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German Embassy tweets Russia to slap down claim its troops are fighting Nazism in Ukraine

‘Shame on anyone who’s falling for this,’ embassy says

Andy Gregory
Monday 07 March 2022 09:07 GMT
A protester in Brussels carries a sign that shows a mash-up portrait of Putin and Hitler
A protester in Brussels carries a sign that shows a mash-up portrait of Putin and Hitler (NICOLAS MAETERLINCK/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)

A German embassy has slapped down a claim from its Russian counterpart that Moscow’s forces are “fighting Nazism in Ukraine”.

On Saturday, as Vladimir Putin’s widely-condemned invasion of Ukraine entered its 10th day, the Russian embassy in Pretoria claimed to have “received a great number of letters of solidarity from South Africans, both individuals and organisations”.

“We appreciate your support and glad you decided to stand with us today, when Russia, like 80 years ago, is fighting Nazism in Ukraine,” it tweeted.

In response, the German embassy in South Africa said: “Sorry, but we can’t stay silent on this one, it’s just far too cynical.

“What Russia is doing in Ukraine is slaughtering innocent children, women and men for its own gain. It’s definitely not ‘fighting Nazism’.

“Shame on anyone who’s falling for this. (Sadly, we’re kinda experts on Nazism.)”

The Russian embassy’s claims echo those made by Vladimir Putin when he announced his “special military operation” on 24 February.

Mr Putin insisted his aims were to “demilitarise and denazify” Ukraine – a reference to narratives the Kremlin has long propagated in its bid to delegitimise the Kyiv leadership – in order to “protect” Russian speakers “subjected to bullying and genocide” in the Donbas.

As with much effective propaganda, Mr Putin’s claims are based on shreds of truth.

International rights organisations have previously expressed concern about the violent actions of far-right groups in Ukraine – groups which, in some instances, have been lent a level of legitimacy by officials.

Under former president Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian government is alleged to have given funding for the far-right group C14 to promote “national patriotic education projects”, while militia-run guard forces have been allowed to patrol cities.

Meanwhile, the infamous Azov battalion – which fought pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk and was integrated into Ukraine’s National Guard in 2014, winning praise from Mr Poroshenko at the time – has admitted recruiting neo-Nazis.

However, there is very little public support for such ideologies within Ukraine.

Volodymyr Zelensky – who is Jewish and lost family members in the Holocaust – won the presidency in a landslide vote in 2019.

Last month, his government brought in new legislation criminalising antisemitism, reportedly in response to an uptick in antisemitic vandalism, following long-voiced calls from activists for the government to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach to rising far-right violence.

While there is no evidence of the “genocide” referred to by Mr Putin, the United Nations estimates that long-simmering and at times brutal conflict in the Donbas region has claimed around 3,407 civilian lives.

On Sunday, the UN’s human rights commissioner said at least 364 civilians had been killed and 759 injured since Mr Putin’s invasion began, but warned the number was certainly far higher, pointing to allegations of potentially hundreds of deaths in the heavily-shelled town of Volnovakha.

Most of the civilian casualties recorded were caused by the use of explosive weapons with a wide impact area, including shelling from heavy artillery and multi-launch rocket systems, and missile and air strikes, the UN said.

Some civilians killed during the Russian bombardment on Sunday in Irpin, close to Kyiv, are reported to have fallen next to a memorial commemorating those who died in the Second World War.

Russia continues to maintain that it is not hitting civilian targets – despite widespread footage and reports of mounting casualties and residential buildings wiped out by explosives. The International Criminal Court has launched a war crimes investigation into events in Ukraine dating back to 2013.

In addition to the criticism from Berlin’s embassy in South Africa, Germany’s chancellor Olaf Scholz has also recently branded Mr Putin’s claims of a genocide in eastern Ukraine “ridiculous”.

However, the reaction to Mr Putin’s war in South Africa has been mixed, with the government seeking to maintain a neutral stance.

The country’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, has faced criticism in some quarters for failing to condemn the Russian invasion – with South Africa among 17 African nations to abstain from voting on a UN General Assembly resolution calling for Moscow to withdraw from Ukraine.

However, the turbulent youth wing of his African National Congress party has gone further, calling the UN resolution “dubious” and claiming the “unwarranted economic sanctions” against Moscow are a “reminder of Europe’s once demonic detriment of countries that wanted independence in Africa”.

In a statement retweeted by the Russian embassy, the group claimed that “the charlatanic war talks by both Boris Johnson and Joe Biden force Moscow to defend itself” and denounced Nato’s “fascist expansion to the east”.

Writing in the Daily Maverick newspaper on Sunday, Ray Hartley and Greg Mills of the Johannesburg-based Brenthurst Foundation think-tank suggested it was “notable that by far the most impassioned announcement on Ukraine made to date has been the cry of pain from the ANC’s spokesperson, Pule Mabe, over the cessation of broadcasts of Russian TV”.

“The ANC, like Putin, finds itself not only on the wrong side of history, but flogging the wrong version of history too — it has decided it will stand with the opportunists and not the democracies,” they wrote, warning that “the consequences of this ANC line have yet to fully play out”.

But in an interview with the same website, US deputy secretary of state Brian McKeon downplayed any suggestion that South Africa’s relations with Washington were at risk.

“We seek strong relations with the Republic of South Africa and one vote is not going to change our view on the importance of the bilateral relationship,” he said.

The Independent has a proud history of campaigning for the rights of the most vulnerable, and we first ran our Refugees Welcome campaign during the war in Syria in 2015. Now, as we renew our campaign and launch this petition in the wake of the unfolding Ukrainian crisis, we are calling on the government to go further and faster to ensure help is delivered. To find out more about our Refugees Welcome campaign, click here. To sign the petition click here. If you would like to donate then please click here for our GoFundMe page.

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