In recent weeks there has been a flurry of articles celebrating Twitter’s mostly anonymous “internet army” called NAFO, or the North Atlantic Fellas Organization. This “social media movement” of dogmatic pro-Ukraine keyboard warriors with customized Shiba Inu avatars is all about ridiculing, gaslighting, and piling on those labeled by the “fellas” as enemy combatants in their information war with Russia, which many have assumed that NAFO is helping Ukraine to win. But it’s increasingly obvious that is not necessarily the case.
Earlier this month, the Kyiv Post declared it was joining NAFO. Almost a year ago, the English language Ukrainian newspaper fired its staff, and since then has remained a shell of its former self as “Ukraine’s Global Voice.” Now the Kyiv Post is largely run by right-wingers from abroad, like its news editor Jay Beecher, a former organizer for the far-right British UKIP party who “has spent the last several years on a multi-platform project to prove Ghislaine Maxwell’s innocence.”
On August 31, Ivana Stradner announced she was joining the Kyiv Post as a special correspondent to “make people aware across the globe how Russia’s military has been using information as THE weapon. The Free World will win the info war!” As a research fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, according to her bio on its website, Stradner “has been concentrating on cyberspace, cyberattacks, and Russian hybrid warfare.” On August 10, she announced she was joining NAFO to “contribute to their mission to counter Russian propaganda on social media.”
Since then, Ivana Stradner has acted like a spokesperson for NAFO, upsetting some of the “fellas” in the process. “I’m now officially NAFO’s propagandist…” she tweeted last month. The creator of “NAFO TV” soon thereafter accused her of “rid[ing] our coat tails,” and having “used us from the start.” They further complained about Stradner: “Tired of seeing the same person step in front of cameras to speak for all of nafo.” More recently, this individual deserted the internet army after a spat with other “OG fellas,” in particular the “forgers” who make the avatars. It seems that NAFO’s rate of “friendly fire” is on the rise.
By embracing NAFO, the Kyiv Post essentially declared itself an information war (i.e. propaganda) outfit. These days, its editor in chief is Bohdan Nahaylo, who grew up in the UK as a member of the Ukrainian Youth Association, which is known to be an international “facade structure” for the clandestine “Banderite” faction of the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists. Evidently, Nahaylo matured politically, and in 1994 wrote an informative series of articles on “political extremism in Ukraine.” But he’s backslided, and now under his leadership, the Kyiv Post misinforms readers (alongside propagandistic photo shoots) that the neo-Nazi-led Azov Regiment contains “a sum total zero Fascists or swastikas anywhere to be seen.”
Even within NAFO, there is disagreement about the Azov movement. One of NAFO’s biggest accounts, “Ukraine Memes for NATO Teens,” has described Azov as “a cancer,” “extremely problematic,” “the favorite group for actual Nazis,” and “concerning. Like all the Nazis in E. Europe, including Russia.” But there is an unchecked group of extreme “fellas” that openly support Azov, and take glee in gaslighting others about the far-right politics of this neo-Nazi-led movement. In fact, NAFO’s most prominent “member” to promote Azov’s neo-Nazi wolfsangel symbol led a defamatory campaign against another “special correspondent” at the Kyiv Post.
Jason Jay Smart is a right-wing US political advisor who worked on the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Ted Cruz, and co-founded a Ukrainian NGO with Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, the nationalist former director of the Security Service of Ukraine. Ironically, Dr. Smart’s PhD dissertation in political science was “about character assassination as found in bilateral relations between the US and Russia.” Recently he got a master class in character assassination from NAFO, and was pilloried for working in Russia with the International Republican Institute, which is funded by the U.S. government.
Alona Shevchenko, NAFO’s self-declared “Queen,” “khaleesi,” and “#1 E Girl,” led the anti-Smart campaign. She is perhaps best known as a provocative figure in the crypto community and the internet girlfriend of NAFO celebrity Paul Massaro, a senior policy advisor to the U.S. Helsinki Commission, which is a government agency created by Congress. Virtually unknown before the war, Massaro has amassed almost 350,000 followers by being (in the words of a friend on Twitter) “a mind-numbingly stupid empty phrasemonger.” Massaro‘s follower count ranks between the US embassy in Kyiv and the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Is this a real person or a data script?” asked journalist Neil Hauer. Shevchenko proudly displays the neo-Nazi wolfsangel symbol on her profile, and often jokes that she controls Massaro. According to her Twitter bio, “I train @apmassaro3 [Paul Massaro’s] AI system.”
Three days before Russia’s invasion, Alona Shevchenko, based in London but from eastern Ukraine, penned an “Open Letter on the War in Ukraine.” Of her three “initial points,” the last clarified: “As a native Russian (& Ukrainian) speaker myself and a huge fan of classical Russian literature — I have no animosity towards Russians and have lots of amazing friends from Russia. When I say ‘Russia’, I mean the Kremlin’s authoritarian regime, not Russian people.” At some point, the clout-chasing Shevchenko made a radical pivot, and now champions extremist positions (that resemble those taken by Massaro) such as “all Russians are guilty.” With this (d)evolution in mind, the way that Shevchenko carries herself suggests that her anti-Russian shtick is just that: a cynical ploy for attention. A few days ago, some of the “fellas” began to speak out against the “cult of Alona.”
Paradoxical as it sounds, the “cult of Alona” partially revolves around her leadership of the “Decentralized Autonomous Organization” (DAO) that she created after Russia’s invasion. Investopedia defines a DAO as “an emerging form of legal structure that has no central governing body and whose members share a common goal to act in the best interest of the entity. Popularized through cryptocurrency enthusiasts and blockchain technology, DAOs are used to make decisions in a bottoms-up management approach.” Or at least, they’re supposed to.
Alona Shevchenko founded “Ukraine DAO” after Russia invaded. With the support of Nadya Tolokonnikova from Pussy Riot, and Ethereum cofounder Vitalik Buterin (both of whom are Russian), Ukraine DAO raised almost $7 million for a Ukrainian charity in March just by auctioning off a non-fungible token (NFT) of a Ukrainian flag. Since March, the DAO appears to have mainly served the function of amplifying Shevchenko. A few months later, Tolokonnikova called out Shevchenko for going “rogue” after she left the project. This may have been triggered by her discovery of Ukraine DAO promoting Azov’s neo-Nazi wolfsangel while depicting the symbol of the Red Cross as a swastika.
In since-deleted tweets, Tolokonnikova warned, “i’d be very careful about donating to someone who has a history of mismanaging… there was never an understanding that whats remained [of the Ukraine DAO funds] will be @cryptodrftng [Shevchenko]’s salary.” Shevchenko admitted paying herself $5,000 a month, but deflected from the allegations of mismanagement with a long Twitter thread that vigorously accused Pussy Riot of Ukrainophobia. In July, she further accused Tolokonnikova’s group of “being an FSB project.” Since then, her vitriol for Pussy Riot has grown to the point of calling them “FSB-itches” and expressing “disgust” at their solidarity with Ukraine.
A month before Alona Shevchenko got called out by Pussy Riot, she started using Azov’s wolfsangel in her tweets and on her profile. Eventually she put the neo-Nazi Runic symbol in her Twitter display name. Ukraine DAO likewise encouraged people to put the wolfsangel in their tweets, and published an “explainer” that simply lied about Azov: “It is not a political organisation.” As her beef with Pussy Riot worsened, Shevchenko began to proclaim that all Russians are guilty of genocide and deserve collective punishment. In late July, she announced that Ukraine DAO “will be officially supporting Azov Regiment.” Days later, Shevchenko traveled to Ukraine and met with Olena Semenyaka, the notorious female figurehead of the Azov movement.
Shevchenko truly went off the deep end. Via Ukraine DAO, she began to compile a Twitter list of “Russian Foreign Assets,” starting with the New York Times. She also added Reuters, Axios, Euronews, Meduza, The Independent, and Bellingcat, among many others. She claimed that Ukraine DAO was “working with” Azov to combat “info attacks” against them. Free speech, she explained, does not include the right to spread “Russian lies.”
In the coming days, Shevchenko declared that the entirety of Russia’s “emigre opposition” is just “part of russia’s ‘special cultural operation’ aimed at spreading the ‘nOt aLL ruSSiAnS’ narrative.” This was a far cry from her “special message to Russian people” back in February: “Many people in Ukraine understand that not all of you support the Kremlin and how hard it is for you to fight it. We do not hate you. We are nothing like what they show you on the federal channels.” A few days ago, the information agency of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry shared one of her “All Russians are Guilty” images.
Shevchenko is outdoing Russian propagandists in her depiction of a rabid Ukrainian nationalist, all the while sharing a surname with Ukraine’s most iconic historical figure. In August, perhaps just seeking attention, she suggested that Ukraine DAO was bankrolling NAFO, and wished a good morning to “our crypto-funded Fellas army.”
By now, Shevchenko complained that she faced abuse online every day, but “almost always” from pro-Ukraine accounts. She was in large part referring to Kyiv Post correspondent Jason Jay Smart, whom she has described as an “extremely abusive” “Kremlin asset,” apparently for reasons like shooting down her unrealistic demand that the U.N. Security Council expel Russia. Their issues started in July, when Shevchenko indicated that she thinks her “Twitter spats” are more important than “the massive human rights violations occurring today” in Ukraine.
It was in September, after all of this and more, that Alona Shevchenko helped organize the Kyiv Tech Summit and hooked up with Paul Massaro in Ukraine. She arranged to bring Etherum’s Russian co-founder to Kyiv, and for Azov to provide security for him. Probably in Massaro’s company, Shevchenko tried to sic NAFO on Neil Hauser, a journalist flabbergasted by the Congressional advisor’s shtick. Recently, Massaro has called for NAFO to expand to Iran as Shevchenko tries to organize an Iranian DAO, and his boss (U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen) has sponsored legislation declaring that Russia is perpetrating a genocide in Ukraine.
In the first two weeks of this month alone, Alona Shevchenko has campaigned against US professor Ian Bremmer as a pro-Russian “genocide apologist,” Russian journalist Leonid Ragozin as a “Russian Foreign Asset,” British correspondent Oliver Carroll for “literally helping the ruSSians to correct fire” on Ukraine, and Balkan journalist Una Hajdari for advocating to “allow charlatans who have blood of Ukrainians on their hands [to] take up positions at respectable publications and continue to profit from the tragedy unfolding in Ukraine.” (In fact, Hajdari said, “As journos, we need to be more objective than others, we can’t be part of NAFO, we can’t cheer for dead Russians, and we certainly can’t ignore the — however lesser they may be — mistakes Ukraine makes.”) Hajdari and Shevchenko were referring to the contrived Ukrainian nationalist hooplah over the Financial Times hiring Christopher Miller, perhaps the most well known US reporter covering Ukraine.
In early October, the official NAFO Twitter account announced that the “fellas”-affiliated Saint Javelin brand “agreed to become the ‘parent company’ to NAFO as we have needed more help organizing this phenomenon.” The two entities were already closely associated. Typically, one gets a “fella” by making a donation to the Georgian Legion or Saint Javelin.
Saint Javelin is partnered with the Ukrainian World Congress, the 21st century leadership of which has been largely dominated by people associated with Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera’s criminal Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN-B). (More about the UWC another day, mostly likely on the “Bandera Lobby Blog”…) For whatever reason, Christian Borys, the creator of Saint Javelin, has followed me on Twitter for months. In response to the controversy about Christopher Miller, a couple days before the “parent company” announcement, Borys weighed in: “This is blatant and utter bullshit. @ChristopherJM has done remarkable work in Ukraine for over a decade.”
This came at a cost for Borys, who drew flak from some hardliners on Twitter, including a handful of “fellas,” such as the moderator of the Ukraine DAO Discord. Alona Shevchenko’s lackey, @imax9000, posted a screenshot of themselves reporting the Saint Javelin creator to Twitter for “slurs or harmful tropes,” and put the following words in Borys’ mouth: “I really like how this guy [Miller] spent almost a decade demonizing Azov and relentlessly promoting russian propaganda about nazis in Ukraine.” The same individual has otherwise accused Christopher Miller and Oliver Carroll, who writes for The Economist, of being “war criminals.”
The day of the Saint Javelin announcement, a warning emanated from NAFO’s official Discord and Twitter account: “Hey Fellas the website nafo.me is NOT legitimate. We do not know where these donations are going or who owns this. We believe it to be a scam…” The website belonged to a British-Ukrainian volunteer group, UK4UA, that tried to organize a “NAFO Fella Aid Convoy” without running it by the “OG fellas.”
In August, UK4UA announced a partnership with Ukraine DAO after its founder traveled to Ukraine with Alona Shevchenko. They helped to deliver medical aid donated by the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organizations, which is led by Stefan Romaniw, the first vice president of the Ukrainian World Congress and international OUN-B leader. Shevchenko, needless to say, was livid. “You guys have no clue how much damage you are doing right now to Ukraine,” she chastised the official NAFO account. “I didn’t know NAFO was so centralised,” Shevchenko said. Her back and forth with another “fella” was “so bad,” according to the user in question, “that I nearly wanted to give up on Ukraine.”
It was in the 48 hour window between the Christopher Miller and UK4UA controversies that the creator of “NAFO TV” quit. “I’m still stunned myself at how quick they turned on me,” he said. “I guess they are what people have been saying all this time.” Another “fella” soon announced their retirement. “Ok I’m done. I’m tired and disillusioned by fellow fellas. I have been supporting the war since day 1. I now have [a] fellow fella coming for me hard in my DM’s. All because I stood up for someone. Is this what it means to be #nafo now?” According to this same user, “They say the most cruel awful things they can think of.” That was four days ago.
With NAFO perhaps starting to wane, it is worth remembering how it began. It all started earlier this year with an anonymous Twitter user (@Kama_Kamilia), who I’ve accidentally just discovered is named Kamil Dyszewski and specializes in reviewing video games. One day he made himself a militaristic Shiba Inu avatar. Someone else wanted one, and in exchange, offered to make a donation to a charity of his choice. “Kama” answered: “Georgian Legion.” Soon enough, anyone could get a “fella” if they helped to “feed the wolves,” as NAFO calls it.
Mamuka Mamulashvili founded the Georgian Legion in 2014 and has served as its commander for eight years. He is a former “senior military advisor” to the imprisoned Georgian president turned Odessa governor Mikheil Saakashvili, and his NAFO-funded unit is said to have “grown from a small militia on the outskirts of the Ukrainian military establishment into one of the country’s most stalwart special forces groups.”
Mamulashvili has reportedly tried to “draw a distinction between his group and the Azov Battalion,” insisting that extremists are banned: “I have to exclude some religious fanatics or extremism or Nazis or racism or whatever.” But according to journalist Leonid Ragozin, the Georgian Legion is “affiliated with Azov, based at Azov’s Atek HQ in Kiev.” (The Georgian cofounder of the Azov Battalion recently visited the United States.) As one Swedish “fella” put it, “You’re like Azov without the PR problem. And with Khachapuri.”
In 2017, an explosive Italian documentary featured several Georgian ex-military who alleged that Mamulashvili hired them as snipers for the Kyiv massacre in February 2014 that precipitated the overthrow of Ukraine’s last “pro-Russian” government.
After Russia’s invasion in February 2022, the Georgian Legion became one of the top destinations for foreign volunteers to defend Ukraine. The unit’s public emphasis on screening recruits probably has to do with its history of bad PR in this department:
NAFO might be the best thing to ever happen to the Georgian Legion. Not to mention the financial windfall, it now has a digital army of PR soldiers spread around much of the world. According to the creator of “NAFO TV,” “I make videos for The Georgian Legion,” which received a new logo and commissioned “Paul Massaro’s Ukrainian Vacation,” an asinine NAFO cartoon made in anticipation of the Congressional advisor’s trip to Kyiv.
In the early days of NAFO, perhaps half-joking, @Kama_Kamilia announced, “Yeah, I’m putting together a team.” The most prominent among them was @SpaghettiKozak, also known as Jim Kovpak, although this is a pseudonym. Kovpak, a former blogger now fighting in Ukraine, is ostensibly a left-wing Ukrainian nationalist. To hear it from him just a couple days ago, “90% of the time” the Ukrainian military is said to be photographed with Nazi symbols, it’s not true, but when it comes to the Democratic Socialists of America, “most of these people are more accurately national socialists.” At some point Kovpak became the favorite online humorist of Twitter’s gatekeeping “Ukraine experts.”
“Jim Kovpak” is a former contributor and repeated guest host of StopFake, a propagandistic “fact-checking” outlet based in Ukraine. As Lev Golinkin wrote earlier this year for The Nation, StopFake is “a US government-funded ‘anti-disinformation’ organization founded in March 2014 and lauded as a model of how to combat Kremlin lies. Four years later, StopFake began aggressively whitewashing two Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups with a long track record of violence, including war crimes.” The principal host and producer of StopFake’s English language videos are bonafide “Banderites.”
“I worked in counter-disinfo for years, and what we were doing had virtually zero impact,” Kovpak tweeted in August. “NAFO is exactly the type of thing I wanted to see, but the decision makers and purse holders can’t appreciate it.” Now, the “fellas” include John Sipher, a veteran of the CIA who ran its Russian operations; Anna Bunnik, an analyst at the conservative Jamestown Foundation, founded with the CIA’s support; Alex Plitsas, a senior fellow at the US government-funded Atlantic Council formerly “detailed from the Pentagon to the Intelligence Community, representing the secretary of defense”; Benjamin Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute married to a former State Department official; Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general and adjunct fellow at the hawkish (pro-NAFO) CSIS think tank; and Adam Kinzinger, the sole “fella” in Congress.
Kinzinger has declared NAFO “a future case study in how to counter online propaganda successfully. It’s funny, but the goal/purpose is quite serious. Money is raised for groups like @georgian_legion and @SignMyRocket. And the Russians HATE it.” Kinzinger is himself a case study. He follows Alona Shevchenko plus other extremist “fellas” on Twitter, and at some point started pandering more to NAFO than his many Ukrainian American constituents.
“Sign My Rocket” sells videos, mostly to US Americans, of bombs with customized messages killing Russians in Ukraine. Their clients include Adam Kinzinger, who has all but advocated to declare World War III. The sadistic service is largely geared toward the NAFO community.
Most concerning about NAFO is that it’s gaslighting us about World War III. This might be cliche, but some of the videos produced by NAFO’s “parent company” make me feel like I’m watching an episode of Black Mirror.
Whatever the truth is about NAFO, my new favorite conspiracy theory is that it’s all a Russian psyop to undermine support for NATO and Ukraine.