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FTR #1073 Azov on Our Mind: Ukrainian Fascism Extends Its Tentacles (Return of the Prodigal “Black Sun”)

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This broadcast was recorded in one, 60-minute segment.

Nazi Black Sun symbol.

Emblem of the Ukrainian Azov Battalion

 

Introduction: We have covered the origin, activities and expansion of the Ukrainian Nazi Azov Battalion in numerous programs. Part of the Ukrainain armed forces, this Nazi unit:

  1. Has spawned a civil militia which achieved police powers in many Ukrainian cities. . . . . But Ukraine observers and rights groups are sounding the alarm, because this was not a typical commencement, and the men are not police officers. They are far-right ultranationalists from the Azov movement, a controversial group with a military wing that has openly accepted self-avowed neo-Nazis, and a civil and political faction that has demonstrated intolerance toward minority groups. . . .”
  2. Has as its spokesman Roman Zvarych. In the 1980’s, Zvarych was the personal secretary to Jaroslav Stetzko, the wartime head of the Nazi collaborationist government in Ukraine. Stetzko implemented Nazi ethnic cleansing in Ukraine during World War II.
  3. Wields influence with in the Ministry of the Interior through Vadim Troyan, the former deputy commander of Azov who is now deputy minister of the interior. ” . . . . The deputy minister of the Interior—which controls the National Police—is Vadim Troyan, a veteran of Azov and Patriot of Ukraine. . . .  Today, he’s deputy of the department running US-trained law enforcement in the entire nation. Earlier this month, RFE reported on National Police leadership admiring Stepan Bandera—a Nazi collaborator and Fascist whose troops participated in the Holocaust—on social media. The fact that Ukraine’s police is peppered with far-right supporters explains why neo-Nazis operate with impunity on the streets. . . .”
  4. Combat helmets of the Azov Battalion.

    Gets arms and training from the U.S., despite official restrictions on such activity. ” . . . . The research group Bellingcat proved that Azov had already received access to American grenade launchers, while a Daily Beast investigation showed that US trainers are unable to prevent aid from reaching white supremacists. And Azov itself had proudly posted a video of the unit welcoming NATO representatives. . . .”

  5. Is fulfilling their strategy of networking with Nazi and fascist elements abroad, including the U.S. ” . . . . FBI Special Agent Scott Bierwirth, in the criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, noted that Right Brand Clothing’s Instagram page contained a photo of RAM members meeting with Olena Semenyaka, a leading figure within the fascist, neo-Nazi scene in Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, Semenyaka is an important voice within the Militant Zone and National Corps organizations and the Pan-European Reconquista movement, all of which have ties to the notorious Azov Battalion. Bierwirth said Azov Battalion, now a piece of the Ukrainian National Guard, is known for neo-Nazi symbolism and ideology and has participated in training and radicalizing U.S.-based white supremacist organizations. . . . .”
  6. Is networking with members of a group called RAM, some of whom were arrested by the FBI upon their return from Europe. violence.
  7. Is utilizing Ukraine’s visa-free status with the EU to network with other European fascist groups. ” . . . . ‘Their English has gotten better,’ Hrytsenko said, referring to Azov members behind the group’s Western outreach. . . . . Another thing that has helped, Hrytsenko noted, is that Ukraine’s break from Russia and move toward the European Union has allowed Ukrainians visa-free travel, making Azov’s outreach easier logistically. . . . .”
  8. Is looking to connect with more “respectable” European right-wing groups than they have in the past, this as a possible vehicle for Ukraine’s entry into the EU. ” . . . . Skillt, the Swedish national who fought as a sniper in the Azov Battalion, is one of them [critics]. ‘I don’t mind [Azov] reaching out, but the ones they reach out to… Jesus,’ he told RFE/RL, in an allusion to RAM. He added that he had recently distanced himself from Azov because of that association and others with far-right groups in Europe. Skillt, who runs a private intelligence agency in Kyiv and said his clients ‘really don’t enjoy bad company,’ argued that the group has made a mistake by not reaching out more to right-wing conservatives who could help with ‘influential contacts in Europe [so] you don’t get branded a neo-Nazi.’ But Semenyaka described praise of Azov from foreign ultranationalist groups who are increasingly welcoming it as evidence that the organization is taking the right path. And she said it isn’t about to let up. Next, she said, Azov hopes to win over larger, more mainstream far-right and populist Western political forces who ‘can be our potential sympathizers.’ ‘If crises like Brexit and the refugee problem continue, in this case, partnerships with nationalist groups in Europe can be a kind of platform for our entry into the European Union.’ . . . “
  9. Azov Battalion Spin Off National Militia, served as election monitors in Ukraine.

    Was awarded the job of election monitoring by the Ukrainian government in their recent elections. ” . . . . They are the ultranationalist National Militia, street vigilantes with roots in the battle-tested Azov Battalion that emerged to defend Ukraine against Russia-backed separatists but was also accused of possible war crimes and neo-Nazi sympathies. Yet despite the controversy surrounding it, the National Militia was granted permission by the Central Election Commission to officially monitor Ukraine’s presidential election on March 31. . . .”

Supplementing discussion about the Azov milieu networking with foreign fascists, we note that alleged Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter Brent Tarrant had apparently networked with Azov during a visit to Ukraine:

  1. Brent Tarrant, allege Christchurch, New Zealand, Mosque shooter, had apparently visited Ukraine. ” . . . . His manifesto alludes to visits to Poland, Ukraine, Iceland and Argentina as well. . . .”
  2. Tarrant may have been a beneficiary of the aforementioned visa-free travel that EU association has for Ukraine. “. . . . Three quarters of them say the country is headed in the wrong direction, despite the fact that Ukraine has moved closer to Europe (it now has visa-free travel to the EU, for instance). . . .”
  3.  Even The New York Times noted the possible contact between Azov and Tarrant. . . . . The Ukrainian far right also appears to have ties in other countries. Australian Brenton Tarrant, accused of slaughtering 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand, mentioned a visit to Ukraine in his manifesto, and some reports alleged that he had contacts with the ultra-right. The Soufan Center, a research group specializing on security, has recently alleged possible links between Tarrant and the Azov Battalion. . . .”
  4. A private intelligence group–the Soufan Center–has linked Tarrant to the Azov Battalion. ” . . . . .In the wake of the New Zealand mosque attacks, links have emerged between the shooter, Brent Tarrant, and a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist, white supremacist paramilitary organization called the Azov Battalion. Tarrant’s manifesto alleges that he visited the country during his many travels abroad, and the flak jacket that Tarrant wore during the assault featured a symbol commonly used by the Azov Battalion. . . .”

Concluding with a piece of grotesque, unintentional comedy, The New York Times cited the fact that Mr. Zelensky, the new Ukrainian president, is a non-practicing Jew as proof that Russian statements about Ukraine being dominated by Nazis and anti-Semites is nothing but propaganda. The fact that the Azov’s Nationa Corps militia served as election monitors was not mentioned. ” . . . . the near total silence on his Jewish background has demolished a favorite trope of Russian propaganda — that Ukraine is awash with neo-Nazis intent on creating a Slavic version of the Third Reich. . . .”

1a. The election of a non-practicing Jew as president of Ukraine is being hailed as proof that the obvious return of fascism to Ukrainian power structure is just “Russian propaganda.”

“Ukraine Election: Comedian Dismissed by President Is Poised to Get the Last Laugh” by Andrew Higgins; The New York Times; 4/20/2019.

. . . . A few far-right nationalists have tried, in vain, to make an issue of the fact that Mr. Zelensky is Jewish. But the near total silence on his Jewish background has demolished a favorite trope of Russian propaganda — that Ukraine is awash with neo-Nazis intent on creating a Slavic version of the Third Reich. . . .

2. The milieu of the Azov Battalion is networking with fascists and Nazis from other countries, including the U.S. Four members of a group called RAM (Rise Above Movement) were arrested by the FBI following their trip to Europe, during which they networked with elements from the Azov Battalion and associated organizations.

Members of RAM have been charged in connection with the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Note than Olena Semyanaka, who met with the RAM contingent, is prominent in the “Azov Movement.”

“Three members of Rise Above Movement arrested in California, fourth sought as fugitive turns himself in” by Brett Barrouquere; Southern Poverty Law Center; 10/29/2018.

A violent white supremacist gang known as the Rise Above Movement and two others traveled to Europe to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and later met with a paramilitary chief there, federal prosecutors say.

Robert Rundo, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach, California, resident, 29-year-old Michael Paul Miselis, of Lawndale, California, and 25-year-old Benjamin Drake Daley of Redondo Beachwent to Germany, Italy and Ukraine in spring 2018 not only to celebrate, but also to meet with European white supremacist groups, prosecutors said in a criminal complaint against Rundo unsealed this week.

FBI agents arrested Rundo on Sunday at Los Angeles International Airport, said Katherine Gulotta, a spokesman for the agency in Los Angeles. He had been arrested in Central America before being returned to the U.S.

Two others, 25-year-old Robert Boman of Torrance, California, and 22-year-old Tyler Laube of Redondo Beach, California, were arrested Wednesday.

A fourth RAM member, 38-year-old Aaron Eason of Anza, California, surrendered to the FBI over the weekend.

The four are charged with a series of violent attacks during events in Huntington Beach, Berkeley and San Bernardino, California, in 2017.

Prosecutors said the four men used the internet to coordinate “combat training,” recruit members and organize riots.

“Every American has the right to peacefully organize, march and protest in support of their beliefs — but no one has the right to violently assault their political opponents,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

The arrests and charges are the second batch filed this month against members of RAM, a violent white supremacist group that practices mixed martial arts and has been accused of showing up for rallies prepared to attack people.

Prosecutors in Charlottesville, Virginia, charged four other California men with traveling to that city on Aug. 11-12, 2017, to take part in and attack people at the “Unite the Right” rally.

Michael Paul Miselis, a 29-year-old Lawndale, California, resident, 34-year-old Thomas Walter Gillen of Redondo Beach, California, 24-year-old Cole Evan White of Clayton, California, and Daley are awaiting a court hearing in Virginia. They are also charged with rioting and conspiracy to riot.

Rundo is the owner of Right Brand Clothing, which promotes white supremacist themes and logos. The FBI believes he ran RAM’s now-suspended Twitter account.

RAM has been making entreaties overseas, including in Italy, Germany and Eastern Europe. The FBI said Rundo, Miselis and Daley met with European white supremacy extremist groups, “including a group known as White Rex.”

FBI Special Agent Scott Bierwirth, in the criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday, noted that Right Brand Clothing’s Instagram page contained a photo of RAM members meeting with Olena Semenyaka, a leading figure within the fascist, neo-Nazi scene in Eastern Europe. In Ukraine, Semenyaka is an important voice within the Militant Zone and National Corps organizations and the Pan-European Reconquista movement, all of which have ties to the notorious Azov Battalion.

Bierwirth said Azov Battalion, now a piece of the Ukrainian National Guard, is known for neo-Nazi symbolism and ideology and has participated in training and radicalizing U.S.-based white supremacist organizations.

Rundo was filmed reciting the “14 Words” pledge popular in white supremacist circles.

“I’m a big supporter of the fourteen, I’ll say that,” Rundo told fellow RAM members on the video.

The rioting and conspiracy charges stem from a “Make America Great Again” rally on March 25, 2017, in Huntington Beach. The FBI said RAM members split from the main rally and attacked counter-protesters, and Rundo, Boman and Laube hit a number of people, including two journalists.

Daley, who is not charged in California, was also at the Huntington Beach rally, Bierwirth noted.

The violence was later celebrated by RAM members online, noted on neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer, and used in solicitation for others to attend the Berkeley rally and combat training to be held in a park in San Clemente.

“Front page of the stormer we did it fam,” Daley texted another RAM member on March 25, 2017.

At the Berkeley rally, on April 17, 2017, Rundo, Boman and Eason attacked multiple people, Bierwirth wrote. Rundo was later arrested after punching a “defenseless person” and a Berkeley police officer.

Again, Bierwirth noted, the attacks were celebrated online, with Boman posting photos of himself attacking people and RAM members taking part in combat training.

Bierwirth also wrote that Rundo and other RAM members participated in an “Anti-Islamic Law” rally in San Bernardino on June 10, 2017. The rally was part of a nationwide demonstration put on by anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America. According to Bierwirth, RAM members took part in violent attacks at the ACT event. . . .

3a. According to the following RFE/RL report, Azov has ambitions that go far beyond training American neo-Nazis. The group wants to create a coalition of European neo-Nazi groups, with Azov at its core.

As Olena Semenyaka, the international secretary for Azov’s political wing, the National Corps, told RFE/RL, “We think globally.” Expanding the “Azov movement” abroad is one of the group’s goals.

The training Azov is providing these foreign neo-Nazi groups goes beyond military training. It also included training in the propaganda techniques used to mainstream Azov, including setting up youth camps. When American neo-Nazi Greg Johnson recently gave a speech at an Azov gathering he declared that, “this is not a speaking tour, it’s a listening tour. I really want to learn how maybe we can do things better in the United States and Western Europe.” Semenyaka also asserted that when the RAM members recently visited, “they came to learn our ways” and “showed interest in learning how to create youth forces in the ways Azov has.” Semenyaka denies any military training was provided.

The article also points out how Azov has been consciously attempting to downplay its over neo-Nazism without compromising its core neo-Nazi ideals for the purpose of expanding its popular appeal and bringing the movement into the mainstream.

Interestingly, Michael Skillt, the Swedish white nationalist sniper who was one of the first foreign fighters to join Azov, appears to have soured somewhat on the group, arguing that it should have avoided the overt neo-Nazi image and attempted to find common cause with more mainstream right-wing European movements.

Skillt is currently running a private intelligence agency in Kyiv.

Ominously, Semenyaka asserts that Azov cozying up to Europe’s mainstream conservative parties is next on Azov’s agenda, with the plan of turning these mainstream European conservatives into potential sympathizers for the purpose of getting Ukraine allowed into the European Union. As Semenyaka puts it, “If crises like Brexit and the refugee problem continue, in this case, partnerships with nationalist groups in Europe can be a kind of platform for our entry into the European Union.”

So Azov clearly has big ambitions for the mainstreaming of its movement across the West:

“Azov, Ukraine’s Most Prominent Ultranationalist Group, Sets Its Sights On U.S., Europe” By Christopher Miller; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; 11/14/2018.

Robert Rundo, the muscly leader of a California-based white-supremacist group that refers to itself as the “premier MMA (mixed martial arts) club of the Alt-Right,” unleashed a barrage of punches against his opponent.

But Rundo, a 28-year-old Huntington Beach resident who would be charged and arrested in October over a series of violent attacks in his hometown, Berkeley, and San Bernardino in 2017, wasn’t fighting on American streets.

It was April 27 and Rundo, whose Rise Above Movement (RAM) has been described by ProPublica as “explicitly violent,” was swinging gloved fists at a Ukrainian contender in the caged ring of a fight club associated with the far-right ultranationalist Azov group in Kyiv.

A video of Rundo’s fight, which was streamed live on Facebook (below), shows that the American lost the bout. But for Rundo, who thanked his hosts with a shout of “Slava Ukrayini!” (Glory to Ukraine), it was a victory of another sort: RAM’s outreach tour, which included stops in Italy and Germany to celebrate Adolf Hitler’s birthday and spread its alt-right agenda, brought the two radical groups closer together.

For the Ukrainians, too, the benefits extended outside the ring. It marked a step toward legitimizing Azov among its counterparts in the West and set in motion what appears to be its next project: the expansion of its movement abroad.

“We think globally,” Olena Semenyaka, the international secretary for Azov’s political wing, the National Corps, told RFE/RL in an interview at one of the group’s Kyiv offices last week.

The Rundo fight has received fresh scrutiny following an FBI criminal complaint against him unsealed last month that preceded his arrest. In it, Special Agent Scott Bierwirth wrote that Azov’s military wing is “believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations.”

Washington has armed Ukraine with Javelin antitank missile systems and trained its armed forces as they fight Russia-backed separatists in the east.

But it has banned arms from going to Azov members and forbidden them from participating in U.S.-led military training because of their far-right ideology.

It was Azov’s Semenyaka who hosted Rundo along with fellow Americans Michael Miselis and Benjamin Daley, RAM members who participated in last year’s “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that was the backdrop for the death of 32-year-old counterprotester Heather Heyer.

This month, in Kyiv, she hosted and translated for American Greg Johnson, a white nationalist who edits the website Counter-Currents, which the Southern Poverty Law Center describes as “an epicenter of ‘academic’ white nationalism.”

Over the past year, she’s made several outreach trips to Western Europe to meet with far-right groups and spread Azov’s ultranationalist message.

And when she’s not doing it herself, Semenyaka said, that task is sometimes given to Denis Nikitin, a prominent Russian soccer hooligan and MMA fighter who founded the white nationalist clothing label White Rex and has a garnered a large following across Europe and the United States. In November 2017, the two traveled together to Warsaw and participated in the Europe Of The Future 2 conference organized by Polish white supremacist group and “ally” Szturmowcy (Stormtroopers), where they were meant to speak alongside American Richard Spencer, Semenyaka said. But Polish authorities barred Spencer from entering the country and he was unable to attend.

Often in Kyiv when he’s not traveling through Europe or visiting family in Germany, Nikitin operates as a sort of unofficial Azov ambassador-at-large and organizes MMA bouts at the Reconquista Club, the ultranationalist haunt where Rundo fought. A combination restaurant, sports center, and fight club, Semenyaka said Rundo and Nikitin met there and “exchanged ideas.”

In the current climate, with an apparent shift toward nationalism in parts of Europe, “it’s possible for far-right leaders to come to power now and — we hope — form a coalition,” Semenyaka told RFE/RL. And Azov, she added, “wants a position at the front of this movement.”

From Battlefield To Political Arena

The Azov Battalion was formed in May 2014 in response to the Russia-backed separatist advance sweeping across eastern Ukraine. Comprised of volunteers, it has roots in a group of hard-core, far-right soccer fans, including many violent hooligans, commonly known in Eastern Europe as “ultras.”

With Ukraine’s weak military at the time caught flat-footed, Azov and other such battalions did much of the heavy fighting in the early days of the war, which has killed more than 10,300 people.

But it was Azov that attracted those of far-right persuasion, including at least three Americans and many others from Western nations. One such fighter was Mikael Skillt, a Swede who trained as a sniper in the Swedish Army and previously described himself as an “ethnic nationalist.”

The Azov Battalion flaunts a symbol similar to that of the former Nazi Wolfsangel. (The group claims it is an amalgam of the letters N and I for “national idea.”) It has been accused by international human rights groups, such as the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), of committing and allowing serious human rights abuses, including torture.

Following a 2015 deal known as the Minsk Accords that was meant to be a road map to end the fighting but did little more than turn down the intensity, the Azov Battalion was officially incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard and its leadership shifted focus from the battlefield to the political arena.

The Azov National Corps entered the political fray in October 2016, appointing battalion commander Andriy Biletsky to lead it. Biletsky was previously tied to other far-right groups and, in 2010, reportedly said that the nation’s mission was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade…against Semite-led Untermenschen [subhumans].”

The party incorporated two other far-right organizations, including Patriot of Ukraine, which according to the Kharkiv Human Rights Group “espoused xenophobic and neo-Nazi ideas and was engaged in violent attacks against migrants, foreign students in Kharkiv, and those opposing its views.”

As RFE/RL reported at the time, the National Corps’ inaugural ceremony arguably had pomp more reminiscent of 1930s Germany than of postwar democracy. It included nationalist chants, raised fists, and a torchlit march through central Kyiv.

In January, in another flashy ceremony, Azov introduced a new paramilitary force that it calls the National Militia. On a snowy evening, some 600 of mostly young men in matching fatigues marched from Kyiv’s central Independence Square to a lighted fortress on a hillside in the Ukrainian capital, where they swore an oath to clean the streets of illegal alcohol, drug traffickers, and illegal gambling establishments.

While not officially part of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry or any other government body legally authorized to enforce the law, the National Militia has more often than not been allowed to establish what it considers “Ukrainian order” on the streets of cities across the country. In many cases, that has meant attacking LGBT events and Romany camps, actions for which members of the group have not been prosecuted.

Combined, these groups are known as the “Azov movement,” which includes more than 10,000 active members, according to Semenyaka.

‘State Within The State’

But Azov’s success in growing the movement so far has not translated into much political success at home.

While the party has not yet been tested in parliamentary elections, less than 1 percent of eligible voters said they would vote for National Corps or its fellow far-right group Right Sector, according to June polling by Kyiv-based Razumkov Center.

Those groups didn’t fare much better in July, when GFK Ukraine asked whether voters would support an alliance of National Corps, Right Sector, and a third far-right party, Svoboda, and only 2 percent responded positively.

At the same time, however, Azov believes its influence has grown. In an October 29 post on Facebook, Semenyaka went so far as to say that “just within 4 years, the Azov Movement has become a small state in the state.”

Much of the success has come from recruiting new, mostly young, members, who it hopes will come to the polls in next year’s parliamentary elections.

Azov has done so with youth camps, including some that teach children as young as 9 years old military tactics and far-right ideology, recreation centers, lecture halls, and far-right education programs.

It has also utilized the reach of social media, particularly Facebook and Telegram, where the group recruits and promotes patriotism, nationalism, and a sport-focused lifestyle. Much of that effort caters to Ukrainians coming of age in a time of war and as illiberal governments rise on the country’s periphery, said Ukrainian sociologist Anya Hrytsenko, who researches far-right groups.

“Azov has made far-right nationalism fashionable, and they have been strategic in how they portray themselves, shedding the typical neo-Nazi trappings,” Hrytsenko told RFE/RL. “This has helped them to move from a subculture to the mainstream.”

Explaining that strategy, Semenyaka, who has been photographed holding a flag with a swastika and making a Nazi salute, said that “more radical” language was used previously, such as during the height of the war in 2014, when the Azov Battalion needed fighters, “because it was required by the situation.”

Now, she said, the strategy is to “moderate” in order to appeal to a broader base in Ukraine and abroad. But only to an extent.

“We are trying to become mainstream without compromising some of our core ideas,” she continued, adding that “radical statements…scare away more of society.”

And in its recalibration, Azov is not only thinking of Ukrainians but of like-minded groups abroad. Hence the addition of members like Semenyaka and collaboration with Nikitin, who literally speak the language of their counterparts abroad.

“Their English has gotten better,” Hrytsenko said, referring to Azov members behind the group’s Western outreach.

Nikitin, who could not be reached for an interview, is a Russian and German speaker.

Another thing that has helped, Hrytsenko noted, is that Ukraine’s break from Russia and move toward the European Union has allowed Ukrainians visa-free travel, making Azov’s outreach easier logistically.

Making Friends In The West

In recent months, Semenyaka and other Azov members have taken advantage of that, making several visits to EU countries to meet numerous European counterparts, according to investigations by RFE/RL and the open-source investigative group Bellingcat.

Semenyaka participated in and blogged about the Young Europe Forum in Dresden in August alongside far-right sympathizers from groups in Germany, Italy, and Austria. Specifically, she said she has met with those from groups that Azov considers close allies — for instance, Greece’s Golden Dawn, Italy’s CasaPound, Poland’s Szturmowcy, and Germany’s National Democratic Party and Alternative For Germany.

Other Azov members have traveled to meet counterparts in Baltic states and Croatia, she added.

Asked about the FBI allegations in the criminal complaint first reported by The New York Times — that Azov was “training and radicalizing” American far-right groups — she said it was not and dared U.S. authorities to “provide real evidence of this.”

In the case of Rundo, Miselis, and Daley, Semenyaka said, “they came to learn our ways” and “showed interest in learning how to create youth forces in the ways Azov has.”

On the visit, the three Americans also attended a concert by the white-nationalist metal band Sokyra Peruna, where concertgoers made Nazi salutes and waved Nazi flags. They also posed for photographs to promote Rundo’s The Right Brand clothing line at Kyiv’s Independence Square, joined Azov members at Kyiv’s famous outdoor gym, Kachalka, for a weight-training session, and fought at the Reconquista Club. Rundo even got White Rex’s Viking warrior logo tattooed on his left calf.

“But there was no military training,” Semenyaka insisted.

Counter-Currents’ Johnson was perhaps the most recent American to ask for Azov’s help. In a rare public appearance, the alt-right ideologue visited Kyiv at the invitation of Semenyaka to lecture on October 16 about his Manifesto Of White Nationalism. Semenyaka translated for Johnson, who spoke to a small but crowded room at Azov’s Plomin (Flame) cultural center.

In a video of the event published on Azov’s Plomin YouTube channel, Johnson, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describes as “one of the leading voices of the far-right” and “an international figure for white nationalism,” doesn’t hide his motive for the trip: to learn from Ukraine’s ultranationalists and their successes.

“This is not a speaking tour, it’s a listening tour. I really want to learn how maybe we can do things better in the United States and Western Europe,” Johnson said, lamenting the state of the alt-right in the United States.

“It was a very, very influential and powerful movement for a very short time,” he said of America’s alt-right movement, without providing a precise time frame.

“And at the peak of it, we had a network that extended all the way to the office of the president,” he continued, in what appeared to be a reference to Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist and alt-right figure.

“There were very few degrees of separation between people who were making ideas…and people who were in a position to make political policy, and that was totally destroyed,” Johnson added.

He praised Ukraine’s far-right groups, who he said were capable of “real street activism.”

Associations Too Much For Some In Azov

While Azov’s cooperation with groups like RAM has been largely welcomed by the group’s members, some have found it uncomfortable.

Skillt, the Swedish national who fought as a sniper in the Azov Battalion, is one of them.

“I don’t mind [Azov] reaching out, but the ones they reach out to… Jesus,” he told RFE/RL, in an allusion to RAM. He added that he had recently distanced himself from Azov because of that association and others with far-right groups in Europe.

Skillt, who runs a private intelligence agency in Kyiv and said his clients “really don’t enjoy bad company,” argued that the group has made a mistake by not reaching out more to right-wing conservatives who could help with “influential contacts in Europe [so] you don’t get branded a neo-Nazi.”

But Semenyaka described praise of Azov from foreign ultranationalist groups who are increasingly welcoming it as evidence that the organization is taking the right path. And she said it isn’t about to let up.

Next, she said, Azov hopes to win over larger, more mainstream far-right and populist Western political forces who “can be our potential sympathizers.”

“If crises like Brexit and the refugee problem continue, in this case, partnerships with nationalist groups in Europe can be a kind of platform for our entry into the European Union.”

3. Check out Ukraine’s new collection of poll-watchers for the upcoming presidential election on March 31st: Azov Battalion. Or, rather, Azov’s street vigilante offshoot, the National Militia. They’ve seriously been granted permission by the Central Election Commission to officially monitor the elections.

But the election commission is apparently rethinking that decision following National Militia’s the threats of violence. According to National Militia’s spokesman, Ihor Vdovin, the group will follow the instructions of its commander, Ihor Mikhailenko, “if law enforcers turn a blind eye to outright violations and don’t want to document them.” So what were Mikahilenko’s instructions? “If we need to punch someone in the face in the name of justice, we will do this without hesitation.” Yep, the commander of the National Militia is already openly declaring that the group’s members will punch people if they see election violations. Which is obviously attempted open intimidation of the electorate. Members of the Roma or LGBT community are going to be a lot less likely to vote if they see one of the people who previously violently attacked them standing there as a poll monitor. And that’s all why the election commission is rethinking the granting of National Militia this observers status. Rethinking, but not actually rescinding.

It’s all a pretty big example of why the relative lack of electoral successes for the Ukrainian far right aren’t an accurate reflection of the growing power of these groups. For starters, part of the reason for the lack of electoral success of the far right parties is the successful co-opting of their agenda by the rest of the more mainstream parties. And that mainstream co-opting of the far right includes moves like deputizing National Militia and giving them election observer powers. In addition, as the article notes, while Azov’s political wing, National Corps, isn’t winning over the support of the broader electorate (polls put National Corps support at around 1 percent), but its slickly produced videos are winning over growing numbers of young men to the far right cause. Recall how National Corps advocates that Ukraine rearm itself with nuclear weapons.

So Azov’s National Corps may not be winning elections, but winning elections isn’t really their path to power. Growing in numbers and relying on a mix of naked shows of force and threats of violence is Azov’s path to power. And that strategy is clearly working, as evidenced by the fact that they’re currently empowered to monitor elections despite their inability to win them:

“Deputized As Election Monitors, Ukrainian Ultranationalists ‘Ready To Punch’ Violators” by Christopher Miller; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty; 03/07/2019.

They patrol the streets of the Ukrainian capital in matching urban camouflage and march in lockstep through Kyiv with torches.

They attack minority groups, including Roma and LGBT people. And some of them have trained with visiting American white supremacists.

They are the ultranationalist National Militia, street vigilantes with roots in the battle-tested Azov Battalion that emerged to defend Ukraine against Russia-backed separatists but was also accused of possible war crimes and neo-Nazi sympathies.

Yet despite the controversy surrounding it, the National Militia was granted permission by the Central Election Commission to officially monitor Ukraine’s presidential election on March 31. . . .

4a. Brent Tarrant, allege Christchurch, New Zealand, Mosque shooter, had apparently visited Ukraine.

 “Suspect Traveled World, But Lived on the Internet” by David D. Kirkpatrick; The New York Times [Western Edition]; 3/16/2019; p. A15.

. . . . His manifesto alludes to visits to Poland, Ukraine, Iceland and Argentina as well. . . .

4b.  Tarrant may have been a beneficiary of the aforementioned visa-free travel that EU association has for Ukraine.

“Tragicomedy;” The Economist; 3/16/2019; pp. 44-45.

. . . . Three quarters of them say the country is headed in the wrong direction, despite the fact that Ukraine has moved closer to Europe (it now has visa-free travel to the EU, for instance). . . .

4c. Even The New York Times noted the possible contact between Azov and Tarrant.

   “Ukraine’s Ultra-Right Increasingly Visible as Election Nears” [AP]; The New York Times; 3/27/2019.

. . . . The Ukrainian far right also appears to have ties in other countries. Australian Brenton Tarrant, accused of slaughtering 50 people at two mosques in the city of Christchurch in New Zealand, mentioned a visit to Ukraine in his manifesto, and some reports alleged that he had contacts with the ultra-right. The Soufan Center, a research group specializing on security, has recently alleged possible links between Tarrant and the Azov Battalion. . . .

4e. A private intelligence group–the Soufan Center–has linked Tarrant to the Azov Battalion.

“Intelbrief: The Transnational Network That No One Is Talking About;” The Soufan Network; 2/22/2019.

In the wake of the New Zealand mosque attacks, links have emerged between the shooter, Brent Tarrant, and a Ukrainian ultra-nationalist, white supremacist paramilitary organization called the Azov Battalion. Tarrant’s manifesto alleges that he visited the country during his many travels abroad, and the flak jacket that Tarrant wore during the assault featured a symbol commonly used by the Azov Battalion. . . .

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