Opinion by Desmond Keuper
Photo: Flag of NATO
President Joe Biden has announced that Russia has amassed troops on its Ukrainian border capable of launching a full invasion. American intelligence has speculated that Russia intends to invade Ukraine and either install a pro-Russian government or annex it altogether. This is similar to the intel on Crimea in 2014, which was under Ukrainian control at the time (Bloch 2021). However, American intervention in Ukraine has in the past and would in this instance result in disaster. This follows Russian demands that Ukraine is barred from entering the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO—a United States-led initiative started during the Cold War to stop the expansion of the Soviet Union. It has continued since in the name of protecting the hegemony and expansionist economic interests of the western imperial core, understood to refer primarily to America and Europe, the seat of power for Western Capital. A sister article written by Colin Mangan further discusses the history of the conflict.
As the possibility of war looms it becomes necessary to examine Nazi elements present in Ukraine’s military, exemplified by the Azov battalion. It was founded in 2014 to combat Russian separatist forces and to prevent Crimea’s annexation, and many of its members believe in Nazi ideology. Several have swastika tattoos, and one fighter in 2014 claimed that Putin was Jewish (Walker 2014). The organization’s official symbol is modeled after the Wolfsangel, a symbol used by several German Waffen-SS Units during the Second World War (ADL). While Congress declared that America would no longer financially support the battalion in 2018, the militia has been incorporated into Ukraine’s national guard (Shuster and Perrigo 2021; Blumenthal 2018). There is a strong probability that any military aid the Biden administration provides to Ukraine will end up in the hands of these Nazi elements. Comparisons have been drawn between Putin’s purported intent to invade Ukraine and Hitler’s invasion of Poland and attempted expansion into both Eastern and Western Europe (Wakefield 2022) Diving into this aspect of the Ukrainian military, these comparisons become bitterly ironic.
This now-legitimized militia has been involved with the radicalization of far-right elements online. This facet of our modern condition has resulted in a large number of terrorist attacks, including the Christchurch mosque shooting in New Zealand and the frequent synagogue attacks with which Americans have become all too familiar (Shuster and Perrigo 2021). For this reason, it is of vital importance that America refrain from involving itself militarily in support of Ukraine. Even if America denounces and decries these elements of the Ukrainian military, American weapons falling into the hands of these Nazi elements would prove catastrophic to the Ukrainian people. Ukraine’s Jewish population, which numbers between 56,000 and 140,000 according to a 2016 estimate, would suffer particularly (World Jewish Congress 2018).
And as American support continues, as Ukraine is placed in the midst of what is at its core a proxy war, Ukraine’s fascist movement will likely gain influence and accumulate resources, allowing it to effectively continue its mission of radicalization among disaffected members of the Imperial core. Many of its more well-known recruits trace their origins to its international radicalization projects, among them being Mikail Skillt, who in an interview with BBC in 2014 said that he “want[ed] to see survival of white people.” He went on to elaborate: “After World War Two, the victors wrote their history. They decided that it’s always a bad thing to say I am white and I am proud” (Newman 2014).
The situation is reminiscent of America’s intervention in Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan war fought between 1979 and 1989. As the former Soviet Union attempted to expand into Afghanistan, they were met with resistance from an organization of Mujahideen fighters. One of them was Osama Bin Laden who would go on to found al-Qaeda and plan the attacks against the World Trade Center on September 11th, 2001. America provided them with weapons ranging from machine guns to anti-aircraft missiles, and President Ronald Reagan invited Mujahideen fighters to the white house (Bloch 2021). In 2001, just over a decade after the war had ended, an organization of Mujahideen fighters called the Taliban would take over Afghanistan. American soldiers would have to return, as it became clear it was an unwinnable war. After twenty years of fighting we are leaving, defeated by our own imperialist project and leaving them with even more military equipment.
America has a very short attention span. During our war with the Taliban these past two decades, very little coverage has been centered on the Taliban’s origins, in favor of the immediate developments and potential fallout from withdrawal. Not even a year has passed since we withdrew and our attention has already been moved to the funding of another reactionary force. In America’s concern over its immediate strategic and economic goals, it frequently either underestimates the fallout—or is entirely apathetic to the suffering it inflicts and the strategic problems it will create for itself down the line in Ukraine.
Putin is not an admirable leader. Autocratic and just as capitalistic as any American administration, a Russian takeover would not end well for the Ukrainian people. However, a pro-Russia government would be better than a Ukraine burdened with a Neo-Nazi element, now reinforced with American military aid.
The Azov Battalion has already established what many would consider being a state within a state. Its head of international outreach, Olena Semenyaka, has declared outright that its goal is to establish a network of far-right organizations across Europe and the Imperial Core, with the hope of eventually taking power. America has made it clear that it’s willing to risk the spread of reactionary fascism in order to preserve its current strategic goals: to preserve NATO’s influence and ultimately to protect American economic interests. The State Department itself proclaims that America and Ukraine have trade relations that it wants to preserve, such as Ukraine’s import of American coal and America’s continued purchase of iron and steel (Bureau 2021). Meanwhile, the Azov battalion is already more organized than Afghanistan’s Taliban was at the start of the Soviet-Afghan war. The Taliban has direct roots within the Mujahideen fighters America supported but emerged officially as an organization after the war to take power (Bloch 2021).
Saddam Hussein was also compared to Hitler as he expanded into Kuwait. He was deterred by American troops in 1991 in the first Gulf War. A decade later America would launch an invasion of Iraq, accusing it of having refused to disarm despite the country’s newfound lack of nuclear weapons (BBC 2013). According to iraqbodycount.org, an independent group aiming to document the civilian casualties of the Iraq War, between 186,084 and 209,276 Iraqi civilians were killed violently (Iraq Body Count). The resulting power vacuum would result in the rise of ISIS. Had America never intervened, Saddam would have continued to rule Iraq as a tyrant. However, the violence inflicted onto civilians by American troops combined with the rise of the brutal fundamentalist Islamic State has been far worse for the people of Iraq than Saddam ever could have been.
The Middle East has been torn apart by the forces of reaction, all tracing their roots to American intervention by either direct funding or enablement by the conditions America’s imperialistic actions created in the region. And in the same way, the Middle East was destroyed in the name of American strategic and economic interests, so too will be Ukraine if America intervenes. Democracy and personal freedom are not advanced. American economic and strategic goals are secured briefly before being threatened again by the fallout, and the war industrial complex is maintained as companies like Raytheon Technologies profit.
This is what American imperialism does. To be sure, Putin is not morally better than America, and certainly doesn’t have the best interests of the Ukrainian people at heart; Russia is simply concerned with strategically maintaining its westward expansion in the same way America is interested in expanding its sphere of influence eastward. However, I would certainly rather see a Russian takeover than the growth of fascist and outright Neo-Nazi elements or another war that would devastate the country in which it’s fought. Biden has publicly expressed disinterest in a direct conflict but has threatened Russia with consequences (Hunnicutt 2022).
Russia continues to insist that it does not plan to invade (Kirby 2022). Biden claims that he does not plan to involve America as of right now, so we will see whether there is war or not. I have made it clear the ways in which American intervention would harm the people of Ukraine, especially its Jewish, ethnically Russian, and Queer populations in the same way these groups were harmed by Hitler’s regime. Even if we were unaware of the Azov Battalion’s Nazi ideology and the ways in which they have integrated themselves with Ukraine’s military and society, it would be a mistake to continue sending military support to Ukraine.
Desmond Keuper is a sophomore philosophy major from Brooklyn, NY. His interests within politics are mostly centered around American foreign policy, its long-term impact, and where it falls within a narrative centered on capitalist imperialism.
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