While the Trump administration has fought to keep nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen from traveling to the United States for fear that they are terrorists, domestic white supremacists who avow violence travel freely between the United States and the Ukraine, where they train with the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion militia, according to reports from MintPress News and The Hill.
A federal criminal rioting complaint, filed in Los Angeles in 2018, included an affidavit stating that four American white supremacists from the Rise Above Movement (RAM) trained with Ukraine’s Azov Battalion. The training took place after the white supremacist gang participated in violent riots in Huntington Beach and Berkeley, California, and in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Max Blumenthal reported for MintPress News.
According to Blumenthal, although RAM’s “crude neo-Nazi ideology” has been on display at rallies and in well-publicized street battles, media coverage of RAM has “glossed over the group’s attraction to a burgeoning trans-Atlantic conglomeration of white supremacists” centered in Ukraine and, specifically, the Azov Battalion.
Blumenthal quoted Ivan Katchanovski, a professor of political science at the University of Ottawa, who said that Azov’s military experience and weapons give it “the ability to blackmail the government and defend themselves politically against any opposition.” Noting that fascist organizations in Ukraine are stronger “than in any other country in the world,” Katchanovski said that the Azov Battalion have threatened to overthrow the Ukrainian government if it “will not advance an ideology similar to theirs.”
As Whitney Webb reported for MintPress News, the Azov Battalion’s prominence is “the direct result of U.S. government policy toward Ukraine.” In the name of combatting “Russian aggression,” the United States has supported Ukraine’s military with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of security and programmatic and technical assistance—despite, as Webb reported, a “merging of Azov Battalion with the Ukrainian government.” This aid “has repeatedly found its way to the Azov Battalion,” she wrote.
In March 2018, Congress banned the arming of the Azov Battalion, as The Hill’s Rebecca Kheel reported. Three previous House bills had included a ban on US aid to Ukraine funding the Azov Battalion, Kheel wrote, “but the provision was stripped out before final passage each year.” In 2018, however, the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that was signed into law 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.” Affirming that white supremacy and neo-Nazism are “unacceptable and have no place in our world,” Representative Rohit Khanna of California told The Hill he was “very pleased that the recently passed omnibus [bill] prevents the U.S. from providing arms and training assistance to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion fighting in Ukraine.”
According to The Hill’s report, “It’s unclear how much, if anything, from the United States has gone to Azov in the past.” But Kheel pointed out that online posts from 2017 by the militia’s news service showed Azov Battalion members testing US-made grenade launchers. Those posts were subsequently deleted, and the Ukrainian National Guard insisted that Azov does not possess the grenade launchers.
Although the omnibus spending bill ended direct US funding of the Azov Battalion, the United States still helps to arm the Ukrainian military. As Kheel reported, “The omnibus [bill] includes about $620.7 million in aid for Ukraine, including $420.7 million in State Department and foreign operations funds and $200 million in Pentagon funds.” Webb’s MintPress News article noted that, although US funds can no longer support the Azov Battalion, it “continues to receive arms from U.S. allies such as Israel.”
In March 2018, ABC News reported on the US sale of anti-tank missiles to the Ukraine, but the article made no mention of the Azov Battalion’s connections with Ukraine’s military or government, or the role of white supremacists and neo-Nazis in those organizations. In May 2019, MSNBC produced a three-minute video, “‘Breaking Hate’ Extreme Groups at Home and Abroad,” that reported on the failed attempt by Andrew Oneschuk, a teen living at home with his parents, to join the Azov Battalion. MSNBC’s video provided scant detail about Azov and made no mention of prior reports on US white supremacists training with them.
Max Blumenthal, “Blowback: An Inside Look at How US-Funded Fascists in Ukraine Mentor US White Supremacists,” MintPress News, November 19, 2018, https://www.mintpressnews.com/us-backed-fascist-azov-battalion-in-ukraine-is-training-and-radicalizing-american-white-supremacists/251951/.
Whitney Webb, “FBI: Neo-Nazi Militia Trained by US Military in Ukraine Now Training US White Supremacists,” MintPress News, November 9, 2018, https://www.mintpressnews.com/fbi-neo-nazi-militia-trained-by-us-military-in-ukraine-now-training-us-white-supremacists/251687/.
Rebecca Kheel, “Congress Bans Arms to Ukraine Militia Linked to Neo-Nazis,” The Hill, March 27, 2018, https://thehill.com/policy/defense/380483-congress-bans-arms-to-controversial-ukrainian-militia-linked-to-neo-nazis.
Student Researcher: Tanner J. Swann (Indian River State College)
Faculty Evaluator: Elliot D. Cohen (Indian River State College)
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