The Azov Lobby
To recap Part One, “Support Azov” (SA) was established last summer as the international fundraising arm of Ukraine’s notorious neo-Nazi movement. It is managed by a prominent figure in the National Corps, the political party led by Azov founder Andriy Biletsky. The Azov charity might just be an extension of the Intermarium Support Group (ISG), a far-right geopolitical project coordinated by the “International Secretary” of the National Corps. The ISG and SA were both created on the initiative of Biletsky, who once said that it is Ukraine’s mission to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade… against semite-led [subhumans].”
Like the proverbial cat, some concepts have several lives. Or, like the mythological phoenix, they can be reborn from the ashes. This is certainly the case of the Intermarium, a geopolitical concept that envisaged an alliance of countries reaching from the Baltic Sea over the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea that would serve as a third power bloc between Germany and Russia. The Intermarium belongs to the long genealogy of geopolitical concepts looking for and promoting a Central and Eastern European unity: sandwiched between a Mitteleuropa under German leadership in the nineteenth century and a Near Abroad under Moscow’s supervision after 1991, the “middle of Europe” or the “land between the seas” has been searching for historical models in everything from the Jagellonian dynasty and the Polish-Lithuanian Rzeczpospolita to the Austro-Hungarian empire.
Launched by Polish state leader Józef Piłsudski in the 1920s, the idea of a Międzymorze (the Land between the Seas, latinized as Intermarium) has since been regularly revived in evolving contexts and finds itself reactivated today. In its current form, it refers to the Central and Eastern “new Europe” dear to George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and now Donald Trump, celebrated for being more pro-Atlanticist than the Western “old Europe,” which is seen as being too conciliatory with Russia. The Intermarium has also, gradually, come to comprise a conservative Central and Eastern Europe that sees itself as the “other” Europe — that is, opposed to the European Union — and advances a conservative agenda sometimes permeable, as we see in the Ukrainian case, to far-right ideological schemes.
These are the opening paragraphs of an essay on “The Concept of Intermarium” by Marlene Laruelle and Ellen Rivera, who explain it much better than I could. The Azov movement established the Intermarium Support Group (ISG) in 2016 under the management of Olena Semenyaka, the so-called “First Lady of Ukrainian Nationalism,” and a “prominent face of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi scene” as Laruella and Rivera put it. Recently, Semenyaka conceded that “Support Azov” (SA) takes up a “considerable part of my current activities.” In Part One of this series, which apparently prompted Semenyaka to lock her social media accounts, I described the ISG and SA as “two sides of the same crypto-Nazi coin.”
Perhaps since 2021 (and early 2022 at the latest), Olena Semenyaka has been an assistant to Sviatoslav Yurash, the youngest member of Ukrainian parliament, and his “Intermarium caucus,” which is just one of the three largest inter-factional groups in the Verkhovna Rada that he created. The others are “Values. Dignity. Family,” to unite the religious conservative majority in Ukrainian parliament, and “Ukrainians in the World,” for “matters of Ukrainians around the globe.”
Sviatoslav Yurash has an intriguing resumé. In 2019, he served as a foreign policy advisor and senior spokesperson for Volodymyr Zelensky’s presidential campaign. Before that, he completed the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program and established strong ties to the nationalist “Ukraine [diaspora] lobby.” In 2014, when Yurash was 18 years old, the Ukrainian World Congress hired him as the deputy director of its office in Kyiv. In 2015–16, Yurash worked as the communications coordinator for the Western NIS Enterprise Fund, a Washington-backed “$150 million regional [investment] fund” that works with the Ukrainian World Congress.
“Foreign affairs and national relations has been part of my portfolio for my entire life, so to help organize the foreign legion is part of my work right now,” Sviatoslav Yurash told the Kyiv Post in December 2022. “I’m blessed with a team of people who joined forces. I made an organization, part of which is trying to handle all the foreign legion volunteers, to aid their integration into armed Ukrainian services.” Since the early days of the Russia-Ukraine war, Olena Semenyaka and her Intermarium Support Group have been part of Yurash’s team.
Oleksiy Kuzmenko, an expert on Azov, warned over three years ago that the far-right movement (and Semenyaka in particular) hoped to create a Ukrainian Foreign Legion for likeminded Westerners. Less than two weeks after Russia invaded Ukraine, Christian Fuchs, a German journalist, warned that “recruiters associated with the far-right Azov Regiment,” by which he meant a German ISG Telegram channel, was trying to recruit German neo-Nazis to join Ukraine’s “International Legion.”
Olena Semenyaka soon made an announcement: “[ISG] launches the Foreign Legion! Helping Rob the Scot to help Ukraine, and Europe, fight the guests from Mordor.” Semenyaka posted a picture with Rob Grady, a Scottish grandfather. According to a Scottish news website, “Grady built up a reputation as a [football] hooligan linked to the Eastern Road club from the early 1980s. He was a member of the Capital City Service (CCS) and received a football banning order as recently as 2014 for taking part in a street brawl after a cup final.” Another article called the CCS “the UK’s most feared football hooligan firm in the 1980s.”
Over the coming days, Semenyaka highlighted several more foreign volunteers for the “International Legion,” starting with Mikael Skillt, a Swedish sniper who formerly served in the Azov Battalion. “War goes on, and old friends meet again,” she captioned the picture. In 2019, Vice News described Skillt as “a notorious Swedish neo-Nazi with a 20-year history in the extreme-right scene.” Last year, Vice referred to him as a “former neo-Nazi… who has since renounced extremist politics.” Skillt admitted to the corporate hipster publication, “There is no arguing about [Azov’s extremist ideology], because you can see the pictures of guys with swastikas.” According to his LinkedIn, Skillt is a commander in Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces. “Many thanks to MP Sviatoslav Yurash for making it work!” Semenyaka said, sharing the following photo of foreign volunteers (presumably recruited by the ISG) meeting in Kyiv.
Opinion | Ukraine's Azov Battalion is only getting started
In early March, one of the world's leading intelligence experts sounded the alarm about a Ukrainian militia's public…
On the last day of March, not long after MSNBC published the above op-ed (alternatively titled “How Russia spurred Ukraine’s global neo-Nazi recruitment”), the ISG announced: “Ukrainian Foreign Legion is growing! Tanguy, a former soldier of the French Foreign Legion of Japanese-Korean descent, who speaks fluently French and German and is an active figure in the French and pan-European patriotic milieu, is a significant gain on both a real and an information fronts for Ukraine.”
“Tanguy,” aka Pierre Jean Tondon, has many far-right references and symbols on his social media and on his body. Tondon’s tattoos include a large kolovrat (Slavic swastika) and German Iron Cross on each elbow, and a neo-Nazi Black Sun with the red rays of the imperial Japanese rising sun on his upper right arm. Under his right knee, it says “Germany” (in Nazi font) above a Punisher skull with a horizontal wolfsangel, the Nazi runic symbol that Azov apologists insist has nothing to do with the Ukrainian far-right. Tondon evidently joined the “badly run and under-equipped,” Canadian-led “Norman Brigade,” which isn’t officially part of the International Legion — and then the ultranationalist “Ukrainian Volunteer Army,” led by the radical Banderite founder of the extremist Right Sector movement.
Tondon’s Instagram username references a memoir by Japanese fascist Yukio Mishima. Hio profile “bio” names Mishima and a book by Italian fascist Julius Evola, using the same Nazi font (Fraktur). His third-ever post features Semenyaka, which he captioned: “Proud to be with my friend Olena the most important female figure of European nationalism.” That was in early April. Over two months later, after being injured in the war, he shared another picture with her. “It’s unbelievable to see you on your two feet again so fast,” Semenyaka commented. “Best regards from our common friends working on the future Legion. See you soon.” She also dedicated a post to him on Instagram as someone who “never abandoned the idea of the Ukrainian International Legion as it was meant to be.”
Over a decade ago in Nîmes, southern France, “the most Roman city outside Italy,” there was a string of racist attacks by some drunken members of the French Foreign Legion. The group, including Pierre Jean Tondon, was only brought to justice years later. He apparently made Nazi salutes and shouted “Heil Hitler!” while assaulting a young man from North Africa at a restaurant in August 2011. A couple months later, the group stabbed a black man outside an Irish bar, after another racist attack in September. Tondon was reportedly kicked out of the Legion and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
In March 2022, as the ISG assembled a small group of foreign volunteers in Kyiv, Semenyaka’s team credited themselves as the “only ones” who managed to deliver humanitarian aid to Irpin, a suburb of Kyiv (“with MP Sviatoslav Yurash”). The following month, the ISG announced that it delivered military aid to the “Kraken special purpose unit of Azov Territorial Defense” in Kharkiv, with a special thanks to Yurash for organizing the trip.
That spring, the ISG gave thanks to some of its far-right partners: Austošā Saule (“Rising Sun”), an “ethnic nationalist movement” in Latvia, and L’Alvarium (“The Beehive”) in Angers, western France, a violent racist group that the French Interior Minister officially “dissolved” in 2021. In May, the ISG joined another “humanitarian mission of MP Sviatoslav Yurash,” with the first stop being the “Territorial Defense Azov” in Dnipro. This time, Semenyaka was joined by “our [unidentified] Ukrainian-American crew.” Meanwhile, British researcher Bob Pitt wrote about the ongoing whitewashing of the Azov movement and addressed Yurash’s collaboration with the International Secretary of the National Corps.
Fascists in defence of ‘democratic values’? The whitewashing of the Ukrainian far right continues
With the Azov regiment having finally accepted defeat and surrendered the Avostal steel plant to Putin’s forces…
The ISG Twitter account went silent in late June, shortly before the launch of the “Support Azov” charity, which made its first tweet less than a month later. The way that SA picked up where the ISG left off makes me wonder if Olena Semenyaka played a role in organizing Azov’s missions to the US and Israel last year. Giorgi Kuparashvili, who led the first delegation to the United States, co-founded the Azov Regiment and ran its military school, but was also a delegate for Georgia at the founding ISG conference in 2016. Yulia Fedosiuk, a leader of the anti-feminist “Silver Roses” in Ukraine, is perhaps the only person from Azov to visit the US and Israel last year. At some point, Sviatoslav Yurash hired Fedosiuk as a parliamentary assistant. Bob Pitt noted this and more in his informative article.
The Silver Roses’ last reported public appearance was on Independence Day in August 2020 in Kyiv… [Azov researcher Michael] Colborne says that by the end of 2020 the Silver Roses were no longer part of the Azov movement, although the circumstances of the break are unclear. They had in any case by then won the enthusiastic backing of Verkhovna Rada deputy Sviatoslav Yurash, who intervened to support them when police tried to exclude the Silver Roses contingent from the Women’s Day march. Yurash shares the Silver Roses’ reactionary sociocultural philosophy, as exemplified in the cross-party parliamentary group “Values. Dignity. Family” that he established in January 2020… What this really illustrates is how the ideology of the extreme right has permeated what passes for mainstream politics in Ukraine today.
“Estonian week for Azov continues…” Semenyaka said on the first Sunday of August. Ruuben Kaalep, a young far-right Estonian politician with a “long history of neo-Nazi activity,” has been involved with the Intermarium Support Group since 2017, two years before he was elected to parliament. Ukraine reporter Christopher Miller has described Kaalep as having “ties to extremists, including [a] former iteration of [the] terror group Feuerkrieg Division.” Kaalep and another parliamentarian from the far-right Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE) visited Ukraine in August. They donated a drone to Support Azov, which shared photos of the EKRE politicians with Olena Semenyaka and the SA manager.
Meanwhile, the Azov charity received a “huge batch of aid” from Ukraine Aid Ops (UAO), a self-described “international group of civilian volunteers” based in Estonia. UAO was founded by an Estonian special forces veteran named Harri who gained a large social media following. “Guys please follow [Support Azov]” he said on Twitter after touring Irpin and Bucha with Olena Semenyaka and the EKRE politicians, who later formed an “Intermarium Support Group” in Estonian parliament.
According to Oleksiy Kuzmenko, “The advance of the Intermarium is seen by Azov as an integral part of the long-term strategy of Reconquista, which is meant to bring together nations of European origin globally under the [white supremacist] banner of reclaiming land and culture.” Reconquista is the name of Azov’s broader geopolitical project, also coordinated by Olena Semenyaka, “to create our own Right International,” as she described it, and “defend the white race.” Kuzmenko wrote the following article after uncovering evidence that the Azov movement has been “systematically co-opting American right-wing extremists to advance the former’s own international agenda” for years.
"Defend the White Race": American Extremists Being Co-Opted by Ukraine's Far-Right
Translations:English (UK)Русский (Россия)Newly uncovered evidence going back to 2015 suggests that the Ukrainian white…
In other words, the Intermarium Support Group is actually a “Reconquista Support Group.” The tagline of whitereconquista.com (which used Fraktur font) matched the slogan on Semenyaka’s VK profile: “Today, Ukraine, tomorrow Rus’ and all of Europe!” That is where Azov founder Andriy Biletsky’s notorious quote comes in, about Ukraine leading “the white races of the world in a final crusade.” According to Support Azov, “Our volunteer community is one of the most close-knit, as AZOV is first and foremost a brotherhood of ideologically close people.”
Anton Shekhovtsov, billed as the “world’s leading expert on Russian political warfare against the West,” is considered by many an “expert” on the European far-right, and wrote a book about the “growing influence of Russia on the Western far-right.” In fact, he is a major apologist for the Azov movement, and is likely on board with their Intermarium project. This won’t come as a surprise to those who remember Shekhovtsov for cheering on the burning to death of “pro-Russian” protesters in Odessa back in 2014, or coming to the defense of Olena Semenyaka after Vienna’s Institute for Human Sciences (IMW) controversially awarded her a short-lived fellowship in 2021.
Shekhovtsov, supposedly “an expert on Russian and Ukrainian right-wing movements,” who once declared Azov researcher Michael Colborne to be “The Stalker of Semenyaka of the Year,” has “liked” more than one hundred of Olena Semenyaka’s Instagram posts, including her picture with Rob Grady announcing that the ISG “launches the Foreign Legion!” Shekhovtsov also liked Semenyaka’s posts with and about Mikael Skillt and Pierre Jean Tondon (Tanguy), in addition to pictures of Semenyaka working out and visiting boxing clubs, promoting the Intermarium, working with “Support Azov” and Sviatoslav Yurash, and a post mourning the death of Azov ideologist Mykola Kravchenko.
In February 2020, a right-wing Democratic member of Congress (Max Rose) and a former FBI special agent (Ali Soufan) co-authored an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a war on white supremacist domestic terrorism and its foreign backers, including the “Azov Battalion.” They wanted to see the latter designated as a foreign terrorist organization. The Atlantic Council’s “UkraineAlert” blog published an article by Anton Shekhovtsov arguing against this. Pouncing on their factual errors, Shekhovtsov pushed an unfounded narrative that Azov reformed itself.
It is true, however, that Azov’s history is rooted in a volunteer battalion formed by the leadership of a neo-Nazi group called “Patriot of Ukraine” in spring 2014… But, while the ideologically inimical nature of Azov’s roots is indisputable, it is likewise certain that Azov attempted to de-politicize itself; the toxic far-right leadership formally left the regiment and founded what would become a far-right party called “National Corps.”
This prompted a detailed response from Oleksiy Kuzmenko: “The Azov Regiment has not depoliticized.” Also writing for the Atlantic Council blog, Kuzmenko wrote that “despite claims to have moved away from far-right ideology, the available evidence indicates that the regiment remains joined at the hip to the internationally active National Corps party it spawned, and the wider Azov movement associated with the regiment.” Kuzmenko thoroughly dispelled Shekhovtsov’s myth-making about the Azov movement, but in the past year, Shekhovtsov has only doubled down on his lies, which have found powerful backers since Russia invaded Ukraine.
In spring 2022, Anton Shekhovtsov made a video on “The Azov Regiment and Western moral procrastination,” alternatively titled, “How the West enabled genocide in Mariupol with its misguided Azov obsession.” Before insisting that there is only a “symbolic link” between the National Corps and the Azov Regiment, Shekhovtsov downgraded the Patriot of Ukraine, the paramilitary group that spawned Azov, from “neo-Nazi” to “far-right.” Shekhovtsov appeared to reveal that in his former days of “extreme” skepticism, the movement most concerned him as a potential “security risk of Russian operatives seizing control of Azov and turning it into an anti-Ukrainian force.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the Soufan Center, led by Ali Soufan and Max Rose, has essentially adopted Shekhovtsov’s narrative about the Azov movement. In April 2022, the Soufan Center published a “special report” on Ukraine that alleged, “Azov has been largely regularized under the command and control of the Ukrainian armed forces, which has worked to winnow extremists from its midst… According to experts on the European far-right like Anton Shekhovtsov, the Azov of 2022 is nothing like the group from eight years ago…” Olena Semenyaka celebrated this development: “Russian propaganda loses ground. Hopefully, after this first major achievement, thanks to Anton Shekhovtsov’s research, the changes in Azov’s media representation will follow.”
Later that summer, days after “Ukes Kooks & Spooks” reported that an Azov delegation arrived in the United States, Shekhovtsov tweeted, “I must say it gives me a great pleasure to observe the hysteria of Western tankies, Kremlin shills and other pro-genocide activists about the heroic Azov fighters’ visit to the US.” Stay tuned for the next installment of “The Azov Lobby” about other “experts” and “journalists” who are actually shameless information warriors, all but doing the bidding of neo-Nazis in Ukraine.