‘Who is Afraid of Far-Right?’
Less than a week after “Ukes, Kooks & Spooks” reported that Volodymyr Zelensky gave a cryptic shoutout to the neo-Nazi Azov movement by way of the “Company Group Team military community,” the Ukrainian president has published a video of himself meeting with Andriy Biletsky, the notorious leader of the Azov movement. This comes after several months of escalating pro-Azov propaganda by United24 Media, which appears to be a joint enterprise of the Office of the President of Ukraine and the Ministry of Digital Transformation.
Mykhailo Fedorov, 32, is the youngest member of the Cabinet of Ministers and apparently the one who is closest to the President. Since last year, Fedorov has been described as “the mastermind behind Zelensky’s social media approach,” “Ukraine’s ambassador to the tech community,” and “one of Mr. Zelensky’s most visible lieutenants.”
Fedorov managed the “digital strategy” of Volodymyr Zelensky’s 2019 presidential campaign, and before that handled marketing for Kvartal 95 Studio, Zelensky’s TV production company. Mykhailo Fedorov became the first Minister of Digital Transformation in August 2019 and the architect of Zelensky’s agenda to create “a truly digital Ukrainian state.”
Less than a month after Russia invaded Ukraine, Fedorov and other Ukrainian officials told Time magazine that they “intend to take and hold the ‘moral high ground’ in the global battle for hearts and minds.” Mykhailo Fedorov, said to be an expert in digital marketing, put it this way: “we are trying to protect our brand… Our brand as one of an honest nation and an honest people trying to tell the truth.” Later that spring, Fedorov declared, “We have already won the information war with Russia.”
United24, the “Official Fundraising Platform of Ukraine,” describes itself as “The initiative of the President of Ukraine,” but according to Wired magazine, Fedorov’s Ministry of Digital Transformation quickly raised millions of dollars in cryptocurrency donations after Russia’s invasion and subsequently “turned this into United24.”
“The main point of United 24 is not fundraising itself,” according to Fedorov, “but keeping people around the world aware of what is going on in Ukraine.” During the summer of 2022, the Digital Transformation Ministry created United24 Media, an English-language outlet which immediately made use of the famous self-portrait of Dmytro Kozatsky, the neo-Nazi press officer of the Azov Regiment, standing in a beam of light in the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol. (“Orest made these powerful shots in Azovstal, so world can face the truth about the bravest people,” tweeted Fedorov, referring to Kozatsky by his Azov call sign.) At the end of the year, United24 Media published the following video — in retrospect, an omen of what was to come in 2023.
In January 2023, Mykhailo Fedorov announced the “important news” that Facebook and Instagram’s parent company Meta agreed to remove the Azov Regiment (which is now the Azov Brigade) in the National Guard of Ukraine from its list of dangerous organizations. The Washington Post reported a couple days later:
In this case, Meta argues that the Azov Regiment is now separate from the far-right nationalist Azov Movement. It notes that the Ukrainian government has formal command and control over the unit. Meta said in a statement that other “elements on the Azov Movement, including the National Corp., and its founder Andriy Biletsky” are still on its list of dangerous individuals and organizations.
According to this popular narrative, the Azov Brigade in the National Guard (Azov-NGU) has been “depoliticized” since Andriy Biletsky stepped aside to establish the National Corps in 2016. In the past month, after the famous Azov-NGU commander Denys Prokopenko returned to Ukraine, Biletsky has more publicly asserted himself as the commander of the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade “Azov” in the Ukrainian Ground Forces, which doesn’t even pretend to have been “depoliticized.” Biletsky’s Azov brigade should still be banned according to the prevailing logic, but this year it is happily swimming in neo-Nazi waters on Meta platforms.
Unbanning Azov (and its neo-Nazi wolfsangel symbol) on Facebook and Instagram was one of the biggest achievements of the “Azov Lobby,” in particular Azov wives Kateryna Prokopenko and Yulia Fedosiuk, who have traveled around the world on behalf of the Azov Regiment. Their success was aided by Kateryna Kruk, a former “Svoboda volunteer” and public policy manager for Facebook in Ukraine. A few years ago, the Ukrainian media outlet Zaborona published this article about Kruk’s former employer, StopFake: “Neo-Nazi links of a Facebook fact-checker exposed.”
Probably the most crucial role was played by the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation. According to “Channel 24,” the ministry’s efforts were spearheaded by Fedorov’s advisor Anton Melnyk, the “Head of Tech Ecosystem of Ukraine.” Melnyk participated in the 2017 torch-lit march in Kyiv for the 108th birthday of Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera (1909–59) at which German chants of “Jews out” took place.
The official Azov-NGU charity “Azov One” launched a month after the reversal from Meta. In the coming weeks, United24 Media published a ten-minute propaganda film (“The Story of Azov — The Legendary Unit of Ukraine”) apparently co-produced by the Azov Brigade in the National Guard. This March 2023 video is not just a whitewash that says nothing about the far-right Azov movement; it glorifies the NGU’s “legendary” Azov Brigade, “one of the fiercest combat units of our time.”
Later that spring, United24 Media released similar videos about the Azov-affiliated Kraken Regiment, and Right Sector’s “Da Vinci Wolves” battalion. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government run outlet started publishing Youtube Shorts of combat footage from the neo-Nazi 3rd Separate Assault Brigade that’s been poorly dubbed in English to sound like a video game. Below is one such example from its 3rd Assault Company, which has two neo-Nazi symbols (a wolfsangel and sonnenrad) on its chevron.
United24 Media has published numerous Youtube Shorts in recent months featuring the watermark of Andriy Biletsky’s 3rd Separate Assault Brigade, including several of these disturbing “first person shooter” videos. In June 2023, United24 Media released two propaganda films about this Azov brigade. The first described the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade as “one of the few units that is successfully pushing the Russians back.”
In July, Azov-NGU leaders Denys Prokopenko, Svyatoslav Palamar, and Oleg Khomenko surprisingly returned to Ukraine from Turkey, where they were supposed to remain in a “secure facility” until the end of the war. Volodymyr Zelensky greeted them as “Heroes of Ukraine” in Lviv, having made it official last year. “[Zelensky] is turning neo-Nazi-led Azov commanders into heroes,” commented political scientist Ivan Katchanovski. “But Azov brigades and other far-right-led armed formations can overthrow him if he would agree for a peace deal.”
Meanwhile, the 3rd Separate Assault Brigade (Azov-AB3) started promoting the above image of its commanders lined up with Andriy Biletsky standing front and center. In the past two weeks, the Azov-AB3 website has been updated, so that is now the first thing visitors see, and there is finally clarification that Biletsky is the unit’s founder and commander.
Earlier this month, Andriy Biletsky turned 44 years old, but as far as I could tell, his birthday went unacknowledged by official Azov-NGU social media accounts. As if to help remind the world that Biletsky is going nowhere, Volodymyr Zelensky recently gave him an incredible PR coup. In the video published by Zelensky, the neo-Nazi leader of the Azov movement looks like one his generals.