Ukraine’s Azov Battalion is on the front lines defending the country against the Russians in the war that began on Feb. 24, but the battalion is making the news not for its defense but for its controversial far-right views.
Ukraine’s allies in the U.K. and U.S. are asking Ukraine to tone down the Azov Battalion’s Nazi, right-wing overtones.
The Azov Special Operations Detachment, also known as the Azov Battalion, is a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine. Azov was created as a volunteer paramilitary militia in May 2014. It was born out of the ultra-nationalist Patriot of Ukraine gang (founded in 2005), and the neo-Nazi Social National Assembly (SNA) group, founded in 2008. Both groups held xenophobic and neo-Nazi views. The SNA is known to have carried out attacks on minority groups in Ukraine.
Azov was led by Andriy Biletsky, who served as the the leader of both the Patriot of Ukraine and the SNA. The group’s ideology was never a secret. In 2010, Biletsky explained that Ukraine’s national purpose was to “lead the white races of the world in a final crusade … against Semite-led Untermenschen [inferior races].”
Azov was formally incorporated into the Ukraine National Guard on Nov. 11, 2014. It’s members are estimated to number 900.
Officials in D.C. are scrambling to explain away the negative attention the Azov Battalion is getting by pointing out that the unit is relatively small and that Neo-Nazis are few in numbers in Ukraine. They stress that Ukraine’s far-right has a smaller percentage of seats in the parliament than their counterparts in places like France, The Nation reported.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin is using the battalion’s ideology to frame his invasion of Ukraine as an effort to “de-Nazify” the country, The Washington Post reported.
Azov forces have attracted volunteers who are extremists, including white supremacist neo-Nazis, who could pose a future threat to the country. They are now fighting for a Jewish president, Volodymyr Zelensky, whose relatives were killed fighting the Nazis. The battalion has become “fodder for Russian propaganda,” The Washington Post reported.
Photo: (AP Photo/Mstyslav Chernov)