by IAIN DAVIS
When Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine on 24 February, he stated that the objectives were, in part, “to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine”. The notion that Ukraine needed to be “denazified” was immediately dismissed by Western leaders and the West’s mainstream media.
For example, NBC in the US reported that unnnamed experts believed that Putin’s claim was “slanderous and false”. NBC provided an early outline of the West’s rebuttal, which has remained relatively consistent:
Putin has long sought to falsely paint Ukraine as a Nazi hotbed, which is a particularly jarring accusation given that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost three family members in the Holocaust. [. . .]
[I]n today’s Ukraine, the remaining pro-Nazi movement is far from an open, influential force. While the Ukrainian National Guard is home to the Azov Battalion — a force populated by neo-Nazi sympathizers — there is no evidence to suggest widespread support for such extreme-right nationalism in the government, military or electorate.
The basic idea proffered is that a lack of electoral support, and the election of Jewish leaders, proves that the Nazi elements in Ukraine are relatively insignificant and have no power. Further, the assertion is that incorporation into Ukraine’s national security infrastructure, coupled with wider recruitment, has effectively watered down the extremist element. We are to believe that the National Socialist ideology of Ukrainian Nazis is more about nationalist pride than extermination of the untermenschen.
This stands in contrast to the Russian Government’s perspective. Moscow views Ukraine as possessing a significant Nazi threat. In his February announcement, Putin said:
Focused on their own goals, the leading NATO countries are supporting the far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine. [. . .] Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland [rodina] to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine.
So, let us explore the historical and contemporary evidence and see whether either version stacks up. Does Ukraine need to be denazified?
Ukrainian Nazi history — WWII
What are now the western Ukrainian oblasts (administrative regions) of Lviv (alias Lwów or Lemberg), Zakarpattia (Ruthenian Transcarpathia), Ivano-Frankivsk and Chernivtsi were formerly part of the Second Polish Republic (1918–1939), with smaller parts of these territories belonging to Czechoslovakia and Romania in the same interbellum. A Ukrainian nationalist resistance movement emerged. The Ukrainian Military Organisation (UVO) waged a terrorist campaign during the 1920s and 1930s, striving for political unification of ethnic Ukrainians and promoting nationalism.
The UVO underwent an upheaval between 1929 and 1934 and eventually emerged as the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN). As the Second World War approached, the OUN split into the OUN-M, under the leadership of Andriy Melnyk, and the OUN-B, under Stepan Bandera. The OUN-B had a younger membership and was considered the lesser grouping, but it was also the more radical.
The OUN collaborated with the Nazis for a number of years prior to the outbreak of the Second World War. When the Nazis entered Ukraine in 1941, Bandera unilaterally declared Ukrainian statehood. Although the OUN’s “Banderites” pledged their allegiance to the Third Reich, they would not relinquish their claim to a united Ukraine. Bandera was arrested by the Gestapo and placed under house arrest in June 1941.
Nonetheless, the OUN-B leadership was still directed by Bandera and his leading lieutenants, such as Yaroslav Stetsko. Bandera and Stetsko were able to communicate freely both with their OUN followers and with German Nazi high command.
Bandera’s stated ambition was to create an ethnically pure Ukraine. As is common with Nazis, his followers adopted a questionable ethnic mythology. The OUN imagined all ethnic Ukrainians to be descended from the Nordic royal bloodline of the Rurik dynasty that ruled over the kingdom of Kievan Rus.
The OUN’s racist ideology occasioned the forced relocation or extermination of Poles, Jews and Russians—a policy which Bandera and and his OUN acolytes actively pursued. Bandera was a Nazi collaborator, ultra-nationalist and rabid anti-Semite. In 1941, he was among the key organisers of a coordinated series of pogroms which the OUN undertook in partnership with the Nazi death squads (Einsatzgruppen).
Perhaps the most notorious of these were the Lviv pogroms. More than 4,000 Jews were massacred in the city of Lviv (known in the subsequent Soviet era as Lvov) in just a few horrific days. Lviv had been the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Galicia and was a major Jewish population centre. Bandera authorised appalling propaganda, using it to terrify the Jewish residents, such as the pamphlet distributed by the OUN which read, “We will lay your heads at Hitler’s feet.”
The OUN-B’s desire for a unified Ukraine led it to create its own paramilitary group, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), early in the Second World War. The UPA fought alongside the German Nazis for most of the war. It also briefly fought against them in 1943, but then rejoined the Nazi war effort a few months later to continue the battle against the advancing Red Army.
The men of the UPA were Nazis in their own right. Between 1941 and 1945, the UPA systematically tortured and massacred an estimated 100,000 Poles. Survivor accounts from villages like Hurby and Kurdybań Warkowicki revealed the horrific bloodlust of the UPA. Milgram proved the human propensity for casual cruelty under orders, but the UPA demonstrated an ideological barbarity.
Professor John-Paul Himka researched more than 1,800 witness testimonies of Holocaust survivors recorded in the US Archive of the Jewish Historical Institute and cross-referenced those reports with official documents held by the Holocaust Memorial Museum. Himka published his findings in 2009:[The] UPA participated actively in the destruction of the Jewish population of Western Ukraine. It had reasons of its own to kill Jews, and did so even when in open revolt against the Germans. [The] UPA had clear ideas about what the Ukraine they were building should be like. As the song they sang said: “We slaughtered the Jews, we’ll slaughter the Poles, old and young, every one.” [. . .] Although what [the] UPA did to the Jews may not have been, in the larger scheme of things, a major contribution to the Holocaust, it remains a large and inexpungible stain on the record of the Ukrainian national insurgency.
During the Holocaust in Ukraine, an estimated 1.5 million Jewish Ukrainians, ethnic Russians, Roma and Poles were slaughtered. On just two days, in September 1941, at the Babi Yar ravine in Kyiv, approximately 34,000 Jewish men, women and children were executed and discarded in mass graves.
The UPA was instrumental in identifying and rounding up Jews, Poles, Roma and Russians for execution. While there is no direct evidence of UPA involvement in the killings at Babi Yar, there is—as highlighted by Himka—plenty of evidence that the Ukrainian Nazis were directly responsible for Holocaust crimes elsewhere, especially in the Volhynia and Galicia regions.
Ukrainian Nazi history — The Post-WWII Period
Following the end of the Second World War, the Western intelligence agencies worked closely with both German and other European Nazis and Turkish sympathisers with the Third Reich. NATO ran Operation Gladio in continental Europe (and later Turkey), arming training and equipping neo-Nazi groups, such as Ordine Nuovo and the Grey Wolves (Bozkurtlar), to carry out false-flag terrorist attacks and other criminal activities.
Through Gladio, NATO deployed neo-Nazis to murder European and Turkish citizens for more than forty years. The attacks were blamed—by NATO’s political and mainstream media assets—on far-left terrorist groups such as the Red Brigades.
Gladio attacks utilised the “strategy of tension” and were used for a variety of purposes. These included influencing elections, instilling fear to encourage populations to accept authoritarian policies “for their safety”, and generating propaganda narratives to be used against the Soviet Union or other political opponents.
Although not part of Gladio, Operation AERODYNAMIC (codenamed CARTEL) was a Gladio-style psychological warfare, terrorist and intelligence gathering operation launched in Ukraine in 1948. Under it, the US, UK, Italian and German intelligence agencies worked with the OUN and UPA Nazis.
The CARTEL and later QRDYNAMIC, PDDYNAMIC and QRPLUMB operations officially continued until the 1990s. The intelligence network was built upon the extensive European spy ring operated by German Nazi intelligence official Reinhard Gehlen during the Second World War. Gehlen fathered the West German foreign intelligence service (BND) and worked with Western intelligence after the war, assisting in the development of the ratline that facilitated the escape of Nazis such as Klaus Barbie.
The stated purpose of AERODYNAMIC was to:
Organise, develop and execute operations in and directed at the Ukrainian SSR [Socialist Soviet Republic] for the purpose of undermining and weakening the influence and control of the Soviet Union. These operations will initially include activities in the fields of intelligence procurement, political and psychological warfare, and the organisation and development of specially trained unconventional warfare cadres as partial fulfilment of guerrilla warfare requirements.
Under Bandera, the first head of the OUN Security Council was Mikola Lebed. He and Bandera were among the OUN operatives convicted in Poland in 1934 of the assassination of Polish Interior Minister Bronisław Pieracki. The German Nazis freed them, following their 1939 invasion of Poland. With Bandera in German custody, Lebed was left in command of the UPA death squads that carried out the genocide of the Poles, Roma and Jews.
In 1949, the US Government set Lebed up in New York, from where he was able to function as the main contact between the OUN-B-directed Nazi cells in Ukraine and US intelligence. British, and later German, intelligence worked more closely with Bandera, for essentially the same purpose.
Western intelligence, already established within Gehlen’s network, was initially pleased with the level of training and the fieldcraft that the OUN-B operatives exhibited. In reality, the OUN and UPA units were thoroughly compromised by the Ukrainian Soviet political police, the MGB. The value of the West’s Nazi collaboration, in terms of any accurate intelligence gathering, is questionable.
The Soviets were extremely tight-lipped about internal dissent. Terrorist attacks were rarely reported as such. Nonetheless, there is evidence to suggest that the UPA was carrying out terrorist atrocities, which killed Ukrainian citizens, in Ukraine during the post-war Soviet period. For example, in 1947 the UPA reportedly blew up a power station in Lviv.
What is beyond dispute is that NATO-aligned intelligence agencies maintained and exploited Nazi elements in Ukraine throughout the post-war period. Their collusion with the OUN and UPA evidently continued into the 1990s. So it is no surprise that they would be used by the West once again, in 2014, to lead the Euromaidan coup.
Who are the Ukrainian Nazis?
European politicians were ostensibly aghast when, in 2010, the then-outgoing Ukrainian President, Viktor Yushchenko, posthumously bestowed state honours upon Stepan Bandera. The man dispatched in response, to appeal to the European establishment on behalf of Bandera’s legacy, was the co-founder of the Social National Party of Ukraine (SNPU), Andriy Parubiy.
Calling his party “Social National” rather than “National Socialist”, Parubiy established the SNPU with Oleh Tyahnybok in 1991. At this time of the dissolution of the USSR, Project CARTEL was allegedly winding down under the code name QRPLUMB.
Tyahnybok was elected to the Ukrainian parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, in 1998, where he served as a member of the People’s Movement of Ukraine faction. Following his 2002 re-election to the Rada, to give his party some “moderate” appeal, he and Parubiy rebranded the SNPU as Svoboda (“Freedom”) in 2003. Tyahnybok became leader of the SNPU/Svoboda in 2004, the year of the Orange Revolution that brought Yushchenko to office.
Tyahnybok, like his fellow Ukrainian Nazis, is an antisemitic extremist who commonly uses the Sieg Heil salute to conclude his xenophobic rants at SNPU/Svoboda rallies. In 2004 he was kicked out of then-President Viktor Yushchenko’s parliamentary faction for calling upon Ukrainians to fight the “Muscovite-Jewish mafia”. In response to his expulsion, he then wrote an open letter to the Rada claiming that Ukraine needed to eradicate the corruption of “organised Jewry”.
Between 1998 and 2004, Parubiy was the leader of the SNPU paramilitary wing known as Patriot of Ukraine. With this rebranding of the SNPU, prominent Nazi Andriy Biletsky, who opposed the move, took over the leadership of Patriot of Ukraine and established it as an independent militia in its own right. Biletsky once wrote that Ukraine should “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade [. . .] against the Semite-led untermenschen.”
Biletsky was the leader of the Kharkiv branch of the Tryzub (Trident) militia which was co-founded by Dmytro Yarosh. While in Kharkiv, Biletsky worked closely with the then governor of Kharkiv, Arsen Avakov. Biletsky’s branch of Tryzub policed Kharkiv residents and raided small businesses under the patronage of Avakov.
Tryzub adopted the flag of the UPA after the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists (KUN) established it in 1993. The KUN was a Banderite congress led by the widow of Yaroslav Stetsko, Slava Stetsko, until her death in 2003.
Yarosh’s political career
Like many Ukrainian Nazi leaders, Dmytro Yarosh, who became national leader of Tryzub in 2013, had political ambitions. Parubiy and Tyahnybok were already embedded within the Ukrainian establishment, but Yarosh struggled to make the transition from Nazi paramilitary to Ukrainian politician. Consequently, Yarosh was quite circumspect about the language he used, certainly more so than Tyahnybok, Biletsky and others. However, as we shall see, there is no room for doubt as to the Nazi ideology of either Tryzub or Yarosh.
In 2013, Yarosh’s elevation to Tryzub leader saw him appointed at the political level as an assistant consultant to the deputy leader of the official parliamentary opposition, Valentyn Nalyvaichenko. Nalyvaichenko was twice head of the Ukrainian security service, the SBU. Having first served from 2006 to 2010, Nalyvaichenko led the SBU again from 2014 to 2015. He and Yarosh are said to be “long-term” friends.
Parubiy had gained some electoral support after his, and Patriot of Ukraine’s, prominent participation in the 2004 Orange Revolution. The transition to their new branding, Svoboda, was undoubtedly designed to capitalise upon this new-found public support and the sentiment of that revolution.
The relatively peaceful 2004 Orange occupation of Independence Square (the Maidan) in Kyiv forced a rerun of the presidential election. Consequently, Viktor Yushchenko was inaugerated as President. Parubiy was able to build upon his reputation as an Orange revolutionary and was elected to the Rada in 2007. He, along with other Svoboda members, initially served as a part of the Our Ukraine—People’s Self-Defence Bloc.
A decade after the Orange wave, the same central square in Kyiv was the focal point of a fresh revolution. As the Euromaidan protests began in November 2013, Yarosh (of Tryzub) and Biletsky (of Patriot of Ukraine and the Socialist National Assembly) joined with other Nazi groups, such as White Hammer and UNA-UNSO, to form a Nazi paramilitary umbrella organisation named the Right Sector (Pravyi Sektor). They immediately set about working with the US-led NATO alliance to change Ukrainian history.
Tyahnybok, Parubiy, Yarosh, Biletsky, Avakov and other prominent Nazis and Nazi supporters were now in place. They were ready to exploit the violence they would soon unleash.
The Euromaidan coup and the Nazi power grab
The Western political and media establishment describe the the Euromaidan protets as the Revolution of Dignity. This is stomach-churning propaganda. The Euromaidan coup was very far from dignified.
In November 2013, the democratically-elected president of Ukraine was Viktor Yanukovich. His 2010 election victory was deemed to be free and fair by international observers; he was ousted from power before the end of his term by a violent revolution led by the Right Sector with the support of the West.
Video evidence and witness testimony clearly shows that the Right Sector constituted the core of the so-called Maidan Self-Defence companies led by Andriy Parubiy. Many wore yellow Wolfsangel armbands to identify themselves to each other in the milling crowds. Yarosh commanded the Right Sector, and Tyahnybok and Yatsenyuk were part of the Maidan leadership that liaised with foreign political support.
US backing came from the State Department’s Victoria Nuland, Ambassador Geoffrey R. Pyatt, and Senators John Kerry and John McCain. They worked alongside Tyahnybok, Parubiy, and Washington’s predetermined candidate for the premiership, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, to form the nascent Maidan government they had planned.
Under Parubiy’s command, Yarosh deployed his Right Sector and Svoboda supporters as a paramilitary force inside the wider protest movement. Throughout the four-month-long protests, they acted as agents provocateurs. Whenever violence erupted, the Right Sector and Svoboda were involved.
In the early hours of the morning of 20 February 2014, the Right Sector, using professional mercenaries, oppened fire on both the protesters and Ukrainian security forces. Approximately sixty people were massacred by snipers positioned around the Maidan.
Western condemnation of the violence was swift and automatically attributed the killings to the Yanukovich government. This conclusion was not supported by the evidence.
A 2019 University of Ottawa case study analysed reports and video footage of the events. The investigation proved that the sniper fire had come from locations under the control of Svoboda and the Right Sector. The Right Sector led the subsequent storming of government buildings, and President Yanukovich fled.
Maidan Self-Defence company commanders later testified that Parubiy had ordered them to start “a bloodshed” during the “peaceful march” of 18 February 2014. Parubiy and Yarosh established the military council of the Maidan Self-Defence on 21 February, the day after the worst of the killings in Kyiv.
Ivan Bubenchyk was a Right Sector activist who admitted, in two separate TV interviews in 2014 and 2016, that he had shot officers of Ukraine’s specialist riot police, the Berkut Squad, from the Conservatory building on Maidan square. He was part of a “special” Maidan company—under the command of Volodymyr Parasyuk—whose members had taken up positions in the building.
With regard to the primary location of the sniper positions, the Ottawa study notes:
Svoboda stated that its activists took the Hotel Ukraine under their control and guard on January 25, 2014. [. . .] Numerous videos showed that inside the hotel remained under control of the protesters. [. . .] This is consistent with the hotel CCTV recordings and statements of the Maidan Self-Defence unit commander and hotel staff saying that the police never entered the hotel [. . .] Videos also showed that a Svoboda deputy and the Maidan protesters guarded the Hotel Ukraine before, during, and after groups of covert shooters killing protesters from this hotel.
The notorious telephone conversation between US State Department official Victoria Nuland and the then US Ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey R. Pyatt, speaks volumes. Nuland’s expressed disdain for the EU was the focus of this scandal for the Western media, but it was Nuland’s and Pyatt’s conversation about the future shape of the Ukrainian government that was more telling.
The two spoke on or before 4 February 2014, more than two weeks before the massacre on the square and the overthrow of Yanukovich. They outlined the first Maidan government in quite specific detail. The transcript of the conversation revealed that the US State Department knew full well that the Nazis were involved, and that it was planning for them to take pivotal rolls within the new Ukrainian government.
Pyatt told Nuland that “the problem is gonna be with Tyahnybok and his guys.” Nuland did not want Tyahnybok to be in the new government, but she clearly envisioned the Nazis becoming a powerful political force in Ukraine. In reference to the future Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Nuland advised Pyatt that Yatsenyuk needed to:
Keep Tyahnybok on the outside. He needs to be talking to them four times a week.
The new US-appointed Maidan government went on to work closely with the neo-Nazis. This relationship provided the neo-Nazis with the power and authority that they could not have hoped to have gained from the Ukrainian ballot box.
Arising from the Maidan revolution, a number of Nazis and Nazi sympathisers were given political positions in 2014. Oleksandr Sych was named Vice Prime Minister, Ihor Shvaika was appointed as Minister for Food and Agriculture, and Andriy Mokhnyk became the Minister for Ecology and Natural Resources.
However, the key posts won, from the Nazi perspective, were in Ukraine’s national security structure. Ihor Tenyukh was made Defence Minister, Arsen Avakov was appointed as the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine (MVS), and Andriy Parubiy became the Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine.
Tyahnybok, as leader of Svoboda, was acknowledged as kingmaker of the new cabinet—despite his party having relatively little electoral support, and irrespective of the fact that he wasn’t even in the Maidan government. With so many Nazis and far-right politicians empowered in government, then—just as Nuland and Pyatt discussed—even if Yatsenyuk was opposed, which he wasn’t, the Maidan government had no choice but to consult with Tyahnybok “four times a week”.
It is clear that the Nazis were rewarded for their Maidan operation. They were given pivotal political positions in return for orchestrating the coup. Yarosh was reportedly offered a number of positions, including that of Deputy Secretary of the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine. Yarosh declined and, with his close friend Nalyvaichenko reappointed as head of the secret service (SBU), he clearly felt emboldened.
Despite the “Revolution of Dignity” having achieved its stated objectives, and with the Maidan government in power, Yarosh’s Right Sector continued to occupy Kyiv streets and government buildings. As the commander of the Right Sector militias, Yarosh held considerable power in Kyiv.
This was not the wielding of political authority but rather the kind of violent brutality more commonly associated with the Nazi approach to administering “law and order”. Consequently, in the 2014 parliamentary elections, Yatsenyuk’s bloc was forced to stand aside in Dnipropetrovsk (which was soon officially renamed Dnipro), giving Yarosh and other Right Sector candidates a free run into the Verkhovna Rada.
The Nazis and their supporters, such as Nalyvaichenko and Avakov, were now in control of Ukraine’s national security apparatus. They were given political leverage far in excess of any they could have hoped to have secured electorally. They immediately set about converting that unmandated political authority into military power.
The reestablishment of Nazi military power in Europe
For the disenfranchised Ukrainians who elected Yanukovich, the rise of the Nazis presented a significant threat. The Nazis were openly hostile to ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking Ukrainian citizens living in the Crimea, Odessa, Donetsk, Luhansk and other oblasts.
These Russians, Crimean Tatars, Armenians, Greeks, Bulgarians and even ethnic Ukrainians in the eastern and southern oblasts were overwhelmingly opposed to the Maidan protests. When the coup succeeded, their primary concern was to defend themselves against the inevitable Nazi onslaught. They had clear historical reasons to expect the Nazis to attack, and the rhetoric of Nazi leaders like Tyahnybok, Parubiy and Biletsky gave them no reason to doubt the danger they were in.
Protests in the Crimea, Odessa, Donetsk and Luhansk had resulted in pro-Yanukovich activists seizing a number of government buildings. In response, the new Maidan government in Kyiv ordered that the local oblast administrations establish militias to retake occupied offices. These militias were dominated by the Right Sector but also included local criminal gangs seeking to exploit the chaos.
In the port of Odessa, anti-Maidan protesters had constructed a command centre encampment on Kulikovo Field near the Trade Unions Building. Parubiy visited Odessa, distributing equipment to the newly-formed local Right Sector militias. He was filmed meeting with Right Sector leader Nikolai Volkov.
On 2 May 2014, Volkov led the Nazi attack on the Odessa protesters. Pitched street battles culminated in the Nazis reaching Kulikovo Field. Video footage analysis unequivocally shows that the massacre that ensued was again led by the Right Sector under the command of Volkov. An estimated forty people were burned alive or asphyxiated in the smoke inside the Trade Union building. Those who escaped were either shot or clubbed to death. The Right Sector carried out a practically identical slaughter in Mariupol just a few days later.
With the Yatsenyuk-led Maidan government installed, the Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution on the release of political prisoners. Patriot of Ukraine and Right Sector leader Andriy Biletsky was among those liberated, and Arsen Avakov gave him a role at the Interior Ministry.
In April 2014, two months after the coup, Avakov formed the Special Task Patrol Police to protect “public order” in the Donbas and elsewhere. In May, he granted official status to Patriot of Ukraine as a “specialist” volunteer battalion under the auspices of the Interior Ministry. Biletsky took command of the new unit. It was called the Azov Battalion.
A number of similar “specialist militias,” such as the Aydar (Aidar) and the Dnepr (Dnipro) Battalions, were brought together. Officially, they operated under Interior Ministry and Ministry of Defence command. However, wealthy oligarchs, such as Rinat Akhmetov, Arsen Avakov and Ihor Kolomoysky were funding them.
The Azov Battalion was dispatched to quell the uprising in the Donetsk oblast. Biletsky led the Azov Battalion when it took Mariupol. Avakov and Andriy Parubiy subsequently issued the order to establish the Azov Regiment.
In August 2014, Biletsky was awarded the Order of Courage, Third Class by the new President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko. He was elected to the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv and was promoted to the rank of Interior Ministry Lieutenant-Colonel of Police—once again strengthening the Nazi grip on Ukraine’s national security.
In October 2014, Avakov and Parubiy were also behind the regularisation of the Azov Regiment as part of the Ukrainian National Guard (NGU). The National Guard was nominally under the command of the Interior Ministry, but oligarchs such as Kolomoysky appeared to be pulling the strings of the new Nazi regiments.
Thanks in part to the support they had received from the NATO alliance for nearly eighty years, the OUN, UPA and other Nazi groups had now been transformed. The Right Sector and the wider Nazi coalition were no longer a militant political movement seeking to revive Nazi ideology. By the end of 2014, they were a fully formed Nazi military capable of enforcing it.