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One of Putin's claims is that the Ukraine govermnent is made up of Nazis and these need to be removed.

We could just write this off as propaganda, but even propaganda is often twisting of or being selective with the truth to make it suit your narrative (so the fact checkers find it harder to catch you out), rather than a straight up lie.

Is there any basis for this claim? Are there notable (i.e. beyond the usual far-right backbenchers you might see in any political establishment) members of the Ukrainian government who are thought to Nazis or have similar far right viewpoints? According to Wikipedia, Zelensky himself is Jewish and his grandfather's family were killed in the Holocaust so it seems unlikely that he could be a Nazi. But what about other members? And is Zelensky himself a target of Putin's claim?

Or is this just completely fabricated?

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    Not a full answer, but the Azov militia does really make a great starting point for such a conspiracy theory. Ukraine, or its government, is not Nazi, no more than the US is, but certain groups in it can be rightfully accused of being so. The thing is, the influence of these groups comes nowhere close to justifying any of Russia's aggression especially considering the ratio of forces between Russia and Ukraine. Mar 6 at 20:00
  • So the question is, can people glorifiing Bandera and other ukrainian leaders, who has colaborated with nazis, be called nazies? If yes the are nazis at some local places, like some mayors.
    – convert
    Mar 7 at 14:34
  • You can call anyone a Nazi. It's hard to praise anyone in the Eastern Europe in that era without them either being associated with the Nazis or the Soviets, and people of all nations glorify historical figures while glossing over their evils. I certainly understand glorifying Bandera more than glorifying Stalin.
    – prosfilaes
    Mar 8 at 16:24
  • Posibly this: opindia.com/2022/03/…
    – convert
    Mar 16 at 22:47

3 Answers 3

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Who are the alleged Nazis in the Ukraine government?

I think the issue is not one of who is a nazi and in government now, but rather who has been in government and was also related to the far right. Then the net can be cast a bit wider, and probably does highlight Putin's and those who support his theory of what exists in Ukraine's political system - and therefore needs to be wiped out, even if it is out of date and not any different to those in other European countries with active far rights (such as France and Germany).

The following, then, seems to cast light on those who held positions in the government and were known for their links to the far right (it is by no means exhaustive but shows this was a problem in Ukraine politics nearly a decade ago and the political scene has changed somewhat since):

Ukraine's Nazi problem is real, even if Putin's 'denazification' claim isn't

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/ukraine-has-nazi-problem-vladimir-putin-s-denazification-claim-war-ncna1290946

Svoboda (formerly the Social National Party of Ukraine, and its logo the fascist Wolfsangel), whose leader, Oleh Tyahnybok, claimed the country was controlled by a “Muscovite-Jewish mafia” has sent several members to Ukraine’s Parliament, including Yuriy Mykhalchyshyn who is fond of quoting Joseph Goebbels – he founded a think tank originally called “The Joseph Goebbels Political Research Centre.”

https://archive.cpa.org.au/guardian/2014/1630/17-democratisation.html

“While Svoboda’s leaders have refrained recently from making anti-Semitic statements, it is troubling that Oleksandr Sych, Svoboda’s chief ideologue, was named vice prime minister.

Sych’s speeches over the years have focused on promoting Ukrainian nationalism, which he says is exemplified by Stepan Bandera, a leader of the Ukrainian nationalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Bandera was at times aligned with the Nazis during World War II and was complicit in mass killings of Jews and Poles by Ukrainian collaborators … ” However, towards the end of the war Bandera fought against the Soviets and it is this that is celebrated.

neo-Nazis are part of some of Ukraine’s growing ranks of volunteer battalions.

One is the Azov Battalion, founded by an avowed white supremacist who claimed Ukraine’s national purpose was to rid the country of Jews and other inferior races. In 2018, the U.S. Congress stipulated that its aid to Ukraine couldn’t be used “to provide arms, training or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.” Even so, Azov is now an official member of the Ukraine National Guard. That being said it is noted that it has resisted full integration, running its own children’s training camp for example, and the careers section instructs recruits who wish to transfer to Azov from a regular military unit.

https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/03/18/yes-there-are-bad-guys-in-the-ukrainian-government/

Yes, There Are Bad Guys in the Ukrainian Government (2014)

while Western governments and pundits are correct to dismiss Putin’s pretenses for invading Ukraine, they are wrong to presume his Ukrainian opponents are necessarily in the right. The uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kiev’s current government — and the protesters who brought it to power — are, indeed, fascists.

Svoboda holds a larger chunk of its nation’s ministries (nearly a quarter, including the prized defense portfolio), larger than any other far-right party on the continent.

Ukraine’s deputy prime minister (Oleksandr Sych) represents Svoboda as does the prosecutor general (Oleh Makhnitskyi) and the deputy chair of parliament (Ruslan Koshulynskyi), where the party is the fourth-largest.

The smaller, even more extreme "Right Sector" coalition (including Dmytro Yarosh) fills the deputy National Security Council chair.

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cohen-ukraine-commentary-idUSKBN1GV2TY

Ukraine’s neo-Nazi problem (2018)

A January 2018 demonstration, in Kiev, by 600 members of the so-called “National Militia,” a newly-formed ultranationalist group that vows “to use force to establish order,” illustrates the threat..of far-right vigilantes who are willing to use intimidation and violence to advance their agendas, and who often do so with the tacit approval of law enforcement agencies in Ukriane.

While the group’s Kiev launch was peaceful, National Militia members in balaclavas stormed a city council meeting in the central Ukrainian town of Cherkasy the following day, skirmishing with deputies and forcing them to pass a new budget.

the Kremlin’s claims that Ukraine is a hornets’ nest of fascists are false: far-right parties performed poorly in Ukraine’s last parliamentary elections, and Ukrainians reacted with alarm to the National Militia’s demonstration in Kiev. But connections between law enforcement agencies and extremists give Ukraine’s Western allies ample reason for concern. C14, a violent neo-nazi group, and Kiev's city government recently signed an agreement allowing C14 to establish a "municipal guard" to patrol the streets; three such militia-run guard forces are already registered in Kiev, and at least 21 operate in other cities.

In an ideal world .. they would ..purge the police and the interior ministry of far-right sympathizers, including Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who has close ties to Azov leader Andriy Biletsky, as well as Sergei Korotkykh, an Azov veteran who is now a high-ranking police official.

The problem is Avakov, whose ministry controls the police, the National Guard and several former militias.

https://www.thenation.com/article/politics/neo-nazis-far-right-ukraine/

Neo-Nazis and the Far Right Are On the March in Ukraine (2019)

Speaker of Parliament Andriy Parubiy cofounded and led two neo-Nazi organizations: the Social-National Party of Ukraine (later renamed Svoboda), and Patriot of Ukraine, whose members would eventually form the core of Azov.

The deputy minister of the Interior—which controls the National Police—is Vadim Troyan, a veteran of Azov and Patriot of Ukraine. In 2014, when Troyan was being considered for police chief of Kiev, Ukrainian Jewish leaders were appalled by his neo-Nazi background. Today, he’s deputy of the department running US-trained law enforcement in the entire nation.

https://forward.com/news/462916/nazi-collaborator-monuments-in-ukraine/

Nazi collaborator monuments in Ukraine (2021)

Over the past six years, the country has been institutionalizing worship of the paramilitary Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which collaborated with the Nazis and aided in the slaughter of Jews, and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA), which massacred thousands of Jews and 70,000-100,000 Poles.

In 2015, the Ukrainian parliament passed legislation making two WWII paramilitaries—the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN) and the Ukrainian Insurgent Army (UPA)—heroes of Ukraine, and made it a criminal offense to deny their heroism. The OUN had collaborated with the Nazis and participated in the Holocaust, while the UPA slaughtered thousands of Jews and 70,000-100,000 Poles on their own volition.

the director of the Institute of National Memory proclaimed that the SS fighters were “war victims.”

That summer (2017), a three-day festival celebrating the Nazi collaborator Shukhevych capped off with the firebombing of a synagogue.

And last April (2018), hundreds marched in L’viv with coordinated Nazi salutes honoring SS Galichina; the march was promoted by the L’viv regional government.

“I’m telling you one more time—go to hell, kikes. The Ukrainian people have had it to here with you.”Security services reserve general Vasily Vovk, May 11, 2017

https://www.jta.org/2017/03/27/global/ukrainian-war-hero-and-lawmaker-slurs-jews

A Ukrainian lawmaker and war hero used a word usually translated as “kikes” in complaining that Jews wield excessive power in her country. Nadiya Savchenko, a fighter jet pilot who was elected to parliament in 2014 while she was still being held as a prisoner of Russia, made the statements on Saturday during a televised interview . “Indeed, part of the ruling establishment in Ukraine does not possess distinctly Ukrainian blood and we need to talk about it and act.”

May 2, 2018, Tatyana Soykina, the head of the Odesa chapter of Right Sector, a far-right Ukrainian political group, made anti-Semitic statements at a large demonstration:
"We will restore order in Ukraine, Ukraine will belong to Ukrainians, not Jews and oligarchs," using a highly offensive pejorative for Jews, zhid.

Ukrainian nationalist to Jews: ‘Get used to our rules’ or be punished (23 October 2017)

A Ukrainian nationalist, Volodymyr Bazelyuk, last week called for Jews to “get used to our rules” or be punished, in an escalating tiff over a new statue of Symon Petliura, who is blamed for the murder of tens of thousands of Jews during the Russian Revolution.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/ukrainian-nationalist-to-jews-get-used-to-our-rules-or-be-punished/

In Ukraine, Stepan Bandera’s legacy becomes a political football... again

https://www.euronews.com/my-europe/2021/03/19/in-ukraine-stepan-bandera-s-legacy-becomes-a-political-football-again

Bandera, who died in 1959 after being poisoned by Soviet agents, is seen as a national hero who fought for Ukrainian independence during the 1930s and 1940s. To others, he is a war criminal whose nationalist forces carried out atrocities against Jews and Poles during WW2. For his supporters, the fact that Bandera fought to prevent the Soviet occupation of Ukraine is more significant than his collaboration with the Nazis.

Ukraine underplays role of far right in conflict (2014)

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-30414955

However, as pointed out elsewhere:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/feb/25/vladimir-putin-ukraine-attack-antisemitism-denazify

Ukraine does have a far-right movement, ...But no democratic country is free of far-right nationalist groups, including the United States. In the 2019 election, the Ukrainian far right was humiliated, receiving only 2% of the vote. This is far less support than far-right parties receive across western Europe, including inarguably democratic countries such as France and Germany.

In the west, fascism presents itself as the defender of European Christianity against these forces, as well as mass Muslim migration. Fascism in the west is thus increasingly hard to distinguish from Christian nationalism.

Putin, the leader of Russian Christian nationalism, has come to view himself as the global leader of Christian nationalism, and is increasingly regarded as such by Christian nationalists around the world, including in the United States.

Ukraine has always been the primary target of those who seek to restore “Soviet power in fascist form”. Echoing familiar fascist antisemitic tropes, in a 2021 article, former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev denounced Zelenskiy as disgusting, corrupt and faithless. The free democratic election of a Jewish president confirms in the fascist mind that the fascist bogeyman of liberal democracy as a tool for global Jewish domination is real.

By claiming that the aim of the invasion is to “denazify” Ukraine, Putin appeals to the myths of contemporary eastern European antisemitism – that a global cabal of Jews were (and are) the real agents of violence against Russian Christians and the real victims of the Nazis were not the Jews, but rather this group.

https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2022/03/05/russia-invasion-ukraine-attention-extremist-regiment-nazi/9368016002/

Compared to other countries in Eastern and even Western Europe, Ukraine's neo-Nazi problem is a fringe issue, there’s a huge difference between a regiment with a checkered history playing a minor part on the battlefield and the notion that Ukraine is somehow overrun by neo-Nazis, as Putin has long pretended.

https://geohistory.today/azov-movement-ukraine/

2019:

https://reportingradicalism.org/en/thematic-analyses/the-far-right-and-the-2019-parliamentary-election

Creating a List of Far-Right Candidates

At the Svoboda conference on June 9, the nationalists announced that they were forming a single list of candidates to run in the parliamentary elections. Oleh Tiahnybok was at the top of the list, followed by Andrii Biletskyi, Dmytro Yarosh, Andrii Tarasenko and Ruslan Koshulynskyi. The list also included OUN leader Bohdan Chervak​. Of the “Nationalist Manifesto” signatories, only C14 would not join the election alliance; a possible sign of lingering tensions from the presidential election.

Many of the candidates on the Svoboda list or running as Svoboda candidates for single-mandate constituencies have previously engaged in anti-Semitic, racist or homophobic rhetoric. Another candidate, Diana Vynohradova (neé: Kamliuk), who had served time for complicity in a racist murder in 2006, ran on the Right Sector list as number 39. Like Vynohradova’s conviction, most of the anti-Semitic and racist statements made by candidates on Svoboda’s list were made a relatively long time ago, though anti-LGBT+ rhetoric has continued to be shared by the far right in recent years. Indeed, it appears that homophobia has become the preferred form of hateful rhetoric for right-wing radicals, replacing anti-Semitism and other forms of ethnic, racial and religious xenophobia.

A Disappointing Result

In the end, Svoboda’s party list received just 2.25 percent of the votehalf of what it received in 2014 and a quarter of what it won in 2012. It did not pass the election threshold.

https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/.premium-the-far-right-just-got-humiliated-in-ukraine-s-election-but-don-t-write-it-off-1.7563138

The Far Right Just Got Humiliated in Ukraine’s Election — but Don’t Write It Off Just Yet

and:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Ukrainian_parliamentary_election

https://freedomhouse.org/sites/default/files/2020-02/FarRightEurasia_FINAL_.pdf

https://freedomhouse.org/article/ukraines-new-leadership-challenges-and-opportunities-democracy-and-human-rights

https://www.pravda.com.ua/rus/articles/2019/07/21/7221526/

https://www.ukrinform.net/rubric-elections/2748306-cec-counts-100-percent-of-vote-in-ukraines-parliamentary-elections.html

so based on the above, as of 2019:

In the 2019 Ukrainian parliamentary election all major Ukrainian right-wing parties formed a nationwide united party list with the political parties Svoboda, National Corps, the Governmental Initiative of Yarosh, and the Right Sector.

However, since the coalition failed to pass the 5 percent threshold it gained no parliamentary seats.

No far-right parties gained seats in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament), as they all failed to win any single-mandate constituency seat.

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    "The uncomfortable truth is that a sizeable portion of Kiev’s current government — and the protesters who brought it to power — are, indeed, fascists." Pretty much all of Moscow's government is fascist. Mar 7 at 4:24
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    You know, what would also clarify this a bit is referring to the 2019 parliamentary election numbers. Neo-nazi parties hold very few seats in the current government so Putin's claims are mostly just a convenient pretense. Also, Ukrainian nazis generally being also rabidly anti-Russian, it doesn't take a genius to see that the Crimea and Donbas annexations may have boosted their numbers. Mar 7 at 5:27
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica You wrote "in the current government". Do you mean "in the current parliament (Rada)" ? I am not aware of any neo-Nazi in Ukrain's government, and your link points towards legislatives elections.
    – Evargalo
    Mar 8 at 11:04
  • I think that the fact that the Azov Battalion was formed only after Russia started grabbing Ukrainian territory is rather relevant. Leaving it out gives the false impression that Russian interference is due to the rise of far right forces in Ukraine, when in fact much of the rise of the right is in response to Russian interference. Apr 5 at 15:31
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It is sadly somewhat to be expected that some members of a government (or a parliament/the military/other relevant parts of a country) will have far-right views (we can see examples of this in the US, Germany, Russia, etc).

Ukraine is no exception. Ukraine has in recent years erected statues to glorify Nazi collaborators, it has antisemites in parliament (eg members of the Svoboda party), and some units of the military are right-wing extremists (see Azov Battalion).

But unlike Germany '45, Nazis are not in every important position of power; as you point out, the president is not a Nazi, nor are most judges, military members, members of parliament, etc. By some estimates, nationalists make up about 2% of Ukraine's population.

A letter by scholars of WW2, Nazism, and the Holocaust for example strongly rejects the "denazification" narrative and calls it "factually wrong, morally repugnant and deeply offensive to the memory of millions of victims of Nazism".

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    This does not answer or appear to answer the question at all as it doesn't talk at all about alleged Nazis in power but just mentions that they are part of the general population.
    – Joe W
    Mar 6 at 20:20
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    @JoeW I think my answer is pretty clear that 1) there are isolated cases of Nazis (I give three examples) and 2) the "denazification" argument is not valid, but just a pretext to start a war of aggression.
    – tim
    Mar 7 at 7:48
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I think @blobbymcblobby and @tim have given very good answers, summarizing the current situation with right-wing movements in Ukraine (note that these by no means represent the majority of the Ukrainians).

However, it is worth adding some historical context:

  • Ukraine, like nearby Poland, has traditionally had very large Jewish population, and the acts of antisemitism (including pogroms) were not uncommon throughout centuries. Attitudes towards Jews are well described, e.g., in the works of such classical Ukrainian writers as Nikolai Gogol and Isaac Babel.
  • The brief period of Ukrainian independence after the October Revolution is commonly associated with antisemitic attacks by Petliurovtsy, named so after the Ukrainian president Symon Petliura, which resulted in murder of tens of thousands of Jews. Note that Petliura himself claimed to be unaware of the attacks, and there is no prove that he authorized or encouraged them. On the other hand, his murder by a Jewish survivor (or soviet agent or both) resulted in widely publicized trial, where the the defendant was acquitted, and the acts against the Ukrainian Jews were brought to light. Thus, while Petliura is considered as an important national independence figure in Ukraine, Petliurovtsy is a nickname for jew-killers. It is easy to see how this cultural context could be used for propaganda.
  • During World War II the Ukrainian nationalist movements had to ally themselves with the Nazi Germany, perhaps misled into believing that this would help Ukraine win its independence - in this sense Ukrainians found themselves in the same ambiguous situation as, e.g., the citizens of the Baltic countries - they had to side either with Stalin or with Hitler, and those who took the losing side earned themselves infamy. Thus, e.g., Stepan Bandera, the leader of the Ukrainian nationalists during the war, was largely treated as a Nazi collaborator in the Soviet discourse, but is now considered as a hero in Ukraine.

Thus, pretty much anyone honoring these historical figures and supporting Ukrainian independence can be accused of associating themselves with Nazis. And the years of Soviet indoctrination, as well as some true historical events, provide fertile ground for such accusations.

Disclaimer: I fully expect some downvotes and accusations of pro-Russian propaganda for this post. However, this is Ukrainian history - that is troubled history of a small nation fighting for its independence. I think it deserves to be known, respected and understood

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