US Lifts Ban on Arming and Training Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Azov Brigade

By Dave DeCamp –

The State Department announced Monday that it has formally lifted a ban on arming and training the Azov Brigade, an infamous Ukrainian neo-Nazi military unit.

The Azov Brigade celebrated the news, saying the “eligibility for US assistance will not only increase Azov’s combat effectiveness.”

“This is a new page in the history of our unit. Azov is becoming more professional and more effective in defending Ukraine against the invaders,” Azov wrote on X.

The Azov Brigade was founded as a militia in 2014, known as the Azov Battalion, to fight Ukrainian separatists in the Donbas and was later absorbed by Ukraine’s National Guard.

The military unit’s founder, Andriy Biletsky, is known for his neo-Nazi and white supremacist rhetoric. In 2014, Biletsky was also the leader of an ultra-nationalist organization known as the Social National Assembly (SNA), which dissolved in 2015.

Members of the Azov battalion attend a Volunteer Day rally in central Kiev, Ukraine on March 14, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

BBC reported in 2014 that the SNA wrote in online publications that it aimed “to prepare Ukraine for further expansion and to struggle for the liberation of the entire White Race from the domination of the internationalist speculative capital.” The group also sought “to punish severely sexual perversions and any interracial contacts that lead to the extinction of the white man.”

Biletsky was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in 2014 and later left Azov due to a ban on elected officials serving in the military. He became the leader of the National Corps Party in 2016, which he still leads today, and lost his seat in parliament in 2019.

Supporters of the Azov Brigade have tried to rebrand the military unit and distance it from Biletsky. But the regiment still uses the Wolfsangel symbol, which is associated with neo-Nazi ideology, and its current leader has been associated with the wider Azov movement going back to 2014.

“The current leader of the Azov Regiment, Denis ‘Redis’ Prokopenko, is part of the core of the Azov movement since 2014, and served under commanders who went on to lead the Azov movement political and street wings,” Oleksiy Kuzmenko, a Ukrainian-American journalist told CNN in 2022.

US assistance to Azov was banned by an amendment to the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act. “White supremacy and neo-Nazism are unacceptable and have no place in our world,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said in 2018 when the bill became law. “I am very pleased that the recently passed omnibus prevents the US from providing arms and training assistance to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion fighting in Ukraine.”

The State Department claimed on Monday that Azov passed vetting under the Leahy Law, which prohibits military aid to military units that have committed human rights abuses. “After thorough review, Ukraine’s 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade passed Leahy vetting as carried out by the US Department of State,” the State Department said.

US military equipment has ended up in the hands of other neo-Nazi-linked groups in Ukraine, including the Russian Volunteer Corps, a militia made up of pro-Ukraine Russian-born fighters, some being Azov veterans. The RVC has used US armored vehicles in raids on Russian territory.

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