Biden admin lifts ban on arming Ukrainian brigade associated with neo-Nazis since its inception

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Despite President Joe Biden's sense that white supremacy is the "most dangerous terrorist threat," his administration is lifting the ban on arming a Ukrainian brigade associated with neo-Nazism since its inception whose current members now reject accusations of extremism.

In June 2015, the U.S. Congress unanimously approved an amendment to the Pentagon budget prohibiting American funds under the Pentagon Appropriations Act from being used to provide arms, training, or other assistance to Ukraine's 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade, then called the Azov Battalion.

Former Michigan Rep. John Conyers (D) told his fellow lawmakers that the "neo-Nazi Ukrainian militia" group founded by Ukrainian politician Andriy Biletsky had been characterized by Foreign Policy as "openly neo-Nazi" and "fascist."

Biletsky, who headed the neo-Nazi groups Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine, was less than subtle about the nature of his variety of national socialism, having reportedly: criticized "Negro-love" and the "blackening" of Ukraine; reminisced about Adolf Hitler as a military leader; denied the Holocaust ever happened; defended paramilitary Nazi collaborators in his college thesis; and adopted for his militia a symbol closely resembling the Nazi Wolfsangel.

'These groups run counter to American values, and once the fighting ends, they pose a significant threat to the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people.'

Years after his release from prison and months after the Russian invasion in 2022, Biletsky said, "We don't identify ourselves with the Nazi ideology."

"Numerous other news organizations, including the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Associated Press have corroborated the dominance of white supremacist and anti-Semitic views within the group," said Conyers.

"These groups run counter to American values, and once the fighting ends, they pose a significant threat to the Ukrainian Government and the Ukrainian people," continued the Democrat. "As we have seen many times, most notably within the Mujahedin in Afghanistan, these groups will not lay down their arms once the conflict is over. They will turn their arms against their own people in order to enforce their hateful views."

The same year Azov was slapped with an American arms ban, it was absorbed into the Ukrainian National Guard by which time its political and military wings had formally separated.

Although the Pentagon successfully lobbied the House Defense Appropriations Committee to drop the amendment from the following year's defense budget, the amendment returned to appropriations bills in the years since.

The U.S. State Department apparently also prohibited the provision of the Azov Brigade with training or American weapons.

That is all set to change if it has not already.

After years of urging and the publication of Azov commander Denys Prokopenko's demands to American officials in the pages of Ukrainska Pravda, the Biden State Department confirmed to the Washington Post Monday that the Biden administration has cleared the Azov Brigade to receive American weapons.

The Post highlighted that the timing of the announcement comes just as "Kyiv starts the summer fighting season."

"After thorough review, Ukraine’s 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade passed Leahy vetting as carried out by the U.S. Department of State," said the State Department.

The "Leahy law," named after former Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), concerns two laws prohibiting the U.S. government from using taxpayer dollars to assist foreign militants "where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights (GVHR). One statutory provision applies to the State Department and the other applies to the Department of Defense."

In the case of the Azov Brigade, the Biden administration maintains there is no such evidence of GVHR, contrary to what Russia has alleged on various occasions. Russia's Supreme Court declared the Azov Brigade a terrorist organization in 2022.

'This is a new page in the history of our unit.'

The State Department did not inform the Post whether the ban had been lifted and if weapons had already reached Azov militants, which apparently now have Jewish-Ukrainian soldiers among their ranks.

The Azov Brigade said in a statement, "We are grateful to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, the Command of the National Guard of Ukraine, the Embassy of Ukraine in the United States of America, and everyone who contributed to successfully passing vetting."

"Eligibility for US assistance will not only increase Azov's combat effectiveness, but, most importantly, will help save the lives and health of the brigade's personnel," continued the statement. "This is a new page in the history of our unit. Azov is becoming more professional and more effective in defending Ukraine against the invaders."

The Associated Press reported that current members of the brigade reject the suggestion that they're extremists or linked to "far-right movements."

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