The Ukrainian language channel of US state-run broadcaster RFERL is making a concerted effort to rehabilitate the life and legacy of WWII-era Nazi collaborator Stepan Bandera, widely held by historians to have been a war criminal.
A video posted by the broadcaster, registered as a “foreign agent” in Russia, earlier this month argued that Ukrainians are deeply divided about whether the wartime leader was a hero or a villain – while leaning heavily in favour of the hero narrative. RFE/RL is part of the US Agency for Global Media, a government controlled organisation, with an annual budget of over $800 billion, which is charter bound to promote the “foreign policy objectives of the United States.”
Bandera was the figurehead of the Organisation of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), which formed an alliance with Hitler’s Third Reich and played a role in rounding up Jewish people, executing civilians and fighting the advance of the Red Army. Many members of the OUN eventually fought as part of the all-Ukrainian 1st Galician division of the Waffen SS, a locally raised unit under the control of Nazi commanders. The descendants of this virulent nationalist movement continue to hold Bandera aloft as their anti-Russian ideological figurehead. Bandera has been linked with a series of incidents of wartime genocide carried out upon ethnic Poles and Jews in some of the worst crimes Europe has ever witnessed.
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Many of its proponents also play leading roles in Ukrainian civil and political life, and have enjoyed support and indulgence from the West. The US does not in itself have an ideological proclivity towards neo-Nazism, at least in the mainstream, but its policies come down to a question of power politics. Washington often pushes its rivals against each other, much like all preceding empires have followed the strategy of divide and conquer, and it has on several occasions had an interest in supporting fascists as leading adversaries of the Soviet Union and Russia.
The current efforts to remake Eastern Europe into an anti-Russian front line are once again incentivising the glorification of war criminals from WWII as the leading lights of Ukrainian statehood.
Allies against the Soviet Union
When Nazi Germany invaded the USSR in 1941, future US president Harry Truman argued that “if we see that Germany is winning the war we ought to help Russia [sic], and if Russia [sic] is winning, we ought to help Germany and in that way let them kill as many as possible”.