Western media continued its tradition of whitewashing far-right extremism in Ukraine this week, reporting that Italian police busted a neo-Nazi gang ‘linked’ to Russia – but this alleged link was dreamed up out of thin air.
Italian police said on Monday that they had seized a cache of weapons and Nazi memorabilia belonging to a neo-Nazi group operating in northern Italy. The bust was part of a year-long investigation into extremists who had fought “against the separatists”  in the Donbass region of Ukraine.

Rather than fighting “against” the rebels in eastern Ukraine’s breakaway regions, as the police statement made clear, the extremists in question were actually fighting “alongside” the pro-Russia separatists. The neo-Nazis fighting for Kiev in eastern Ukraine had magically morphed into pro-Russia militants aiding the separatist cause.

Why exactly the police changed their original statement remains unclear, but it did give the BBC the perfect opportunity to quietly amend its false story, dumping the Russia link and replacing it with the more vague assertion that the extremists had simply taken part “in the conflict in eastern Ukraine,” echoing the altered police statement.

When contacted by RT, Italian police also said there had been an “error” in the initial press release and claimed that police had not said anything about “which side” the fighters belonged to. Except that in the original statement, they very clearly did specify a side.

This was confirmed again by Roberto Vivaldelli, a journalist for the Il Giornale newspaper, who reported that even during a press conference on the raid, the head of the Turin Counterterrorism Service, Luigi Spina, said that the Italian neo-Nazis “had helped Ukrainian nationalist groups in the fight against pro-Russian Donbass groups.”

Many news outlets still have not corrected their stories claiming an imaginary link to Russia, despite neither of the two police statements ever having claimed one. The story swept across social media too, with influential Western reporters from other outlets tweeting out the news with the usual mix of disingenuous shock and dismay.

It’s certainly possible that Western reporting on the Italian weapons bust was not even intentionally incorrect, but that a few reporters who were accustomed to a certain narrative just got the facts backwards because nothing else made sense to them – and the rest followed suit: Russia is bad and linked to everything bad. Why would you even need to fact-check or dig any deeper?

From then on, the only acceptable narrative was that anyone on the side of the pro-West Ukrainian government was a heroic freedom fighter and anyone on the separatist side was a terrible Russia-loving troublemaker. This was despite ample proof that the US-installed government was relying on neo-Nazi battalions to fight separatists in the east and actively encouraging dangerous levels of nationalism and anti-Russia sentiment against ethnic Russians living in the breakaway regions.

Even when Ukraine played host to a massive neo-Nazi march in 2017, Western media ignored it. Encouragement from Kiev combined with lack of interest from Western powers emboldened these groups. But soon their activities could no longer be ignored and media outlets began acknowledging the very real rise of neo-fascism in Ukraine – a problem they had happily turned a blind eye to for years because it simply didn’t suit them to admit that they were, essentially, on the same side as the neo-Nazis.

With their recent knee-jerk decision to link Italy’s neo-Nazis to pro-Russia separatists instead of Ukrainian nationalists, it looks like they’ve gotten their Ukraine facts conveniently mixed up again. 

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