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US may have secretly trained Ukrainian neo-Nazis

American special forces allegedly worked with the notorious Azov Brigade in defiance of a State Department ban

American instructors were training members of the neo-Nazi Azov Brigade months before the US State Department lifted its ban on military assistance to the unit, according to a photo shared by the Azov leadership earlier this year.

Earlier this month, the State Department announced that after “thorough review,” it had determined that the Azov Brigade was not implicated in any human rights violations and would be eligible to receive American military aid. 

However, a photograph posted to the brigade’s social media accounts in March purportedly showed the unit’s commander, Andrey ‘Spyder’ Ignatyuk, receiving a certificate after his men completed a training course organized by US Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR). The certificate, handed to Ignatyuk by an American soldier, was dated December 2023.

A caption under the picture explained that the course focused on “civil-military cooperation,” and also involved instructors from other European nations. A second photo showed a large group of what appeared to be American, Polish, and Ukrainian troops holding each other’s national flags, along with the flag of the Azov Brigade.

In a report on the photo published on Saturday, The Intercept stated that the Pentagon, the State Department, and the Azov Brigade all refused to comment on the apparent training operation.

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Founded by white supremacist Andrey Biletsky in 2014, the Azov Battalion filled its ranks with members of smaller white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups and fought on Kiev’s side against pro-Russian forces in the Donbass region that same year. The unit was formally integrated into Ukraine’s national guard as the Azov Regiment in 2015, and expanded into the larger Azov Brigade in 2023, when it was rebuilt after its near-destruction by Russian forces in Mariupol the previous summer.

Throughout its decade-long history, the Azov Brigade has made heavy use of neo-Nazi iconography on the battlefield. including the Wolfsangel symbol. This runic icon was used by several German divisions during World War II, including the 2nd SS Panzer Division.

US officials have not clarified when they imposed the ban on military aid to the unit. However, a State Department spokesperson told The Intercept that it considers the current Azov Brigade “significantly different” from the Azov Battalion that preceded it, and that support for the latter is still technically prohibited.

In 2018, the US Congress also banned the delivery of arms to the Azov Battalion, citing its ties to neo-Nazi ideology. Last week, the House Appropriations Committee rewrote the text of the original ban to include “the Azov Battalion, the Third Separate Assault Brigade, or any successor organization,” a change that would ban weapons transfers to the original militia, a unit of the Ukrainian special forces commanded by Biletsky, and the current iteration of the Azov Brigade. Once the new text is adopted, the provision of military aid to the Azov Brigade will be prohibited by Congress yet allowed by the State Department.

June 23, 2024 at 02:27AM

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