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In the wake of the extraordinary forced landing of Ryan Air flight 4978 by the Belarusian government (described by Ryan Air as a state-sponsored hijacking), the state-supported Russian media launched a campaign against Belarusian journalist and activist, Roman Protasevich.

They claimed he is a Neo-Nazi, and specifically a member of the Azov Battalion, a far-right Ukrainian National Guard unit. They published photos of Protasevich ostensibly wearing the Azov uniform.

A June 2021 Euronews discusses the allegations:

Many posts say he fought with the Azov battalion, some of whose soldiers have been known to harbour white supremacist and neo-Nazi views.

Some online claims about Protasevich also contain photos of a young man bearing resemblance to him in a military uniform, often surrounded by soldiers wearing the insignia of the Azov battalion.

In other pictures, he is brandishing a Kalashnikov rifle and smiling for the camera.

The article also covers dissenting views:

AFP news agency says it has not been able to verify that Protasevich was the man on these pictures.

[...]

According to Euvsdisinfo.eu -- a website of the European Union's foreign service set up to counter alleged Russian disinformation -- the claims are a deliberate attempt at Protasevich's online denigration.

Was Roman Protasevich a member of the Azov Battalion?

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Probably the most reliable source available is Meduza, a Russian journalistic site. Meduza is an independent publication which has been dubbed a "foreign agent" by Russia due to receiving donations from overseas. Notably, they offer a translated quotation from an Azov soldier:

I remember him in Urzuf [outside Mariupol, where Azov operated a training base]. He was this young guy [he was 20]. Biletsky didn’t trust him because he showed up and started with “So where are the other Belarusians? Let me at ’em.” People figured he was collecting information, so there was never much trust and they didn’t involve him in any operations. He did a bit of basic training, took some selfies with a weapon at the shooting range, and probably realized that he wouldn’t be joining the team, so he left. Did he fight? If so, I don’t think it was with Azov.

They also analyze several photos claimed to be of Protasevich, finding them inconclusive, and several statements by and about Protasevich which appear ambiguous. A statement which may or may not derive from him claims that he opposes Communism and is fighting a "Russian Putinist horde" threatening all of Russia's neighbors. He also expresses sympathy with Paval Sieviaryniec (a Christian Democrat) and Mikola Statkevich (a social democrat affiliated with the Socialist International).

It is unclear from the available evidence whether Protasevich was an embedded and sympathetic journalist or if he was interested in fighting. I see no evidence at all that he was engaged in any actual combat, or that he expressed any sympathy with neo-Nazism.

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    thanks, that is a good question and I have updated with an answer – Avery Jun 15 at 18:22
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    @FluidCode it's legally based in Latvia. feel free to research the reasons why if you like – Avery Jun 16 at 17:05
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    @FluidCode - You must be aware that despite the problematic history surrounding the profits from the .io domain and the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, which would make your statement almost correct (the domain is not controlled by the military, but the islands are and part of the money goes to the British Crown), many startup companies without any governmental connections from a variety of countries have used these domains because of their availability and their association with "input-output." – Obie 2.0 Jun 16 at 17:57
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    Your comment, which seems to imply that it is suspicious for a Russian company to have a .io domain, almost seems to be in bad faith. As for a why a company that is critical of Putin might not have servers in Russia...well, probably for much the same reason that Edward Snowden does not live in the United States. I do not think that requires much explanation. – Obie 2.0 Jun 16 at 17:59
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    @fdb Meduza is an independent journalist outlet, registered in Latvia, but published in Russian and covering Russian, post-Soviet, and other Russian-language stories. They've been declared a foreign agent by the government (among many other independent media, NGOs, etc), allegedly for receiving foreign funding, although the official ruling does not disclose anything, and the law that allows this is muddy at best. You could call them left-leaning, but imho they're much less biased in either direction than Russian state media. – Gallifreyan Jun 16 at 18:06
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Member? Definitely. In what capacity? It is not entirely clear.

According to the Azov Commander Andriy Biletsky's official Telegram account (Archive:

Roman, together with Azov and other military units, fought against the occupation of Ukraine. He was with us near Shyrokyne, where he was wounded. But his weapon as a journalist wasn’t a gun, but the word.

In this interview, Protesevich basically confirms the above (except that he was with Azov):

I'll tell you more: I was reporting in the ATO [Donbass conflict area] zone [...] I was wounded, but I was still a journalist

Last summer, (when he first became widely known, but before any accusations of being in Azov), his father said in an interview:

When he was in Donbass and fought on the side of the Ukrainian army [...]

He's retracted that comment after his son's arrest.

A reporter from the US-funded RFE/RL subsidiary, Current Time TV, asked Protasevich's father in 2021 why he told their reporter, last year, that Roman had fought.

Protasevich was found in the photos of a 2015 military parade that Azov organized in their ranks, as an ordinary trooper:

Photo of a man in uniform

Photo of men in uniform

So his role was from serving in Azov in a PR role to actually fighting and hiding the fact, and anything in between.

EDIT: oh wow, when looking at the transcript of the YT video, with the interview of Roman's father, in response to a comment about providing a translation, I saw that right after the interview with Roman's father, where I'd stopped watching, they actually have another interview(starts at 9:14, https://youtu.be/PCA5vGPQlUM?t=554 and as a reminder, Current Time TV is US-funded RFE/RL subsidiary) with Vladislav Sobolevsky, the Azov chief of Staff for Mariupol where he confirms the veracity of the photos, including the Black Sun magazine cover, but says that Roman was there as a journalist, not a formal Azov fighter and he just liked to pose with guns in uniform because it was cool. The veracity of the second part of his statement is debatable, since one of the photos he confirms the veracity of is this one:

Censored and un-censored versions of Protasevich in camouflage with a gun

The censored version of which is from a 2015 Radio Liberty interview with a Belorussian Azov fighter, who's identity was concealed at the time: https://www.svaboda.org/a/27255566.html. It could still be that, just like posing with guns, Roman wanted to be seen as a warrior and lied about his role to the Radio Liberty journalist, but there is no question as to the veracity of the photos.

As to the question of translations, I checked and Google translate works well enough to confirm what I'm saying for the written articles and as for the video, the YouTube transcript can be copy pasted into Google translate, that works well enough for the interview with Roman's father, e.g.:

сегодня днем я созвонилась с отцом романом он не смог выйти к нам эфир очень много встреч говорит о не супругой практически не спят уже третьи сутки я спросил а почему же тогда в киеве моей коллеги юлия жукова и он говорил что роман воевал и вот ответ дмитрия

but not for the part with Azov's chief of staff, since that's Ukranian that's been machine transcribed as Russian(almost all the video is Russian, so the Google bot got confused) and is potato quality. I'd welcome any suggestions for English language sources, but from what I've found, the only good English language articles on the matter are from RT, which I don't want to use, because I'd be accused of sourcing Russian propaganda(I deliberately only linked to neutral, non news sources or American funded media for this reason), while Western media sources don't have the domain knowledge and just seem to take whatever the Ukrainians say on the matter at face value.

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    This is largely just a repeat of the claim rather than adding new information. The photos (or similar) were in the EuroNews article. It was explained that it had not been confirmed that these were pictures of him. How do you know they are him? – Oddthinking Jun 16 at 19:43
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    A reminder: Speculations about what someone was thinking or motivated by in any situation are off-topic here. – Oddthinking Jun 16 at 19:44
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    1) Whether you think your speculations are fair or not is irrelevant; they are still off-topic. – Oddthinking Jun 17 at 1:01
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    2) Please try to avoid conversations in the answer text. – Oddthinking Jun 17 at 1:01
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    3) We have an audience for both hemispheres, and hopefully this answer is going to be referred to over several years, making "Last Summer" rather less than clear. Unfortunately, a reference to a Russian interview without transcription and translation is also limiting the audience who can check your references immensely. – Oddthinking Jun 17 at 1:04

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