A New ABN?
"Idel-Ural" and Banderite Foreign Policy
The weekend after New Year’s Day, on the eve of fruitless negotiations between US and Russian officials in Geneva, Ukrainians participated in small protests around the world under the banner, “Say No to Putin.” The far-right-powered Movement to Resist Capitulation (Rukh Oporu Kapitulyatsiyi, ROK) in Ukraine launched the day of action, championed abroad by the Ukrainian World Congress, headquartered in Toronto. The global campaign was in fact led by the internationally active OUN-B, the clandestine “Banderite” faction of the far-right Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which today pulls the strings of the ROK and UWC, but decades ago helped the Nazis perpetrate the Holocaust in Ukraine.
In light of recent events in Kazakhstan and widespread speculation about an imminent Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Banderites used the opportunity to promote a cause which they’ve so far failed to get off the ground: to create a 21st century successor to the Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations (ABN, 1946-96), a self-described coordinating body of anti-Russian, anti-communist organizations representing the “submerged nations” of the Soviet Union. The OUN-B was essentially the vanguard party of the extremist Bloc, which long insisted upon the inevitability of World War III. As a lazy writer I often refer to Scott and Jon Lee Anderson’s description of the ABN in the 1980s as the “largest and most important umbrella for former Nazi collaborators in the world.”
At the January 9 protest in Kyiv, a retired colonel in the Ukrainian armed forces who participated in the Euromaidan, fought in the Donbas, and later co-founded the “Free Idel-Ural” organization, Syreś Boläeń, declared the need for a new “united front” against Russia, characterizing the conflicts in Kazakhstan and eastern Ukraine as part of a single war waged by the Kremlin. Boläeń, himself half-Russian, was born in the Mordovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1958, and moved to Ukraine at the age of twenty. Forty years later he co-founded Free Idel-Ural. In 2019, Boläeń was inaugurated in Kyiv as the Inyazor, or “chief elder” of the Erzyans, a subgroup of the indigenous Mordvins (aka Mordovians).
Last year Boläeń became the first person to address the United Nations in the Erzya language. “Erzya, as indigenous people in Russia, can survive the COVID-19 pandemic, but not the Russian repressive regime,” he said to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. “International pressure on Moscow is the only vaccine that can save us from the last phase of ethnocide.”
“Idel-Ural” refers to the Republics of Mordovia, Chuvashia, Mari El, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, and Bashkortostan in Russia’s Middle Volga region. As shall be seen, Boläeń and his obscure, small group are closely tied to the Ukrainian far-right, and the Bandera Organization in particular. (One of the other two Free Idel-Ural co-founders may very well be an OUN-B member.) I suspect that the “Idel-Uralians” would have a significant part to play in a hypothetical new ABN.
The nationalist Euromaidan Press reported that the “Say No to Putin” protest in Kyiv was co-organized by the Movement to Resist Capitulation and “Free People,” an OUN-B front more or less coordinating the ROK that in turn is a member of the Toronto-based International Council in Support of Ukraine (ICSU). The latter, originally called the World Ukrainian Liberation Front, is an international coordinating body of OUN-B “facade structures,” mostly in the diaspora.
The former “Home of the Organizations of the Ukrainian Liberation Front” in Manhattan served as the headquarters of the American Friends of the ABN. Likewise, the OUN-B and ABN shared an international headquarters building in Munich during the Cold War, which the Banderites allegedly sold in recent years. According to a Banderite think tank in Ukraine directed by an OUN-B member who sits on the ROK Coordination Council, “Resistance Movement” organizers of the international “Say No to Putin” campaign want to “create a global anti-imperial front” against Russia.
In 1995, present-day ICSU president Borys Potapenko began an article in the ABN Correspondence, “Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the next imperialist structure to undergo a similar process will be the former RSFSR or what is known today as the Russian Federation.” The ABN dissolved months later, in 1996, the year of its 50th anniversary, but in conclusion, Potapenko declared the continued necessity of a “dynamic organization” like the ABN to champion “the national rights of the countries in the Internal Russian Empire struggling to achieve their independence.”
The day after the protest, the ROK held one of its regularly streamed “ШтабOnline” (Headquarters Online) meetings, which usually appear to be held in the contemporary OUN-B headquarters building at 9 Yaroslaviv Val street in Kyiv. The “Resistance Movement” lists this address as its own on Facebook. The stream’s title reflected the meeting agenda, including the part on forming the anti-Russian front that Boläeń and others spoke of: an “Anti-Imperial Bloc of Peoples” (Antyimpersʹkyy Blok Narodiv, ABN).
The meeting, chaired by Andriy Levus, the OUN-B leader of the “Resistance,” featured the OUN-B Providnyk, Stefan Romaniw of Melbourne, Australia, plus Ukrainian politician Hanna Hopko, and a Canadian OUN-B member, Oksana Sokolyk, who is the principal of a Ukrainian Saturday school in Toronto. Three days later, a member of the ROK Coordination Council gave an interview with the Canadian Banderite “ForumTV,” during which they discussed “the idea of creating a collective interstate resistance to Russia.” Being the ignorant Amerykanskyy I am, I don’t know what was said about creating a new ABN during these online events.
Hopko, a friend of the OUN-B and Washington, also attended the January 9 protest in Kyiv. She chaired the Ukrainian Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee in 2014-19, during which time she took great interest in Russia’s ethnic minorities, and has since then chaired the annual high-level “Zero Corruption Conference” in Kyiv, supported by the US Agency for International Development and US National Endowment for Democracy (among other donors). Early last year, Hopko participated in an online conference organized by the Center for US-Ukrainian Relations, an OUN-B front directed by its top member in the US. At the time, I noted that she elicited smiles and laughter “when she alluded to her dream of balkanizing Russia, however indicated it is something she is deadly serious about.”
When Hopko uploaded a clip of this moment to social media, journalist Leonid Ragozin tweeted, “Fun video of a Ukrainian politician imagining her visit to the future Idel-Ural state in what is Russia’s Volga region today. Idel-Ural is a Tatar-centric nationalist project which most prominently manifested itself as the namesake of Hitler’s Ostlegionen unit.”
In 2020 I wrote a screed against the obscure Captive Nations Week, proclaimed by the US president every July for over 60 years, in which I suggested that Dean Rusk, JFK’s Secretary of State, was likely referring to Public Law 86-90’s recognition of “Idel-Ural” and “Cossackia” as “captive nations” when years later he said that the congressional “Captive Nations Resolution” (PL 86-90) was “one of the wildest kinds of cold war kind of thing you ever see in your life.”
George Kennan, the architect of Washington’s Cold War “containment strategy” against the Soviet Union, bemoaned later in life that Public Law 86-90, which established Captive Nations Week and paved the way for the private, far-right National Captive Nations Committee, symbolically committed the U.S. to the liberation of countries “invented in the Nazi propaganda ministry.” The ABN played a prominent role in the so-called “captive nations movement,” and had a relationship with the two principal authors of the joint congressional resolution (one of them perhaps only years later). To quote from my “Death to Captive Nations Week”:
The ABN’s Idel-Ural and Cossackia committees indeed originated in Nazi Germany’s conquest of the Soviet Union. Vasili Glaskov, a longtime leader of the “Cossack Liberation Movement” who appeared at a 1950 ABN conference in Scotland, was a Nazi puppet during World War II. In those days he proclaimed “Cossackia” to be “in the hands of the Great World Reformer,” Adolf Hitler, who “categorically decided to end the Jewish-Bolshevik plague.”
The ABN’s Idel-Ural component most likely traced back to the Nazis’ World War II-era Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories, known as the Ostministerium (East Ministry), and perhaps the Wehrmacht’s Idel Ural Legion. Gerhard von Mende, a Baltic German Nazi, led the Caucasus branch of the ministry. His boss, Alfred Rosenberg, was executed in 1946 as a result of the Nuremberg trials, but the West German government soon enough set von Mende up with an Eastern Europe Research Service to continue his work, trying to manage what remained of the ministry’s anti-Russian “national committees.”
Some of von Mende’s former acquaintances wound up joining the ABN, and even its leadership. The CIA received word that von Mende allegedly shepherded his Ostministerium contacts into the arms of the Banderite-led Bloc, supposedly as a talent pool for British intelligence, which did in fact support the ABN and OUN-B in the early years of the Cold War. “MI6 first contacted [OUN-B] through Gerhard von Mende in April 1948,” according to a book published by the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
According to CIA documents from 1949-50, there was a small “Idel-Uralian group” in West Germany led by a “Sultan” who fulfilled assignments from von Mende. “The mutual relations among the Sultan GARIB, the other members of the group, and [Gerhard von Mende] are very good,” noted a CIA report, because “they all are old acquaintances from their joint labors in the East Ministry.” A communique from an ABN press bureau in 1950 reported that one “Mr. Galip Sultan, Chairman of the New Union of the Struggle for Independence of Idel-Ural,” spoke at that year’s ABN conference in Scotland — presumably this is the same person.
Pavlo Podobed is perhaps the OUN-B member most passionate about Idel-Ural. A year ago I wrote an article about him for Defending History: “Meet the Nationalist Custodian of Ukraine’s New ‘Virtual Necropolis’.” In it I noted that Podobed has been associated with the Prometheus Security Environment Research Center (PSERC) in Kyiv, which according to its website is partnered with the Canadian government. The NGO’s name is a nod to interwar Polish leader Józef Piłsudski’s project of supporting non-Russian independence movements within the Soviet Union. Pavlo Podobed is apparently their chief analyst. The first English language article on the PSERC website was by Podobed, titled “Idel-Ural: Polyethnic Volcano of the Russian Federation.”
Last year I noted that “Podobed appeared in two PSERC videos wearing a t-shirt glorifying the Nachtigall Battalion, a Wehrmacht unit staffed by the OUN-B that arrived in Lviv on June 30, 1941, and later that summer became Schutzmannschaft Battalion 201. Both formations were ultimately commanded by the Germans and participated in the Holocaust by Bullets in 1941, the year emblazoned on Podobed’s shirt.” Former Nachtigall Battalion commander turned Shutzmannschaft Battalion 201 captain Roman Shukhevych went by the nom de guerre of Taras Chuprynka as the leader of the OUN-B’s Ukrainian Insurgent Army in 1943-50. In 1949, the British Foreign Office learned of an alleged ‘Chuprynka plan’ to divide the USSR into “four distinct regions”:
1) Siberia; 2) the Caucasus; 3) Turkestan; 4) the “Scandinavian-Black Sea Unit.” It is this last-named division which contains the Ukraine proper, the other components being “a free Karelia,” the Baltic States, White Ruthenia (Belorussia), “Kozakia” and “Idel-Ural.”
So far I haven’t been able to find it again, but I’m almost positive I once saw a photo of Podobed giving a lecture with the below map of the ‘Chuprynka plan’ on screen:
In 2018-19, Podobed wrote two articles for the Eurasia Daily Monitor, published by the neoconservative Jamestown Foundation, which was founded under CIA auspices in the 1980s. I mentioned Paul Goble, a “kooky analyst at the Jamestown Foundation” and former CIA analyst, in the piece I wrote last year about the same online conference organized by OUN-B that Hopko participated in, and the fact that during this webinar he referred to “the borders of what Russians consider their country.” Also in 2018-19, Goble wrote a couple blog posts inspired by Podobed, such as: “Kyiv Must Support Idel-Ural Peoples by Focusing Attention on Orenburg Corridor, Podobed Says.”
“Start from the Orenburg corridor” is the name of an anonymous article published on the Free Idel-Ural website. Podobed wrote the first article on the PSERC website: “How to get out of the Orenburg corridor?” Back in 2013, Paul Goble ruminated on “The ‘Orenburg corridor’ and the Future of the Middle Volga” in the Eurasia Daily Monitor. They all want to see Orenburg oblast in southwestern Russia divided between neighboring Kazakhstan and an Idel-Ural state, so that the latter wouldn’t be entirely surrounded by the country it declares independence from. In 2016, Goble wrote another article for the Jamestown Foundation publication titled, “Is It Time for an Updated ‘Anti-Bolshevik Bloc of Nations?’”
Roughly every other person in the Republic of Mordovia is Russian, and about 40% are Mordvins — one of the largest indigenous peoples of Russia — which includes several ethnic groups, the main two being Erzyans and Mokshas. In 2019, the “chief elder” of the Erzyans supported Syreś Boläeń in Ukraine as his successor.
Hanna Hopko and Pavlo Podobed attended Boläeń’s small inauguration ceremony in Kyiv, and so did a couple Banderites who parted ways with the Bandera Organization earlier that year. Also there was Yuriy Syrotiuk, a periodic contributor to the OUN-B weekly newspaper, the principal organizer of the annual “Bandera Readings” in Kyiv, and the far-right Svoboda party’s chief of political education. Perhaps most notable was the attendance of far-right Poroshenko ally Andriy Parubiy, the ex-chairman of Ukrainian Parliament (2016-19) and a leading figure in the ex-president’s European Solidarity party, who directed the paramilitary wing of the neo-Nazi predecessor to Svoboda years before commanding the Maidan Self-Defense Forces during the so-called “Revolution of Dignity.”
Months before his inauguration as Inyazor, Boläeń shared a photo on Facebook of himself with members of a far-right rock band associated with the Svoboda party. As already seen, on the first night of 2019, Boläeń took a picture at an annual tochlit march in Kyiv honoring what would have been OUN-B leader Stepan Bandera’s 110th birthday with Ruslan Koshulynskyi, the deputy head of Svoboda and a far-right presidential candidate endorsed by the extremist Right Sector and neo-Nazi C14 organizations. Boläeń’s inauguration later that year was undoubtedly a boon to his relatively new Free Idel-Ural organization. In conclusion I want to shine a spotlight on one of the other co-founders of this Ukrainian nationalist NGO.
I said that Pavlo Podobed is perhaps the OUN-B member most passionate about Idel-Ural, because I’m not sure that Rostyslav Martynyuk is a sworn member of the Bandera Organization. Martynyuk, however, is definitely a friend and ally of the OUN-B, and plausibly a member. He is, among other things, the chairman of the supervisory board of Podobed’s Heroyika Charitable Foundation, based in Kyiv and Toronto, which funds the construction of memorials to historic fighters for Ukrainian independence. Something else they may have in common: I’m not sure if Martynyuk is of “Idel-Uralian” descent, or like Podobed, just a Ukrainian enthusiast.
In the spring of 2016, Rostyslav Martynyuk spoke at an “Anti-Occupation Forum of Ukrainian Affairs” organized by the OUN-B at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy. It featured the usual suspects (all OUN-B members): Volodymyr Viatrovych, director of the Ukrainian Institute of National Memory; Taras Grebenyak, director of the Stepan Bandera Center for National Revival; Andriy Levus, head of Free People; and Serhiy Kvit, the Education Minister. “Within the framework of decolonization, it is necessary to act together with other peoples oppressed by Moscow, in particular, the Finno-Ugric [i.e. ‘Idel-Uralian’] peoples,” Martynyuk said.
A month earlier, the OUN-B’s Ukrainian Information Service promoted a lecture he gave in Kyiv (“The invisible countries of Russia: the grounds for the uprising”) for the violent neo-Nazi C14 organization’s Education Assembly. The flier’s background consisted of a burning Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Less than a year ago, Rostyslav Martynyuk shared online a photo of him with the neo-Nazi frontman of the same far-right rock band that Syreś Boläeń had his picture taken with — so that makes two out of three co-founders of Free Idel-Ural.
Martynyuk has participated in the far-right “Bandera Readings” numerous times, an annual event started by the Svoboda party during the Euromaidan. Martynyuk spoke at the second, third, seventh, and eighth Bandera Readings (2015, 2016, 2020, 2021). In 2017, he joined the event’s main organizer, Svoboda political education chief Yuriy Syrotiuk, to talk about a book of speeches from the Bandera Readings for a nationalist book presentation program on Youtube run by Iryna Farion, perhaps the most controversial person in the Svoboda party leadership. I’m guessing that Martynyuk is a member of Svoboda. Back in 2014, the Svoboda leader actually declared the need for an “Anti-Imperial Bloc of Peoples” (ABN).
In September 2021, Martynyuk moderated a conference organized by the Prometheus Security Environment Research Center, “Ukraine and the Finno-Ugric World.” This event was also attended by the usual suspects: Pavlo Podobed, Hanna Hopko, and Syreś Boläeń, plus someone I believe is an OUN-B member, Viktor Yahun, a major general in the Security Service of Ukraine who I mentioned in my last blogpost and you can expect to hear more about in my next one.
Rostyslav Martynyuk is good friends with at least a few prominent OUN-B members, including Viktor Rog, the Svoboda-linked OUN-B newspaper editor, and Hennadiy Ivanushchenko, the curator of the OUN-B archives in London. On New Year’s Day 2020, Martynyuk attended the torchlit demonstration in Kyiv for Stepan Bandera’s 111th birthday. On New Year’s Eve 2021, he recommended two personal “books of the year” to his 5000 Facebook friends, both of them published by an OUN-B front, and one of them on the history of the ABN. (Hopko shared his Facebook post.) I’ll wrap this up with some photos shared by Martynyuk on social media that I think largely speak for themselves.
Instead of focusing on WHY so many kinds of people are now being driven to organize opposition to renewed Russian oppression, the author has focused on trying to show that new activists somehow fit into the frameworks of the older, almost defunct OUN and ABN organizations. The only commonality the activists of old and new activists have is that they fought and are fighting for the same personal and national freedoms. The organizations the new activists have or are creating are also new. Why is the author doing this? Is he purposely trying to discredit their work by associating them with the partially tarnished images of OUN and the ABN that Russian propaganda has worked so hard to create?