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09 July 2015


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William R. Cumming

Thanks for this post!


What do you feel, cp, why does Poroshenko do this?

Something else on my mind. There usually was the argument over here these extreme right forces, while apparently well connected to ours over here, didn't show up significantly during elections, or in votes. Basically, this was used to claim, at least to the extend I recall, Russians used some insignificant minority for propaganda.

ex-PFC Chuck

Thanks, CP, for this informative post.

IIRC there's a term for the analysis of the significance of military insignia. "Heraldry" comes to mind but it doesn't seem quite right to me. I associate "heraldry" with family coats of arms and the like. Can anyone here come up with the correct term, if "heraldry" is not it?


They didn't poll so well - Svoboda got 10.45% in 2012, and 4,7 in 2014. They got better results in Lviv.


When Tyahnybok ran for president he received just 1.16% of the vote.

What gave and gives them influence beyond polls and numbers is their presence and impact durcing the coup, which ensured that they had to be taken into the new government anyway, and they claimed four important offices/ministeries: The Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, the office of the deputy prime minister and the Ecology and Agriculture ministries. Members have joined police and security services.


An avantgarde doesn't necessarily need numbers or win elections, they may just march though the institutions, or on Kiev. They do have street power as they demonstrated during the coup, and demonstrate with the role that their volunteer units play.

Tyahnybok's general odiousness certainly didn't keep either Nuland or McCain from posing with him.



As for Poroshenko, I don't know. He seems under pressure to me. There is little he can respond to the nuts on the right and their charges for surrender. His letter to the constitutional court can be seen as an attempt at coup-proofing himself.

He probably also is under pressure from the neocons who oppose Minsk II also. Hard to say.


Wow, and all this time we've been told it's Putin and the Russians who are the Nazi equivalents…Seriously, it might be interesting and useful for someone to look into any historical continuities between contemporary US policy in regards to Russia-Ukraine, and Cold War Eastern European emigre lobbying groups, i.e. the Captive Nations groups, the Antibolshevist Nations, etc.

Richard Armstrong

XPFC. The term heraldry is correct. Most if not all western nations have military units tasked with maintaining the accurate history of the heraldry of units and the rules for use of such items. Wiki Army Institute Heraldry.

Symbols have meaning.

Groups or people who identify with military sigils having a dark history do so with specific intent.


Thanks, TP, of course I recognize McCain in the last image. And no doubt his presence made me wonder.

But as to the first image link, of course I recognize our most prominent VIP member in matters Vitali Klitschko in the back.

But is Tyahnybok on the left--imagewise--and the lady in the center is Nuland?


cp, tell me, of course I recognize McCain in your second and last tinyurl image link below the line: "Tyahnybok's general odiousness ...", but concerning the first:

I obviously recognize our most prominent VIP involved in matters Vatali Klitschko in the back, but, is that Nuland at the center and who is to her left? Or should I pay attention to the young man on her right?

I have to admit, yes, McCain's presence made me wonder to. I wondered too, why is attention from bomb-bomb-bomb-Iran could be diverted to the Ukraine so fast.

David Habakkuk


'One picture is worth a thousand words'. You have triumphantly vindicated this old popular journalist's maxim. The iconography of the Ukrainian paramilitary groups is, as you make clear, absolutely critical, and your discussion of it is the best I have seen anywhere, and will be an invaluable point of reference in future discussions here and elsewhere.

A few meandering observations.

Accounts in the Western media – such as an ABC report on the Azov Battalion base at Mariupol from March – show Western journalists apparently wilfully determined to accept the apologias of those involved. Having opened by writing that the 'first thing' you see entering the base are 'the swastikas', Nicholas Lazaredes goes on write:

'It is a confronting sight and when I query the young soldier assigned to show me around he is quick to correct me, pointing out that the symbol is in fact a "modified swastika" – more like the letter N crossed with a straight line.'

(See http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-03-13/inside-the-mariupol-base-of-ukraines-azov-battalion/6306242 .)

This kind of successful attempt to avoid noticing what is going on, which has been repeated ad nauseam in Western comments, illustrates is that people in the West have no idea of the intensity of the emotions lying beneath the surface in Ukraine – as elsewhere in the former Soviet space.

Equally, Western commentators appear to have no grasp at all of the ambiguous potentialities of the legacies of history.

An interesting example comes from a quite different part of the former Soviet Union. The president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences is Army-General Mahmut Akhmetovich Gareev, formerly Deputy Chief of the Soviet General Staff. A February 2013 piece in the Jamestown Foundation site, having described him as 'widely recognized as Russia's leading military theorist', described Gareev's ideas as being 'fully back in fashion among the defenses ministry leadership'.

(See http://tinyurl.com/peejblp .)

But then Gareev is not Russian at all, but Tatar, his religion is given on his Wikipedia entry as Sunni Muslim, and his childhood was clearly dominated by the traumas unleashed by collectivisation, before his father managed to reduce the economic burden on the family by placing him in a military school in 1935.

(From a biographical note in a 1997 discussion of Gareev's views by Jacob W. Kipp on the FMSO website: 'His family left Chelyabinsk in 1932 in the midst of famine and traveled six months to Tashkent … On the trip, the family lived in shanty towns at rail junctions, barely surviving.')

(See http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/confront.htm .)

The different vectors created by ethnic and religious background, the cataclysmic events of 1939-45, and experience of Soviet rule thereafter can be resolved in very different ways. If Gareev represents one extreme resolution, an opposite extreme is commonly found in the West Ukraine – where the traumas of its incorporation in the Soviet Union in 1939 and subsequent reincorporation in the wake of the Soviet victory are still fresh.

In those parts of Ukraine which were part of the Russian Empire, probably more so than anywhere else in the former Soviet space, the different vectors often pull in contradictory directions. And in a situation where the choices facing people are liable to change very rapidly, which way people will jump becomes, to put it mildly, unpredictable.

If, as now seems likely, the outcome of the 'colour revolution' which the West did so much to encourage in Ukraine turns out to be the country's descent into the status of a failed state, both the choices that people will face, and also the ways in which they are likely to react to them, may become unpredictable and unexpected.

The principal danger of escalation in the current situation, it seems to me, does not lie in Putin's deciding to attempt to cause NATO to implode by attempting a challenge in the Baltics: that is a fantasy which arises from the apparent belief of people in the West that the appropriate way to do intelligence is to use a ouija board. It lies in events run out of control in Ukraine, for reasons which have nothing to do with Putin's supposed machinations.

It seems to me likely that a great deal of argument is going on in Moscow about what might happen if Ukraine degenerates into chaos and what the appropriate responses might then be. And it also seems to me that there may be a good deal of incoherence.

So a recent piece by Rostislav Ischenko sets out what it has always seemed to me likely to be Putin's preferred approach: an explicitly 'Fabian' strategy, in which the 'Cunctator' avoids surrendering key positions, while also avoiding been drawn into conflict. It is a scathing denunciation of those – like Strelkov/Girkin – who accuse Putin and Vladislav Surkov of 'betrayal' because of their refusal to extend more support to 'Novorussia'.

(See http://fortruss.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/donbass-and-second-punic-war.html .)

But then, shortly before, Ishchenko gave an interview entitled 'The junta’s only chance is to retreat behind the Dnieper.'

(See http://thesaker.is/the-juntas-only-chance-is-to-retreat-behind-the-dnieper/ .)

Yet another recent statement by Ishchenko, however, discusses how the kind of federalisation which has been Putin's avowed goal all along could provide the basis for Russia to gain effective control or influence over all or most of Ukraine.

(See http://russia-insider.com/en/politics/russias-strategy-beginning-has-been-win-all-ukraine/ri8467 .)

The fact that Ishchenko is listed among the authors on the site of the 'Valdai Club' suggests that, at the least, his opinions merit being taken seriously. But then, as both his name and his title – 'President of the Center for Systematic Analysis and Forecasting, Ukraine' – suggest, Ishchenko is a refugee from Ukraine.

An interview he gave following the assassination of the Ukrainian writer Oles Buzina in April makes this quite plain, and is, I think, well worth watching.

(See http://thesaker.is/rostislav-ishchenko-about-the-assassination-of-oles-buzina/ .)

Far be it from me to suggest that Ishchenko – or indeed Gareev, who clearly shares his belief that those Russians who thought that the Western enemy in the Cold War was communism, as distinct from Russia, have turned out to be naïve fools – are impartial and disinterested witnesses.

But unless people in the West can begin to grasp the significance that symbols like the 'Wolfsangel' and 'Black Sun' have for people like Ishchenko or Gareev – or indeed, the very different responses the 'St George's Ribbon' conjures up in different parts of Ukraine – they are risking getting badly blindsided by events.

In the second piece to which I linked Ishchenko remarks that:

'Any third Maidan will just consist of armed men who will kill Poroshenko and install a real Hitler in his place, because Poroshenko isn't a real Hitler, and the Nazis need the real thing. It won't be a Maidan; it will be the next coup d'état.'

This is hardly an impartial assessment. But to make sense of what is likely to happen, it is necessary to realise that it is not simply totally detached from reality, and also that it is an assessment that will be made, in good faith, by significant sections of opinion in Russia and also some sections of opinion in Ukraine.

David Habakkuk


An absolutely excellent piece. I have attempted to post a comment, which has twice been put into spam. If you could retrieve the initial version, I would be grateful.


"Or should I pay attention to the young man on her right?"

You certainly should. The guy to Nuland's right is Tyahnybok; the young man with the glasses to her left is Nuland's and Pyatt's boy Yats.



It normally would be heraldry, but here ... it's is IMO more like knowledge in reading prison tattoos.


good points. It would certainly be interesting to delve into the question where these guys weathered the Soviet Union. For one certainly in Ukraine's Galizian backwoods, but then, I'd be curious what role exiles played.

There is a strong Ukrainian exile population in Canada and the US. Stephan Bandera iirc went to live in Munich, Germany (where the KGB assassinated him). These people were never forced to work up their past. Did they serve as a reservoir for denial and historical revision? To which extent were post-Soviet histories rewritten to match nationalist narratives?

Canadian historian John-Paul Himka writes on this, and he is being attacked for it by Ukrainian nationalist historians. Makes for an interesting read:



Have you studied prison tattoos, cp?

I just learned about them last week, as they are a major subtext of a murder mystery set in Moscow in 1936 that I enjoyed very much. The hierarchy of the Thieves, how their tattoos told their life stories, codes of honor, etc. all made the story more captivating.

The Holy Thief, by William Ryan http://www.amazon.com/Holy-Thief-Captain-Alexei-Korolev-ebook/dp/B003P9XM62/

The investigator is a Captain in a Criminal Division of the Moscow Militia and starts investigating a set of related murders that end up having political ramifications and more. This Captain struggles to be a good comrade and desires to work towards the communist future he's been promised, but he is an honorable man, and he secretly retains his bible and has not given up his religion (he pretends to be an atheist in public). He is also a former soldier, having fought in a couple of wars and revolutions. Very likable character. The author paints a vivid portrayal of what life was like then and there that I found easy to get lost in.

The second book in the series is set in Odessa, and is now the top book on my reading pile.

Back to the criminal tattoos... in the bibliography of the mystery was a 3-volume encyclopaedia of Russian Criminal Tattoos. Fascinating!


"your discussion of it is the best I have seen anywhere, and will be an invaluable point of reference in future discussions here and elsewhere."

Thank you for the kind words, I hope indeed that it will be useful in that way.

It is unnerving, to say the least, that it is necessary to point this out since it is so blatantly obvious.

I was more than dismayed when watching those intrepid ZDF investigative reporter folks going out to visit the Azov batallion, and note with alarm swastika's and SS runes on a few helmets - what a scoop - when these folks carry around all their ideological baggage with their badge plainly visible on every effing shoulder in plain sight.

Quite disappointing, to undertstate it. In defence of the ZDF, they got nothing on the US journos, who don't even see the swastikas if the Azov folks hit them over the head with them.

As for your other points, I need more time to ponder. I've been posting rashly of late, and that wasn't wise.


@CP you write: "So far, Poroshenko seems intent to adhere to Minsk II. "

Far from it. Minsk II demands not only a ceasefire but political action from Kiev to reunite in a federalist way with the separated parts in east Ukraine. It demands pension payments for the old living there and free access. A constitution is to be written in agreement with the people in Donetzk and new elections are to be held.

Not one point of the political action agreed upon in Minsk II was fulfilled by Kiev.

Poroshenko has separated those parts even more. Access is closed, gas and electricity cut off, no payments are made. Poroshenko has acted against Minsk II since the very moment he signed it.


You're correct. What I wanted to say was in that, unlike the ultranationalists, Poroshenko is apparently unwilling to resume open hostilities.

I should have put it better. So, thanks for giving me the opportunity to clarify.


the point of the reference was indirect invective. So, I don't know anything about prison tattoos, but I have seen the books you mentioned, and they DO look an interesting read :)


cp, I first got interested in prison tattoos when local ex-New England Patriots football player Aaron Hernandez showed up in court with a new tattoo on his neck. It indicated he had joined the Bloods gang, and it had the word 'lifetime' on it. Since he will be spending the rest of his life in prison it made sense to me that he would seek a role that would benefit him in that environment.

However the Russian criminal tattoos are much more elaborate and tell stories. If anyone is interested in this topic, here's an interesting piece http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/gallery/2014/sep/18/decoding-russian-criminal-tattoos-in-pictures


cp, I got so distracted by the topic of criminal tattoos, I forgot to thank you for your very informative post :)

Symbolism is important and has long been one of my interests. Studying the symbols (and the history of those symbols) that individuals and groups rally around tells one much about their nature and aspirations.

William R. Cumming

I am predicting Russian seizure of all of Eastern Ukraine before President Obama leaves office on January 20, 2017!

The Twisted Genius


Excellent! That so many journalists and politicians cannot see this element of Ukraine for what it is can only be called willful ignorance. A good part of Nuland's five billion dollars was used to train and equip Swoboda and Pravy Sektor activists in the years leading up to the Maidan coup. I hope she and the rest of that neocon cabal are proud of what they spawned.


Dear confused ponderer. I think you are staring your self blind on symbolism and forgetting that one symbol can mean different things for different people.

I know a lot of things that could be related to German nazism is banned by law in Germany. The problems still don't go away though. I remember a few years ago that a German clothing brand catering to German Neo Nazis was using the Norwegian flag as a nazi symbol. Same with Norwegian Names, names for places etc(our government complained to the chain repeatedly). For us Norwegians it's certainly not any thing Nazi about it, quite the opposite since it was banned during the German occupation. But for these German Neo nazis it was a sign of their ideology.

Now as for Russia and Ukrainian Nazism. It's endemic in Russia and Ukraine, but is more muted in the Ukraine after the fall of the previous government. A reason for this is that these movements are seen as too "out there" to be a threat to Putin. During Yanukovych presidency he followed a similar policy, but it eventually came back to bite him.

Now as for Azov, yes I think they have their roots in Neo-Nazi movements, Facists. Generally the extreme right. They might have been ideologically watered down by new recruits or an influx of "western political correctness"(something that seems to have been turned into something negative by some people).

Now here is a good story from vice news from the other side during the fighting in Shirokino:

Now an interesting image is available at 7:48

You can see there are a lot of symbols that might indicate an adherence to the nazi ideology in his tatoos. I'm not sure if he is a Russian with a Ukrainian passport or someone from Russia proper. But no matter he fights on the Russian side. So we have Nazis fighting Nazis on the Mariupol front. That's weird. The thing is that neo nazism and it symbolism is widespread in eastern Europe. The less western oriented the more this symbolism is in the open. What it means to these people however likely varies between groups and individuals.

Now as for Nazis taking over in Kiev, I'm not concerned at all. I'm more concerned about them getting control of the corruption.

Ps. It looks like That symbol with a Lion and three crowns was copied by the 14th Waffen SS from the Swedish coat of arms. The swedes call their national hockey team the three crowns. Interestingly this could also be about Ukraines history since Rurik was supposedly Swedish. And one of the three kingdoms that the Kievan Rus were a formation of was Galicia–Volhynia.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingdom_of_Galicia–Volhynia Which happens to have a Lion as the coat of arms. Is it a Nazi symbol or a national symbol for these people? Maybe it's both.



Speaking of ghosts of the past...

Angie & Vicky do the Balkans ;)

Why Angela Merkel's visit to the Balkans matters http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2015/07/08/chancellor-merkel-in-no-mans-land.html
The opportunistic interest of China and Russia in the region show clearly that the Balkans remain the soft underbelly of Europe. If these trends are to be countered in the absence of the United States, an increasingly reticent power, Germany needs to step up. Berlin needs to be more active in fostering investments and economic growth, consolidating democratic institutions, and leading a fight against blossoming corruption and organized crime -- all things Merkel seemed to promise at last year’s regional summit.

Victoria Nuland set to visit Western Balkan countries http://www.mia.mk/en/Inside/RenderSingleNews/289/132719468

Some good background here... The Great Game in the Balkans http://www.leksika.org/tacticalanalysis/2015/1/22/reviving-the-great-game-in-the-balkans


Excellent, David. Couldn't have put it better myself.

But here is the great danger. Russians, both the people and the government, understand these symbols, and thus understand what is at stake in the civil war in Ukraine. They are psychologically prepared for war, as a civilization, and are prepared to do what it will take to win it, up to, and including, the employment of tactical nuclear weapons if that is what it will take.

We have no understanding of the full meaning of these symbols, and as Ukraine continues to lose this war, economically, militarily, and politically, we may attempt to interevene militarily, which will bring 'The Troops' the shock of their young lives as Instant Sunshine illuminates them. Briefly.

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