THE BLOG
09/05/2014 11:20 BST | Updated 09/07/2014 06:59 BST

The Nazi Hunters

Today Russia commemorates its victory over Nazi Germany. Moscow will see tanks parade down its streets and Crimea will witness planes fly above a watchful President Putin.

But everywhere Russians still see Nazis.

Ahead of this years poignant celebrations Crimea's acting head Sergei Aksyonov said in a Facebook post, "We will not allow the re-evaluation of the Great history of 1941-1945, the revival of fascism."

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, has consistently characterized the Kremlin's actions as that of a responsible international actor defending the region from a growing threat, in short - righteous.

Russia can rightly claim to have comprehensively put the Third Reich to the sword- yet nearly 70 years on it seems obsessed with giving fascism a new lease of life - or at least the crusade against it.

The crisis in Ukraine - with separatists still dueling with succession in the east - has brought much confusion to the table from all parties. But it's also highlighted one clear, unavoidable, historical oversight - many people don't know what a Nazi is, or a neo-Nazi coup.

Millions fell victim to the monstrosities of a rampant fascist power nearly seven decades ago - international actors today would do well to remember what that fight was against.

Far right groups have increased their clout in Ukraine amidst a post Yanukovych power vacuum. But this is a country of over 40 million people, those openly identifying with an ultra-nationalist cause are in the thousands.

Yet calls for separatism in Eastern Ukraine, as in Crimea, have been centered around a cry for ethnic Russians to oppose the supposed crawl east of Neo-Nazis - watching local media and referendum campaigns, it has been depicted as their patriotic duty.

The king of ironies is that a nation with a military many times the size of Ukraine's, now gesticulates near its borders in an apparent bid to save it from the throws of a past evil.

More to the point in Moscow and further east, the far-right has also seen an acute resurgence in ultra-nationalist sentiment, every year thousands march on the outskirts of Russia's capital, shouting such hatred as 'stop feeding the Caucuses'.

Russia's fourth largest parliamentary faction, the Liberal Democrats, have leant dangerously close to open support for far-right views. Putin's ruling party has done little to dampen xenophobic discontent, if not manipulate it for electoral gains.

If the Kremlin is in the business of thwarting fascists, there are many closer to home.

But 70 years on and the fascism card is still galvanizing - underneath it is an open-armed welcome at attempts to re-define Russia's presence in the international community. What the world is increasingly learning about modern Russia is that many, from politicians to the populace, would rather have power than popularity on the international stage.

But Russia's former allies in the fight against fascism are not viewed in a similar light now.

If Putin often appears bellicose in his dealings with Western ideals and idealists, he is popular for it on a domestic stage. For that the West must take some rap, particularly in light of recent events.

It would be charitable to say key EU figures waded into Kiev's internal affairs with little foresight towards any end game. There was a failure on the West's behalf to define the difference between a democratic movement and democracy in action. It was foolish to temporarily overlook the far-right gaining new powers on the back of popular protest - and even more so to think Russia would do the same.

This is not safeguarding or ignoring fascism - a charge some now put to those from Brussels to Washington - but it is lending unnecessary justification to a leadership that can benefit from exploiting the meaning of the word.

Amidst the euphoria of patriotism and nationalism, it is in fact Russians who may be at greatest threat of a creeping extremism.

Putin's fresh tenure as President has accompanied a swath of legislation that threatens the freedom of Russians - not Ukrainians.

Protesters in Putin's Russia must tread more carefully than before, prison and hefty fines are risked by anyone picking up a cause out of favour. Gay rights have suffered a serious setback and bloggers with high readership will shortly face the same open-ended scrutiny its media institutions do. There is another word for all this, censorship.

Whilst this is all done under the banner of preventing extremism, it threatens to extend the sufficient reach of a State with a tainted record on human rights.

This is how a torrid regime rose nearly 70 years ago.

In truth, Putin may not be the international bogeyman many in the West decry.

Though embodying ideals the UK, EU and US may struggle with, he is representative- but that does not mean his government is not becoming more repressive, disguised by an upturn in nationalism.

When rightfully commemorating the great sacrifice the people of the USSR paid fighting Hitler's Germany- those looking far and wide for infringed rights or freedoms might want to take a homeward glance.