The Azov Battalion: Crib Notes on Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Para-militants

The official flag of the Azov Battalion

As the world simultaneously fawns over President Zelensky, and demonizes all things Russian, Western readers should consider the minutiea amidst this conflict. For particular elements are being seemingly side-stepped in order to uphold a very anti-Putin narrative (however justified it may indeed be).

For it is not difficult to imagine how large swathes of the newly realized warhawk Left (as they don their capri blue/traffic yellow Facebook avatars) would react if they knew about the Azov Battalion.

Here is a five-point cheat sheet on this infamous, State armed, and dangerous fighting force:

1. The Azov Soccer Origin Story

Although a mere 8 years in age, the Azov storyline is rich in salience. Their story begins on the football pitch of the ‘Metalist’ Oblast Sports Complex in Kharkiv.

In 2014, a fanatical group of soccer fans called “Sect 82” (supporters of the Metalist club) decided to support the Ukrainian government against the pro-Russian unrest in their city.

They occupied various governmental sites and took it upon themselves to act as a self-defense organization for the larger Kharkiv area. Taking after the example of Yahven Konovalets, they took “responsibility and initiative to reform the army during the crisis, without waiting for instructions and directives from above.”

Shortly after demonstrating their proficiency in deploying force, quelling a local uprising, and upholding loyalty to Ukrainian nationalism, the former football thugs were officially christened into Ukrainian statehood.

As with many other local policing units during the unrest, Sect 82 was incorporated into the “Special Tasks Patrol Police” and given the interim title of “Eastern Corps”.

2. National Guard Induction & Far-Right Adoption

April 13th, 2014 was the day that Minister of Internal Affairs, Arsen Avakov (scrambling to secure Ukrainian interests against the advancement/subversion of Russia), authorized the creation of a paramilitary force of up to 12,000 fighting men. And after a month of securing weapons, finances, and training, the Azov Battalion seed was planted.

May 5th, 2014 is when the Battalion was an officially recognized volunteer force and also when the infiltration by the “Patriot of Ukraine movement began.

Led by Andriy Biletsky, and coincidentally disbanded shortly after Azov’s creation, the “Patriots” easily inserted their group and allowed their numbers to swell the ranks of the national guards. It was a quick and convenient way for these Neo-Fascists to gain legitimacy, and launch state sanctioned violence, amidst the chaos of the Russian threat in Donetsk.

The fear of being invaded may have forced the Ukrainian government to make bedfellows with some very unsavoury characters. Such as Azov commander Vadym Troyan. He was until very recently the Chief of Police for the region of Kyiv-Oblast. A man who until 2014 was an alleged Neo-Nazi who was “quite well-known to the police in Kharkiv, where [he] regularly beat up political opponents as well as foreign students, migrants, and homosexuals.”

So now that the Patriots of Ukraine coalesced their fledgling movement into a legitimate state enterprise with the Corps, it was now time for them to gain skills and improve their image.

Mostly with help from the reigning superpower and it’s friends.

3. USA Cut Funding To Azov in 2015

After beating back the Russian backed unrest, the Ukrainian government’s interests began to align with NATO (mostly against Russia that is).

Word got around Washington DC about Azov and their Hitlerian beliefs. US military circles became privy to the incorporation of Neo-Nazis into their combat detachments and many were rightly upset with the revelation.

In the summer of 2015 Rep. John Conyers Jr (D) teamed up with Rep. Ted Yoho (R) for Pentagon spending amendment that specifically blocked the training and arming of the fascist Azov Battalion. They won the vote though this made little impact on what followed.

They still received funding, arms, and training because it seems as though the “enemy of my enemy” logic prevailed. Until 2018 that is…

As The Hill reported, the US House passed spending bills “for the past 3 years that have included a ban on U.S. aid to Ukraine from going to the Azov Battalion, but the provision was repeatedly stripped out before final passage each year.”

That was until March of 2018 when the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill was signed into law. A subsection was inserted that prohibited the provision of “arms, training or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.” Specifically because of its white power, ultranationalist, and disturbing Neo-Nazi ideology. For real this time.

4. ‘The National Corps’ (Their Political Wing)

Once Azov became a permanent fixture of the Ukrainian national defence apparatus, US funding or not, they branches out for political support. This became a parallel goal and Andriy Biletsky happily led the charge.

Seeing political legitimacy as another step towards their goals, Azov has contested elections since 2016…with little success.

In the national elections of 2019, the Azov movement’s National Corps (which was by then deemed a “nationalist hate group” by the U.S. Department of State and a report published in March) combined with the Freedom Party (Svoboda), the Right Sector, and other small Far-Right political affiliations to create a staunch nationalist voting bloc.

This effort saw a near full slate of candidates running across the country and the hope of overcoming the 5% vote minimum (to get seats in parliament). Yet even as a combined political movement, the Far-Right alliance gained a mere 2.11% of the popular vote.

The National Corps alone tout a membership of around 13,000 members. And they are the clear political voice of the Azov movement at a national level. Recently Biletsky has been critical of President Zelensky’s handling of the war and for “entering into negotiations with Russia days into the incursion.”

And their fears are justified. For their fate as a party, and as a movement, may well be decided in the weeks to come. They are front and center as the clearest ideological enemies of Vladimir Putin.

If Russia becomes the winner of this war, the Azov Battalion would be the logical first head on the chopping block. Putin could easily rack up some domestic political points and propaganda wins by destroying a burgeoning Neo-Nazi movement.

5. Social Media Skills

If you want to see how modern Far-Right groups can use social media to their great advantage, Azov proves invaluable. they present their sleek and user friendly sites with a veneer of polished respectability.

Start with their Twitter page @Polk_Azov (where you’ll be greeted with their askew version of the Nazi Wolfsangel as a profile pic). From there you can be directed to their recruitment page, their Telegram account, and their official website. (Preparation note: have Google translate ready to aid your deciphering of their pages…not all are available in English)

Next check out their aforementioned political party’s site. The National Corps page has much of their content available in English and many videos are subtitled as such. Entertainingly, their homepage features a blog post where they denounce and ridicule Time Magazine for “surpassing even Russian propaganda.”

More interesting still is that they even have a YouTube channel. This is where you can see all the latest entries about their take on the ongoing war.

Wrap Up

Its now apparent that the Azov Battalion is literally fighting for its life as you read this. Their ultranationalist and fascist belief system puts them in a uniquely desperate position of winning or losing in a very substantial manner.

If the Ukraine wins, or at least reaches a deal/treaty with Putin, then Azov can claim battlefield heroism and national preservation. This could very well bolster their future electoral gains as their “democratic” goals move forward.

But lose the war and they will likely be the first victims of Russian repression and violence.

It’s not readily apparent which option would be a superior outcome.

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