During the Holocaust, over 1.2 million Jewish people were murdered by Nazis and their collaborators in Ukraine.
Ukraine is now experiencing a militarized resurgence of Nazism. In 2014, a Ukrainian neo-Nazi militia called Azov Battalion was formed to combat Russian separatism. It was then incorporated into the national guard, making it an official part of the Ukrainian military. There is no secrecy about the unit’s ideological commitments. Azov members wear uniforms adorned with SS symbols, swastikas, and patches celebrating Nazism. Its leader once stated that “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival.”
Azov Battalion has not only been legitimized by the Ukrainian government but has received support and training from both Canada and the United States. The unit’s officers have spoken publicly about the training they have received from Western military powers and the support that they have in Ukraine’s diaspora communities in North America.
In 2018, Canadian military officials specifically met with the battalion. They expressed concern only that their meeting might be exposed by the media, not because of the unit’s ideological commitments. As Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland’s grandfather was a Nazi collaborator in Ukraine during the Holocaust, there is absolutely no excuse for ignorance on this front.
American officials have also been photographed meeting with Azov members. The United States has supplied the unit and, in 2015, a bill was even modified by the Pentagon specifically to remove a clause that intended to prevent military funding and supplies from reaching Azov.
Neo-Nazism is not a fringe movement in Ukraine. It has been steadily gaining a foothold, working its way back into the state, and maintains a presence in both the police and military, the most immediate arms of the state’s repressive apparatus. Nazism in Ukraine is also enabling the strengthening of the ideology elsewhere. It has been alleged that an underground division of Azov recruits white supremacists youth across Europe and offers them military training. Azov allegedly collaborates with American neo-Nazis, and American neo-Nazis have even travelled to Ukraine to fight.
Imperialism is driving the current crisis in Ukraine. Russian officials have repeatedly stated that they are concerned with the constant expansion of NATO forces in Eastern Europe, and NATO forces have indeed been constantly expanding since the Cold War. The presence of Russian forces on Ukraine’s border is not an unprovoked development but it is also a demonstration of military strength grounded in the imperialist notion of territorial sovereignty and right to regional power.
Imperialism is a root cause and one which must be addressed – it is deep-seated and engrained in the very foundation of world powers. But, burgeoning Nazism should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind when watching this crisis unfold. In the throes of civil war, with growing siege mentality, the conditions are ripe for further acceleration.
In many ways, the emergence of Nazi rule in Germany was rooted in imperialism and colonialism. Nazi ideology was driven by logics which had been cultivated across Europe for centuries. That fact is worthy of attention when analyzing the Holocaust. Yet, the Holocaust itself was the greatest concentrated atrocity in human history. It was immediate and overwhelming. To allow the particular manifestation of colonial and imperial logics that drove it to emerge and flourish again is beyond heinous.
Right now, NATO is fueling a resurgence of Nazism in Ukraine for the sake of a stronger position in its struggle with Russia. This is absolutely inexcusable. In the shadow of the Holocaust, the briefest flutter of militant Nazism should be met with force.
All eyes are on Ukraine right now, but the most dangerous piece on the board is being ignored.
Luke Beirne was born in Ireland and lives in Canada. His debut novel debut novel, Foxhunt, will be released by Baraka Books in April 2022.