by Raffaele Crocco

The Azov Battalion is back. For the Ukrainians, the heroes of Mariupol are back, those who resisted the Russian invader and barricaded themselves in the Azovstal steelworks until May 2022. For the Russians, the worst representatives of Ukrainian neo-Nazism are back on the battlefield, the very neo-Nazism that they wanted to wipe out with the invasion that began 77 weeks ago.

The Azov Battalion became famous for resisting in Mariupol, precisely, but it was already known in the world for its obvious nationalist and neo-Nazi roots, which it showed in the first years of this war, in 2014, when fighting against the Russian secessionists had begun. Russian-speaking men from the Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine made up the unit. They were all captured after surrendering in May 2022 and, following Russian-Ukrainian prisoner swaps, were released and taken to Turkey, where they spent 300 days. Now about 900 fighters are back on their lines. This has been stated by the head of the planning department of the National Guard, Mykola Urshalovych. They are deployed in Serebryanske Forest, Lugansk region.

The battle goes on. The Ukrainian counter-offensive has been dragging on for weeks, and the allies – led by the United States – are restless and disappointed. After two months of effort, the results are poor. This is what Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalensky said when he explained to the Ukrainians that “we have to be patient if we want to win, the counter-offensive is complicated and it may be slower than we thought”. In the meantime, lives, towns and vehicles are being crushed by the infernal machine of war. No one stops feeding it, even though no one shows the ability to win. The United States has announced that it is ready to send another 200 million dollars in military aid to Ukraine. But within NATO, the idea of starting serious negotiations quickly seems to be gaining ground.

That leaves aside the controversial remarks of Stian Jenssen, the right-hand man of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. Jenssen said this week that “ceding some territory to Moscow could be the solution to Ukraine’s NATO membership”. Words that angered the leadership in Kyiv and forced Jenssen to a precipitous backtrack. But there is a sense in international chancelleries that Kyiv’s European allies are increasingly tired and militarily struggling and that the momentum in Ukraine’s arms race may be running out.

The stalled counter-offensive is certainly not helping. There has been little movement on the diplomatic front. Belarus has reiterated that it will not attack Ukraine unless it is attacked. The Kremlin’s support, however, is total and unwavering. On the domestic front in Moscow, however, the chess player Garry Kasparov, a great opponent of Putin, has come out into the open. In a lengthy interview with a Ukrainian media outlet, he said that “the fall of the mafia dictator Vladimir Putin will be inevitable after the liberation of Ukraine. The first problem today,” he continued, “is how to end the war. And there is no other way than the total victory of Ukraine. Because as long as Putin is in power, he will fight to the last dollar, to the last soldier”.

Political skirmishes continue on the international front, making it increasingly unlikely that Moscow and Kyiv will find common ground. This is confirmed by the decision of India, host of the G20, not to invite Ukraine to the summit on 9 and 10 September. Delhi is thus reaffirming its policy of non-alignment and confirming that the meeting will not be a stage for international security.

On the sidelines, some are looking at another devastating aspect of this war: the environmental impact. The situation is depressing. Yulia Svyrydenko, Ukraine’s vice-premier and Minister of the Economy, has made this clear. “In more than 500 days of war,” she writes, “almost 2,500 cases of environmental damage have been recorded, with the total damage estimated at 52 billion euros”. Indeed, some 174,000 square kilometres of Ukrainian land are potentially contaminated with explosives as a result of the Russian invasion.