History and Sides-Taking in the Russo-Ukrainian War

Update (March 6, 2022): On March 1st, Broken Anthem shared Ukraine on Fire, a documentary by Igor Lopatonok, which provides a historical perspective for the conflicts in the region that lead to the 2004 Orange Revolution, 2014 uprisings in Ukraine, and the violent overthrow of democratically-elected Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych. I had thought of watching this documentary for some time but never got around to it. Given recent events in Ukraine and a convenient link appearing on one of my social media platforms to which I am subscribed reminding me of its existence, I sat down and watched it last night. If you have not watched this, you should.

“Among the calamities of war may be jointly numbered the diminution of the love of truth by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.”—Samuel Johnson, The Idler, 1758

“There was a near universal understanding among diplomats and political leaders at the time [1989] that any attempt to expand NATO was foolish, an unwarranted provocation against Russia that would obliterate the ties and bonds that happily emerged at the end of the Cold War.”—Chris Hedges, “Russia, Ukraine, and the Chronicle of a War Foretold,” MPN News, February 25, 2022.

Less than a week ago, Russian president Vladimir Putin ordered troops into Donetsk and Luhansk, which have declared themselves no longer part of Ukraine. Meeting with leaders of the rebel forces, the Russian president officially pledged aid and cooperation. Having already established Russian military presence in Donetsk some eight years earlier, Putin sent more troops to carry out “peacekeeping” operations there. Biden and Putin agreed to keep diplomatic lines open even while Washington pushed the narrative that all this is pretext for a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Now Putin is conducting large-scale military operations in Ukraine and the United States has imposed sanctions. Biden seemed to have understood better than I—and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, as well—the consequences of United States weakness and the fruit of its labors.

Source: 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine

The question has been put to me: Do I agree with Putin’s actions in Ukraine? No. I am very rarely for war. But, if an observer wants to understand why something is happening, then he needs to look at history, politics, and situation. Whether you agreed with GHW Bush’s decision to invade Iraq in January 1991, Saddam Hussein had reasons for invading Kuwait in August of 1990. The questions of US military action is on the table in the current crisis. Do I support US involvement in the Russian-Ukraine conflict? No. This is not my fight. I disagreed with GHW Bush’s intervention in Iraq. I disagreed with Clinton and NATO intervention in Yugoslavia. Slobodan Milošević had reasons for his actions, as well. Examining the reasons that justify in Putin’s mind the invasion of Ukraine, does not make one a supporter of the invasion and whatever follows. There is a history here that needs knowing. And we need to know it to determine whose side to take—or whether to take no side at all.

It is clear that the public is not really interested in the exercise of rational sides-taking. Heroization of Zelensky and the Ukrainian people in contrast to demonization of Putin and the Russian military is ubiquitous in the West. Westerners have eagerly organized their allegiances in terms of the official narrative. You have no doubt seen the “I stand with Ukraine” slogans and stickers on social media. If you didn’t know what the flag of Ukraine looked like before, you do now. One saw nothing like this when Saudi Arabia launched its military campaign in Yemen in March 2015. Had Saudi Arabia intervened on behalf of the Houthi movement over against Yemen president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi would that have made a difference? No. Saudi Arabia is an American ally. Russia, on the other hand, is a perennial boogieman. Reflexive fear and loathing of Russia, and its earlier configuration as the Soviet Union, has justified trillions of military spending and proxy wars around the planet. The corporate media, Democrats, and the permanent security establishment were able to hoax tens of millions of Americans for so long with ridiculous claims that Trump was a Russian agent because of deep life-long conditioning in Russophobia.

Given that how Western influencers have pitched the conflict may in the end be leveraged to justify kinetic war between the United States and Russia (at present economic sanctions are the order of the day, which will likely hurt ordinary Americans as much as ordinary Russians), it is important to determine what lies behind all this. A war with Russia would be a disaster for humanity.

If we pause to examine Putin’s position, we find there are reasons that, if given in other contexts, complicate matters. Among Putin’s justifications is the claim that the objective of military intervention is to defend the safety and rights of ethnic Russians in Ukraine, especially those living and working in Donetsk and Luhansk, which declared their independence from Ukraine in the chaos of 2014. Putin characterized Russia’s “special military operation” as the “denazification” of Ukraine. “Its goal is to protect people who have been subjected to bullying and genocide,” he said of years since Donetsk and Luhansk declared their independence. “And for this we will strive for the demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine.” Although the Western media feigns a puzzled look at the mention of Nazis in Ukraine, Putin is not wrong—and the media knows that. Donetsk and Luhansk have large populations of ethnic Russians who seek Putin’s help; there are extremist groups in Ukraine who mean them grave harm.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-18023383

Putin is also concerned about NATO expansion, viewing the prospect of Ukraine joining the Western military alliance as an hostile act. Consideration of Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO dates to 2009 and incorporation looks rather certain in light of the pattern of the last few decades. The US militarization of Ukraine looks like the cultivation of a proxy to antagonize Russia. In December of last year, Putin demanded from US and NATO guarantee that Ukraine remain outside NATO’s security sphere and that the alliance quit its ambitions in Central and Eastern Europe. The United States and its allies did not concede to Putin’s demands and continued the provocation. This left the problem of the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, with the Ukrainian government seeking to return those regions to its sphere of control, in the lurch. More generally, Putin has argued, Ukraine is a construct, not an integral nation-state. “We have every reason to say it’s Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin that created Ukraine,” Putin explained, asserting that “modern Ukraine was completely created by Russia.” For this reason, Putin finds an independent Ukraine (Ukraine declared its independence in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union) a sign of the disintegration of greater Russia.

It may have surprised many to read a November 2017 op-ed by Lev Golinkin, published in The Hill, providing support for Putin’s claim that Ukraine is a nest of Nazis. Golinkin was writing in the context of Trump mulling sending weapons to Ukraine. The author thought it useful to make his audience aware of “the far-right forces employed by the Kiev government,” taking issue with Kristofer Harrison’s op-ed in the same publication a month earlier. “Some Western observers claim that there are no neo-Nazi elements in Ukraine, chalking the assertion up to propaganda from Moscow,” writes Golinkin. “Unfortunately, they are sadly mistaken.” Fascism of the rankest kind (which serves the interests of the more sophisticated sort of the emerging transnational corporate state) is a very real problem in Ukraine and, as noted, this fact is well known among those who pay attention to such things. However, there an awful lot of people who know this awful truth who do not want others to know about it. Golinkin opines, “The fact that analysts are able to dismiss it as propaganda disseminated by Moscow is profoundly disturbing.” Indeed.

The Azov Battalion with their flag bearing the wolfsangel, a Nazi symbol

Zelensky, his Jewish heritage suggesting he could not abide by Nazi presence in his government and country (certainly the press is making something of Zelensky’s ethnicity, suggesting that it somehow makes Nazism an impossibility in Ukraine, as if a man’s ethnicity subsumes and negates untoward cultural and political tendencies), has, to put the matter charitably, nonetheless been struggling to disentangle Nazis from Ukraine’s military establishment. This entanglement is a long and storied one and one has to understand the throw of a century to grasp its significance. For example, the Azov Battalion, founded in 2014, has integrated with the National Guard. Its commander, Andriy Biletsky, was the leader of the neo-Nazi group Patriot of Ukraine. Several members of that organization followed Biletsky into Azov. To give you a sense of Biletsky’s mindset, the man believes the mission of Ukraine is to, in his own words, “lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival against the Semite-led Untermenschen.” Azov’s logo is a combination of two neo-Nazi symbols, the wolfsangel and the Sonnenrad. The Sonnenrad was displayed among those marching in Charlottesville, prompting Trump to categorically condemn neo-Nazism and white supremacy (a condemnation that, despite being preserved on video, the establishment media flipped in their reporting).

Golinkin notes that Ukraine’s far right encompasses more than Azov. There’s the Democratic Axe, the Right Sector, and the Resistance Movement Against Capitulation. Alerting his audience to the fact that the Nazis movement “regularly stages torchlight marches in honor of World War II-era Nazi collaborators,” Golinkin asks readers to imagine Charlottesville but with thousands of participants. Radio Free Europe (RFE) reported twenty thousand marchers at an event honoring the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which, according to RFE (remarkable given their history of rationalizing rightwing ambition), “carried out vicious acts of ethnic cleansing in which tens of thousands of ethnic Poles in the region were killed.” RFE reports that with the torches were also Nazi salutes.

While few Americans know much of anything about this, those whose experiences with Nazis are a matter of the worst atrocities in history are well aware of the rise of rank-and-file fascism in Europe and are highly concerned about it. “Kiev’s rehabilitation of Nazi collaborators—a hallmark of European far right movements—has been condemned by Jewish organizations including the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry, Yad Vashem, and the World Jewish Congress,” writes Golinkin. Golinkin wonders why, if American pundits and politicians eagerly condemn Charlottesville, they appear willing to disregard fascism and white supremacy in Ukraine? “It’s difficult, if not impossible,” he writes, “to imagine mainstream media describing reports on Charlottesville as propaganda and questioning the motives of lawmakers who try to counter today’s alarming surge of white supremacy. Why shouldn’t we view Ukraine—a nation to which we send billions in foreign aid—in light of the same standards?”

Why does Zelensky have so much troubling dealing with the Nazi threat in his midsts? For one thing, Ukraine is a loose confederation of regions, several of which, as we have seen, consider themselves as autonomous and semi-autonomous, and many of them are majority ethnic Russians. Ukraine also has a thriving Jewish population (among the largest in Europe). Ukrainian Nazis loath ethnic Russians and Jews, and they’ve been terrorizing these populations for years. Putin is a student of history. He knows the perils of tolerating Nazi aggression—especially against his people. The Russians lost tens of millions to Hitler and the military forces under his command, the ranks of which organized ethnic groups from across Eastern Europe against the Russian people. The Ukrainian Nazis, as did the Croatian Ustashi, represented the most virulent strain of rank-and-file Nazism. Numerous scholars of the Holocaust have documented the grim fact that even the German SS were taken aback by the barbarity of their Eastern European counterparts during the Holocaust.

For another thing, Zelensky, who has been in power since May 2019, replacing the far-right Poroshenko government, the result of the 2014 US-backed coup that toppled the pro-Russian government, often finds the far right useful to push his anti-Russian line, which is supported by the United States and global elites. Moreover, Zelensky is a bit of an authoritarian himself. The United Nations Human Rights Council reported in December, in a document covering nearly two years of Ukrainian state action, that “fundamental freedoms in Ukraine have been squeezed” under the Zelensky regime. According to Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations, “restrictions on the free expression of critical or unpopular opinions, and on participation in peaceful assemblies on sensitive topics, as well as the safety of human rights defenders in Ukraine were of concern.”

The report states: “Political and legislative developments resulted in restrictions on civic space, and attacks against opposition political parties, their members and staff impacted freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the right to participate. Government sanctions in February and August of 2021, which led to the closure of television channels and online media outlets, were not in line with international human rights law as they limited public access to information and undermined critical journalism.”

The report documents numerous incidence targeting bloggers, journalists, and media professionals expressing opinions critical of the government and mainstream narratives. “Of particular concern is the lack of accountability for threats and violence targeting human rights defenders, media workers, and individuals who expose corruption, express opinions online, or attempt to participate in policy-making.” This included criticisms of COVID-19 restrictions. According to reporting by Jason Melanovski, of the World Socialist Web Site in February 2021 (WSWS is a publication of the Trotskyite International Committee of the Fourth International), Zelensky shut down three popular television stations associated with pro-Russian opposition leader Viktor Medvedchuk. Medvedchuk was not the only prominent target of government repression.

The Donbas region shares it border with Russia and the Azov Sea.

Moreover, Melanovski reports, on December 2, Zelensky introduced several bills into the Ukrainian parliament that would be used to deny Donbas residents citizenship and voting rights. Donbas is the region where Donetsk and Luhansk have established independent republics. These measures put the lie to government denials that no coercive actions have been taken to pull the region back into the sphere of Ukrainian control. Melanovski continues, “Such anti-democratic measures could easily be used to deny citizenship and voting rights to not only separatists in the Donbass, but any Ukrainian who opposes the right-wing nationalist and war-mongering policies of the Zelensky government.” The measures would also strip citizenship from Ukrainians with Russian passports. The working class of the Donbas region have relatives living in Russia and use those passports to travel across the border to see family.

All this is not disconnected to US machinations in the region. As reported by Branko Marcetic, writing for Jacobin in mid-January of this year, the CIA has been working at least since 2015 with far right elements as part of the campaign of Western belligerence towards Russia. Putin is well aware that the West is using military and irregular forces in Ukraine against his country and that the most ready troops for such a campaign are those carrying in their marrow their hatred of Russians. This was the same strategy the CIA used in Afghanistan in developing the mujahideen there to launch attacks against the former Soviet Union (see Sowing the Seeds of Terrorism? Capitalist Intrigue and Adventurism in Afghanistan).

Also in 2015, to facilitate its clandestine work, Congress passed a spending bill with hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid to Ukraine, “one that was expressly modified to allow that support to flow to the country’s resident neo-Nazi militia, the Azov Regiment.” Why would the United States support a neo-Nazi organizations? Because, as Marcetic suggests, “its effectiveness in fighting Russian separatists.” Ukraine has become a proxy for a cold war against Russia. Speaking of President Biden, Marcetic writes, “The US alliance with Nazi-infected Ukraine has already proven awkward for a president who is both trying to strike a contrast with his far-right predecessor and establish the United States as the leader of a global effort to strengthen democracy.” Late last year,” writes Marcetic, “in a vote that went completely unreported in the press, the United States was one of just two countries (the other being Ukraine) to vote against a UN draft resolution ‘combating glorification of Nazism, neo-Nazism and other practices that contribute to fueling contemporary forms of racism.”’

In place of a record of diplomacy attempting to foment peace instead of war in the region, the evidence makes clear that Zelensky, leveraging his ties to the far right, and the United States, along with its allies, have worked hard to scuttle peace efforts; indeed, Zelensky has encouraged right-wing organizations to take up arms against Russia, with the United States supplying military aid and logistical support. Zelensky has made clear his steadfastness in his commitment to the proposition that there will be no compromise with Russia. So here we are, with Russian troops advancing on Kiev and Zelensky telling the media that “the fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.”

“In reality,” Melanovski concludes, “imperialism has been systematically building up a rabidly right-wing oligarchic regime and neo-fascist forces in Kiev in order to prepare both for a military conflict with Russia and the violent suppression of the working class.” All this is twisted by such organizations as the Atlantic Council (the same group that played a prominent role in the color revolution that saw the ousting of Trump from the White House), which recently claimed that it is not NATO expansion that concerns Putin but “Ukrainian democracy”—as if the purpose of organizations like the Atlantic Council is not to undermine democracy around the planet to prepare world proletariat for incorporation into a global neo-feudalist order. And there’s this: “Since taking office,” Marcetic writes, “Biden has launched an incipient domestic ‘war on terror’ on the basis of combating far-right extremism” in the United States. “Yet at the same time, three separate administrations, Biden’s included, have been providing training, weapons, and equipment to the very far-right movement that’s inspiring and even training those same white supremacists.”

* * *

The NATO piece is covered well by Chris Hedges in the article I cited at the top of this essay (I will cite it again here for your convenience). I do want to share an additional quote by from that article as it punctuates my own: “The war state needs enemies to sustain itself. When an enemy can’t be found, an enemy is manufactured. Putin has become, in the words of Senator Angus King, the new Hitler, out to grab Ukraine and the rest of Eastern Europe. The full-throated cries for war, echoed shamelessly by the press, are justified by draining the conflict of historical context, by elevating ourselves as the saviors and whoever we oppose, from Saddam Hussein to Putin, as the new Nazi leader.”

Also, with respect to the NATO question, I want to direct the reader’s attention to Norman Solomon’s “Bob Dylan, Masters of War, and the Ukraine Crisis,” published in Common Dreams. Solomon quotes Jeffrey Sachs, from his essay “The US should compromise on Nato to save Ukraine,” which lies behind the dense paywall of the Financial Times, “Putin has repeatedly demanded that the US forswear NATO’s enlargement into Ukraine, while Biden has repeatedly asserted that membership of the alliance is Ukraine’s choice.” Sachs notes, “Many insist that NATO enlargement is not the real issue for Putin and that he wants to recreate the Russian empire, pure and simple. Everything else, including NATO enlargement, they claim, is a mere distraction. This is utterly mistaken. Russia has adamantly opposed NATO expansion towards the east for 30 years, first under Boris Yeltsin and now Putin.” Sachs continues, “Neither the US nor Russia wants the other’s military on their doorstep. Pledging no NATO enlargement is not appeasement. It does not cede Ukrainian territory. It does not undermine Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

As Hedges correctly points out, the appetite of the war machine sabotaged the post-Cold War context. “The war industry did not intend to shrink its power or its profits. It set out almost immediately to recruit the former Communist Bloc countries into the European Union and NATO. Countries that joined NATO, which now include Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Albania, Croatia, Montenegro, and North Macedonia were forced to reconfigure their militaries, often through hefty loans, to become compatible with NATO military hardware.” He continues, “There would be no peace dividend. The expansion of NATO swiftly became a multi-billion-dollar bonanza for the corporations that had profited from the Cold War. (Poland, for example, just agreed to spend $6 billion on M1 Abrams tanks and other US military equipment.) If Russia would not acquiesce to again being the enemy, then Russia would be pressured into becoming the enemy. And here we are.”

In the next section, I will take up the question of Ukrainian fascism, a subject that is not a tired as those in the know make it out to be (since they are the only ones who know about it, maybe it feels that way to them, but there are also other motives in the dismissal). Raising the matter of Ukrainian fascism is not an exercise in whataboutism, either. The role of fascism in US foreign policy is a crucial one to grasp if one wants to more fully understand the present situation. Before I turn directly to that, I want to briefly explain how I came to know about this and how it shaped my understanding of geopolitics, hence the purpose of a separate section.

In the second academic publication of my career, “The US and NATO in the Balkans,” appearing in 1999 in the Australia-based journal New Interventions (now defunct, so I have blogged the article here), I write about the US and NATO assault on Serbia in the context of the destruction of Yugoslavia. In that article, I discuss the network of fascists associated with the Washington establishment to shine light on the logic of sides-taking in that conflict. That’s right, the association of globalists and Nazis didn’t recently appear in the Ukraine; this is a decades-long association.

For that section of the article, I leaned heavily on a book with the provocative title: Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party. The book was the work of investigative journalism by Russ Bellant published in 1991. (Bellant is associated with Political Research Associates, which has published my work in the past in the pages of its journal Public Eye.) Bellant’s reporting concerned the association of the Republic National Committee with Nazis during the Reagan-Bush administration as well as with GWH Bush’s successful presidential run in 1988. It has become even more obvious in the years unfolding, as the foregoing demonstrates, that the network of Eastern European fascists plays a continuing role in actualizing, indeed in shaping US foreign policy in the region (indeed, around the world). This is a history with deep roots in relations between the US national security apparatus and émigré Nazi groups.

There are similarities with the US and NATO’s involvement in this present situation with how Clinton and NATO orchestrated the disintegration of the Yugoslavia. In the drive to globalization, which on the Eurasian landmass involves NATO expansion (an organization that frankly should no longer exist in light of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was its raison d’être), the corporate state and media conveniently left out of the narrative terrorist actions against ethnic Serbs, primarily in Kosovo, carried out by Albanian separatists as part of the strategy to further Balkanize the region. This is typical of deep state work on behalf of imperialist ambition. Facing parallel circumstances, Putin’s motives are threefold: (1) defend ethnic Russians in territories formerly under Soviet authority; (2) resist the expansion of NATO; and (3) disrupt the project to weaken the integrity of Russia. Similar motives are easily inferred from the actions of Slobodan Milošević in the Balkan crisis. (In addition to my 1999 articles, see Michael Parenti’s review of Louis Sell’s Slobodan Milosevic and the Destruction of Yugoslavia, published in the Fall 2002 edition of Mediterranean Quarterly. Noting that Sell is a former U.S. Foreign Service officer, Parenti correctly locates the book in the propaganda tradition of demonizing the democratically-elected leaders of countries scheduled for regime-change.)

The purpose of the next section is to alert readers to a a few works in the literature of US association with Nazis over the last several decades. Before I move on to that, I want to save a little time by alerting the reader to a synopsis of Bellant’s book in form of quotes I shared years ago on a listserv in a post unearthed by SourceWatch and used as the primary source in their entry on the American Security Council. I wrote this post in the early days of the Internet when listservs were essentially our blog platforms. The University of Colorado hosted several of them, and while I am not exactly sure which listserv this post initially appeared, I suspect it’s the Progressive Sociology Network (it was here that my first academic publication originated). SourceWatch describes my post as “a public email” and dates it 1996, which sounds about right. That was around the time the third edition of Bellant’s book appeared and I remember being quite keen on making sure that those around me were aware of the book and its findings.

That SourceWatch, maintained by the Center for Media and Democracy, recovered this post testifies to the investigative skills of those running that wiki; those listservs were pulled down years ago. I wrote extensively across listservs but have never found the time to dig into the Internet archives to recover them. How SourceWatch came to do so I have no idea. No matter; it may serve as a useful synopsis of Bellant’s findings, keeping in mind that no synopsis is a substitute for the original text.

* * *

It was Russ Bellant’s discovery that Eastern European fascists were working for the 1988 Bush presidential campaign, nine of whom resigned, including two from the Ukraine, that compelled Bellant to dive deeper into the connections between fascists and the Republican Party establishment. His research was the first time I learned about how deep the association ran (albeit I knew something about the early history of this, as I discuss below). The can of worms Bellant opened provides insights into the nature of deep state that, in turn, shed light on what we see unfolding today. For this reason, I want to spend some time highlighting some findings of Bellant’s work.

Christopher Simpson (left) and Russ Bellant (right) have produce useful accounts of the US-Nazi Associations that are shaping policy in East Europe (indeed, around the world).

With respect to the earlier history, arguably the best source for that is Christopher Simpson, a professor at American University, and his 1989 book Blowback: America’s Recruitment of Nazis and Its Disastrous Effect on The Cold War, Our Domestic, and Foreign Policy, and the follow up in 1995, The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century.  In Blowback, Simpson, as the subtitle indicates, details the US government’s recruitment of former Nazis and the role of the far right in US foreign policy. It should be noted, given Bellant’s antipathy towards the Republican Party, that the national security apparatus, which includes the Central Intelligence Agency, was established in September 1947 when President Harry Truman signed the National Security Act into law. The National Security Agency, established in November 1952, was also Truman’s work. It was during the Truman presidency in the aftermath of Germany’s defeat that US intelligence services recruited Nazis to the United States. In The Splendid Blond Beast, Simpson’s reveals the role CIA chief Allen Dulles, a Truman appointment organized the escape of the highest-ranking SS officer, along with several of his senior aides. (Others besides Simpson has looked into this, as well. Investigative journalist Jack Anderson, for example, reported on the pro-Nazi backgrounds of some of the ethnic advisors in the Nixon administration back in 1971.)

What Simpson’s research finds is that, from early on, indeed at its birth in the aftermath of World War II, the US security state cultivated and maintained a close working relationship with fascists, and one of the primary purposes of this relationship was the geopolitical strategy of containment of the world communism, a doctrine articulated by George Kennan and executed by Truman. This was the foundation of the Cold War. And so Russians found themselves once more facing reactionary forces from the West. And they were, once more, Nazis. This relationship is the background that explains how GHW Bush, head of the RNC under Nixon, director of the CIA under Ford, and Vice-President under Reagan could be so comfortable with fascists working for his presidential campaign. Before the objection is raised that Bush was a torpedo bomber pilot in WWII, dramatically fished out of the water after being shot down by the Japanese in 1944 (a film camera at the ready), a bona fide war hero, it’s worth noting that Bush’s father, Prescott Bush, was found guilty of trading with enemy during World War II. Like father, like son.

Not all Republican administrations were intimate with the Easter European racist contingent. The Eisenhower, Reagan, and the Trump presidencies are remarkable for the fact that they break the continuity of elite machinations organizing and leveraging such associations. (I throw Reagan in there because, despite Bellant’s suggestive reporting, I find it difficult to believe the former New Dealer and Goldwater conservative would knowingly truck with Nazis. However, I have no problem believing the Head Spook of the CIA would.) The émigré Nazi groups Bellant identify in his book have been a fixture of the deep state all along and have exerted influence—and have been used—by numerous administrations across the alleged partisan divide (more public relations that anything, especially when it comes to economics and geopolitics). Americans had the best chance to learn about this when Bellant’s story broke. It got a fair amount of attention at the time. But it was quickly buried and forgotten; today, hardly anybody knows who Bellant is or what he found.

Of course, not everybody had forgotten Bellant’s contributions. In early March 2014, Paul Rosenberg interviewed Bellant for the activist publication Foreign Policy in Focus (a project of the Institute for Policy Studies) to discuss points of historical contact related to US reaction to Crimea’s declaration of independence from the Ukraine and Russia’s intervention in that dispute, which had the Obama Administration rattling sabers. The interview carried the title “Seven Decades of Nazi Collaboration: America’s Dirty Little Ukraine Secret”and was published on the day Russia annexed the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol. (Realizing its significance, the The Nation picked up the interview ten days later, where the story pretty much died.)

Rosenberg prefaces the interview with this: “As the Ukrainian crisis has unfolded over the past few weeks, it’s hard for Americans not to see Vladimir Putin as the big villain. But the history of the region is a history of competing villains vying against one another; and one school of villains—the Nazis—have a long history of engagement with the United States, mostly below the radar, but occasionally exposed.” I will let the audience read the piece for itself, but I want to give you a flavor of the exchange and make some connections. The interview is useful because it focuses on the Ukrainian contingent.

In the interview, Bellant explains that the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), a specific branch of it known as the Banderas (OUN-B), are behind the Svoboda party, which had received a number of key positions in the new interim regime. Remember, at the time of the interview, Ukraine was in the middle of a revolution (a US-backed coup, as many would have it), with Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych removed from office and fleeing the country in February of that year. Within days, the European Commission recognized Oleksandr Turchynov as Ukraine’s interim president. The popularity of the Svoboda party has since faded, but the Ukrainian fascist movement is a persistent network of far rightwing groups that move in and out of each other.

Bellant tells Rosenberg: “The OUN goes back to the 1920s, when they split off from other groups, and, especially in the 1930s began a campaign of assassinating and otherwise terrorizing people who didn’t agree with them. As World War II approached, they made an alliance with the Nazi powers, they formed several military formations, so that when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they had several battalions that went into the main city at the time, where their base was, Lvov.” He describes “a documented history of them participating in the identification and rounding up Jews in that city, and assisting in executing several thousand citizens almost immediately. There were also involved in liquidating Polish group populations in other parts of Ukraine during the war.” 

Bellant notes that the OUN were backers of the 14th Waffen SS Division, the First Ukrainian division, all-Ukrainian division that became an armed element of the German military, OUN continues to defend its wartime role; indeed, members glorify that history. “If you look, insignia being worn in Kiev in the street demonstrations and marches, the SS division insignia still being worn. In fact, I was looking at photographs last night of it [again, the interview was conducted in March 2014] and there was a whole formation marching, not with 14th Division, but with the Second Division, it was a large division that did major battle around the Ukraine, and these marchers were wearing the insignia on the armbands of the Second Division.” Bellant notes that “current leaders of Svoboda have made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks that call for getting rid of Muscovite Jews and so forth. They use this very coarse threatening language that anybody knowing the history of World War II would tremble at.”

Much of the rest of the interview details about how the Ukrainian fascists came to occupy a central position in the association between Washington and the Eastern European émigré community, which also includes émigrés from Belarus, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, and Romania, those same ethnic groups that comprised the multinational alliance on behalf of the Germans. In the United States, the groups organized as Captive Nations Committees, depicting themselves as oppressed peoples of Eastern Europe, oppressed by the Soviet Union, thus speaking for the Warsaw Pact nations. Bellant fudges a bit here to lay the blame on the Eisenhower administration, who, he claims, “made the policy decision in the early 1950s” to bring Nazis into the apparatus. But, as Simpson’s work makes clear, this occurred under Truman and through leadership appointed by Truman. Nonetheless, the Captive Nations Committee gravitated towards the RNC and mobilized their communities for the Republicans. Bellant notes a special relationship with Nixon who “in 1960s actually had close direct ties to some of the leaders like the Romanian Iron Guard, and some of these other groups.”

“When Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968,” Bellant explains, “he made a promise to these leaders that they would, if he won the presidency, he would make them the ethnic outreach arm of the Republican National Committee on a permanent basis, so they wouldn’t be a quadrennial presence, but a continuing presence in the Republican Party. And he made that promise through a guy named Laszlo Pasztor, who served five years in prison after World War II for crimes against humanity.” Emphasizing the particular ethnic groups involves, Bellant tells Rosenberg: “They didn’t have a Russian affiliate because they hated all Russians of all political stripes.” There were no Jewish affiliates, either. He notes that “for a while they had a German affiliate but some exposure of the Nazi character of the German affiliate caused it to be quietly removed, but other [Nazi] elements were retained.” Crucially, the RNC protected the émigré groups from the Office of Special Investigation (OSI), which was “investigating the presence of Nazi war criminals in the United States.”

Bellant usefully explains how all this worked its way into contemporary European politics. The OUN was also “embedded in a variety of ways in Europe as well, like Radio Free Europe which is headquartered in Munich. A lot of these groups in the ABN were headquartered in Munich under the sponsorship of Radio Free Europe. From there they ran various kinds of operations where they were trying to do work inside the Warsaw Pact countries. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, a number of them moved back into the Ukraine as well as the other respective countries, and began setting up operations there, and organizing political parties. They reconstituted the veterans group of the Waffen SS, they held marches in the 1990s in the Ukraine, and organized political parties, in alliance with the United States, and became part of what was called the Orange Revolution in 2004, when they won the election there.” It was clear that the United States government favored the far-right elements there. “The United States was very aggressive in trying to keep the nationalists in power,” Bellant tells Rosenberg. “The United States was spending money through the National Endowment for Democracy, which was pumping money into various Ukrainian organizations.”

I encourage the audience to read the Rosenberg-Bellant exchange and consult the other sources I have referenced here. This is a deep rabbit hole and I cannot begin to cover it all in this blog. But I want to share enough to substantiate the claims I am along in this essay. Since so much good work has been performed by others, I will leave the reader to that body of work if they so choose to follow up on all of this.

I want to emphasize that, given the title of Bellant’s book and those associations he emphasizes in his interview, the linkages between the United States and Eastern European rightwing extremists are bipartisan and represent a persistent element in the establishment project to weaken those nations considered obstacles to standing up a new world order organized around transnational corporate governance and financial control. Establishing hegemony, as Antonio Gramsci told us from his cell in Mussolini’s prison, requires marginalizing ones enemy while at the same time pulling the enemy of ones enemy into the sphere of ones power. All this depends on manufacturing consent around the interests and goals of the hegemonic elite, in this case the transnationalist corporate class. It is this dynamic that finds majorities throughout the West reflexively taking one side over another in a conflict they know little to nothing about.

I find it troubling to see the rightwing in America neglect the Ukrainian fascism problem on account of pathological anti-communism. That stance misses the point both ways. Constituents of the populist right need to be careful or else they will find themselves making common cause with that brand of rightwing ideology from which they have for decades endeavored to distinguish themselves—and progressive Democrats have sought to make an automatic association. This is unhelpful for the populist project to transcend the left-right divide to build a mass-based popular movement against the corporatocracy.

This is why this is such important political work for readers of Freedom and Reason to do. The establishment has convinced the vast majority across the trans-Atlantic sphere of influence that we should all regard Russia as the enemy. Indeed, for those who read this blog and feel like its slighting the other side, they should admit that, even if they know nothing about the facts of the case, they’re well aware that the other side suffers no shortage of oxygen. The establishment is powerful; it can fend for itself. The situation needs counterpoint.

* * *

The corporate state uses different tactics at different levels at different times and in different places. Rank-and-file Nazis are the shock troops of a much larger force seeking to dominate the world. Deep state actors in the West have been cultivating the forces of extremism on the ground in Ukraine and elsewhere in order to expand and entrench the transnational corporate order. Corporate power has never had a problem with national socialism per se, which is not really socialism at all, but an instantiation of corporatism in a particular time and place. The greater logic of corporatism underpins the European Union (the fascist origins of which will be the subject of a future blog entry) and the transnational world order.

World War II was waged because Germany, late to the imperialism game, pursued territorial expansion rather than the emerging neoimperialism paradigm. Walter Benjamin and Franz Neumann suggests that war is the only outcome of this particular brand of corporatism. Perhaps. My view is that, had Nazi Germany pursued a different path, had they avoided total war, transnational corporatism would be much further along than it is presently. The transnationalist project has been unfolding for more than a century and one might consider world war as something of a stress test for the emerging world order. Democracy and liberalism are once more suffocating amid the totalization of corporate statism. The current conflict may prove to be the same sort of thing—hopefully at a much smaller scale. The point is that all of this is connected. Think relationally, not categorically, if you want to understand the longue durée.

Those who suffer in all of this—as in every war—are ordinary folk. Elements of the US government I have opposed my entire life have brought this to the peoples of Ukraine at least as much as Russia has. Zelensky and Putin need to talk to bring an end to hostilities and address the misery they have wrought. The announcement coming from the Zelensky’s office that a delegation would meet with Russian officials for talks near the Belarus border is hopeful news. At the same time, Russia has put its nuclear forces on high alert, returning to consciousness a fact we don’t like to think about: Russia is still armed to the teeth with civilization-ending weaponry (as is the United States and a handful of other nations). Another piece of hopeful news, reported by USA Today, is that a senior Defense Department official told journalists that Russia is under no threat from the United States and its NATO allies. Enlarging the conflict would only serve the interests of no one whose interests matter from the standpoint of humanity. The suffering of ordinary folk would only be enlarged by either NATO military strikes on Russia or Americans fighting Russians side-by-side with Ukrainians on the ground. That’s a nightmare scenario I would rather not even work out in my head. I shutter as I write it.

Again, this was never our fight, and the US having prepared Ukrainians for war does not obligate Americans to wage that war (although it may obligate those who seek justice to prosecute those who put folks in this situation or at least remove them from power). My sons owe nothing to Ukraine. Even if I thought they had a duty to fight on the grounds of honoring a commitment to an alliance, even if I could convince myself that none of this were part of a grand plan by the global elite, I could never be comfortable with my sons choosing comradeship with fascists and upholding an alliance forged by leaders who do not represent the interests of the American republic. Ukraine has done nothing to deserve the loyalty of my family. Nor has the Biden regime. The Ukrainian flag is not my flag. And Americans need to take their flag back from the globalists who took it from them.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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