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US-funded Belarusian regime-change activist arrested on plane joined neo-Nazis in Ukraine

Belarusian regime-change activist Roman Protasevich, whose arrest on a grounded plane caused a global scandal, joined Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion and was cultivated by the US government’s media apparatus.
by Ben Norton 

Part 3 - US government-funded Belarusian infowarrior fights alongside Ukrainian neo-Nazis

Roman Protasevich is one of the main Belarusian infowarriors whose career has been cultivated by the US government.

Following his arrest, Franak Viačorka, a top Tsikhanouskaya advisor who has also long been funded by Washington and its soft-power arms, tweeted that he and Protasevich had worked as “Havel fellows” at the US government’s propaganda arm Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL).

RFE/RL, which was originally called Radio Liberation from Bolshevism, was founded by the CIA to function as an information warfare weapon against the former Soviet Union, and continues playing the same role against the Russian Federation today.

Besides his stint at Washington’s RFE/RL, Protasevich also worked at European Radio for Belarus, a right-wing outlet funded by the governments of the United States, Poland, Netherlands, and Lithuania.

Viacorka noted that his friend had run a popular opposition propaganda channel on the messaging app Telegram, called Belamova, which was created by another US government-funded Havel fellow, Ihar Losik.

Operating from Poland, Protasevich also operated a Belarusian opposition Telegram channel called Nexta. Protasevich used these large platforms from abroad to organize protests and destabilization operations against the Belarusian government.

Protasevich fits the precise profile of the foreign-based Belarusian infowarriors funded by the US government, as NED President Carl Gershman had admitted: “We support the journalists … We support people if they have to flee the country, we support their temporary stay in other countries, and all the needs that they have.

Through the attempted color revolution, Protasevich has collaborated closely with Tsikhanouskaya, coordinating messaging for her regime-in-exile.

Immediately before his detention, Protasevich was in fact with Tsikhanouskaya in Greece for an opposition conference. He served as her photographer, taking photos of the Belarusian opposition leader as she met with top Greek officials, including President Katerina Sakellaropoulou.

Protasevich subsequently flew from Athens to Vilnius, Lithuana, the base of Tsikhanouskaya’s parallel government, when his plane, Ryanair flight 4978, crossed into Belarusian airspace and was ordered to land, and he was arrested.

The European Union forcefully condemned the arrest. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU Commission, called on Belarus to release Protasevich, while publicly offering the opposition a €3 billion ($3.67 billion USD) “investment package” if they overthrew Lukashenko – essentially bribe money to grease the gears of regime change.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the grounding of the airliner a “brazen and shocking act.” The State Department released a statement lionizing Roman Protasevich as a brave “journalist” representative of “independent media,” and former CIA agent-turned-State Department spokesman Ned Price demanded the “Lukashenka regime” release him.

While Western governments and corporate media outlets have vigorously marketed a Hollywood-esque portrait of Protasevich as a plucky grassroots reporter challenging a thuggish dictator, there is more to the story than the simplistic Western narrative has allowed.

The Ukrainian newspaper Mirror Weekly published a report on May 24 acknowledging that Protasevich had served in the press service of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.

Ivan Katchanovski, a political scientist at the University of Ottawa and expert on Ukraine, noted that Western media outlets have totally ignored Protasevich’s work with the notorious neo-Nazi militia.

Following the reports, Andriy Biletsky, a Ukrainian neo-fascist politician and former commander of Azov, confirmed in a Telegram post that Protasevich had indeed fought alongside the neo-Nazi militia.

Biletsky said Protasevich was wounded in the fighting with pro-Russian forces, although the former Azov commander insisted that Protasevich was engaged primarily in information warfare and not combat.

Biletsky lavished Protasevich with praise and, warning of the possibility of Belarus unifying with Russia, called on fellow far-right Ukrainians to join Belarusians in overthrowing the Lukashenko government.

While the former Azov leader claimed Protasevich was not involved in combat, photos that were subsequently published by the Ukrainian news website Strada directly contradicted his denial. The outlet found numerous images showing Protasevich holding an assault rifle while wearing Azov’s uniform, standing next to fellow neo-Nazi soldiers.

These photos were posted on the Russian social media website VKontakte, or VK, by the girlfriend of an Azov fighter, Irina Khalanskaya.

The stills clearly show Protasevich, who claimed to be a “journalist,” armed and in formation with the neo-Nazi militia.

Another photo uploaded in the same PK publication shows an Azov officer doing a fascist-style salute.
Researchers on Twitter also found photos of Protasevich wearing Swastika t-shirts from an explicitly neo-Nazi clothing line. 

Researchers likewise uncovered a 2015 edition of Azov’s newsletter, Black Sun, which depicts a man on its cover that some suspect may be Protasevich.

Azov published the issue on its official page on VK. It is not confirmed if the soldier in the photo was Protasevich, although facial recognition software suggests he may be.

But the name of the publication, Black Sun, says a lot about Azov’s political agenda. Known as the Sonnenrad, the symbol is a notorious white supremacist emblem first appropriated by Nazi Germany that has since been adopted by neo-Nazi groups around the globe. The image is especially popular as a tattoo, and many fighters in Azov and other neo-fascist gangs in Eastern Europe can be seen with it on their elbows.

The independent website FOIA Research investigated Protasevich’s social media accounts and found photos linking him to an array of far-right groups.

Protasevich got his start as a militant in the right-wing Young Front, a conservative Belarusian nationalist group that trained youths in how to shoot guns, co-sponsored rallies honoring World War II-era Eastern European Nazi collaborators, and organized violent protests against the Lukashenko government.

FOIA Research came across a Facebook post showing Protasevich participating in the Western-backed “Euromaidan” coup in Ukrainian capital Kiev in 2013 or 2014, where he helped destroy a statue of Vladimir Lenin. The website also uncovered numerous photos of Protasevich supporting neo-Nazi black bloc forces in Belarus.

On his Facebook page, Protasevich liked the Pahonia Detachment, a neo-fascist Belarusian militia that battled pro-Russian forces alongside Ukraine’s Azov Battalion. (Some researchers say that Protasevich served in Pahonia when he was in Ukraine.)

Tracking his Facebook posts, FOIA Research documented how Protasevich flew from Brussels to Washington DC in April 2018 for a series of meeting with US government officials.

Protasevich described his junket to Washington writing, “The most important week in my life begins.” He then posted a photo in the US State Department, commenting, “Never had so many important and interesting encounters in my life.

When Protasevich later became an editor of the popular Belarusian opposition Telegram channel Nexta, he was working alongside another regime-change activist named Stepan Putilo, known more commonly as Stepan Svetlov.

The New York Times heroized Svetlov in a puff piece titled “The 22-Year-Old Coordinating Protests in Belarus, From a Small Office in Poland.” What the US newspaper of record did not mention is that Svetlov also worked for Belsat, a Polish media channel funded by the governments of Poland, the United States, Britain, and numerous Western European nations.

Belsat has broadcasted constant propaganda against Belarus, seeking to destabilize the country and ultimately overthrow its government. To do so, FOIA Research noted that Belsat “regularly give[s] a platform to Belarusian nationalists and neo-Nazis,” and even published an open call for volunteers to go to Ukraine to fight against pro-Russian forces, accompanied by an email address and phone number for recruits.

Grayzone editor Max Blumenthal reported on leaked documents from the UK Foreign Office that named Belsat as a key weapon in a Western government information war operation targeting Moscow, its allies, and Russian speakers in Belarus and Ukraine.

The more complete portrait of Belarusian activist Roman Protasevich shows he is a prototypical example of a Western government-cultivated regime-change operative, with origins in neo-fascist groups and a comfortable career as an infowarrior cultivated by Washington and the European Union.

Protasevich constitutes another example of how NATO member states hypocritically pose as enlightened defenders of freedom and democracy, when in reality they support the most reactionary, far-right groups imaginable, in a cynical bid to advance their economic and political interests.

Since Protasevich’s arrest, the corporate media outlets that have celebrated him as a courageous dissident conveniently overlooked his entire political record, nervously shielding their eyes from the right-wing extremist recruited and trained by Western governments.



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