Neo-Nazis in Ukraine Might be a Problem After All, Says New York Times - The Jewish Voice
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Thursday, September 28, 2023

Neo-Nazis in Ukraine Might be a Problem After All, Says New York Times

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By Oliver JJ Lane

(Breitbart) The West is stuck in a dead-end where calling attention to Ukrainian soldiers wearing neo-Nazi uniforms “risks playing into Russian propaganda”, but ignoring it normalises the practice, the New York Times has belatedly admitted.

A story which appears to break an important wartime media shibboleth that any critical examination of Ukraine is implicit support for Russia has been published in the New York Times, as it discusses the difficulties of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi-symbol-wearing frontline fighters.

The report, referring to “thorny issues” in its headline, highlights several cases where Ukrainian and NATO authorities have been forced to take down social media posts promoting the work of Ukraine’s armed forces defending the country from Russia’s invasion. Featuring regimental and ‘morale’ patches accented with Nazi emblems like hooked crosses, sun wheels, and death heads, the images can present difficulties to those who know Vladimir Putin’s stated war goal of ‘deNazifying’ Ukraine is false because Ukraine is not a Nazi country.


The NYT reports:

[Pictures of Neo-Nazi patches] threatens to reinforce Mr. Putin’s propaganda and giving fuel to his false claims that Ukraine must be “de-Nazified” — a position that ignores the fact that Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish. More broadly, Ukraine’s ambivalence about these symbols, and sometimes even its acceptance of them, risks giving new, mainstream life to icons that the West has spent more than a half-century trying to eliminate.

… So far, the imagery has not eroded international support for the war. It has, however, left diplomats, Western journalists and advocacy groups in a difficult position: Calling attention to the iconography risks playing into Russian propaganda. Saying nothing allows it to spread.

The very narrow double standard that now seems to apply to neo-Nazi-symbol-wearing soldiers in Ukraine was underlined by Glenn Greenwald as he wrote: “In the US, anyone with a MAGA hat is deemed a Nazi and must be destroyed… liberals see actual, real-deal Nazis in Ukraine and want to fund and arm them.”

Rhetorically, he concluded: “Perhaps there may be long-term dangers to flooding Nazi battalions with advanced weaponry?”.

The NYT article notes many in Ukraine see these historic symbols not as Nazi glyphs, but rather symbols of pride and independence — something the article even indicates the interpretations have in common with feelings about the Confederate ‘Southern Pride‘ flag in the U.S. — and that many, including Western anti-hate groups, have decided to stay silent on Ukraine for the sake of not appearing to support Russian propaganda.

These frank admissions are startling precisely because until now many Western establishment media outlets, not least amongst them the NYT, have been bullish on calling out people discussing Ukrainian neo-Nazi iconography as spreading “false claims” in the past.

A 2022 article by the NYT said, for instance, talking about the Azov Batallion was misleading because analysts had said their portrayal in Russian media “exaggerates the extent to which its members hold neo-Nazi views”. That article followed a similar denouncement of thinking too much about the unusual prevalence of neo-Nazi symbolism in Ukraine from the BBC earlier that year, which appeared to hand-wave the number of self-professed Nazis in the Azov battalion because they were so effective at killing Russians.

The BBC’s Ros Atkins cited Avoz’s own assessment that “some of its fighters held Nazi views… only 10 to 20 per cent of the group are Nazis”, remarking “it’s a tiny fraction of the Ukrainian military”, and one that in the words of a cited expert who are “just good fighters”.

The media appears to have been much more willing to discuss the political views of Ukrainian fighters outside of times of direct conflict, with Reuters writing on “Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Problem” in 2018. Meanwhile in 2018, the U.S. Congress included a provision in its $1.3 trillion omnibus government spending bill banning U.S. arms from going to Ukraine’s Nazi-linked Azov Battalion. Specifically, the bill stipulated that “none of the funds made available by this act may be used to provide arms, training or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.”

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