As Russian forces roll into Ukraine, the UK’s broad radical right and far right have paid close attention to the emerging crisis, responding in an uneven fashion.
Whilst Putin’s authoritarianism and illiberalism have made him a darling of the European and American far right over the last decade, others view the offensive as an assault on Ukrainian sovereignty and an affront to the West as a whole, making it a divisive issue among the various currents of the radical right and far right.
Russia holds a confused position in the hearts of the radical right. On the one hand it retains an unshakeable Cold War legacy as a military rival, one that must be countered by an armed and assertive West. Yet accusations of Russian meddling in the election of President Trump and the Brexit Referendum have also fostered a degree of pro-Russian sympathy among the radical right. The pro-Trump faction in particular has worked to portray Putin as a bogeyman, a paranoid obsession of liberals keen to explain away their electoral failures. Furthermore, Putin’s illiberalism and strongman reputation can be held in contrast to the perceived weakness and “wokeness” of the Biden administration, European Union and, increasingly, Boris Johnson’s government.
These conflicting tendencies can be seen by the varied responses of the UK’s radical right to the Ukraine conflict. The larger response has been one of support for Ukraine and a demand for tougher action from Western governments. For example, former UKIP and Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage described the invasion as “part of [Putin’s] Greater Russia dream. It poses huge challenges to the West and will cause even more division. We have to decide on our red line”.
Farage’s Reform UK successor, Richard Tice, went further by calling for ““shock & awe” sanctions against Putin & his oligarch friends esp here in the UK. Sanctions must hit them very hard, make them much poorer.”
Yet pro-Russia sympathies have also been on display. While UKIP has not made a recent statement on events, an article uploaded to its website on January 25th headlined “Britain should stop meddling in Ukraine” put the argument that the EU and NATO’s involvement in Ukraine represented “an attempt to snatch Ukraine out of the Russian sphere of influence”. David Kurten, leader of the tiny Heritage Party, has gone further with an unashamed endorsement of Putin, referring to a poll of his Twitter followers to declare that: “9 times as many people trust Putin the the current duplicitous, deceitful and despotic leaders who bring shame upon the West.”
Further to the right, a deep-seated distrust of mainstream political and media institutions is widespread and broad condemnation of Russian actions in the mainstream has served to confirm pro-Putin tendencies for some commentators. For example, on Tuesday the Battersea-based propagandist Paul Joseph Watson slammed the media’s “Russia hysteria bandwagon”; today, whilst criticising Putin, Watson has predictably jumped at an opportunity to score points against the “legacy media” and the Biden administration. Other sections of the Trump-supporting far right have followed suit, for example Stephen Yaxley-Lennon (AKA Tommy Robinson), writing that “This would never have happened if Trump was in power, the Dems and left have pushed for this for years to take the heat off them.”
Since the early 2010s, large sections of the far right have come to consider Russia as a counterweight to American imperialism and liberalism, viewing Putin’s push back against progressive ideals and his anti-Western rhetoric, including opposition to NATO, as a bulwark against globalisation and, for some, alleged Jewish influence. This understanding has fed an instinctive support of Putin’s actions in Ukraine among large contingents of the traditional far right.
For example Mark Collett, leader of the UK’s largest fascist organisation, Patriotic Alternative, has taken a pro-Russian stance, claiming:
“NATO’s role in Eastern Europe is to facilitate American imperialism – something which I wholeheartedly oppose. Where ever American imperialism takes root, with it comes an entire range of social poisons that attack the moral fabric of the nation – feminism, the LGBT agenda, attacks on the traditional family and of course, anti-white rhetoric and policy […] Whilst the last thing I want to see is white people killing other white people in another pointless war, I completely understand Russia’s position on this matter; as Russia is simply attempting to secure their security and national interests by preventing NATO expanding ever-closer to their borders.”
Collett’s statement has been widely circulated on Telegram, and echoed by his bitter enemy Nick Griffin, former leader of the British National Party (BNP), who took aim at the “criminal/Zionist regime in Kiev”, and attacked pro-Ukranian right wing elements as acting under the influence of a “neo-con [neo-conservative] agenda”. Some far-right groups have downplayed the notion of a Ukranian identity and refuse to recognise Ukraine as a legitimate nation, viewing it as a part of Russia that was artificially separated by malign forces, thereby justifying Putin’s actions.
However, such staunchly pro-Russia views are not uniform among the extreme right. Many have expressed dismay at the conflict between “white” nations, blaming Putin’s actions on a Jewish scheme, for example one nazi channel on the messaging app Telegram claiming that: “This war is so fucking stupid, whenever you see two White nations at war with each other, you’ll find a jew sitting at the top.”
Whilst deriding the Ukrainian establishment, many international nazi and fascist groups have expressed support for Ukrainian forces, primarily on the basis of its right to independence and self-determination, and thrown their support behind the fascist militia Azov Battalion, which has fought against Russian-backed forces in Ukraine since 2014 and has long been admired by fascists around the globe. For example, the group was described by one channel this morning as “some of the toughest and proudest Aryan men alive. This is our Folk, and they need our support”.
Putin’s claim that his “special military operation” in part aims for the “denazification” of Ukraine has fortified this position for some; in the words of one American nazi:
“Putin’s official reasoning for invading Ukraine is to “Demilitarization and Denazification”. So again if you’re NS [National Socialist] and you’re supporting Putin who is literally invading a country with a listed reason of destroying NS groups like Azov Battalion then you’re pretty fucking retarded […] or you’re a state actor.”
Fascist attitudes towards Azov have been complicated by allegations that Israel has supplied the group with arms, leading some within the conspiratorially-minded far-right extremes to view the group as part of a Jewish agenda, splitting the formerly widespread support of the group. For example, one fascist wrote in hope that Russian forces are “wiping out the azov jews”.
Despite this, some support for Azov remains among the international extreme fringes. In chat groups associated with the Misanthropic Division, an international Azov support group aimed at recruitment, small numbers of individuals have even discussed joining Azov and fighting with them in the ongoing conflict.
Of course, the radical right and far right has never been a monolith, featuring a diversity of views on a wide range of issues. However, the crisis in Ukraine, viewed variously in terms of a conflict over self-determination, Western imperialism, globalism and liberal values, is a particularly evocative and complex topic for the far right, and may well prompt further quarrels and even splits in the coming weeks and months.
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