An ethnic Greek fighter of the Azov battalion in Mariupol who appeared in a short video shown by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky during his speech at the Greek Parliament on Thursday caused controversy in Greece.
The man identified himself with only his Christian name as Michail and said he was a member of the controversial Azov regiment defending Mariupol.
“I speak to you as a man of Greek descent. My name is Michail. My grandfather fought against the Nazis in the Second World War. I [was] born in Mariupol and I am now also fighting to defend my city from the Russian Nazis,” he said before proceeding to outline the destruction caused to Mariupol since the Russian invasion of February 24.
His message can be seen at 15’30” in the following video:
Main opposition SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance leader, Alexis Tsipras, strongly criticized the fact that a member of Ukraine’s Azov Battalion has been permitted to address the Greek parliament.
“Solidarity with the Ukrainian people is a given. But Nazis cannot be allowed to speak in parliament,” Tsipras said in a message on social media.
“The speech was a provocation,” Tsipras emphasized, adding that the Greek Prime Minister “bears full responsibility” for this day of “historic shame.”
Η ομιλία μελών του νεοναζιστικού Τάγματος Αζόφ στη Βουλή των Ελλήνων αποτελεί πρόκληση.
Την απόλυτη ευθύνη φέρει ο ΠΘ.
Μίλησε για ιστορική ημέρα αλλά είναι ιστορική ντροπή.
Η αλληλεγγύη στον ουκρανικό λαό είναι δεδομένη.
Οι ναζί όμως δεν μπορεί να έχουν το λόγο στη Βουλή.
— Αλέξης Τσίπρας – Alexis Tsipras (@atsipras) April 7, 2022
The socialist KINAL party issued a statement asking why Greek lawmakers had not been informed about the video intervention of an Azov Battalion member and called on the president of the Greek Parliament to bear responsibility.
Government spokesperson Giannis Oikonomou said the inclusion of the Azov Battalion message was “incorrect and inappropriate.” However, he did not say who should be held responsible for this incident.
Oikonomou, nevertheless, slammed SYRIZA for allegedly “using that mistake… to justify the Russian invasion.”
“It is time for a clear answer: are they on the side of the Ukrainians, who are fighting for their freedom, or [on the side of] Putin’s invaders?,” he inquired.
The far-right Azov movement
The far-right Azov movement has been part of the military and political landscape in Ukraine for nearly a decade.
President Vladimir Putin framed the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a “special mission” to protect Russian speakers from genocide at the hands of the Azov ”neo-Nazis.”
Azov’s military and political wings formally separated in 2016 when the far-right National Corps party was founded. The Azov battalion had by then been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard.
An effective fighting force that’s very much involved in the current conflict, the battalion has a history of neo-Nazi leanings which have not been entirely extinguished by its integration into the Ukrainian military.
The battalion still operates as a relatively autonomous entity. It has been prominent in defending Mariupol in recent weeks, and its resistance has been widely praised by members of the government.
As CNN notes in an analysis piece, for Putin, who has falsely claimed Ukraine’s government is run by “drug addicts and neo-Nazis,” Azov presents an obvious target.
“Moscow has given the regiment an outsized role in the conflict, routinely accusing it of human rights abuses,” CNN says.