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Meta pardons Ukrainian neo-Nazis – minister

Content about the notorious Azov regiment will reportedly be freely posted on Facebook and Instagram again

The Azov regiment, a controversial Ukrainian unit with close ties to far-right movements around the world, will no longer be suppressed on platforms owned by the US tech giant Meta, a Ukrainian minister has claimed.

The pledge to change policy was purportedly made to Ukrainian officials by Nick Clegg, Meta president of global affairs, and Monika Bickert, the head of global policy management at Facebook during a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Ukrainian Digital Transformation Minister Mikhail Fedorov, who broke the news on Thursday, thanked Meta for a “balanced and important decision,” remarking that Facebook and Instagram, two social media platforms operated by Meta, were “powerful tools for spreading the truth.”

Azov Regiment originated as a right-wing Ukrainian nationalist militia, which coalesced after the 2014 armed coup in Kiev. The new regime deployed the army to suppress a rebellion in the east that rejected its rule, and welcomed volunteer battalions like Azov to join the effort. Later that same year, the unit was formally incorporated into the newly-formed National Guard by the Interior Ministry.

That formation became the core of a wider Azov movement, which has its own political party and a cadre of activists dubbed the “Civil Corps.” For years, it was considered by many observers to be a dangerous right-wing organization.

An expose published by TIME magazine in January 2021 reported that online recruitment and propaganda on Facebook allowed the Ukrainian movement to become the hub of “a network of extremist groups stretching from California across Europe to New Zealand.” The online platform first designated Azov a “dangerous organization” in 2016, but Facebook’s efforts to suppress its content were not particularly successful, the article noted at the time.

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FILE PHOTO. Azov paramilitary recruits in Kiev.
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The designation has now been lifted, according to The Kyiv Independent, but only for the national guard unit and not its auxiliaries.

“The war in Ukraine has meant changing circumstances in many areas and it has become clear that the Azov Regiment does not meet our strict criteria for designation as a dangerous organization,” a Meta spokesperson was quoted by the outlet as saying.

Amid the conflict with Russia, Azov and its backers have sought to rebrand the unit as brave defenders of Mariupol, the city that it used as a home base. The unit even changed its insignia to drop the neo-Nazi rune it had featured for years.

Mariupol was captured by Russian troops last spring. Hundreds of Azov fighters continued to hold out in the tunnels under Azovstal, a massive Soviet-era steel mill, before surrendering in mid-May.

January 20, 2023 at 03:05PM

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