Pentagon officials confirmed last week that US troops will deploy to Ukraine in the spring to help build the Ukrainian National Guard. In addition to sending US troops, Washington has already sent heavy military equipment and has earmarked $19 million for Ukrainian forces.
In its announcement, the Pentagon failed to mention that the Ukrainian National Guard includes the Azov Battalion, a pronounced neo-Nazi group that has reportedly been involved in the recent violence in Ukraine.
The History of Azov
The Azov Battalion was formed in May 2014 as an all-volunteer paramilitary unit in response to the government’s struggle against separatists in the country’s east.
Funding for Azov comes from Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi, a man who offered a bounty of $10,000 for each captured Russian "saboteur," as reported by Newsweek.
According to the BBC, Azov’s aims are stated in one of their online publications: "To prepare Ukraine for further expansion and to struggle for the liberation of the entire White Race from the domination of the internationalist speculative capital," and "to punish severely sexual perversions and any interracial contacts that lead to the extinction of the white man."
"Run by the extremist Patriot of Ukraine organization, which considers Jews and other minorities "sub-human" and calls for a white, Christian crusade against them, it sports three Nazi symbols on its insignia: a modified Wolf’s Hook, a black sun (or "Hakensonne") and the title Black Corps, which was used by the Waffen SS," stated the BBC.
In October of 2014, Azov Battalion servicemen took part in a march organized by Right Sector to commemorate the anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who infamously undertook to ethnically cleanse western Ukraine of Poles in 1943 and 1944. And members of the Azov Battalion were shown on German TV wearing uniforms decorated with the Nazi swastika and SS symbols.
Vadim Troyan, an Azov deputy commander was appointed as Police Chief of Kiev Oblast (Region). "If they are appointing people like this to positions of such importance and power it is a very dangerous signal to the Jewish community of Ukraine," said Efraim Zuroff, head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office. "This is a very strange way of convincing the justifiably concerned Jewish world that there is no intention to encourage fascist sympathies or neo-Nazi activities."
Who are the fighters of Azov?
"To become an Azov fighter you have to be a proper white man," one Azov Battalion fighter told Sky News’ Ross Kemp.
Though not all Azov fighters admit to being neo-Nazis, a number of their members are openly anti-Semites or white supremacists. "Personally, I’m a Nazi," said one member, "Phantom" a 23-year-old former lawyer. "I don’t hate any other nationalities but I believe each nation should have its own country. After the First World War, Germany was a total mess and Hitler rebuilt it: he built houses and roads, put in telephone lines, and created jobs. I respect that." "Phantom" also claimed that homosexuality is a mental illness and the scale of the Holocaust "is a big question," wrote Tom Parfitt in The Telegraph.
"[One Azov member] claimed not to be a Nazi, but waxed lyrical about Adolf Hitler as a military leader, and believes the Holocaust never happened," according to Shaun Walker of the Guardian. Many in the Azov Battalion with whom the newspaper spoke shared this view.
Among the principals of the battalion are a member of the Rada (Ukraine’s Parliament) Oleh Lyashko (leader of the Nationalist Party) and ultra-nationalist Bratstvo Party leader Dmytro Korchynsky, suspected of organizing provocateurs to use slingshots to shoot heavy screws at journalists, police and protesters in 2013.
US-backed Ukrainian government unapologetic
The Ukrainian government has not been shy about putting militias on the front lines, including those who are openly neo-Nazis.
In December, Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko presented a Ukrainian passport to someone who, according to human rights activists, is a "Belarusian neo-Nazi" and is a founding member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Society whose main goal "is to prepare for a race war."
"Ukraine’s government is unrepentant about using the neo-Nazis," the Telegraph’s Parfitt wrote. Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to Arsen Avakov (the interior minister who was put on Interpol’s wanted list in 2012) didn’t refute this point when he said, "a person who takes a weapon in his hands and goes to defend his motherland is a hero. And his political views are his own affair."
In addition to Right Sector’s leader Dmytro Yarosh, who won a seat in Ukraine’s parliament, senior members of the Azov Battalion have been named to influential positions in the Poroshenko government.
Azov’s founder, Andriy Biletsky, who also heads two neo-Nazi political groups, was elected to serve in Ukraine’s parliament while the battalion itself has been integrated into the country’s National Guard, according to Sky News’ Kemp.
Biletsky, who was given an "Order For Courage" award by Poroshenko, recently wrote, "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 sub-humans. The task of the present generation is to create a Third Empire."
The US isn’t holding back
In the context of the US opposing a UN resolution designed to combat glorification of Nazism (the only other countries to vote against the resolution were Canada and Ukraine) an impression is created that the US will use any means necessary to achieve its goals in Eurasia.
"Ukraine, a new and important space on the Eurasian chessboard, is a geopolitical pivot because its very existence as an independent country helps to transform Russia. Without Ukraine, Russia ceases to be a Eurasian empire," wrote former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in his 1997 book, The Grand Chessboard.
"However, if Moscow regains control over Ukraine, with its 52 million people and major resources as well as access to the Black Sea, Russia automatically again regains the wherewithal to become a powerful imperial state, spanning Europe and Asia," said Brzezinski, who has been labeled, "The man behind Obama’s foreign policy."
The announcement of US troops being sent to Ukraine comes as the US-backed
government in Ukraine reported that it is implementing
a draft with the goal of adding up to 50,000 soldiers to fight the independence
movement (deceivingly labeled "pro-Russian separatists" by western
media) in Ukraine.
The presence of foreign fighters in Ukraine is no secret, though claims that groups such as Blackwater are operating in support of Ukrainian battalions have yet to be proven.
"[Ukraine’s army] is not even an army, it’s a foreign legion, in this case a foreign NATO legion," Russian President Vladimir Putin said this week. "They have totally different goals, connected to the geopolitical containment of Russia, which absolutely do not coincide with the national interests of the Ukrainian people."
"So again we’ve got this concerted effort in the West to aid the junta’s repression of the population in the East combined with this propaganda war basically blaming everything on this phantom Russian invasion for which no evidence has ever been produced," said foreign affairs expert Nebojsa Malic.
At least 5,100 people have been killed since the conflict began in April, according to the U.N., and violence last week was the most intense since September’s ceasefire. American tanks and military training will certainly inflame the situation, particularly given the positioning of US and NATO forces in Poland and the Baltic states.
According to the Associated Press, President Poroshenko held an emergency meeting of his military officials on Monday. "The time has come to name their (the independence movement) sponsors. The help given to militants, weapons deliveries, equipment and the training of manpower – is this not aiding terrorism?" Poroshenko said in a recorded statement.
In light of US support for, and the Ukrainian government’s embrace of anti-Semitic neo-Nazis, Poroshenko’s question is quite ironic and should be redirected to himself and his American allies.
Chris Ernesto is cofounder of St. Pete for Peace, an antiwar organization in St. Petersburg, FL that has been active since 2003. Mr. Ernesto also created and manages OccupyArrests.com and USinAfrica.com.