In early February, Fredrik Hagberg stood at the rostrum in Kiev’s City Hall, offering fraternal and comradely greetings from Sweden to the sweaty, bruised, and exhausted Ukrainian insurrectionists scattered throughout. The place was festooned with flags—some celtic crosses, a stray Confederate banner, a standard for the political party Svoboda, whose members essentially controlled the building—reflecting the dubious politics of its occupiers.
Revolutionary tourists, thrill seekers, and parachute journalists suffused Kiev. Sen. John McCain, actress Hayden Panettiere, and French intellectual Bernard Henri-Levy roused massive crowds with paeans to freedom and national sovereignty, while offering moral support to the opposition forces led by former boxing champion Vitaly Klitschko.
But Hagberg, a square-jawed and baby-faced member of the Swedish armed forces, had a darker message.
“I stand before your forces of revolution to tell you about what your future might be if you fail your glorious endeavour,” he said in fluid-but-clipped English. “I stand here as a Swede. However where I come from is no longer Sweden.” Hagberg warned Ukrainians that a successful revolution must chart a path that carefully avoided the evils of abortion and ethnic mongrelization, one that harshly punished welfare abuse and rejected the normalization of homosexuality. “Officials in Sweden like to calls us the most modern country in the world. I say to you, brothers, this is what awaits you if you choose to follow our example. You now have the opportunity to choose and create your own future. Do not accept the trap of choosing either the West or Russia.”
It’s unclear who, if anyone, invited him, but Hagberg was speaking as a representative of Nordisk Ungdom (Nordic Youth), a Swedish neo-Nazi group that celebrates “a traditional ideal of a better man, striving for something greater and more noble than his own personal benefit; an idealistic man who fights for Europe’s freedom.” Visitors to the group’s English-language website are met with with a Barbara Kruger-like advertisement beseeching visitors to “help us to help the revolution! Support a free Ukraine! Donate Now...” Because Hagberg is trying to provoke his fellow neo-Nazis into travelling to Kiev to help shape a new, fascist-friendly Ukraine.
Amongst the fascists, ultra-nationalists, and racists in Europe, there has been much griping that the revolt in Ukraine has been overtaken, if not controlled from the outset, by “CIA/ZOG [Zionist Occupied Government]/Soros-sponsored” forces. The Euroscepticism of the continent’s far-right movements has produced a skepticism of the uprising’s much-discussed Europhile mainstream.
But Pro-Yanukovych forces and the former president’s Kremlin allies have heavily promoted an alternative narrative—one that Hagberg and his allies happily embrace—suggesting that the protest movement is in fact honeycombed with dangerous neo-Nazis affiliated with the extremist Ukrainian political parties Svoboda and Right Sector. Therefore, Western supporters of the protests, like John Mccain, are agitating on behalf of violent Ukrainian fascism.
It’s a modified version of the Kremlin’s argument against Western support for Syrian rebel groups, which it says has amounted to material support for al-Qaeda-sponsered terrorism. And like with Syria—and the Spanish Civil War before it—sympathetic European extremists are travelling to provide support to their ideological brethren.
“We just got boots on the ground and are discussing with Svoboda representatives and other nationalists what we can assist with,” Magnus Söderman, the neo-Nazi organizer of the Swedish Ukraine Volunteers (Svenska Ukrainafrivilliga), told me. “Our message to them is that we will assist with whatever; clearing the streets, security, making food.”
On the group’s website, stuffed with hackneyed neo-Nazi propaganda, potential volunteers are told that “we do not organize any paramilitary force because our involvement is of a civil nature, as aid workers. Of course, should violence break out we will make use of our right of self-defense.” (The site advises recruits to “improve your physical fitness” before travelling to Kiev.) Ukraine, the group says, is facing an existential threat and “we must secure the existence of our people and the future of our white children!”
According to the group’s newly constituted Facebook page, a representative of the Swedish Ukraine Volunteers recently “visited the parliament and established important contacts” amongst local politicians, presumably those affiliated with ultra-nationalist parties Svoboda and Right Sector. The idea of foreign volunteers is “a good initiative,” said one member of a fascist message board in Sweden, “and I give my full support to Mikael Skillt and other party comrades who are travelling down to help our brothers in the east.”
Mikael Skillt is well-known in Swedish neo-Nazi circles. A spokesman for the vigilante group Stop the Pedophiles and a veteran of various now-defunct fascist organizations, Skillt is currently affiliated with the Party of the Swedes (SvP), a neo-Nazi group founded by members of the less camera-friendly National Socialist Front. According to its website, SvP “has good contact with [Svoboda] who were guests at our conference Vision Europe just under a year ago.”
When I contacted Skillt he was in Moscow, on his way to agitating in Kiev. So why does Ukraine need a fascist international brigade? “We are scanning the needs of the Ukrainians, but we will be offering [them] our help in whatever they need,” he told me. “We have members with experience in most fields, ranging from military to truck drivers to journalists.”
When I asked if he had canvassed the opinions of Russian neo-Nazi groups while in Moscow, Skillt told me, with predictable obliqueness, that he had “heard some [Russian] nationalists who have spoken of a revolution inspired by Ukraine.”
So how large is the international brigade of ultra-nationalists? A European journalist who follows the movement of European jihadists to Syria—and now fascists migrating towards Kiev—told me that there was indeed scattered evidence that neo-Nazi groups outside Sweden were making pilgrimages to Ukraine. When I asked Magnus Söderman if there was a network of other Nazis on the ground, he told me that “comrades from other European countries are also preparing to assist if it is needed.”
And while most European far-right groups have been coy about providing on-the-scene support for groups like Svoboda, the ecosystem of ultra-nationalist websites seem heavily focused on supporting Svoboda’s bid for political power in post-Yanukovych Ukraine. An article praising Svoboda on the webite of the extreme-right British National Party enthused that “a group of our Polish comrades from the [neo-Nazi] Falange organization visited Ukraine” to support the party and the revolution. (Last year, members of the Polish Falange travelled to Damascus to offer support to Bashar Assad.)
While numbers are difficult to gauge, authorities in Sweden don’t see the threat as equivalent to the migration of Scandinavian jihadists to Syria. A spokesman for Säpo, the Swedish security service, told the tabloid Expressen that “the security service is only interested in Swedes that travel to take part in terror-related activities in other countries, like al-Qaeda inspired groups in Syria.”
The Swedish Ukrainian Volunteers wouldn’t provide numbers of those who had either arrived--or committed to join—their sturmabteilung in Kiev. Söderman said he didn’t “foresee any major numbers [of Swedish neo-Nazis] going since the modern world don't make men as it once did. During the war between Finland and the Soviet Union about 12,000 Swedes went over—and that was in wartime.”
“If we get 50, all in all, I will be very proud.”