EXTREMISTSRussia-Ukraine War Splits Germany's Far-Right

By Ben Knight

Published 28 March 2022

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has left Germany’s neo-Nazis confused: Should they support the authoritarian Russian leader or far-right nationalists fighting on the Ukrainian side?

Germany’s far-right political parties and fringe groups are struggling to agree on a position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, researchers who track Germany’s far-scene have noticed. While some groups are siding with Russia’s anti-NATO authoritarian leader, others are showing their solidarity with the far-right “Azov Battalion” in Ukraine.

Nicholas Potter, researcher and journalist at the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, one of Germany’s leading research institutes into the far-right scene, says the pro-Ukrainian side represents a slight majority in the far-right scene, but there’s an important distinction to be made about it.

These parties, individuals, movements — they believe in democratic values or the sovereignty of Ukraine and would support the Jewish [President Volodymyr] Zelenskyy’s government,” Potter told DW. “It would be a mistake to say they’re fighting for the same ideals that a lot of Ukrainians are fighting for.”

Johannes Kiess, far-right specialist at the Else Frenkel-Brunswick Institute of Leipzig University, sees Germany’s pro-Ukrainian neo-Nazis as motivated mainly by their connections to far-right groups in Ukraine. “In the martial arts scene, the hooligan scene, the neo-Nazi scene — in those circles there are pan-European networks,” he said. “There are also connections to Poland. It’s not just a German-Ukrainian thing.”

The Pro-Ukrainian Nazis
Among the more obviously pro-Ukrainian far-right parties is the III. Weg, or “Third Path,” a militant hardcore group of neo-Nazis that was founded in 2013 and numbers just a few hundred members. The III. Weg briefly made headlines last October when it organized groups to “patrol” Germany’s border with Poland to guard against migrants; the operation was quickly shut down by police. The group, which has also trained with and invited speakers from Ukraine’s paramilitary Azov Battalion, says on its website that it “rejects Russian imperialism with the purpose of reestablishing the Soviet Union” and has started campaigns to help fleeing Ukrainian nationalists.

The Azov Battalion was founded in 2014 as a voluntary militia fighting against pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. The paramilitary group drew controversy over allegations of torture and war crimes, as well as neo-Nazi sympathies. It was then incorporated into the Ukrainian National guard as “Azov Batallion” in November 2014 after the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, the Azov political movement emerged; it had little electoral success. Azov has maintained contacts with far-right movements abroad, including in Germany, according to the German government’s answer to a related question formally filed by the Left Party parliamentary group.