Warning: this will be controversial!!! While I am tempted to ignore the issue, its subject matter is increasingly becoming a more common topic of the public discourse. It would be useful to be able to learn more about it before the inevitable 1-dimensional rhetoric wins out on one side or the other.
Question: given a number of conflicting claims about goals, methods and efficacy of the Azov Battalion, what is the best way to view it in its current form?
Warning: the subject matter is highly controversial. It is currently a subject of an ongoing public discussion and the opinions on it seem to evolve.
Please, make sure your answers are FULLY SUPPORTED WITH REFERENCES to authoritative sources. Because the claims on the topic happen to be related to an ongoing war, it is fair to link to sources which are claims made by the governments involved in the hostilities. However, such references should be clearly labeled as being one-sided.
Here's a picture which continues making rounds in the social media:
I don't know if the photo is real. I don't know if those pictured in it are actual members of the "Azov Battalion." But I do know it is being commonly shared on Twitter. For example, it has been shared by Lara Logan, a reporter who is blue-check verified on Twitter with over 200k followers.
Some of the claims made about Azov Battalion on its Wikipedia page
- It is "neo-Nazi"
- It's founder Andriy Biletsky is a White Supremacist who had expressed ethnic superiority views closely resembling, and sometimes mirroring, the views of the German Nazi party.
- The same Andriy Biletsky has expressed admiration for Israel and Japan, as role models for the development of Ukraine.
- "Some members of the Jewish community in Ukraine support and serve in the Azov Battalion. One of its most prominent members is Nathan Khazin, leader of the 'Jewish hundreds' during the 2013 Euromaidan protests in Kyiv."
- The group received early funding from a regional governor, and 3rd wealthiest man in Ukraine, Ihor Kolomoyskyi (who was Jewish). Presumably this was done, to counteract un-uniformed Russian saboteur groups operating in Ukraine in 2014 which could not be handled by the Ukrainian government forces.
- The group has foreign members, including from non-slavic countries.
- The founder of the group, Andriy Biletsky, formed a political party which received 2% of the vote, allowing him to become a member of parliament. By law he had to leave the group to join the parliament.
- The group has assisted various local governments in managing street chaos caused by hired saboteurs such as Titushky.
- A spokesman for the unit has said "only 10–20%" of its recruits are neo-Nazis, with one commander attributing neo-Nazi ideology to misguided youth.
- The group claims that its symbol is derived from the 1st 2 letters of the words "Ідея Nації" (which can be translated as "the idea of a nation" in the sense of "the dream of a nation").
- Others have pointed out that it very closely resembles the German "Wolfsangel" symbol incorporated in Nazi iconography.
- Ukraine has formed a "National Militia" in 2017 (3-4 years after Euromaidan) which consists of all volunteer groups and Azov is part of this "National Militia"
Obviously there is a lot of contradictions here. It doesn't help that the government of Russia waged a war on Ukraine under the pretext of "de-nazifying" it. Of course, the war is near-universally recognized as unprovoked. UN, for example, has voted 141-5 to demand that Russia withdraw from Ukraine.
Because the the accusation is a serious accusation and because it is now a subject matter being prosecuted in a full-out large-scale war, it would really help to understand what is the appropriate view on what the Azov Battalion is.
The contradictions in the picture.
- the "photograph" contains 3 flags: a NATO flag, an Azov flag, and a flag with a swastika. NATO does not espouse Nazi views, nor does it promote or approve of Nazi iconography.
- all the faces in the photograph are partially abstracted. They are not wearing all-black attire that (according to Wikipedia) Azov is known for.
The picture could be real though (and I don't know if anyone know if it is).
The contradictions in the claims made in Wikipedia.
- Despite the claim that the group is paramilitary neo-nazi, no history of attacks on Jewish community centers, or on ethnic minorities is listed. Although there is an accusation of war crimes associated with their paramilitary conduct.
- The group appears to be tolerant of antisemitic views despite financial ties to Jewish individuals and Jewish groups.
- Despite its appeals to Slavic ethno-centricity, it appears to be welcoming to individuals of various ethnicities and nationalities.
I have never visited Ukraine. So I can't formulate a 1st hand view of what to make of this group.
The general sense that I get is that the group had roots which were similar to the early German Nazi roots (before Hitler joined them).
They were unified by loss of national direction, corruption and general malaise existing in Ukraine at the time. But it also seems to me that it took a different turn than the Nazis did. They abandoned the early ethno-purism notions as defining ideology, but remained tolerant of it as a dimension for channeling aggressive tendencies of some of its members.
I don't want to excuse the tolerance that the group has towards intolerance. But I can't find a good reason to view them as being driven by some desire to build death camps, or something along those lines.
Maybe they can be viewed as an extreme version of "Proud Boys"? Another way I can describe the sense that I am getting is by seeing them as a middle ground between English soccer hooligans and French Foreign Legion.
In other words, they appear to be recruiting young men with a lot of animus and giving them a chance to channel that animus into violence on behalf of the state.
I realize that any Nazi association can be seen as damaging, but I am trying to see why so many people who would presumably be their potential victims would join their ranks.
My view may be biased by the fact that Russia has lied as much as it has in its prosecution of the war on Ukraine. I could also be biased by the fact that they don't seem to have a problem serving in Ukrainian army, whose commander-in-chief is Ukrainian's President Zelensky (who is Jewish).
The reason I want to understand this further is that it is entirely possible that the leadership of Azov is just lying in wait and playing coy to build up its ranks. But it's also possible that at some point they came to a cross road and took a step away from ethno-purism for the sake of nation-state-centric views.
I am not looking for opinions. I am looking for well-sourced references which can point in one or the other direction.