Western countries training far-right extremists in Ukraine - report

Western countries may have provided training for far-right extremists in the Ukrainian military.

 A military instructor of the U.S. Army and Ukrainian soldiers are seen during a military exercise in the training centre of Ukrainian Ground Forces near Rivne, Ukraine (photo credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)
A military instructor of the U.S. Army and Ukrainian soldiers are seen during a military exercise in the training centre of Ukrainian Ground Forces near Rivne, Ukraine
(photo credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)

Canada, the US, France, the UK and other Western countries have helped train far-right extremists in Ukraine, a report by the Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (IERES) at George Washington University revealed last month.

The report found that members of Centuria, a far-right organization intent on reshaping Ukraine's military to align with its ideology, received training from Western countries while at the Hetman Petro Sahaidachny National Army Academy (NAA).

Centuria describes itself as a military order of "European traditionalist" military officers who aim to "defend" the "cultural and ethnic identity" of European peoples against "Brussels’ politicos and bureaucrats," according to the report. The group is led by people with ties to Ukraine's far-right Azov movement. Members have been photographed giving Nazi salutes and have made extremist statements online.

One of the leaders of Centuria wrote on VK in 2016 that Jews were "the destruction of humanity" and shared a post saying that Jews had tried to "exclude Ukraine from world history and the map of the world.” Ukraine's current president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.

The group has claimed that its members have taken part in joint military exercises with France, the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Poland. One apparent member of the group, then NAA cadet Kyrylo Dubrovskyi, took part in an 11-month officer training course at the UK's Royal Military Academy Sandhurst in 2020.

The NAA receives and has access to funding and training from a number of Western countries.

 Members of Azov battalion attend a rally on the Volunteer Day honouring fighters, who joined the Ukrainian armed forces during a military conflict in the country's eastern regions, in central Kiev, Ukraine (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS) Members of Azov battalion attend a rally on the Volunteer Day honouring fighters, who joined the Ukrainian armed forces during a military conflict in the country's eastern regions, in central Kiev, Ukraine (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)

Canadian Defence Attaché in Ukraine, Colonel Robert Foster, told IERES that Canada trusted Ukraine to screen recipients of Canadian training and that Canada would not entertain training extremists.

“I think we are at a point where, in the event that we did find a Ukrainian that was expressing or showing signs of that type of attitude, then they would be ejected from any training that the Canadians would provide,” said Foster.

One NAA cadet was apparently involved as a firearms instructor with an Azov-linked far-right group that the United Jewish Community of Ukraine accused of spreading antisemitic propoganda in 2021. Cadets at the academy have also been photographed giving the Nazi salute, despite NAA's insistence that it has no tolerance for extremism.

The NNA denied to the IERES that Centuria was operating within the academy and said a probe into the group's alleged activities had turned up no evidence of such activities. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry told IERES that it does not screen military recruits or cadets for extremist views and ties, while several Western governments training and arming Ukrainian troops said Ukraine was responsible for vetting the soldiers.

About 20 people are involved with Centuria, according to the report. Videos and photos collected by IERES show NAA cadets posing with Centuria banners and wearing Centuria patches and members of the organization at political events.

A Centuria member told the KP.ua Ukrainian media outlet in 2020 that NAA and the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine were both "aware of the Order’s existence and have not voiced any opposition to efforts to form an elite core of officers." The member added that Centuria worked with a number of other military education institutions and armed forces units.

Centuria members have also apparently held events on the premises of the Academy, including a lecture in 2018 which featured the recitation of a nationalistic text from before WWII.

Centuria has called for its members to transfer to specific units where the group's members serve and attracts new members through its Telegram channel, which has over 1,200 followers. The organization has become more secretive since IERES began tracking its online presence in early 2019, switching through multiple Telegram channels and deactivating Facebook, Instagram and VK accounts.

The US Congress has banned the use of US funding to "provide arms, training, or other assistance to the Azov Battalion," meaning that Centuria, which has apparent ties to the Azov Movement, likely should not have received the training it claims it has received from the US.

"The Ukrainian military’s failure to check Centuria activities suggests a level of tolerance on its part for the apparent proliferation of far-right ideology and influence within the Armed Forces of Ukraine," warned the IERES report.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) has called for an investigation by Canada's Department of National Defence in response to the report, saying "It is unacceptable for our armed forces to be emboldening neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine, or any other country, through the provision of CAF training."

"This is an issue fundamental to the purpose of Canada’s forces and to the respect we owe our veterans – who sacrificed so much to defeat fascism in Europe," said the FSWC. "We urge the Department of National Defence to immediately launch an investigation into the evidence that has been revealed by the George Washington University study and to develop new policies and procedures to ensure that all foreign trainees receive some type of background check to eliminate the possibility of neo-Nazi or other extremist affiliation before receiving training from Canadian forces."