When Vladimir Putin announced Russia’s “special military operation” in Ukraine on 24 February, he stated that the objectives were, in part, “to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine”. The notion that Ukraine needed to be “denazified” was immediately dismissed by Western leaders and the West’s mainstream media.
For example, NBC in the US reported that unnnamed experts believed that Putin’s claim was “slanderous and false”. NBC provided an early outline of the West’s rebuttal, which has remained relatively consistent:
Putin has long sought to falsely paint Ukraine as a Nazi hotbed, which is a particularly jarring accusation given that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish and lost three family members in the Holocaust. [. . .]
[I]n today’s Ukraine, the remaining pro-Nazi movement is far from an open, influential force. While the Ukrainian National Guard is home to the Azov Battalion — a force populated by neo-Nazi sympathizers — there is no evidence to suggest widespread support for such extreme-right nationalism in the government, military or electorate.
The basic idea proffered is that a lack of electoral support, and the election of Jewish leaders, proves that the Nazi elements in Ukraine are relatively insignificant and have no power. Further, the assertion is that incorporation into Ukraine’s national security infrastructure, coupled with wider recruitment, has effectively watered down the extremist element. We are to believe that the National Socialist ideology of Ukrainian Nazis is more about nationalist pride than extermination of the untermenschen.
This stands in contrast to the Russian Government’s perspective. Moscow views Ukraine as possessing a significant Nazi threat. In his February announcement, Putin said:
Focused on their own goals, the leading NATO countries are supporting the far-right nationalists and neo-Nazis in Ukraine. [. . .] Your fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers did not fight the Nazi occupiers and did not defend our common Motherland [rodina] to allow today’s neo-Nazis to seize power in Ukraine.
So, let us explore the historical and contemporary evidence and see whether either version stacks up. Does Ukraine need to be denazified?
Read more: Does Ukraine Need To Be Denazified?