How credible is the Neo Nazi involvement in Ukraine? As Ukraine makes advances in the war, the opposition's claim that the Ukrainian government is involved with Neo Nazis gets louder. My research says they do exist, but not in large numbers. Russian news, however, paints a different picture. They even made hour long videos that they are all over Ukraine.
Probably the best answer to that, is the Ukrainian presidential election of 25 May.
Ukraine has two political parties that are usually described as ultra-nationalist, Svoboda (Freedom) and Pravij Sektor (Right Sector). Each of these parties had a candidate for president on the ballot.
In the presidential election, each of these parties received about one percent of the vote
Note that separatists used violence and threats of violence to prevent most Ukrainians from voting in the oblasts of Luhansk and Donetsk, and that only a small percentage of Crimeans voted (voters from Crimea had to travel to un-occupied Ukraine to vote, and to certify that they had not accepted Russian citizenship). For these reasons, the voters in the election (which had a high turnout) disproportionately represent western Ukraine, which (Putin tells us) is a hotbed of Nazism and fascism.
So, we can estimate that perhaps 2% of Ukrainians support "radical nationalism," "neo-nazism," or right-wing extremism -- however you like to call it.
It's interesting to see who accuses Ukraine of Nazism. Reliable numbers are hard to find, but ultra-nationalism is probably a much bigger problem in Russia.
Based on political activity and results from post-Soviet elections in Russia, it seems possible that 5% or even more of Russians support ultra-nationalist policies. A Russian organization that monitors this kind of activity (comparable to America's Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks US hate groups) has estimated 40 nationalist extremist groups and 35 extremist newspapers operating within the Russian Federation.
Post-Soviet Russia has a significant history of hate crime (racially motivated violence against persons of non-Russian ethnicity). This includes murder, severe beatings (for example, assault using a shovel as a weapon), and at least one mass attack described as a progrom.
As far as I know, racially motivated violence in Ukraine has never reached the level seen in Russia.
This is a term often used by Russians to describe all Ukrainians favorable to closer relations with Europe. It comes from the name of Stepan Bandera, a now-legendary Ukrainian ultra-nationalist active in the first half of the last century.
In Soviet times, many Ukrainians saw the Soviet Union (which, of course, was incredibly cruel and destructive to Ukraine) as a foreign imposition on Ukraine -- part and parcel of Russian domination of Ukraine's soil.
When the Soviet Union was invaded by the Nazis, who of course were extreme anti-communists, some Ukrainians hoped that Germany's invasion would mean Ukraine's liberation from Soviet tyranny. These Ukrainians were not yet aware of the depths of Nazi tyranny.
Some Ukrainians, including Bandera, allied themselves with the Nazi invaders. They were motivated mainly by their passion for Ukrainian independence, rather than love of Germans or Nazism. In principle, Bandera and the group he led fought against the Soviet Red Army, though their military effectiveness is not clear to me. In any case, Bandera was soon imprisoned by the Nazis, and released late in the war when the Germans hoped that his leadership of Ukrainian nationalist forces (from Germany, where he was to live out his days) might help them against the Red Army's onslaught.
During EuroMaidan, it was common to see the name and/or images of Bandera.
To Kremlin propagandists, Bandera = Nazi, so if a large group of people includes folks who hold Bandera signs, then they are all Nazis.
Now, as it happens, even though the Russian SSR suffered terribly from the Nazi invasion, Ukraine and Belarus had it much worse. Much of the most violent combat took place in Ukraine and Belarus. The most savage oppressions by Nazi occupiers were in those two countries. For one small example, Nazis used Babi Yar as a convenient spot not only for the mass murder of Jews, but also of Ukrainians.
Ukrainians and Belarusians probably hate Nazism more than any other countries in Europe.
So ... what does in mean, when Ukrainians refer to the name and image of Stepan Bandera?
Well, he was a man who devoted his life to Ukraine's independence. He didn't just talk about it, but organized and led groups and fighters to take action to liberate Ukraine. In my opinion, most Ukrainians see Bandera as a symbol of Ukrainian independence and national pride -- not as a pro-Nazi.
If you want a point of comparison: according to recent opinion polling, Josef Stalin is highly respected in Russia, especially by young people who have no memory of Soviet times. Occasionally Stalin's name and likeness may be seen on the streets, even of Moscow.
Do Russians love Stalin for his murder of millions of innocent Russians? Do they love him for the gut-wrenching generation of mass terror? For his engineered famine that starved millions of Russians, Ukrainians and other citizens to death? For his collaboration with Nazis, including a treaty to divide Poland between them?
Or do Russians love Stalin because he successfully led Russia's defense from the German invasion that nearly destroyed Russia?
If Russians are allowed to admire Stalin for one of his few positive achievements (though it must be admitted that his brutality and stupidity helped to bring about the catastrophic German occupation of so much Soviet territory) ... then can't Ukrainians be permitted to admire Bandera as a passionate fighter for their country's independence?
If I were a Ukrainian today, I would wish for a dozen Banderas, to fight against the murderous Russian swine trying to destroy my country.
As a footnote, because Kremlin-controlled media have called Ukraine's patriots "Banderites" literally thousands of times, the term has taken on a certain ironic meaning in today's Ukraine. Ukrainians who aren't interested in Bandera per se, call themselves Banderites as a way of sticking their thumb in Putin's metaphorical eye.
When I was in Kyiv, one of the many tents in the middle of Kreshchatyk was operating as a bar (who knew, Slavs drinking alchohol?) under the named "Bandershtat", translatable as "the Bandera State".
As a final response to the question, consider the terrible persecution of Ukraine's Jews since Euromaidan:
* the crude swastikas painted on Jewish gravestones and places of worship throughout the country
* the frequent incidents of Jews being harassed, beaten, even killed on the streets
* boycotts and vandalism against businesses owned by Jews
* the burned-out and demolished synagogues
* the emergency IDF forces Israel sent to Ukraine for the defense of Jews
* the road convoys and El-Al flights organized for the transport Jewish refugees to Israel and other places of safety
What? You didn't see these headlines about these appalling persecutions?
IT'S BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T F*CKING HAPPEN.
In point of fact, Ukraine has a long history of anti-Jewish sentiment, and occasional acts of vandalism or street harassment since independence. There were one or two such incidents around the time Yanukovich ran away to Russia.
But there has been no increase in anti-Jewish incidents in Ukraine. Nothing. None whatsoever.
In fact, just after thieving Russians occupied Crimea, more than a dozen prominent Jews in Ukraine (including senior rabbis, businessmen, writers etc.) sent a letter to Putin, which they also published, saying (in paraphrase) "we're fine, and don't need your protection," and "there has been no increase of anti-Jewish activity in Ukraine, but we HAVE noted such an increase in Russia."
In fact, in the 25 May election, a Jewish candidate for president received several times as many votes as the supposedly "Neo-Nazi" parties got altogether.
How can a person contemplate the safety and peace of Ukraine's Jews, and at the same time insist that since February, Ukraine has been run by Nazis?
I suggest that such a person must be either a damned liar, or a drooling idiot. However, I don't exclude that he can be both at the same time.
In any case, anyone* who calls Ukraine's government neo-Nazi in the face of the security Jews and other ethnic groups enjoy there, completely discredits everything else he says.
*I include America's Dr. Stephen Cohen, a once-brilliant and deeply respected Russia expert, who now opens his mouth only to vomit Kremlin propaganda.
In the local paper, they showed a photo of some prisoners from the Ukraine army being paraded on the streets of Donetsk by the separatists on the Ukraine Independence Day. Some onlookers shouted "Fascists" as they walked by.
Then you have those Russian paratroopers who "wandered" into Ukraine and got caught.
Now what appears to be Russian military troops are moving through the southern region of Luhansk and might be trying to link the eastern region held by the separatists with the Crimea region.
Hitler was "protecting" the Germans in other parts of Europe as he went around seizing territory. It sounds a bit like what Putin is doing "protecting" the Russians. Note that these two characters are protecting those similar to themselves. Anybody else does not deserve protection.
SECOND ELECTION AFTER EUROMAIDAN AGAIN PROVES PUTIN'S PROPAGANDA TO BE LIES
Millions of idiots have repeated the lie that Ukraine is under the control of "Nazis".
Here's a worthwhile opinion piece about the parliamentary election a couple of weeks ago:
As with Ukraine's presidential election in June, ultra-nationalist parties made a very poor showing. Out of 423 seat's in Ukraine's high parliament (Verkhovna Rada), the two supposedly "Nazi" parties, Svoboda and Right Sector, won exactly 7.
Note that proportionally, this is just as poor as they did in the presidential election: less than 2 percent, taken together.
The real take-home message is stronger than that, because the "fertile soil" for extremism, especially right-wing extremism, is foreign invasion, loss of territory, military defeat and humiliation, and painful economic collapse.
Well, Ukraine has suffered all of them in the past few months. THESE ARE THE CONDITIONS FOR MAXIMUM EXTREMISM. But look at the election results!
Independent Ukraine has decisively rejected ethnic hatred and oppression.
Those who claim otherwise are starkly revealed as ignorant swine, dirty liars, or both.