Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy’s address to the Greek parliament on Thursday caused an outrage from opposition parties after a man who identified himself as an ethnic Greek member of Ukraine’s ultranationalist Azov battalion appeared on a video.
Zelenskyy spoke about the destruction of the Russian-besieged Ukrainian port of Mariupol – home to thousands of ethnic Greeks – and appealed to Athens for help.
During his speech he showed a video with a message by a man who identified himself as a member of the Azov battalion, a far-right militia now part of Ukraine’s National Guard.
“I address you, as a Greek by origin. I am Mikhail, my grandfather fought against the Nazis… I participate in the defence of Ukraine through the Azov Battalion,” he said.
Zelenskyy, who was invited to address the Greek parliament by conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, received a standing ovation from lawmakers present in the room.
But the video caused a backlash on social media and an angry reaction from leftist parties.
Shortly after the speech, the head of the leftist SYRIZA party Alexis Tsipras said the incident was a provocation. “Solidarity with the Ukrainian people is a given. But the Nazis can not have a say in parliament,” he tweeted.
His tweet had won more than 3,900 likes by Thursday evening.
A Greek government spokesman responded that the message of a member of the Azov Battalion was “mistaken and inappropriate.”
Western countries say Moscow’s invasion, the biggest assault on a European country since World War Two, was entirely unprovoked. Russia says it is carrying out a “special operation” to disarm and “denazify” its neighbors.
Ukraine’s embassy in Athens said the Azov regiment, set up as a far right group in 2014, has been reformed and integrated into the National Guard of Ukraine. “For many years Russia tried to ‘plant’ into Greek minds the myth that “Azov” Regiment is a paramilitary independent unit operating in Mariupol,” it said. [Reuters]