Russia sends its pet neo-Nazis to kill Zelensky – while claiming to want to “denazify” Ukraine
Mar 2, 2022 | Oved Lobel
When Russian President Vladimir Putin declared his war of annihilation against the Ukrainian state, among his stated goals was the “denazification” of the country, a long-standing slander hurled at Ukraine by the Kremlin to justify its invasion, annexation and occupation of parts of the country since February 2014.
It is ironic, then, that Putin reportedly dispatched over 400 operatives of its paramilitary proxy the Wagner group – which is replete with neo-Nazi members and traditions – to murder Ukraine’s Jewish President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Often referred to as a “Private Military Company” in media reports, all circumstantial and direct evidence has long since established that Wagner is merely a barely deniable arm of Russia’s Ministry of Defence. Reportedly named after the callsign of its putative commander Dmitry Utkin – a former Russian military intelligence officer sporting Nazi tattoos who allegedly named himself after Hitler’s favourite composer – Wagner has engaged in numerous horrific atrocities across Africa, the Middle East, and Ukraine as a front for Russian imperial policy.
One Wagner veteran told New Lines Magazine that neo-Nazis and far-right extremists comprised the core of the group, although obviously not all its recruits are neo-Nazis. Buildings in Libya occupied by Wagner were vandalised with Nazi slogans and symbols, while a tablet belonging to a Wagner operative revealed only two books related to politics: Mein Kampf and The International Jew. Investigations of the identity of Wagner fighters continuously turn up various strains of White Supremacy, Nazism and antisemitism.
But why would Russia, a country much of whose identity is built on the Soviet fight with Nazi Germany, employ such people? The answer is simply that this identity is built on a lie. The Soviet Union was initially an ally of Nazi Germany, providing Hitler’s war machine with all the resources it needed and then dividing Eastern Europe with them in the infamous Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact once Hitler had the strength to attack – World War II was launched in 1939 by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany together against Europe. Putin has attempted to repurpose this false narrative to paint his invasion of Ukraine as a continuation of Russia’s fight against Nazis. The reality is quite the reverse.
And Wagner is far from Russia’s only neo-Nazi asset. Almost every major nationalist and racist violent extremist (NRVE) group in the world today, including those in Australia, got its start from the neo-Nazi Iron March forum, started by Alisher Mukhitdinov in Russia in 2011. The forum and Mukhtidinov suddenly disappeared in 2017, but he was identified by the BBC Russian Service in 2020 and tracked to an apartment in Moscow, where he lives free and undisturbed, more than implying a relationship with Russian security services.
Then there is The Base, which was designated by Australia as a terrorist organisation in late November. Its leader, Rinaldo Nazzaro, has been living openly in St. Petersburg and seems to have founded the group and begun recruiting from Russia. With Nazzaro photographed in a Putin T-shirt and once listed as a special guest at a Russian security exhibition in Moscow, there is no doubt The Base operates under the protection of the Kremlin, and Nazzaro has tried to recruit Australians from Russia.
The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), another NRVE, was designated as a terrorist organisation by the US in 2020 for training and funding neo-Nazi terrorists across the world in its military camps, which operate without harassment from Russian security services. RIM has also fought in Ukraine. Some of the terrorists trained by RIM have been linked to attacks in Europe, such as the Nordic Resistance Movement’s bombing in Sweden in 2017. Russian intelligence has also been linked to Hungary’s neo-Nazis.
From Denmark’s National Front to The Base, Russia provides training and safe haven for as many extremist groups as it can. On top of safe haven and training, the Kremlin funds and allies with far-right and neo-Nazi political parties across Europe and the world, which grants the Kremlin not only destabilising political influence, but also the potential for state-backed neo-Nazi terrorism as a weapon against the West.
There is no need to downplay the existence and danger of neo-Nazi and far-right groups in Ukraine – these are indeed real. But the country has a Jewish president whose grandfather fought the actual Nazis and much of whose family died in the Holocaust, and who won with over 70% of the vote. With Russia now hellbent on destroying Ukraine as an independent state as part of its imperial revanchism under the guise of fighting Nazis, self-declared denazifier Putin might look to his own house first.