After a massive neo-fascist march in Poland and new reports of neo-Nazi influence in Ukraine, Lev Golinkin, an author who fled then-Soviet Ukraine as a child, says both the US and Russia have troubling ties to Europe’s far-right
AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Mate. Last week some 60,000 people marched in the Polish capital of Warsaw chanting far right and Neo Nazi slogans. It was a record turnout for Poland’s national radical camp, which first drew just a few hundred people when it began the annual march eight years ago. Its latest display of white supremacy’s staying power in Europe. Now, one country whose neo-Nazi element has not gotten as much attention is Ukraine, where far right and even Nazi elements have strong government ties, and that could be a major issue for the U.S. which has been one of Kiev’s key allies. That link was underscored last week when the U.S. and Ukraine were the only governments to vote against the U.N. measure condemning the glorification of Nazism. I’m joined now by Lev Golinkin, journalist who’s written extensively on the far right in Europe and author of, “A Backpack, a Bear and Eight Crates of Vodka: A Memoir of Ukraine.” Lev, welcome. Let’s start in Poland. Striking that as I mentioned when this far right annual march on the Polish independence day began eight years ago, it was a small number of people turning out. This year, 60,000 people. Talk about what we saw there. LEV GOLINKIN: We saw Poland which was the poster child of post-Soviet success demonstrate some of the darker elements in its midst. We also saw not just Polish marchers be there but also neo-Nazis from all the different corners of Europe. So this is something that goes far, far beyond Poland. AARON MATÉ: And talk about that, this transnational white supremacy that we’re seeing in Europe right now where movements in one country are impacting another and others. LEV GOLINKIN: In the old days, white supremacy was limited to nations. In other words Deutschland Uber Alles or America First or what have you. But now because, a lot of it is almost like Islamic terrorism. It’s not limited to just a certain country, it’s limited to a worldwide movement except obviously they’re not working towards a caliphate but they’re working towards what they consider reconquering Europe and America for the white race. What they see is that they are being encroached upon by immigrants in America. In Europe they’re looking at it as Muslims, that’s one of the biggest things as well as Jews. And these groups are motivated to come together and reclaim Europe for the white man. AARON MATÉ: So let’s talk about Ukraine. A very key U.S. ally. You’ve been warning about how we should not be dismissing concerns about the influence of far-right groups there. There are a number of developments including recently, I saw a report that there are neo-Nazi elements working with the Ukrainian spy service. I’m wondering your thoughts on that and the wider fears about the influence of far-right groups and even neo-Nazis in Ukraine. LEV GOLINKIN: When the conflict with Russia began in the fall of 2013 and then really heated up in 2014, the Ukrainian army was in shambles. The only ones who really provided the muscle both for Maidan revolution and for the conflict with Russia afterwards and conflict with the Russian backed rebels were the neo-Nazi groups. They formed battalions, I mean we’re talking heavily armed military grade battalions that provided the backbone for the Ukrainian army. These battalions have been semi-independent ever since. Most of them are nominally under the control of the Ukrainian government but really they’re allowed to do what they want. They have disrupted courts, they have disrupted voting procedures, they have raided banks and restaurants that they do not like. Some of them have had shootouts with the police, and so far, there seems to be very little accountability on them and they have deep ties to the Ukrainian minister Arsen Avakov who is the one who is controlling the interior, as well as the speaker of the parliament, the third most powerful man in Ukraine, Andriy Parubiy. Parubiy is not technically part of the far right but he spent about a decade and a half organizing neo-Nazi parties during the 1990s until he severed ties with the far right in early 2000s. We still have a man there who knows these groups very well and who is the speaker of the parliament. So they have significant ties in the Ukrainian government. AARON MATÉ: Yeah Lev, so that link I spoke of before comes from the group Defending History, which tracks antisemitism in Europe and they reported recently based on a translated article from Ukraine that the neo-Nazi group C14 in Ukraine has links to Ukrainian security services. Have you heard this story and is it true? LEV GOLINKIN: From what I understand, they’re just claiming that they’ve been connected. There has not been a dependent verification but C14 has been acting rampantly. They’ve been attacking people including an antifascist protester who was stabbed several times and they’ve been operating with impunity. If the police are there, they do not take action. It also stands to reason that the very important thing about C14 is that the BBC just got in trouble for reporting them as just hooligans, as just lovable rogue when they’re really a neo-Nazi organization. And the British parliament has actually taken BBC to task for failing to portray the accurate description of C14. But C14 is just one of the smaller groups. They’re more of a street gang. What’s much more concerning is the battalions that are, battalions such as Azov that are organized, and they’re, I mean, we’re talking about 3000 men who fly neo-Nazi insignia, who’ve been organized from neo-Nazi groups, who are battle hardened and who are pretty much independent from Kiev even though they’re nominally part of the National Guard. That concerns me much more than the C14 street gang. AARON MATÉ: Right. And they’re gaining actual battlefield experience as they take part in the civil conflict with those citizens in the east of the country who identify more with Russia. But as I understand there’s also white supremacists involved in the battlefield on the autonomous side, right, on those who want autonomy for the East, there’s even white supremacist in their ranks as well. LEV GOLINKIN: Yes, and that is a very important point that both sides of the conflict have drawn white supremacists. Russia is where today’s white supremacists disagree. Half of them think that Russia is the problem and that Russia is not European, Russia’s Asiatic. Those would be the people fighting on the Ukraine side because they’re fighting against Russia. They’re fighting to stop the barbarians from attacking what they see as a European white race. The other half of the white supremacists see Russia as a bastion of white Christianity and they fight on the side of the separatists. And a lot of American white supremacists including Richard Spencer view Russia very positively. They adhere to this “Russia is a bastion of white Christianity” belief. There’s neo-Nazis on both sides, you’re completely right. AARON MATÉ: Right. So then, what then in your view is the proper way to look at Russia’s own relationship to white supremacists? Because the problem I have with so much Russia reporting, especially in the West, is that so much of it is distorted in the interest of pushing this Russiagate narrative and Putin as this grand destabilizer of the entire world, but that should not discount any actual real ties between Russia and the far right. What is Putin’s attitude towards the white supremacists who view him favorably? LEV GOLINKIN: There are groups that are allied with Putin. For example, the Night Wolves motorcycle gang who are very, you can call them neo-fascists. He does have plenty of far right supporters. If we’re talking about global white supremacy movements, again, it’s helpful to compare it to terrorism. There are groups that are Shia terrorists who are against Sunni terrorists. They might be mortal enemies but they’re still part of the overall Islamist terrorist community. Same thing here. Russia is part of the problem when it comes to certain far right groups and also the way that they are influencing, and they have a good working relationship with the far right parties in Italy and in France. But at the same time, what my concern is there are plenty of neo-Nazi groups in the US friendly countries, in countries there are NATO and in the E.U. and in countries that are being supported by the US including Ukraine. I think we’re ignoring them, we’re making this a beacon of liberty versus Russia when some of the beacons of liberty like Poland, like Ukraine, like the Baltics also have neo-Nazi formations, also do Holocaust distortion and should not escape scrutiny by any means. AARON MATÉ: There is now this pressure on President Trump to approve a proposal from the Pentagon and many influential people in the national security estate to send more weapons to Ukraine to fight the separatists. I’m wondering your thoughts on the implications of that decision in terms of fueling the far right in Ukraine. LEV GOLINKIN: Charles Kupchan who was in the Obama administration wrote a piece in The Washington Post about how introducing more American arms would just inflame the conflict and cause the death of civilians. So there’s multiple reasons why we should be extraordinary careful with deciding to send arms to Ukraine. As far as the far right is concerned, I think it’s reckless. You have a government and Ukraine has plenty of non-neo-Nazis. Vast majority of Ukrainians are just everyday people, but at the same time, how can you justify providing weapons to a government whose military includes groups that make Richard Spencer look like a Boy Scout. By doing so, by granting somebody weapons, we’re legitimizing the groups that we’re giving weapons to. We’re giving them our seal of approval more than anything else. I think it’s extraordinarily dangerous to supply a nation that uses armed forces that have been reported as neo-Nazi by every Western organization you can imagine, from New York Times admitted it, the Daily Beast admitted it, Reuters wrote about it, USA Today wrote about it. And they wrote these pretty clear headlines like, you know, USA Today said volunteer Ukrainian unit includes Nazis. There’s really no other way to interpret this. So I think we need to be very careful with judging our allies and we need to support democratic movements and a movement that includes these battalions, that’s dangerous, and it’s not just dangerous for us, it’s dangerous for Ukraine because these groups are not interested in democracy. They’re not interested in this western Ukrainian state. I mean, I want Ukraine to be a free democratic country. As somebody who escaped from the Soviet Union to come to America, I have no love for Moscow but a democratic country involves things like rule of law, involves things like not having neo-Nazi formations. I think that should be the most important … I don’t think the issue of giving arms to Ukraine should be considered until it fully disbands these battalions and make sure that the rule of law is implemented solely by the government and without any neo-Nazi formations. AARON MATÉ: We’ll leave it there. Lev Golinkin, a journalist who’s covered the far right extensively. Author of the book “A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka.” Lev, thank you. LEV GOLINKIN: Thank you. AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on The Real News.