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U.S. lifts ban on sending weapons to a controversial Ukrainian navy unit

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Soldiers of twelfth Special Forces Brigade Azov of the National Guard pose for a photograph on the 155mm self-propelled gun M109 Paladin on the entrance line, close to Kreminna, Luhansk area, Ukraine, on January 28, 2024.
| Photo Credit: AP

The U.S. has lifted a ban on offering American weapons and coaching to a controversial Ukrainian navy unit that was key to the defence of the foremost port metropolis of Mariupol, the State Department mentioned on Tuesday.

The Azov Brigade is amongst Ukraine’s only and common preventing models — however has been dogged by its origins as a volunteer battalion that drew fighters from far-right circles and criticism for a few of its techniques. The U.S. had banned the regiment from utilizing American weapons, citing the neo-Nazi ideology of a few of its founders.

The present members of the Azov Brigade, which has been absorbed into Ukraine’s National Guard because the twelfth Special Forces Brigade, reject accusations of extremism and any ties with far-right actions. But the Kremlin has seized on the regiment’s origins in its efforts to solid Russia’s invasion as a battle towards Nazi affect in Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov mentioned Moscow took an “extremely negative” view of Washington’s choice. He described Azov as an “ultranationalist armed formation” and accused U.S. authorities of being “ready to flirt with neo-Nazis.”

U.S. legislation prohibits offering gear and coaching to international navy models or people suspected of committing gross human rights violations. The State Department mentioned in an announcement that it discovered “no evidence” of such violations.

“This is a new page in our unit’s history,” the Azov Brigade wrote in an announcement on Instagram. “Azov is becoming even more powerful, even more professional and even more dangerous for occupiers.”

“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,” the assertion mentioned.

Up till the State Department’s choice, Azov was prohibited from sending fighters to Western navy workouts or accessing weapons purchased with American funds. Lifting the ban will seemingly bolster the brigade’s preventing capability at a tough time through the warfare towards Russia’s invasion. Ukraine suffers from persistent ammunition and personnel shortages.

Years earlier than Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Human Rights Watch raised considerations about Azov, writing that credible allegations of egregious abuses had been made towards its fighters.

Moscow has repeatedly portrayed the Azov as a Nazi group and accused it of atrocities, however has publicly given little proof. In 2022, Russia’s prime court docket formally designated Azov a terrorist group.

The brigade grew out of a bunch referred to as the Azov Battalion, shaped in 2014 as considered one of many volunteer regiments created to struggle Russia-backed separatists in japanese Ukraine.

Since 2022, the brigade has tried to recast its public picture away from the controversy surrounding its ultranationalist origins to that of an efficient and skillful preventing drive.

Azov troopers performed a key half within the protection of Mariupol, holding out in a siege and low on ammunition for weeks on the southern port metropolis’s metal mill regardless of devastating assaults from Russian forces.

In Ukraine they’re hailed as heroes, remembered for protection of the sprawling plant that grew to become a logo of Ukrainian tenacity within the warfare towards Russia, and folks take to the streets for weekly rallies calling for the discharge of a whole bunch of Azov POWs who stay in Russian captivity.

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