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Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

The US lifts the ban on sending weapons to the controversial Ukrainian military unit | News

By meerna Jun12,2024

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The United States has lifted a ban on providing U.S. weapons and training to a controversial Ukrainian military unit that played a key role in defending the main port city of Mariupol, the State Department said Tuesday.

The Azov Brigade is one of Ukraine’s most effective and popular combat units, but its roots lie in a volunteer battalion that attracted fighters from far-right circles and criticism of some of its tactics. The United States banned the regiment from using American weapons, citing the neo-Nazi ideology of some of its founders.

Current members of the Azov Brigade, which was absorbed into the Ukrainian National Guard as the 12th Special Forces Brigade, deny accusations of extremism and any links to far-right movements. However, the Kremlin exploited the regiment’s roots in an effort to view the Russian invasion as a fight against Nazi influence in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow took an “extremely negative” view of Washington’s decision. He described Azov as an “ultranationalist armed formation” and accused the US authorities of “readiness to flirt with neo-Nazis.”

U.S. law prohibits the provision of equipment and training to foreign military units or individuals suspected of committing gross human rights violations. The State Department said in a statement that it found “no evidence” of such violations.

“This is a new page in the history of our unit,” the Azov Brigade wrote in a statement on Instagram. “Azov is becoming even more powerful, even more professional and even more dangerous to the occupiers.”

“Acquiring Western weapons and training from the United States will not only increase Azov’s combat capability, but, most importantly, will contribute to protecting the life and health of personnel,” the statement said.

Until the State Department decides, Azov is prohibited from sending fighters to Western military exercises and from accessing weapons purchased with American funds. Lifting the ban will likely strengthen the brigade’s combat capability at a difficult moment in the war against the Russian invasion. Ukraine suffers from persistent shortages of ammunition and personnel.

Years before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Human Rights Watch raised concerns about Azov, writing that credible allegations of gross abuses have been made against its fighters.

Moscow has repeatedly portrayed Azov as a Nazi group and accused it of atrocities, but has publicly provided little evidence to support these allegations. In 2022, the Supreme Court of Russia officially recognized Azov as a terrorist group.

The brigade grew out of a group called the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 as one of many volunteer regiments formed to fight Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. It quickly became a separate official unit subordinate to the Ministry of Interior Affairs, and later a unit of the National Guard.

Since the departure of its first commander in October 2014, the brigade, as it states on its website, has been “cleansing itself” of undesirable elements. It was not possible to determine whether the brigade succeeded in doing so. However, it tried to transform its public image from the controversy surrounding its ultranationalist beginnings to that of an effective and skillful fighting force, and avoided contact with controversial figures.

Azov soldiers played a key role in the defense of Mariupol, keeping a steel plant in the southern port city under siege and out of ammunition for weeks despite devastating attacks by Russian forces in 2022.

They are hailed as Ukrainian heroes, commemorated for defending the sprawling facility that has become a symbol of Ukraine’s tenacity in its war with Russia, and people take to the streets in weekly rallies calling for the release of hundreds of Azov prisoners of war remaining captive in Russia.

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For more information about AP’s coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

By meerna

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