Ukraine “denazifies” Russian neo-Nazi units on the battlefield

On May 9, Russia celebrated the victory over Nazism in World War II. The message of the victory over Nazism is one of Russia’s fundamental state-building messages. In Russian ideology, the “Russian nation” is seen as almost the sole victor over the Third Reich, while the term Nazism is demonized to the maximum extent possible.

In parallel, Russian propaganda has been integrating a bellicose thesis into the masses for decades: ‘we can do it again’. And that day has come. It was by ‘denazification’ or ‘fighting Nazism’ in Ukraine that the Kremlin explained the reason why Russia started the bloodiest war in Europe after the end of the Second World War.

This established propaganda image allows the Kremlin to have 77% of Russians support the aggressive war, the purpose of which is the so-called “denazification” of Ukraine.

This is despite the fact that most Russians still do not understand the definition of ‘denazification’, nor can they explain who the Nazis are. However, according to the Russian leader Vladimir Putin, ‘the issue of denazification is relevant’, and thus this ‘process’ will continue.

Denazification of the Russian Federation in Ukraine

While the Kremlin invents stories about fighting “Ukrainian Nazism”, denazification is indeed taking place in Ukraine. Ukraine’s defence forces continue to eliminate Russian neo-Nazis who fight in the Russian army and often boast of war crimes.

A Russian Nazi at war in Ukraine, 2014. Photo: Social media

It was the Russian Nazis who were among the first to take part in the aggression against Ukraine in 2014. With the start of the full-scale invasion, these units officially came under the command of the Russian Ministry of Defense.

Thus, the Rusich sabotage and assault reconnaissance group, which is suspected of committing war crimes in Ukraine, continues to fight in Ukraine. In particular, the Rusich group has specific and detailed instructions for the ‘disposal of prisoners of war of the Armed Forces of Ukraine’. Key points of which include instructions to brutally kill prisoners after interrogation and encourages forcing the families of the victims to pay Rusich for information about the whereabouts of their loved ones. On 26 February 2024, the militants published footage of the execution of Ukrainian prisoners of war, captioning the video that ‘agitation to kill prisoners is bearing fruit’. In addition, the group’s official page contains calls for the genocide of the adult population of Ukraine through ‘scientific experiments’ and ‘carpet bombing’ of residential areas of Ukrainian cities. One of the leaders of this Nazi paramilitary group, Aleksey Milchakov, also known in Russia as flayer, openly says that he is a Nazi. In 2017, the mercenary unit joined the Wagner PMC and was then deployed to Syria to fight for Bashar al-Assad’s government forces.

Russian neo-Nazis are also represented by the Russian Imperial Legion, a subdivision of the monarchist organization of the Russian Imperial Movement. They have also been fighting in Ukraine since 2014. In 2020, the movement was recognized as a terrorist organization in the USA, and its leaders were designated as terrorists. It was the first time that an organization espousing white supremacist ideas had been included in the US list of terrorist organizations. At the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry called Washington’s decision “unreasonable.”

The so-called ‘denazification’ in Ukraine, given the presence of open neo-Nazis in the ranks of the army, is criticised even by Russian militants themselves. ‘It is difficult to adhere to the line of denazification if someone in your own ranks proudly displays Nazi symbols with a tattoo on his body or defiantly declares that he is a Nazi,’ said Aleksandr Khokhakovsky, a former commander of the Vostok militant unit.

The Russian authorities seem to see no problem with this. For example, in 2017, the Rusich RRG even trained the youth military-patriotic organisation Unarmia (children from 8 years old), founded by the Russian Ministry of Defence, at the sites of the same Ministry. In 2022, representatives of the ‘Russian Imperial Movement’ announced partial mobilisation and recruitment of volunteers who will have official status under the Russian Ministry of Defence with appropriate payments and guarantees.

It is worth mentioning the Wagner PMC, many of whose militants professed Nazi views and were involved in war crimes not only in Ukraine but also in Africa. In particular, the unit’s commander, a GRU officer, Dmitry Utkin, had tattoos in the form of nooses with the insignia of an SS captain.

Tattoo of Dmitry Utkin, GRU officer and commander of the Wagner PMC. Photo: Pikabu

One could conclude that a similar phenomenon in Russia are isolated groups of fanatics, but in fact this is only a vivid result of Russian propaganda and ideology, espoused by Putin, among others. It is based on the uniqueness of the Russian state and the parasitism of the entire Western world. We can also mention the support for the Russian war criminal, the former head of the Wagner PMC, Yevgeny Prigozhin, who even after the coup had 29% popularity among Russians (before these events – 55%).

Interestingly, Russian neo-Nazis often criticise the internal political situation in Russia and its military leadership. They especially do not mince words when it comes to migrants and representatives of the Caucasian (Muslim) republics of Russia. Chechnya’s leader Ramzan Kadyrov and his Akhmat special forces are also often targeted. In Russia, those who do such things usually get into big trouble, but not in the case of neo-Nazis, which suggests that such units are protected by Russian special services.

Thus, in Russia, a concert of a music band was cancelled on charges of ‘propaganda of Nazi ideology’, which was seen in runic symbols on the musicians’ attributes, and an investigation was launched. At the same time, no cases have been opened against Rusich militants or other groups that openly recognise themselves as Nazis.

The idea of Russia’s uniqueness and its confrontation with the West are not new to Russia. Back in 1997, one of the leading “philosophers” of modern Russia Alexander Dugin, called Ukraine’s independence an “existential danger” for Russia, and saw the world through the prism of opposing the Eurasian world (led by Russia) to the Atlantic world (led by the USA).

It was Dugin who was recently interviewed by the American “journalist” Tucker Carlson. That is probably how the Kremlin planned to legitimise its ‘philosophy’ among Western conservatives.

Dugin began his career in the late 80s when he joined an organization of militant anti-Semitic nationalists. He then began to research philosophy and promote theories of ‘Eurasianism’, calling himself a Eurasianist. He has gained some recognition among intellectual circles in modern Russia and has become popular among European far-right and traditionalists. Dugin also has connections in academic and ideological circles in China, Iran and Turkey, countries with strong anti-Western sentiments, including anti-American sentiments.

Alexander Dugin speaks at the National Bolshevik Party congress. Photo:

By May 9, Dugin wrote a column in which he stated that Russian troops are at war with NATO, and the goal of the new Patriotic War, called the “Special Military Operation”, in Ukraine is to regain the status of a global superpower. Therefore, Putin is ready to fight to the end, no matter what it takes.

This is the answer to what Russia really wants, and it is not a matter of NATO expansion or “denazification” of Ukraine. It is because of these imperial ambitions that Ukrainian civilians are dying every day and entire cities are being destroyed.

Moscow wants to be feared and seen as a superpower, but will capturing a few regions of Ukraine be enough? The Kremlin needs a victory over the modern world order, international law, and the collective West – a unipolar world, as Putin himself has stated. The question is how willing the West is to give Russia what it wants – will it encourage a new Hitler or will it give him a collective fight?

The article was published in The Hill

This site uses cookies to offer you a better browsing experience. By browsing this website, you agree to our use of cookies.