The Russian claim of a neo-nazi infestation of sorts lying right in Ukraine under the noses of everyone in plain sight have been proclaimed on the rooftops by pro-Putin or Russian stans, and have been largely but not entirely decried as overreactions by much of the media and world. The facts of the matter are, to be sure, a bit more nuanced than either side oftentimes makes note of however, and while Russia’s claims have certain amounts of validity about them, Vladimir Putin and his government only seem to really hate neo-nazis when they are anti-Russian neo-nazis; the Wagner Group are just one exception it appears, and they are amongst the favorites of Vladimir Putin, precisely because they are barbaric and spread destruction without care. The choice to invade Ukraine and to use such individuals is grotesque and condemnable.
For to be sure, the reports coming out regarding Russia’s continued use of the Wagner Group, a mercenary group allegedly funded privately by the man known as “Putin’s Chef,” Yevgeny Prigozhin, and known also to essentially be a private army of the Russian President, are famously full of neo-nazi sympathizers and reprobates. One of their alleged practical leaders, the infamous former GRU officer Dmitry Utkin, known by his call name of Wagner, has a long, checkered history and track record of violence and extreme behavior, is considered to be a war criminal, and apparently enjoys taking selfies looking like a Scooby-Doo villain with strange Nazi tattoos.
The Wagner Group, named after the famous 19th-century Leipzig-born composer Richard Wagner who was famously intolerant during his lifetime – and was later admired and utilized by Adolf Hitler and the German Nazis – has been all over the world on behalf of the Russian military and government. And in similar ways as the American outfit Blackwater, who also find themselves in Ukraine currently, the Wagner Group is known for its atrocities. From nations across Africa, to Ukraine, Syria and allegedly other polities and continents still, Utkin and the Wagner Group make lots of chaos and capital by butchering and murdering in ways that even the Russian military might be uncomfortable doing in their official capacities.
There is broad evidence of all of this, and so while no westerner should go about condoning the Azov Regiment of Ukrainian neo-nazis by any stretch of the imagination, and this issue must be addressed in reasonable, productive manners using multilateral and international cooperation, Russia has no angelic motives in this theatre. Videos purported to show Russian soldiers being beaten and tortured by hyper-nationalist Ukrainian fascists demonstrate – if confirmed – the validity of the greater claim to be sure, yet reported and confirmed Russian atrocities, once again, do not paint them as a nation abiding by principles much more profound than those which are allegedly being utilized by their current or greatest enemies.
Russia is not endeavoring upon some universal neo-nazi cleansing crusade, so much as they are sending in a full-scale military invasion in the name of denazifying Ukraine of its pro-Ukrainian neo-nazis, only to engage in mass bloodletting of innocents, alleged war crimes of their own, and the use of pro-Russian neo-nazis in the meanwhile; sometimes, however, they hardly even seem to care at all. This is the truth of the matter, and when one considers this further, the reality behind the claims and why they were not taken to and through the proper international channels becomes easier to distinguish.
Russia could have brought these anxieties up to the international community more vigorously and more transparently in different ways than it has over the last eight years, and instead of always claiming that they must send troops to deal with neo-nazi militias, paramilitaries and poltical movements. They could have utilized their position within the UN Security Council, as well as their relatively inclusive position within the international community of nations – prior to 2014 and in the lead up to this entire circumstance in later years of course – to really petition for an independent probe or other innovation regarding this quite real issue and evolving circumstance – were they really concerned regarding this grotesque trend. Had nations still chosen not to listen or act earnestly throughout that time, the loading of troops upon the Ukrainian border and the subsequent conferences in places like Geneva might have created for Russia the leverage necessary to ensure that the west took their claims of neo-nazis in and across Ukraine as seriously as they claim to.
Yet they did none of these things with enough consistency, evidence or vigor, however. Russia resorted to unilateral violence time and time again, and has made its claims less trustworthy as a result; while the claims are accurate to varying extents to be sure, Russia is concerned with grabbing up Ukrainian territory more than saving Ukrainian society. Had they provided multilateral or international investigators into the Donbas to investigate the alleged mass-graves found there, that would have provided much more convincing and compelling work to pressure the greater international community into joining them to remove the problem in more civilized manners than a disastrous and murderous war.
They said there were neo-nazis, as there clearly are in Ukraine, and said that there was a genocide in Ukraine that has been unfurling since 2014, but genocides generally have many witnesses, far fewer deniers, and great swaths of available evidence that is nearly un-hidable given the great, massive amount of resources necessary to execute plans of this sort. There is no reason not to have some of all of this available as proof to those who do not believe you, in instances where the grievance is actually occurring as a nation says it is – especially if you’ve invaded the area where it is all alleged to have occurred; from what recent evidence illustrates, in fact, there is hardly even a reason to let the lack of evidence stop you from bringing some with you to international functions either.
For example, when Israel wanted the US under Donald Trump to withdraw itself from the Iran-JCPOA, it brought what experts considered essentially empty evidence to the UN and ranted regarding the Iranian nuclear program, until the administration of the 45th President figured out a way to use it to justify leaving the agreement; had the genocide in Ukraine been occurring for nearly a decade, as Russia has sometimes maintained, they would naturally be able to produce at the very least enough evidence to convince international inspectors to appraise the situation for themselves. Yet, again, they did none of these things.
And that is because Vladimir Putin and Russia are not the anti-fascists that some believe them to be. Vladimir Putin is, again, not fighting in Ukraine for altruistic purposes, but is moved to attain some grand level of historical glory reserved for only the most legendary of leaders of the nation like like Grand Prince Alexander Nevsky, Czars Ivan III and IV, Peter I, certain Soviet leaders and so on. They would just as soon replace neo-nazis like those of the Azov Regiment with those of the Wagner Group, Rusich the Slavonic Corps, or other, related groups, and when they entrench those ill-gotton gains in the east of Ukraine with more soldiers and mercenaries, they will do their best to neutralize resistance as brutally and repulsively as ever.
While Russian leadership has ranted about neo-nazis and protecting the lives of those being butchered by them in Ukraine over all of these years, they seem less concerned about those very same people as they bomb cities, and as their tanks and artillery shell towns and kill children; while they say that they are facing war crimes from Ukrainians, they seem content to commit war crimes against Ukrainians, in the name of stopping alleged war crimes against Ukrainians and ethnic-Russians.
Meanwhile, as Russia fret about neo-nazis in Ukraine, they, in fact, have previously, and continue to presently send neo-nazis to Ukraine. The optics are, to be sure, remarkable, and not in a positive way quite frankly. While anti-fascists across the world would like innovations regarding neo-nazis in their countries, with the United States at the top of the list themselves, Russians too would likely love a chance to rid themselves of their own far-right and neo-nazi groups, ideologies and movements. There is, however, no actual way for the recourses attempted by Russia to succeed in doing so, even were it sincere in its intentions, any more than the US under George Bush or any of his successors was going to eliminate any or all types of Islamic extremism in the wake of 9/11.
Only greater education, great understanding of one another, and greater empathy regarding the shared plights that all human beings suffer through in one way or another, can really eliminate or debase the neo-nazi, fascist, or in the case of George Bush and 9/11, the Wahhabist mentality out of nations across the middle east, once it finds hold in some society or another. Nations can be quite active in stopping hate in their societies when they wish to be of course, and funding campaigns to encourage positive economic and social tenants of caring, understanding and compassion remains a stronger mortar with which to construct societies with than are lies, threats and coercion are without question.
Therefore, even without the unreal Russian connections to neo-nazis like the Wagner Group, actively working in the service – albeit unofficially much of the time – of the Russian government, the Russian excuses and rationale for invading Ukraine holds little practical water and even less actual moral water – just as so many once claimed that US excuses and rationale for their middle eastern wars and conflicts were. Again, working with Ukraine in non-military ways to rid societies of hateful, discriminatory predilections could have been possible through the right channels, yet not only were they not endeavored upon forcefully enough, but the Russian government are themselves utilizing neo-nazis during an effort allegedly to rid a nation of neo-nazis.
When one adds those bits and realizations regarding the Wagner Group, Dmitry Utkin and company, however, it becomes and should become even clearer still that, whatever the obvious or not-so-obvious faults of Ukraine are, Russia has not come to that save that nation from neo-nazis, but are simply using that horrendous national blemish to justify the invasion of a nation and territory that holds pseudo-historical and deep psychological roots in Muscovian Russophillic national considerations and lore.