Podcast: against Putin's Big Lie

In Episode 115 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg continues to dissect Vladimir Putin's ultra-cynical fascist pseudo-anti-fascism. Putin presides over Nuremberg-type mass rallies celebrating war and conquest, spews overtly genocidal rhetoric, and prepares concentration camps for the Crimean Tatars. Alexander Dugin, "Putin's Rasputin" and the intellectual mastermind of his revanchist imperial project, has openly called for "genocide" of the Ukrainians. In areas of Ukraine occupied by Russia, a forced mass deportation of the populace is reported. Putin is clearly approaching a genocidal threshold in Ukraine—while imposing a totalizing police state within Russia. Yet, with unimaginable perversity, all this is done in the name of a campaign  to "denazify" Ukraine. The painting of Ukraine as a "Nazi" state on the (dubious) basis of a few ugly right-wing paramilitaries on the Ukrainian side is vigorously repudiated by the leadership of Ukraine's Jewish community. Yet this "Big Lie" is credulously (or cynically) echoed by elements of the "left" as well as far right in the United States—who arrogantly refuse to listen to Ukrainians. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.

With reading from Indefensible: Democracy, Counterrevolution, and the Rhetoric of Anti-Imperialism by Rohini Hensman

Production by Chris Rywalt

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Russo-Nazism?

Amid all the hyperventilation about the Azov Battalion, it falls to scandal-rag The Mirror to note the killing in battle of Vladimir Zhoga, commander of the Sparta Battalion—a neo-Nazi paramilitary formation fighting on the side of the Donetsk separatists. He took over from founding warlord Arsen Pavlov, AKA Motorola, who was killed in 2016. Both are accused of human rights violations within the Donetsk enclave.

Meanwhile, the severed head of a pig was left at the door of the apartment of Aleksei Venediktov, editor of Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), which has been shut down by the authorities. The unknown vandals also stuck a sticker of the Ukrainian trident symbol emblazoned with the word "Judensau" (Jewish pig) in red letters on the apartment door, and put the pig's head in a wig of curly white hair—an evident reference to Venediktov's own hairstyle.

Venediktov, who is Jewish, posted a photo of the pig's head lying in front of his apartment door on Telegram with the comment: "[This is in] the country that defeated fascism. Why not a six-pointed star on the door of my apartment?" (RFE/RL, NPR)

Zelensky bans 'left-wing' parties?

That's the latest claim being exploited by the Putin's pseudo-left apologists. But if you look at the actual list of the 11 parties that have been banned less than half have any indication in the name that they are of the "left," and what is actually at issue here is that they a pro-Russian. This kind of move is rather inevitable in wartime. What do all these tankie hypocrites have to say about the wholesale suppression of independent media and human rights groups in Russia? Oh, that's right: nothing.

Russia tightens restrictions on media

Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor on March 27 issued a directive prohibiting all media outlets from publishing an interview of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. "Roskomnadzor warns the Russian media to refuse to publish this interview," the statement said without providing any reasons.

The interview that Zelensky gave to Russian journalists is his first interaction with Russian media since the invasion of Ukraine last month. The banned interview has found its way to the internet. According to independent media, in the 90-minute conversation, Zelensky touched upon Russia's motivation for the aggression, escalation of the situation, attempts to assassinate him, and hopes for fruitful negotiations. (Jurist)

German newspaper Bild on March 27 announced that Russian authorities have restricted access to its website Bild.de.

TASS, a Russian state-affiliated news agency, reported that the website was blocked after an order from the Russian prosecutor general's office accusing the news outlet of "posting calls for mass disorders, extremism and participation in unauthorized rallies." The office did not give specific examples of the alleged transgressions. (Jurist)

Wikipedia editor arrested in Belarus

One of Russian Wikipedia's most prolific editors was arrested by Belarusian forces over the weekend, amid a widespread crackdown related to Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Mark Bernstein, who edits under the username Pessimist2006, was reportedly arrested for "distributing fake anti-Russian information." (Haaretz)

Russian neo-Nazi militia advances on Kharkiv

A band of neo-Nazi Russian mercenaries led by a commander who boasted of cutting the ears off enemy corpses has been deployed in eastern Ukraine before an expected assault.

Fighters for Rusich, a force affiliated with the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, were photographed near the Russian-Ukrainian border, crossing into the Kharkiv region near the village of Pletenivka in Z-marked vehicles.

Rusich, founded in St Petersburg in 2014 by Aleksei Milchakov and Yan Petrovsky, is thought to consist of a few hundred mercenaries whose insignia is the valknot, an old Norse symbol appropriated by white supremacists.

Rusich mercenaries have also been photographed giving Nazi salutes. They fought alongside the Donbas separatists in 2015, winning a reputation for brutality. They were filmed mutilating and setting fire to corpses, and Ukrainian human rights groups have accused them of torturing prisoners of war. Rusich fighters were later deployed to Syria, where they were accused of crimes including the dismemberment of a prisoner.

Milchakov has also posted pictures online that show him removing the ears of dead Ukrainian soldiers in Donbas and carving the kolovrat, a swastika-like symbol used on the Slav far right, into their foreheads. Milchakov boasted of these exploits in a 2020 interview in which he freely admitted to being a neo-Nazi and said he "got high from the smell of burning human flesh." (The Times, April 7)

We also recently noted on Twitter video footage of Denis Pushilin, head of the Donetsk "People's Republic" (sic), giving an award to one of his thugs who is wearing two Nazi insignia on his sleeve. Above is a variant of the SS Totenkopf. Below is a Valknot.

Russia cracks down on Nazi twerking

A foreign student was arrested in Russia for "rehabilitating Nazism" by twerking in front of a war memorial. Zambian national Rebecca Ziba, 21, was detained after she posted a video of herself on Instagram. In the footage she can be seen dancing next to a World War II memorial in Khanty-Mansiysk. Russian investigators have described her actions as "obscene" and "insulting" and have charged her under Part 4 of Art. 354.1 of the Criminal Code, which outlaws "rehabilitating Nazism." (EuroNews)

Ukrainian government 'disappears' dissidents?

Get ready for a big propaganda offensive to justify the "neo-Nazi" canard against the Zelensky government.

The always deeply problematic Scott Ritter is apparently claiming that a Chilean-American blogger who went missing in Ukraine five days ago, Gonzalo Lira, was abducted and tortured to death by the Azov Battalion. Bolivia's Kawsachu News notes that he had tweeted on March 26, warning of his own imminent disappearance. Max Blumenthal in Grayzone (of course) jumps all over it, headlining: "Zelensky oversees campaign of assassination, kidnapping and torture of political opposition"

We await the judgment of Amnesty International on the veracity of these claims. We will add, however, two points:

1. No matter what the facts of Lira's disappearance are, exploiting it to justify or relativize the Russian war of aggression and extermination in Ukraine is beneath contempt.

2. Not that this should be a death sentence, but Lira seems to have been a very ugly individual. (Or perhaps he still is, if alive.) Daily Beast ran a profile on him last month, entitled "How a Sleazy American Dating Coach Became a Pro-Putin Shill in Ukraine."

There do seem to have been some extra-judicial reprisals against pro-Russian figures in Ukraine since the invasion, such as the case of Vlodymyr Struk. These warrant investigation, and are not excusable. But given the situation, they are also inevitable. The context for them is rather... overwhelming.

Journalists targeted in Ukraine, persecuted in Russia

Ukraine's Institute of Mass Information (IMI), which has been aggressively covering Russia's persecution and targetting of journalists, also notes some cases of pro-Russian bloggers and activists who have apprently been targated for reprisal in Ukraine—such as Valerii Kuleshov, who was killed in Kherson on April 20.

Another Russian investigative journalist, Andrei Soldatov of the website Agentura.ru, is meanwhile facing "treason" charges and has been placed on a wanted list. Last month a Moscow court issued an arrest warrant for Maikl Naki, a well-known vlogger, who is accused of "distributing false information about the Russian military." 

Neo-Nazis fight for Russia in Ukraine: more evidence

A report in Der Spiegel cites findings of Germany's Federal Intelligence Service (BND) has concluded in a confidential document that numerous Russian right-wing extremists and neo-Nazis are among those fighting alongside Russia’s regular forces in Ukraine. The report especailly notes Rusich and the Imperial Legion. Both of these were involved in the first wave of Putin’s war against Ukraine in 2014 and have now returned to continue the fight. (Euromaidan)