Ukraine's Azov Brigade, a unit with a controversial past, can now use American weapons to fight the Russians

Ukraine's Azov Brigade, a unit with a controversial past, can now use American weapons to fight the Russians
  • The US lifted a ban on Azov Brigade, allowing it to receive American weapon shipments.

  • The Azov Brigade, part of Ukraine's National Guard, has faced scrutiny for its past far-right ties.

  • The State Department found no evidence of human rights violations after vetting the brigade.

The US State Department announced Monday that it has lifted a ban on the Azov Brigade, a former Ukrainian militia group with an ultranationalist history, allowing the current National Guard unit to receive American weapon shipments and training.

A State Department spokesperson told BBC on Tuesday that following a vetting of the brigade, there was "no evidence of gross violations of human rights."

The group was established in 2014 as the Azov Battalion by a figure linked to far-right hate groups in Ukraine. The unit's members' alleged far-right ties led the US to bar the group from receiving assistance.

Now known as the Azov Brigade, the unit became part of the Ukrainian National Guard in 2015. The unit sought to distance itself from its checkered past, yet it has also been banned from receiving US assistance for years, since the passing of a 2018 congressional spending bill.

The State Department has dismissed the congressional ban and said the Azov Brigade "passed Leahy vetting," referring to Leahy Law, which prevents the US from supporting foreign entities that have committed major human rights violations.

Azovstal steel plant
A Ukrainian soldier inside the ruined Azovstal steel plant stands under a sunlight ray in his shelter in Mariupol, Ukraine, on May 7, 2022.Dmytro Kozatski/Azov Special Forces Regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard Press Office via AP

"Understanding by our allies how important it is to help each of these units is another important step on the way of our struggle for independence," Ukrainian National Guard spokesperson Ruslan Muzychuk told The Washington Post following the State Department announcement.

The Kremlin has used the Azov Brigade as a talking point in justifying Russia's invasion of Ukraine, as President Vladimir Putin has previously stated that his objectives of the war include the "demilitarization and de-Nazification of Ukraine."

The Azov Brigade has claimed that it has evolved from its problematic past and that its leadership has changed since its inception.

In a response to the decision on Instagram, the unit wrote that "obtaining Western weapons and training from the United States will not only increase the combat ability of Azov, but most importantly, contribute to the preservation of the lives and the health of personnel."

"This is a new page in our unit's history," the brigade said, adding that "Azov is becoming even more powerful, even more professional and even more dangerous for occupiers."

The brigade is closely associated with its significant, albeit costly, defense of Mariupol in 2022 at the start of Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, where it was eventually forced to surrender its fight from the Azovstal steel mill. The unit's soldiers have been celebrated as heroes and symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

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