Why, according to Putin, Ukraine must be “denazified”: what lies behind the invasion

Of Fabrizio Dragosei

The Russian president refers to those far-right formations that have been protagonists in the political life of the country after the dissolution of the USSR

When in the first hours of the special military operation Vladimir Putin spoke of the de-Nazification of Ukraine, he did not have in mind the formations that flanked Hitler’s troops after the invasion of the USSR in 1941. No, the lord of the Kremlin thought to those far-right formations that have been protagonists of the country’s political life starting with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and then at the time of the revolt called Euromaidan which in 2014 led to the escape of the pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych. Fully armed men who set fire to and killed wearing German helmets of the Second World War with a lot of swastika and symbols of the SS. For months and months all the Russian media have continued to hit this key, accusing the entire country and its ruling class: They are the worthy heirs of the gangs of 1941 and 1943.

The arrival of the troops of the Third Reich who broke through the Soviet lines on June 22, 1941 rekindled Ukrainian nationalism which had led several fighting groups to clash with the Red Army in the years of Bolshevik consolidation. Alongside the Germans, the partisan formations of Stepan Bandera were born and his Ukrainian Insurrection Army. Then a real SS division was created, the 14 Waffen SS Galicia which hoisted the yellow and blue flag in combat that today the Ukrainian national flag (here the photos of the attack).

Immediately after the dissolution of the USSR, far-right formations have caught their breath in the country. To
for example, the Una-Unso group, Ukrainian National Assembly – People’s Self-Defense. Its militants went to fight in 1993 alongside the Georgians against the Russian-speaking rebels of Abkhazia and then together with the Chechens against the Russians in 1994. In both cases they were defeated: Abkhazia gained de facto independence then recognized by Moscow after the war with Georgia in 2008; the Chechens were put back in line by Putin who, as prime minister, had already promised to chase the terrorists into the toilet.

Ukrainian ultranationalists reappeared as early as 2004 during the so-called Orange Revolution that brought Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency and Yuliya Tymoshenko to the chair of prime minister. But they played a marginal role. The far right and neo-Nazis were instead the protagonists of the 2014 uprising. The Right Sector, the Patriots of Ukraine, the Territorial Defense Battalions were always at the forefront of the barricades. The TVs all over the world and especially the Russian ones spread images of young people with helmets and swastikas.

The Ukrainian far right has continued to have a significant weight even in recent years of often very hard parliamentary confrontations. It does not have a consistent presence within the Rada, but it conditions the politicians with its strength in the squares. If since 2015 Kiev has never applied the main points of the agreement reached with the Donbass separatists under the aegis of France and Germany, this is also due to the threats of the para-Nazi groups.

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