Photo featured in article by Público last year (title: Ukraine, the military training camp for the world's extreme right)

Portuguese neo-nazis to fight in Ukraine

Among group is former Hammerskins member Mário Machado, founder of ‘Nova Ordem Social’

A small group of Portuguese neo-nazis is said to be preparing to join the ranks of foreign fighters supporting Ukraine, writes Expresso.

They are due to leave Lisbon on March 20, and will be taking with them ‘money and weapons’.

This is the first time Portugal’s mainstream media appears to have given space to the already well-documented links between Ukraine and neo-nazi armed battalions since the start of the Russian invasion.

The ‘history’ goes back years, long before this current crisis – and for many this will be shocking.

But for Expresso this week, the legacy is fully acknowledged. The paper’s story focuses on the group of eight ‘nationalists’ (the paper’s description) led by Mário Machado “who will be joining the troops of Volodymyr Zelensky” in a little over a week’s time.

“Because he is obliged to present himself at a police station every fortnight due to a process he is the target of for the crime of incitement to racial hatred and violence over social networks”, Machado has to return for that purpose” – in other words, he cannot be out of the country for very long.

The group he is leading is understood to include one Portuguese woman, named as ‘Ana’ and described as “proud to belong to the extreme-right”.

Expresso refers to a tattoo Ana has on one leg, with the numbers 88. These apparently correspond to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H. “HH is the abbreviation of the nazi salute “Heil Hitler”, Expresso explains.

Ana is understood to have ‘guaranteed’ that her ideology will have no influence on her mission. “My help will be valuable, independent of whether who needs it is or isn’t Jewish”, she tells the paper.

“Ana says she has no fear of the scenario that awaits in Ukraine. ‘Any day is a good day to die. We have to live without fear’, she told Expresso’s reporter Hugo Franco.

The paper claims the eight will be joining a militia of the Ukrainian extreme-right wing in Lviv.

It is not an Azov Battalion, Expresso insists. Azov are the “most powerful armed neo-nazi Ukrainian group”, the paper adds, moving on to describe how the group of Portuguese nationalists have been “finalising the details of their trip through encrypted messages on Surespot and Wickr Me”.

José, another member of the group, tells the paper how easy it is to access and use these apps without giving any personal data or information.

“We just create a nickname and we can limit the time messages are available, making it much more difficult for screenshots to be taken, and making communication more secure”, he explains.

It seems to have been José who told the paper that the eight will be taking with them €5000, military clothing and a bullet-proof vest.

It is at this point that one has to pause to take-in the picture: every day; almost every hour, straight-forward everyday people-turned-selfless volunteers are leaving Portugal, laden with supplies (food, medication, hygiene products: our own paper has written about some of these initiatives over the last week or so). Every day also, military aid and supplies find their way into Ukraine – from the EU; from the US – and now we learn that not only are neo-nazis deeply involved, more are joining their ranks (and it’s anything but a secret…)

As we wrote this text, ‘breaking news’ declared: “European Union responds to Russian threat: “We will continue to send arms to Ukraine”.

The EU’s high representative Josep Borrell assured Spain’s El Pais at lunchtime: “We will continue to send arms to Ukraine as many as we can. And we will continue to sanction Russia”.

Concerned readers will be hard-pressed however to find anything in today’s flurry of headlines relating to the neo-nazi battalions ‘hidden in plain sight’.

Are these also benefitting from the weaponry sent by Ukraine’s allies?

It goes without saying that none of the atrocities perpetrated by the Russian military on the Ukrainian people can be in any way excused by the fact that neo-nazis are involved in the fight to protect those Ukrainians and their cities, towns and villages – but the wider implications of these battalions entrenched in the conflict are mind-bending.

As investigative journalist Maajid Nawaz commented at the beginning of March: “This is like the KKK being granted a formal battalion, replete with insignia and regalia, in the US armed forces. It’s like the British army having a formal National Front battalion. It is absurd, it is dangerous and it is shocking”.

“What happens to these Nazis serving as organised battalions for Ukraine in victory? Do they continue to spread and recruit like a cancer across Europe’s armed forces as they have already been doing?”

Expresso doesn’t entertain these kind of questions. Its report sticks solely on what is happening, and how it relates to Portugal.

AZOV recruits in Portuguese

So, accepting the Azov Battalion is active in Ukraine, and fighting against the Russians, the paper describes how “a few days ago, it began recruiting over its propaganda channels on Telegram (another app) in Portuguese.

“With the flags of Portugal and Brazil at the top of the text, the ultra-Ukrainians give advice on the most secure routes for volunteers to enter Lviv or Kiev, as well as areas to avoid because of the risk of ambush by Russian troops”.

The messages go: “If you have your own equipment, like First Aid equipment, helmets, military clothing, military equipment, sleeping bags and pillows, armaments, bring them with you also”.

But they warn that people can only enter Ukraine with guns if they have licences for them.

Any volunteers will also be divided into two groups: those with previous military experience, and those without.

Those with previous military experience will be given arms first”, say the posts. “The rest of the volunteers will be given military training and training in First Aid/ paramedic classes”.

The various Telegram groups connected to the Azov Battalion all refer to foreign volunteers, once “established in Ukraine” likely to be linked with an International Force for Territorial Defence. “Many of these foreigners could end up joining that militia, as has been happening for the last few days.

“We already have a group of Spaniards, Swedes, Belarusians and Britons. We don’t have any Portuguese yet”, one of the Azov recruiters told Expresso.

“So far, military volunteers have been in touch from countries such as the United States, Colombia, Turkey, Croatia, Serbia, Argentina, Brazil, Australia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia and Vietnam.

“According to the data of a study by the Soufan Center, an NGO that studies extremist phenomena, at least 4,000 foreign volunteers are already involved in this Ukraine militia. There is reference to one Portuguese having fought in the Azov Battalion between 2014-2019. The number could be a little higher, according to recent reports”.

Expresso’s text ends every bit as unsettling as it began: “There is an umbilical connection between extreme-right Portuguese movements with these Ukrainians, with seminars and martial arts competitions being held both in Portugal and in Ukraine in recent years”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com/ sources Expresso/ Guardian/ The Hill/ Jerusalem Post/ Radical Dispatch