Ukraine’s Azov Battalion denied US arms over antisemitic history

The regiment’s defenders insist it has moved on from its extremist past


Azov Regiment soldiers line up for instruction during target practice (Photo: Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

An elite Ukrainian force will not receive support from America’s latest military aid package thanks to its far-right roots.

The Azov Battalion was founded by a antisemitic campaigner, Andriy Biletsky, in 2014 as a volunteer militia to fight Russia.

The activist had previously attacked Jewish oligarchs as his “enemy”.

Integrated unto Ukraine’s armed forces in 2014, Azov troops have been hailed as the nation’s “best warriors” and the unit has been decried by Vladamir Putin as emblematic of Kyiv’s alleged far right ideology. 

Extremism researchers have warned that far-right activists from Britain have been recruited by the regiment, while some of members have been photographed coating their bullets in pig fat for use against Chechen Muslims.

In 2016, the batallion’s military and political wings formally separated, and, its defenders argue, the former moved away from extremism. 

In recent months it has been said to have played a key role in the defence of Ukraine’s eastern front against a renewed Russian assault. 

But, speaking in the Times, a Jewish Azov fighter insisted the arms ban was absurd.

“How can Azov be a neo-Nazi unit when there are so many Jews in its ranks?” a 36-year-old bookseller from Dnipro who goes by the nom de guerre “Racoon” said.

“I joined the unit for its professionalism and military ethos, and I’ve never had any prejudice from any of my brother soldiers.”

Artilleryman “Bulba”, 26, told the newspaper: “I joined to be a loyal warrior to Ukraine, inspired by the deeds of Azov in Mariupol.

“There are people here from both the right and left sides of the political spectrum, just as there are in the US army. Neither race nor religion nor political ideology is very relevant between our soldiers fighting in this war,”

The brigade will not recieve a share of a new United States $61 billion aid package.

Comprising tens of billions of dollars of military equipment and training, Azov will not be able to benefit thanks to a 2018 United States government spending bill.

It stipulated that, “none of the funds made available by this act may be used to provide arms, training or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.”

Democratic lawmaker Ro Khanna insisted at the time that, “white supremacy and neo-Nazism are unacceptable and have no place in our world.”

He added: “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.”

Last month, Azov Battalion officials hit back angrily at their exclusion from American aid as “nonsense”.

Writing for Ukrainska Pravda, Colonel Denys Prokopenko said :“This amendment, which migrates from one appropriations bill to another year after year, is the reason why, in 2022, during the defense of Mariupol, Azov did not have the latest Western weapons.

"At that time, we restrained the enemy’s superior forces in the besieged Mariupol, using our extremely limited resources, and showed especially high efficiency.

"How many lives of personnel could have been saved, and what would have been the results of the city’s defense if, in addition to high motivation, cohesion, and professionalism, Azov fighters had modern armored vehicles and artillery systems at their disposal?” 

Speaking to The Times, Illia Samoilenko, an Azov staff officer, said: “We don’t care about the lack of US money or funding – we care much more about being prevented from any ability to train with Nato units outside Ukraine.”

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