It is often said that the plan is the first casualty of war, and so is truth. When we talk about the Russia-Ukraine war, there are versions of the truth being projected from all sides. The Russians are portraying this war as a preemptive strike to stop NATO’s expansion in its immediate neighborhood, while Ukraine and its Western supporters are projecting this invasion as a part of the grand Russian strategy intended to restore the lost glory of the Soviet empire.
However, when we talk about the Western perspective on this war, we should take it with a pinch of salt given the long history of sophisticated use of information and disinformation by Western countries in pursuit of their imperial strategy. For the last few years, we have seen how Russia and China have been marked as potent threats to the US-led hegemonic world order after the end of the Cold War. Therefore, the Western projection of Russia and China could be anything but objective.
Response from Global South
This war has generated a multitude of responses globally. Some have taken sides, and there are a lot of countries that have opted for neutrality to prevent escalation with global consequences. However, Winston Churchill once said that “neutrality during the course of the war is a luxury that no country can afford.” Therefore, I firmly believe that this luxury to stay neutral will soon dissipate, and smaller and medium powers will be pushed to take sides.
Whereas, the Global South, which is largely composed of countries that have remained on the receiving end of the American hegemonic order, there is a tendency to look at this war from an anti-imperialist perspective. At the societal level, President Putin is being seen in these countries as a challenge to American exceptionalism, which brought to the world, especially the Muslim world, quite a few illegal invasions, CIA-sponsored colored revolutions, and corrupt regimes that were more aligned and inclined towards the West than serving the cause of their people or population.
When we talk about the responses from the Global South, again, these responses are quite diverse. We cannot say that the Global South has responded to the Ukraine-Russia war as a monolith. When we talk about America and its Western allies, they are looking at this war as an opportunity to isolate Russia diplomatically, militarily, and economically. However, economically, Western choices are curtailed due to their heavy reliance on Russian energy.
German Chancellor, Olaf Schulz said that an immediate embargo on Russian fossil fuels means bringing Germany and the entire Europe into a state of inflation, a sort of economic crisis never seen in Europe after the 1930s. Therefore, the Western or European aspiration or ambition to substitute Russian energy is going to be a challenge. Why? Because Europe depends on Russia for 30% of its crude oil and 50% of its petroleum products. Qatar, which is the third-largest producer of natural gas, stated that it’s practically impossible to replace Russian gas, which constitutes 30 to 40% of the total volume of gas supplied in the world markets. So it’s not going to be an easy task.
Russians have weaponized their energy in the same manner that the West has weaponized its financial institutions, so it’s a tit-for-tat situation.
A New Variant of “Jihad / Holy War” Against Russia
The large-scale mobilization of far-right extremists against Russia, is unprecedented in recent history, except the times of the crusades. According to recent estimates, thousands of foreign fighters have traveled to Ukraine to participate in another “Holy war” against Russia. This represents a different version of “Jihad” for Russia, one that is not from turban-clad militants in Afghanistan, but rather, from skinheads Christens in Ukraine. These fighters come from 52 different countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, and Eastern Europe, which is under the strong grip of far-right extremism.
Meanwhile, there are several countries where ultra-nationalists subscribing to a very divisive ideology have taken political control, such as the Justice and Law Party in Poland, which has formed a majority government for the last six years. This has led to thousands of individuals subscribing to these ideologies and traveling to Ukraine to join training camps established by the Azov Battalion.
What is Azov Battalion
The Azov Battalion is a Ukrainian far-right extremist group that was banned in different parts of the West only recently. However, as soon as it started to serve the Western geostrategic interests, it is no longer a banned extremist organization in the Western capitals. The Azov Battalion subscribes to a far-right ideology that seeks to create the dominance of the white race over others. The founder of the Azov Battalion, Andriy Biletsky, is on record saying that the national purpose of Ukraine is to lead the white races of the world in the final crusade. Interestingly, the same guy became a member of the Ukrainian parliament in 2014 and was at the forefront of Maidan protests, which were labeled by the Western media as the Ukraine spring or protests for democracy against authoritarianism, but at the forefront were individuals who subscribed to this ideology.
The rise of far-right mobilization in the aftermath of the Ukraine-Russia war is a serious and alarming issue that warrants our attention. This movement can be traced back to the war itself, which served as both a cause and a consequence of far-right activity.
According to the Site Intelligence Group, which monitors the activities of extremists of all kinds, there has been a significant uptick in virtual support for Ukraine in far-right circles. This trend is particularly concerning given the increasing number of foreign fighters who have traveled to Ukraine to join the conflict.
It is worth noting the stark difference in how foreign fighters are portrayed by Western media depending on their affiliation. Those associated with ISIS are labeled as jihadi terrorists, while those who travel to Ukraine to fight are often hailed as heroes by far-right groups. This double standard is a concerning dichotomy that needs to be addressed.
The implications of this situation are dire. No matter which side emerges victorious in the conflict, Ukraine has become a breeding ground for far-right extremism. The thousands of far-right extremists who are currently gaining combat experience in Ukraine will eventually return home, where they will pose a serious threat to migrant communities, especially Muslims. We must take action to prevent this violent extremism from spreading and protect vulnerable populations from the far-reaching consequences of this conflict.
The way forward
In the context of migration and foreign fighters traveling to Ukraine, Western media need to act as neutral watchdogs instead of taking sides. Additionally, European governments should enforce laws that discourage foreign fighters from traveling to Ukraine, similar to laws enacted to discourage Muslims from joining extremist groups in the Middle East. While some European countries have discouraged their citizens from traveling to Ukraine, the US and UK have yet to issue official statements on the matter.
The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has a strong ideological side, which may reflect deeper differences and disputes within Christianity between Rome and Orthodox Russia. Counter-extremist centers around the world should focus on deciphering this ideology and the different shades of far-right extremism that are mobilizing people to participate in this holy war.
Finally, the West is willing to tolerate all kinds of extremism as long as it serves their geopolitical agenda. This was evident during the anti-Soviet Jihad in the 1980s and in the rise of saffron extremism in India. As long as these extremist groups are fighting against Russia, the West is unlikely to take concrete action against them. International bodies like FATF tend to focus only on “green” extremism, which challenges Western interests and overlooks other forms of extremism that align with Western agendas.
[Photo by Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, via Wikimedia Commons]
*Mehmood Baloch is an Independent Research Analyst, who served at the India Study Center of ISSI and is also a Former Research Associate at South Asia Times. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect TGP’s editorial stance.