Among the hooligans or “neo-Nazis”, who swelled the ranks of the Azov Battalion?

They were the last fighters and the last pocket of resistance against the Russian army. On Tuesday, Moscow announced the surrender of 265 Ukrainian soldiers entrenched in the Azovstal steel plants. More than just soldiers, some of these resisters were part of the Azov Battalion, a group of far-right paramilitary groups that Vladimir Putin has widely cited to justify Ukraine’s “de-Nazification.” But who are they? Are these rumors true? And what is the fate in store for them, the head of the Kremlin? 20 minutes make a point.

Who is part of the Azov regiment?

Azov is a Ukrainian far-right paramilitary group, founded on May 5, 2014 and taking its name from the Sea of ​​Azov that borders the country. In the midst of the Donbas War, Ukraine has to deal with a disorganized and disorganized army. In this context, the then Minister of the Interior, Arsen Avakov, decided to form a special armed militia. They will come to strengthen the national army.

The Azov Battalion quickly distinguished itself by retaking Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists as soon as it was created in 2014. All their hostilities, carried out in parallel with those of the national army, are called “anti-terrorist operations” (ATO). Then the battalion was accused of “violations of human rights” by pro-Russian separatists, but also by Western NGOs. If this regiment originally had a handful of men in its ranks, today it would be 3,500 to 5,000 fighters, according to Release.

Azov regiment or fighters “Neo-Nazis”?

In the origin of the Azov battalion we find a man: Andrei Beltsky. It is the stormy reputation of the latter that will shape the ultra-nationalist image of the regiment. Andrei Beltsky is originally from the Russian-speaking city of Kharkiv, a 42-year-old troublemaker who has never hidden his appetite for National Socialist but also racist ones. At the time when he headed the xenophobic, anti-Semitic and racist Social National Assembly (SNA), Andrei Beletsky would be inspired by the slogan of this party, inspired by the Nazi party, to create the coat of arms of the Azov Battalion. On a yellow background, the Azov flag proudly displays an inverted wolf (wolf hook) reminiscent of the emblem 2nd German SS Division “Das Reich”.

Eight years after its creation, the Azov Battalion does not necessarily have extreme right-wing traits in its ranks. in columns ReleaseHistorian Vyacheslav Likhachev indicates a more contrasting composition: “I personally knew an anarchist who served in Azov, as well as a former participant in the fight against Maidan. [mouvement contre la révolution ukrainienne de 2014]for whom Russian aggression has become unsuitable,” he recalls.

Not to mention that today many members of the battalion are seen by the Ukrainians as heroes, symbols of resistance to the Russian invasion that began on February 24. “For 82 days, the defenders of Mariupol, despite the difficulties, carried out orders, pushing the crushing forces of the enemy back,” explained this Tuesday on the social networking sites of the Azov Regiment.

These photos show wounded Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal factory in Mariupol, Ukraine.
These photos show wounded Ukrainian soldiers at the Azovstal factory in Mariupol, Ukraine. – Azov Regiment / cover photos / SIPA

And on these same networks (primarily Facebook) the regiment communicates about its resistance to the Russian forces or organizes press conferences, from the cellars of the Azovstal steel mills. This showed the leading figures of the small group: Ilya Samoylenko, the second in command of the Azov Regiment or Commander Denis Prokopenko.

Why does Vladimir Putin want to turn these soldiers into war criminals?

The Azov Battalion for Vladimir Putin is a godsend. Indeed, the Kremlin chief has often used the small group’s turbulent past to justify “de-Nazification” of Ukraine. While he had just captured some of these soldiers, the question remains how to treat him: prisoners or war criminals? According to Kyiv, these soldiers will be subject to a prisoner exchange. “From our side, we can say that negotiations are still ongoing,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said.

The Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, not to mention the Mariupol case in particular, for his part, emphasized in his account on Telegram that “Nazi criminals should not be the subject of a prisoner exchange.” The Russian Prosecutor General was to ask the Supreme Court to classify the Azov Regiment as a “terrorist organization,” Interfax reported, citing the website of the Ministry of Justice. The application should be examined by the Supreme Court of Russia on May 26.

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