(photo credit: REUTERS)
Congress is reported to have recently repealed its ban on a Ukrainian militia accused of being neo-Nazi, opening the way for American military assistance.
Last June, Congress passed a resolution intended to block American military funding for Ukraine from being used to provide training or weaponry for the Azov Battalion, an independent unit that had been integrated into the former Soviet Republic’s national guard and was taking part in operations against Russian- backed rebels.
Called a “neo-Nazi paramilitary militia” by Congressmen John Conyers Jr. and Ted Yoho, who cosponsored the bipartisan amendment, the battalion has been a source of controversy since its inception.
With the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbol on its unit flash – which resembles a black swastika on a yellow background – and founders drawn from the ranks of the paramilitary national socialist group called “Patriot of Ukraine,” the group would have been a fringe phenomenon in any Western nation, but with its army unequipped to face the separatist threat in the east, Kiev actually integrated Azov into its military forces.
According to a report in The Nation, the Pentagon lobbied the House Defense Appropriations Committee to remove the Conyers-Yoho amendment from the 2016 defense budget, claiming it was unnecessary as such funding was already prohibited under another law.
However, The Nation asserted that the law in question, known as the Leahy Law, only prohibits funding to groups that have “committed a gross violation of human rights,” which would not apply in this case.
The news that the Azov Battalion is now legally able to receive American aid has enraged the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which last week successfully blocked the battalion from holding a recruitment meeting in Nantes, France.
“This step is hardly surprising to anyone who has been following the growing danger of Holocaust distortion in post-Communist Europe, and especially in the Baltics, Ukraine and Hungary,” said Wiesenthal Center Jerusalem office head Efraim Zuroff.
“In recent years, the United States has purposely ignored the glorification of Nazi collaborators, the granting of financial benefits to those who fought alongside the Nazis, and the systematic promotion of the canard of equivalency between Communist and Nazi crimes by these countries because of various political interests.”
Likud MK Avraham Neguise also lambasted the decision, telling The Jerusalem Post that “If the ban is lifted, funds may reach neo-Nazis, and their first target is the Jewish community.”
One of the best ways to combat anti-Semites, he asserted, is “by damaging them economically.”
Not everyone was so upset, however, with the Vaad of Ukraine, a Jewish communal body comprising a number of different organizations and known for its nationalist stance on many issues, coming out in favor of the move.
“I appreciate this decision. It must be clearly understood: there is no kind of ‘neo-Nazi Ukrainian militia’ now. Azov is a regular military unit subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. It is not irregular division neither a political group. Its commanders and fighters might have personal political views as individuals, but as an armed police unit Azov is a part of the system of the Ukrainian defense forces,” said anti-Semitism researcher Vyacheslav A. Likhachev, speaking on behalf of the Vaad.
Russian “aggression” is a much bigger threat than Azov, Likhachev insisted, adding that “it is necessary to clearly distinguish between the Azov regiment and political projects related to its former commander.”
“Of course, manifestations of neo-Nazism in Ukraine are unacceptable. But it has nothing to do with the question of assistance to the Ukrainian armed forces.”
Reuters contributed to this report.