14 June 2015

Even the Hawks in the US Congress Are Concerned about the Ukrainian Nazis

The flag flown by the Azov Battalion

Actual iconography on Azov Battalion helmets
It appears that the behavior of the Ukraine's far right militias that Congress has explicitly forbidden giving them funding:
It's easy to see why Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, would have a problem with the military unit commanded by Ukrainian legislator Andriy Biletsky: Conyers is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Biletsky is a white supremacist.

The House of Representatives has unanimously approved an amendment to the U.S. military budget, proposed by Conyers and Florida Republican Ted Yoho, banning support and training for "the Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary militia 'Azov Battalion.'" Azov was set up in May 2014 to fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Here's how the group's Facebook page describes the circumstances:

In the first weeks after the Putin invasion of Donbass began, the authorities and law enforcers were confused and demoralized. Nationalists had to take initiative. The Patriot of Ukraine organization and allied unofficial groups of right-wing youth rallied around Andriy Biletsky and challenged the separatists.
By now, though, the Azov Battalion has become a regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and enjoys the enthusiastic support of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

Biletsky had run Patriot of Ukraine since 2005. In a 2010 interview he described the organization as nationalist "storm troops" with its biggest unit in Kharkov, Biletsky's native city in eastern Ukraine. The group's ideology was "social nationalism" -- a term Biletsky, a historian, knew would deceive no one.


The war in the east gave Biletsky's storm troopers a chance at a higher status than they could ever have hoped to achieve. They fought fiercely, and last fall, the 400-strong Azov Battalion became part of the National Guard, receiving permission to expand to 2,000 fighters and gaining access to heavy weaponry. So what if some of its members had Nazi symbols tattooed on their bodies and the unit's banner bore the Wolfsangel, used widely by the Nazis during World War II? In an interview with Ukraine's Focus magazine last September, Avakov, responsible for the National Guard, was protective of his heroes. He said of the Wolfsangel:

In many European cities it is part of the city emblem. Yes, most of the guys who assembled in Azov have a particular worldview. But who told you you could judge them? Don't forget what the Azov Battalion did for the country. Remember the liberation of Mariupol, the fighting at Ilovaysk, the latest attacks near the Sea of Azov. May God allow anyone who criticizes them to do 10 percent of what they've done. And anyone who's going to tell me that these guys preach Nazi views, wear the swastika and so on, are bare-faced liars and fools.


Now, Conyers and Yoho have almost succeeded in making Azov ineligible for any form of U.S. assistance. "These groups run counter to American values," Conyers told Congress. "And once the fighting ends, they pose a significant threat to the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. As we've seen many times, most notably within the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, these groups will not lay down their arms once the conflict is over."
As Robert Parry, who was given the Polk award for his work on Iran-Contra observed:


The conservative London Telegraph offered more details about the Azov battalion in an article by correspondent Tom Parfitt, who wrote: “Kiev’s use of volunteer paramilitaries to stamp out the Russian-backed Donetsk and Luhansk ‘people’s republics’… should send a shiver down Europe’s spine.

“Recently formed battalions such as Donbas, Dnipro and Azov, with several thousand men under their command, are officially under the control of the interior ministry but their financing is murky, their training inadequate and their ideology often alarming. The Azov men use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf’s Hook) symbol on their banner and members of the battalion are openly white supremacists, or anti-Semites.”

Based on interviews with militia members, the Telegraph reported that some of the fighters doubted the reality of the Holocaust, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and acknowledged that they are indeed Nazis.

Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” according to the Telegraph article which quoted a commentary by Biletsky as declaring: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

In other words, for the first time since World War II, a government had dispatched Nazi storm troopers to attack a European population – and officials in Kiev knew what they were doing. The Telegraph questioned Ukrainian authorities in Kiev who acknowledged that they were aware of the extremist ideologies of some militias but insisted that the higher priority was having troops who were strongly motivated to fight. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Ignoring Ukraine’s Neo-Nazi Storm Troopers.”]

But a rebel counteroffensive led by ethnic Russians last August reversed many of Kiev’s gains and drove the Azov and other government forces back to the port city of Mariupol, where Foreign Policy’s reporter Alec Luhn also encountered the Nazis. He wrote:

“Blue and yellow Ukrainian flags fly over Mariupol’s burned-out city administration building and at military checkpoints around the city, but at a sport school near a huge metallurgical plant, another symbol is just as prominent: the wolfsangel (‘wolf trap’) symbol that was widely used in the Third Reich and has been adopted by neo-Nazi groups. …

“Pro-Russian forces have said they are fighting against Ukrainian nationalists and ‘fascists’ in the conflict, and in the case of Azov and other battalions, these claims are essentially true.”
You can find Conyers' statement on his amendments banning any aid the Azov battallion, as well as prohibiting the transfer of shoulder launched SAMs (Manpads) to anyone in the Ukraine, here.

I think that the prohibition against the missiles is particularly significant, because it not just a measure of concern about neo-Nazi elements in the Ukrainian establishment, it is a vote of no-confidence in their entire military establishment, and arguably the entire government, with regard to securing portable SAMs.


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