo-Nazi volunteers to fight the pro-Russians of Donbus

When the war broke out in Donbus in April 2014, Ukrainian troops were confused and, as in the case of Crimea last month, the government feared losing control of this territory to Russia. To counter pro-Russian separatists, the government has allowed independent military volunteer battalions to fight. Several far-right armed groups will appear.

Among them is the “Black Corps” named “Azov Battalion” after the sea bordering the Crimean Peninsula and southeastern Ukraine.It is a battalion of about 100 volunteers with nationalist and neo-Nazi ideas, some of which “Results of hooligans and paramilitaries”, Adrian Nonjon, a researcher at the National Institute of Oriental Languages ​​and Civilizations (Inalco), an expert on far-right and Ukrainian nationalism, explains.

Andriy Biletsky, the founder of the Azov Battalion, held a ceremony in Kyiv on October 19, 2014 to welcome new fighters.

From Kharkiv, the founder of the battalion, Andriy Biletsky subsequently led the Social-National Assembly (SNA) of Alien Exclusion, Anti-Semitism and Racism. Azov uses the same symbol as the Nazist-inspired SNA. That emblem, Wolfs Angel (“Wolf’s Hook”) Inversion, very reminiscent of the 2 emblemWhen SS Division “Das Reich”. Another symbol of Nazi mysticism, “” The battalion logo also temporarily incorporates the “black sun,” which represents a swastika rounded by a few rays.

Assuming reference to III on the InternetWhen Reich by some members of the group is documented. Photos are regularly shared by pro-Russian activists who want to undermine the credibility of the Ukrainian army. For example, at least as far back as 2017, the Azov Battalion and the Ukrainian Nazis, holding Kalashnikov in his arms, where a man poses.Another, at least dating back to 2015 releaseShows a group of tired men around a portrait of Adolf Hitler wearing an Azov T-shirt.

In June 2014, soldiers of the Azov Battalion participated in a battle that allowed Ukrainian troops to regain control of Mariupol, the main port city of Donetsk Oblast in the eastern part of the country. This victory over Moscow-backed pro-Russian separatists created their heroic image in the eyes of the Ukrainian people.

National Guard Regiment since November 2014

The Minsk I Agreement in September 2014 was particularly “Proceed with the withdrawal of illegal insurgents and weapons from Ukrainian territory, as well as irregular fighters and mercenaries.” The battalion can then choose to join or disband the National Guard of Ukraine. In November 2014, the Azov Battalion officially became a regiment of National Guard under the supervision of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.

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“It allowed them to justify themselves, recruit more widely and obtain modern weapons. It has become an elite unit of the National Guard.”, I remember Adrian Non John. The Ukrainians won, and foreign fighters (Georgians, Russians, Belarusians, and even a few French) raised the rank of the regiment and raised the rank of the regiment.German magazine Spiegel.. The soldiers have a reputation for being tough, and several war crimes (torture, rape) in Donbus were attributed to them in 2016, according to reports from the United Nations, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch.

A member of the Azov Battalion at a ceremony held in Kyiv on January 3, 2015, before leaving for the front in the eastern part of the country.

Many volunteers join the Azov Battalion, even if they are not far-right activists. «Join the Azov Battalion (…) It was just a way to fight for their country in the way they thought it was most effectiveIn 2016, historian and political science expert Viatcheslav Likhachev wrote in a memo from the French Institute for International Relations. However, all new employees were taught the far-right, often xenophobic idea. »»

In the case of Michael Colborne, a researcher and journalist at the research site Bellingcat and author of the book published in 2022. “Azov Battalion”Only a small number of Azov Battalion soldiers today are carried by the far right or neo-Nazi ideas. In 2015, brigade spokesman Andriy Diachenko told the American website daily. USA Today than “Only 10-20% of group members [étaient] Nazi »..

This minority forms the core of the regiment and, like modern soldiers, continues to provoke racial hatred. I shot myself Smear pig fat on their bullets for Chechen Muslim soldiers in support of Russia.

despite this, “It’s not a militia that can do whatever it wants, I remember Michael Colborn. It is not independent and must comply with the orders of Ukraine. “.. As Adrian Nonjon points out “The purpose of the integration into the National Guard was to prevent these battalions from opposing the state.”..

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Far-right party founded by veterans of the Azov Battalion

White supremacist Andriy Biletsky, the founder of the regiment, seeks to take advantage of Azov’s political popularity. In the 2014 legislative election, he won a seat as a vice-member.

In 2016, he founded the Far Right National Corps Party with veterans of the Azov Battalion. “This is a far-right revolutionary national movement advocating a third way, believing that Ukraine should not be on the side of the Eurasian continent. [de celui] From the westDescribes Adrien Nonjon. He advocates military nationalism that war is the best way to complete the consolidation of a country. »»

In a 2016 article, Ukrainian historian Vyacheslav Likhachev wrote: “Azov is the most prominent example of ultranationalism, which is legalized and even heroic in Ukrainian public discourse.” »»

In 2017, relatives of the National Corps and veterans of the Azov Battalion also created the “national militia”. “Street crime, drug trafficking, fighting public alcoholism, According to the article by Guardian..

Azov Battalion veterans will attend the first meeting of the Far Right Army Party in Kyiv on October 14, 2016.

Far right that rarely exists in elections

However, all these efforts to turn the regiment’s popularity into ballots seem to have failed. During the 2019 legislative election, Andreï Biletski loses his role on his behalf. The alliance between the transnational party Svoboda, the Right Sector, and the National Corps won only 2% of the votes.

“Azov grew too fast to lay a solid foundation.I believe in Adrian Non John. The environment of Ukrainian nationalists was extremely divided and the corps’s people were unable to adapt the program to Ukrainian issues. Due to the Russian threat, we can also think that all Ukrainian political parties are nationalists today, for the defense of their country. »»

The galaxy formed around Azov failed in the ballot box, but Michael Colborne points out that transnationals like Andriy Biletsky have succeeded in integrating and normalizing the political situation in Ukraine. To do. Due to his freedom of speech and his ability to increase his branches (military, political, etc.), Azov also gained great popularity in the ultra-right-wing movement. He traveled to Ukraine to meet its members, Americans, Norwegians, and even French neo-Nazis.

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Regiment that accounts for less than 2% of the Ukrainian army

It is difficult to say exactly how many Azov Battalion are currently. Michael Colborn estimated this figure to be 2,000 before the war with Russia. Adrien Nonjon is advancing numbers among 3,000 to 5,000 members (including bookings).

The ongoing conflict makes assessment much more difficult due to the large recruitment from the population. Besides, “Ukraine and the regiment are deliberately maintaining ambiguity about the exact numbers, as they are very strategic military intelligence.”Reminds me of Inalco researchers.

According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Ukraine had a total of 196,000 soldiers and 60,000 National Guards earlier this year. Therefore, the regiment will account for less than 2% of the Ukrainian army.

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