As the war in Ukraine continues, NATO has dumped weapons into the country under the banner of a campaign supposedly aimed at protecting “free” and “democratic” Ukraine from Russia. One of the many questions that is never raised in the media is: who gets these guns?
Workers must oppose Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from the standpoint of revolutionary socialism. However, claims by the imperialist powers that they and the Zelensky government stand for “freedom and democracy” against “Putin’s Russia” are cynical and dangerous lies.
Since the far-right US-backed coup in Kiev in 2014 that toppled a pro-Russian government, Ukraine has been systematically turned into a launching pad for war against Russia. The strengthening of his army and the far right has been a central part of this process and has shaped the way this war has evolved.
The large-scale arms deliveries now underway are not just a direct provocation against Russia. Their main beneficiaries, both politically and militarily, are the Ukrainian and international far-right forces, which are strengthened and emboldened.
The Ukrainian Armed Forces and the Geneva Conventions
Officially, the weapons will mainly go to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. What is not said, however, is that since last week the Ukrainian armed forces have declared that they intend to undertake actions that may violate the Geneva Conventions – they constitute crimes of war.
On Twitter, Telegram, Facebook and elsewhere, the country’s military is waging a depraved social media campaign, posting photos and videos of dead Russian soldiers. The gruesome images – and the joy with which they are displayed – testify to the reactionary and right-wing nature of the forces fighting in the name of imperialism in Ukraine.
The official Ukrainian Armed Forces Twitter account broadcasts particularly violent content, including a number of videos of burned and dismembered bodies of Russian soldiers who traveled in tanks and armored vehicles. They may have been killed by the much publicized American-made Javelin anti-tank missiles.
On Tuesday, the Facebook account of the commander of Ukrainian special forces announced that he would no longer take Russian gunners prisoner, but would kill them on the spot. The post also threatened that surrendering to Ukrainian special forces would be worse than death and that captured Russian gunners would be “cut up like pigs.”
These messages are the announcement of the intention to commit war crimes. Such policies are in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions concerning the treatment of prisoners of war (POW), which call for the humane treatment of prisoners of war “in all circumstances”.
Social media accounts of Ukraine’s far-right forces, many of which are fully integrated into the military, are also replete with violent content and urgings to commit atrocities against Russian soldiers.
Serhiy Sternenko, a well-known far-right “activist” who currently serves in the Ukrainian army, has worked since the beginning of the war to popularize anti-Russian slogans such as “Russophobia is not enough! and publish the content of dead Russian soldiers.
Among the posts shared by Sternenko were a photo of a dead Russian paratrooper whose parachute failed to open, a frozen dead Russian soldier, and videos of Russian tanks and burned bodies. The celebration of death is accompanied by mocking jokes.
A particularly gruesome TikTok video circulating on right-wing Ukrainian social media shows a young Russian soldier singing while driving a Russian vehicle. The video then cuts to a video of the same soldier being killed in a field of a direct shot to the head.
Considerable effort has gone into such propaganda, and it is clearly supported by the Ukrainian government, which is trying to demonstrate that killing people is “cool” and “fun”. leader of neo-Nazi group C14 Yevhen Karas told his audience at a political seminar named after Ukrainian Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera in early February. Karas also stated bluntly that it is precisely because neo-Nazis like him like to kill Russians that the West provides them with weapons.
Ukraine’s armed forces may also be violating the Geneva Conventions by regularly recording and posting videos of captured or surrendered Russian soldiers on social media. Many of the soldiers look extremely young and clearly come from a poor or rural background, and were forced to serve in a murderous campaign by the Russian oligarchy. Many seem to respond under duress and in one video, a Russian soldier refuses to shout the right-wing Ukrainian slogan Slava Ukraini! (Glory to Ukraine!) while being humiliated by Ukrainian interrogators.
The Geneva Conventions prohibit POWs from posting “insults” and “intimidation” for “public curiosity”, which the Ukrainian military violates with such social media posts.
This reactionary online campaign has reached such a level that even warmongers Washington Post noticed and published an article on Thursday titled “Bloody online campaign Ukraine hopes to sow anti-Putin dissent likely violates Geneva Conventions.”
The Azov Battalion and the Far Right
The Azov Battalion, which openly glorifies Nazism and Ukrainian Nazi collaborators and played a leading role in the 2014 coup, has been accused of numerous war crimes, as well as rape and murder. Since 2014, it has been fully integrated into the National Guard, thus receiving arms and training from the government. The Ukrainian government allows the Azov Battalion and other far-right formations to organize “youth camps”, where children as young as 9 are indoctrinated with fascist ideology and taught how to use weapons.
It is these forces that now receive a significant share of NATO’s massive arms shipments. The Azov battalion is believed to be heavily involved in the battle for Mariupol, a city in southern Ukraine. According to a reportby Newsweekhe also formed his own “Azov Territorial Defense Detachment” in Kyiv.
Despite being threatened and attacked by far-right tendencies like the Azov Battalion, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did everything possible to further integrate neo-fascist and paramilitary forces into the war effort. At the very beginning of the war, he announced that convicted criminals, including those serving sentences for war crimes, would be granted amnesty if they were willing to take up arms against Russia. He called on “foreign fighters” to join the war in Ukraine.
Jonathan Brunson, a former political analyst at the US Embassy in Ukraine, stated bluntly Newsweek that before the invasion of Russia, “aid to the far right was likely accidental. “But that may not be the case anymore, because ‘all on deck’ means exactly that – and allows Ukraine’s far-right to play a heroic role it wouldn’t otherwise have.”
Not only the Ukrainian far right, but neo-fascist forces around the world, including the United States and Europe, will now receive combat experience with the most advanced weapons in the world. They will also be able to continue to develop their international networks, of which the Ukrainian far right, and in particular the Azov battalion, have long been at the center.
Talk to Newsweek, Hans-Jakob Schindler, Senior Director of the Counter Extremist Project, said: “Immediately after the invasion, some groups in Ukraine affiliated with right-wing extremism, in particular the Azov Regiment, which is now part of the Ukrainian Ministry of Interior, have launched public calls on social networks for volunteers to come and join them. The Azov Regiment issued fairly detailed travel instructions via its social media channels, but clarified that a) travel will not be facilitated until the individual is in Ukraine and b) no payment will be made for the volunteers and c) several months of service should be expected.”
US preparations for an ‘insurgency’ in Ukraine
The arming of the Ukrainian far right and its integration into the military effort is neither an accident nor a “mistake”.
Imperialist intervention in Ukraine has historically relied on the mobilization of fascist forces. The CIA and other Western intelligence services established close ties with Ukrainian Nazi collaborators after the war, integrating them into their structures and deploying them in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
The rise of the far right on the eve of the 2014 coup and since then is part of these traditions.
Moreover, since 2015, the CIA has engaged in systematic preparations for an “insurgency” in Ukraine. In January, a reportby Yahoo News revealed that for the past eight years the CIA has overseen “a covert intensive training program in the United States for elite Ukrainian special operations forces and other intelligence personnel.” The program, according to Yahoo, involved “training in firearms, camouflage techniques, land navigation, tactics such as ‘cover and move,’ intelligence and other areas, according to former responsible”. A former CIA official told the news site that “the United States is leading an insurgency”, teaching Ukrainians how to “kill Russians”.
A former senior intelligence official said: “If the Russians invade, those [graduates of the CIA programs] are going to be your militia, your insurgent leaders. We’ve been training these guys now for eight years. They are really good fighters. This is where the agency’s program could have a serious impact.
Over the past year, US officials have repeatedly threatened that they intend to turn Ukraine, the world’s third-largest nuclear power, into “another Afghanistan” for Russia. This is currently in progress. Unless the working class intervenes in this conflict on an independent and socialist platform, the far right, in Ukraine and around the world, can only emerge strengthened and emboldened from this reactionary campaign.