The European Union and the United States have castigated the Belarus Government in harsh words, followed by strategic action, after a flight carrying Roman Protasevich landed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. Protasevich was arrested soon after and his arrest was condemned as an attempt to silence dissidents.
Western governments have hailed Roman Protasevich as an ‘opposition leader’ and a ‘journalist’. Some have even gone so far as to say that he is a ‘hero’. But revelations that have come since then that do not paint a very good picture of the 26 year old ‘activist’.
Roman Protasevich: His affiliation with neo-Nazi militia Azov Battalion
Grayzone reported on the 26th of May that Protasevich has extensive links to neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine. The ‘activist’ worked for the Azov Batallion, an explicitly neo-Nazi militia in Ukraine, in their press service. Images have surfaced that show the ‘activist’ in a military uniform holding an assault rifle.
There are also photographs available that show him wearing a neo-Nazi t-shirt with Swastikas on it (not to be confused with the Hindu swastika, which is a symbol of prosperity). According to the report by Grayzone, there is also significant evidence to suggest that he is a western asset cultivated to undermine Russia and Belarus.
Grayzone had earlier reported that the Azov Battalion had received weapons and military training from the United States of America to aid them in the Ukrainian civil war and discuss logistics and further cooperation. The Azov Battalion is reportedly a White-Supremacist group.
Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations Dmitry Polyansky said that the ‘activist’ was wanted due to his neo-Nazi links. He stated, “Mr. Protasevich indeed was a blogger but before becoming one, he had been a combatant in Ukraine and fought in the ranks of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, together with neo-Nazi and far-right groups.” “I think this is why the Belarusian authorities requested an international arrest warrant for him,” he added.
The coup in Ukraine driven by the Euromaidan protests also saw the participation of neo-Nazi elements. Western state media such as the BBC claim that they did not attract much attention but do admit that they played a major role in the clashes with the Police in central Kiev.
All of this clearly points towards the fact that the USA and western governments are collaborating with neo-Nazis in order to undermine Russia and its allied countries. The case of Aleksei Navalny follows a similar trajectory.
The problematic past of Aleksei Navalny
Aleksei Navalny has earlier referred to Muslim migrants as cockroaches and recommended the use of handguns against them. Apart from that, his support within Russia is vastly exaggerated in the western press and he remains a fringe figure in Russian politics to date.
Amnesty International withdrew its ‘prisoner of conscience’ status for Navalny after his controversial comments went viral on social media. Amnesty said that it is “no longer able to consider Aleksei Navalny a prisoner of conscience given the fact that he advocated violence and discrimination and he has not retracted such statements.”
New: @AmnestyUK withdraws designation of Navalny as a "prisoner of conscience." In email, Amnesty says it's "no longer able to consider Aleksei Navalny a prisoner of conscience given the fact that he advocated violence and discrimination and he has not retracted such statements." pic.twitter.com/E9m0e6lzT8— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) February 23, 2021
Considering Roman Protasevich, Belarus faces new sanctions and western governments have cut off the country’s aviation links over what they call the arrest of a ‘journalist’. But quite clearly, he was not a ‘journalist’ per se and is actually a western backed asset.
That western governments are openly backing neo-Nazis only goes on to confirm the very little extent to which ‘human rights’ figure in their foreign policy. For all their talk of ‘tolerance’ and ‘human rights’, they would not hesitate to back neo-Nazis if it helps them achieve state objectives.
Why lionizing Roman Protasevich is not a good idea
As University of Ottawa professor Paul Robinson argues in his article for Russia Today, “Describing Protasevich as a “journalist” or “reporter,” and painting him as a democratic activist, without mentioning his far-right connections, deprives readers of understanding the full picture.”
“Facts shouldn’t be suppressed just because they are politically inconvenient. Democratic principles rule out the notion that uncomfortable truths should be locked away in a cabinet, only to be let out when it’s safe for the public to know them. Once we head down that path, any pretense of democratic freedom goes out the window. People deserve to know the truth,” he adds.
The professor also observes that such agenda-driven reporting has adverse consequences. He wrote, “Ukraine is a prime example of this sad reality. The pro-Western revolutionaries who overthrew president Viktor Yanukovich in 2014 did so with the support of far-right groups, despite championing a more liberal stance themselves. Both they and their Western backers pretended that the neo-Nazis didn’t exist, or if they did, assumed they weren’t a problem. But others did notice them, and their presence helped to delegitimize the new government and sparked rebellion in eastern Ukraine.”
Robinson also takes offense to Politico journalist Leonid Ragozin describing Protasevich as a ‘healthy part of society’. He concludes, “Protasevich’s murky past is irrelevant to the rights and wrongs of his arrest, and it may indeed deflect attention from the misdeeds of the Belarusian state. But that doesn’t mean that we should act as if that past doesn’t exist – people deserve to hear the full story. Fair reporting requires one to tell the truth – the whole truth, and nothing but the truth – not only the bits of it that suit the agenda.”
While it is legitimate to oppose his arrest on the grounds that it is unjust to arrest dissidents merely for opposing the government, it does not appear sensible to lionize an individual with such problematic opinions. And needless to say, promoting neo-Nazis as ‘heroes’ would have devastating impact for the region specifically and the world as a whole.