This article is a joint publication of TheNation.com and Foreign Policy In Focus.
As the Ukrainian crisis has unfolded over the past few weeks, it’s hard for Americans not to see Vladimir Putin as the big villain. But the history of the region is a history of competing villains vying against one another; and one school of villains—the Nazis—have a long history of engagement with the United States, mostly below the radar, but occasionally exposed, as they were by Russ Bellant in his book Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party (South End Press, 1991). Bellant's exposure of émigré Nazi leaders from Germany's World War II allies in the 1988 Bush presidential campaign was the driving force in the announced resignation of nine individuals, two of them from Ukraine, which is why he was the logical choice to illuminate the scattered mentions of Nazi and fascist elements among the Ukrainian nationalists, which somehow never seems to warrant further comment or explanation. Of course most Ukrainians aren’t Nazis or fascists—all the more reason to illuminate those who would hide their true natures in the shadows…or even behind the momentary glare of the spotlight.
Your book, Old Nazis, the New Right, and the Republican Party, exposed the deep involvement in the Republican Party of Nazi elements from Central and Eastern Europe, including Ukrainians, dating back to World War II and even before. As the Ukrainian crisis unfolded in the last few weeks, there have been scattered mentions of a fascist or neo-fascist element, but somehow that never seems to warrant further comment or explanation. I can’t think of anyone better to shed light on what’s not being said about that element. The danger of Russian belligerence is increasingly obvious, but this unexamined fascist element poses dangers of its own. What can you tell us about this element and those dangers?
The element has a long history, of a long record that speaks for itself, when that record is actually known and elaborated on. The key organization in the coup that took place here recently was the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists [OUN], or a specific branch of it known as the Banderas [OUN-B]. They’re the group behind the Svoboda party, which got a number of key positions in the new interim regime. The OUN goes back to the 1920s, when they split off from other groups, and, especially in the 1930s, began a campaign of assassinating and otherwise terrorizing people who didn’t agree with them.
As World War II approached, they made an alliance with the Nazi powers. They formed several military formations, so that when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, they had several battalions that went into the main city at the time, where their base was, Lvov, or Lwow, it has a variety of spellings [Lviv today]. They went in, and there’s a documented history of them participating in the identification and rounding up Jews in that city, and assisting in executing several thousand citizens almost immediately. They were also involved in liquidating Polish group populations in other parts of Ukraine during the war.