The mass surrender of over 2000 members of the extreme nationalist AZOV battalion who have just been flushed out of their bunker in Mariupol is a major win in the fight against global race-based terrorism. These extreme nationalists share the same ideology as the Christchurch and Buffalo assassins, as is clear from their manifestos. Efforts to combat extremism have focused on the influence of social media on individuals. Insufficient attention is paid to organising centres such as AZOV.
Western reaction to the Russian ‘special operation’ to ‘de-nazify’ Ukraine has airbrushed out the activities of the extremist right organisations such as AZOV, the military arm of the ultra-nationalist political movement integrated into Ukrainian military. The surrender and capture of this battalion’s remnants and the liberation of the Russian-speaking territories in eastern Ukraine will now enable clear light at trial to be shed on their terrorist activities, many of which now coming to light are horrific.
The links between the Christchurch and Buffalo assassins are referenced in their manifestos. Both displayed the sonnenrad or ‘black sun’ symbol, which forms part of the AZOV battalion emblem. This simple linkage of itself does not prove much. But if we look from the other side it is clear that the AZOV group are active recruiters and facilitators of the white supremacist racism that is at the heart of the ideology they share.
“The nexus between far-right extremists in the United States and Ukraine” is a research paper prepared for the ‘Combatting Terrorism Center’ at West Point, the United States Military Academy. It states:
In recent years, some Americans and Europeans drawn to various brands of far-right nationalism have looked to Ukraine as their field of dreams: a country with a well-established, trained, and equipped far-right militia—the Azov Regiment—that has been actively engaged in the conflict against Russian-backed separatists in Donbass…. Far-right groups remain strong in Ukraine, with the ability to marshal thousands of supporters for protests and rallies, some of whom carry Nazi and white supremacist insignia.
Analysis of social media communications, court documents, travel histories, and other connections shows that a number of prominent individuals among far-right extremist groups in the United States and Europe have actively sought out relationships with representatives of the far-right in Ukraine, specifically the National Corps and its associated militia, the Azov Regiment. In some instances, as this article will show, U.S.-based individuals have spoken or written about how the training available in Ukraine might assist them and others in their paramilitary-style activities at home.
Another extensive report on the activities of the AZOV battalion is provided in the report ‘Mapping Militant Organizations. “AZOV Battalion.” from the Center for International Security and Co-operation at Stanford University. It also details the international ambitions and recruiting activites of the battalion, Interestingly in relation to its use of social media the report says:
In 2016, Facebook designated the Azov Battalion a “dangerous organization,” which allows it to regulate Azov content and deplatform Azov-related pages. In February 2022, Facebook’s parent company Meta announced that it would be temporarily loosening this designation to allow discussion of the Azov Battalion in the context of Ukrainian defense efforts. The ban still prohibited Azov from using Facebook for messaging, advertising, and recruiting.
The Soufan Center in a report titled ‘Intelbrief: The Transnational Network that Nobody is Talking About’ also describes the role played by the AZOV battalion in organising ultra-nationalist terrorism.
The Azov Battalion is emerging as a critical node in the transnational right-wing violent extremist (RWE) network. This group maintains its own ‘Western Outreach Office’ to help recruit and attract foreign fighters that travel to train and connect with people from like-minded violent organizations from across the globe. Operatives from the outreach office travel around Europe to promote the organization and proselytize its mission of white supremacy.
This report raises the possibility of a link between the Christchurch shooter and AZOV. There appears to be no direct evidence of this, although the Royal Commission report indicates that he did travel to Ukraine in 2015. However the Commission did indicate evidence of some connection with extreme right-wing groups in Ukraine:
The individual told his mother he would not renew the lease on his flat and wanted to sell his belongings and move to the Ukraine. That was the last time Sharon Tarrant and her partner saw the individual before the terrorist attack.
Sharon Tarrant later told Australian Federal Police that when she left New Zealand, she felt “petrified” about the individual’s mental health and increasingly racist views. She felt he had no friends and had isolated himself in a small, empty flat. She said that she was so worried that the night she left the individual, she searched online for information about white supremacy groups in Ukraine. She said that she emailed the individual an article about extreme right-wing groups in Ukraine that groomed young men like him and she pleaded for him to come home to Australia. He never responded.
It is highly likely that he agreed with it.
It would be to much to say that the total defeat of the AZOV battalion will signal the end of ultra-nationalist terrorism. Western media will no doubt do its best to minimise its significance as shown by the article sourced from the London Telegraph in today’s DomPost (not online). But our newly-enhanced security agencies must take note of its significance, and be vigilant to watch for its next organised iteration.