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U.S. Troops to Train Azov Battalion; Pravy Sektor Chief to Join Ukrainian Army as Adviser

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Combat helmets of the Ukrainian government's Azov Battalion, as shown on German TV

Pravy Sektor

COMMENT: In a previous post, we noted that elements of the 173rd Airborne Brigade are to begin training of Ukraine’s national guard battalions. Those battalions include the “punisher” battalions, including the Nazi Azov Battalion. Now comes confirmation that Azov will, indeed, be the recipient of training by the 173rd Airborne, beginning on April 20th [Hitler’s Birthday–D.E.]. In addition, Dmytro Yarosh, head of Pravy Sektor (one of the Nazi OUN/B heirs in Ukrainian power structure and government) will be an assistant to the head of that country’s army, this to “control” the “punisher” battalions, including Azov.

Russian media are alleging that an entire battalion of Pravy Sektor combatants will be incorporated into the Ukrainian army. IF, in fact, this allegation is accurate, it will be interesting to see if it ever is covered by even the most marginal of Western media.
 
Whether or not the Russian allegation is on firm ground, the institutionalization of the OUN/B heirs in Ukraine’s power structure and the Orwellian dismissal of documented fact and well-established World War II history about the Holocaust and Eastern Front campaigns as being “Russian/Kremlin propaganda is reminiscent of “Serpent’s Walk.” (Programs covering the Ukraine crisis are:FTR #’s 777778779780781782, 783784794800803804, 808811817818824826829832833837.) 

“US Forces to Hold Exer­cises in Ukraine” [AP]; Stars and Stripes; 3/31/2015.

The United States plans to send sol­diers to Ukraine in April for train­ing exer­cises with units of the country’s national guard.

Ukraine’s Inte­rior Min­is­ter Arsen Avakov said in a Face­book post on Sun­day that the units to be trained include the Azov Bat­tal­ion, a vol­un­teer force that has attracted crit­i­cism for its far-right sen­ti­ments includ­ing bran­dish­ing an emblem widely used in Nazi Germany.

Avakov said the train­ing will begin April 20 [Hitler’s birthday–D.E.!] at a base in west­ern Ukraine near the Pol­ish bor­der and would involve about 290 Amer­i­can para­troop­ers and some 900 Ukrain­ian guardsmen.

Pen­ta­gon spokesman Col. Steve War­ren said the troops would come from the 173rd Air­borne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy. . . .

“Ukraine Far-right Leader Made Army Advi­sor in Move to Con­trol Militias” by Claire Rosem­berg [AFP]; Business Insider; 4/6/2015.

 The con­tro­ver­sial leader of Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist Pravy Sek­tor para­mil­i­tary group, which is fight­ing pro-Russian rebels along­side gov­ern­ment troops, was made an army advi­sor Mon­day as Kiev seeks to tighten its con­trol over vol­un­teer fight­ers.

Com­ing on the anniver­sary of the start of fight­ing in Ukraine, the move marks a key step in gov­ern­ment efforts to estab­lish author­ity over the sev­eral pri­vate armies that share its goal of crush­ing pro-Russian sep­a­ratists in the east, but do not nec­es­sar­ily oper­ate under its control.

While some such mili­tias answer to the inte­rior min­istry and receive fund­ing, the pow­er­ful Pravy Sek­tor or “Right Sec­tor” mili­tia, which cur­rently claims 10,000 mem­bers includ­ing reservists — but will not say how many are deployed at the front — had until now refused to reg­is­ter with the authorities.

Its pos­ture is expected to change fol­low­ing Monday’s announce­ment by the defence min­istry of the appoint­ment of its leader, Dmytro Yarosh, a hate fig­ure in Moscow who was elected to Ukraine’s par­lia­ment last year, as advi­sor to the army chief of staff Vik­tor Muzhenko.

“Dmytro Yarosh will act as a link between the vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions and the Gen­eral Staff,” armed forces spokesman Olek­siy Mazepa told AFP.

“We want to achieve full unity in the strug­gle against the enemy, because now our aim is the coop­er­a­tion and inte­gra­tion of vol­un­teer bat­tal­ions in the armed forces,” he added.

Asked whether the appoint­ment might anger the West, polit­i­cal ana­lyst Taras Beresovets said becom­ing army advi­sor “does not make him an influ­en­tial per­son in the armed forces.”

“I do not remem­ber hear­ing offi­cial crit­i­cism of Yarosh or the ‘Right Sec­tor’ by any coun­try except Rus­sia,” he added. . . .

 

 

 

Discussion

8 comments for “U.S. Troops to Train Azov Battalion; Pravy Sektor Chief to Join Ukrainian Army as Adviser”

  1. Reuters – Ultra-nationalist Ukrainian battalion gears up for more fighting

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/03/25/us-ukraine-crisis-azov-idUSKBN0ML0XJ20150325

    Posted by TBD | April 9, 2015, 9:08 pm
  2. The BBC has a piece on the promotion of Dmytro Yarosh as a high level military advisor that makes a rather amusing inadvertant admission: The expert they interview, Andreas Umland, insists that Dmytro Yarosh isn’t a neo-Nazi because he envisions a future for Ukraine where people of all ethnicities and backgrounds can be Ukrainian citizens, unlike those other far-right groups that have recently risen to prominance in Ukraine. Nothing to worry about folks!

    BBC News
    Ukraine crisis: Tension over rise of nationalist Yarosh

    The recent appointment of a nationalist leader, Dmytro Yarosh, to a high military position in Ukraine has sparked controversy.

    By David Stern, Kiev

    8 April 2015

    In Russia he has become a focus of accusations that “fascists” and extremists control the government in Kiev.

    However, the nature of his duties, and the extent of his influence in the armed forces, remains to be seen.

    Mr Yarosh is the head of Right Sector, which first burst to prominence as an ultra-nationalist umbrella organisation, battling riot police and helping man the barricades during anti-government protests last year.

    After the February revolution, which brought a new pro-Western government to power, Right Sector morphed into a political party.

    However, Mr Yarosh received less than 1% in presidential elections, and his party failed to pass a 5% barrier to enter parliament – though he himself was elected as a deputy.

    Russian condemnation
    From there, Right Sector created from its numbers one of the many volunteer battalions, fighting alongside regular government forces against Russian-supported insurgents in eastern Ukraine.

    And now Mr Yarosh and his group have made yet another leap in legitimacy: Ukrainian officials announced at the weekend that the Right Sector leader would serve as an adviser to the army chief of staff, Viktor Muzhenko, acting as a liaison between the military and the volunteer battalions.

    Russian media were quick to condemn the move. “Neo-Nazis are strengthening their positions,” proclaimed Russia’s state-owned Rossiya 1 TV. “Radical armed groups will become a separate assault brigade, led by Yarosh.”

    Russia accuses him of incitement to terrorism and at Russia’s request he is listed as wanted by Interpol. He denies the charges.

    The claim that Mr Yarosh comes from neo-Nazi ranks, or represents them, is a distortion.

    “He is a nationalist – though there is a discussion, among experts, on whether labels like ‘ultra-nationalism’, ‘fascism’ or ‘extreme right’ should be applied to him,” wrote Andreas Umland, an expert on the far right in Ukraine.

    Mr Umland points out that Mr Yarosh, unlike many other far-right activists, defines nationality according to citizenship. That is, not just ethnic Ukrainians are considered to be, so to speak, “true Ukrainians”, but Russians, Jews, Tartars or any other group living on Ukrainian territory.

    That said, Mr Yarosh’s political beliefs fall firmly to the right of the political spectrum.

    “In the past, he has made critical statements about Western liberalism and European integration,” Mr Umland said.

    Note that Andreas Umland might be dismissing Yarosh’s extensive ties has openly criticized the Kiev government for its embrace of the neo-Nazis, like this November 7, 2014 Facebook posting where Muland warns:

    WARNING: The naivete of Ukrainian politicians and bureaucrats keeps surprising me. The appointments of two neo-Nazis, Vadym Troyan to the Ministry of Interior and Yuri Mikhalchyshyn to the Secret Service, will cost Ukraine a lot. Urgent advice: As these appointments will have to be reviewed sooner or later anyway, it is better to reverse these decisions before the enormous image damage that they can do to Ukraine across the globe is done.

    Umfeld also has a Facebook posting about this BBC article about Yarosh where he laments the usage of a picture showing someone in a Baklava with a Wolfsangel symbol because:

    The photograph is unfortunate, as the flag’s symbol is used by the “Patriot of Ukraine,” SNA and Azov Brigade, but not by the Right Sector.

    So it sounds like the spin in Yarosh is something like: Don’t worry, Yarosh isn’t an neo-Nazi, unlike all those neo-Nazis groups like Azov, “Patriots of Ukraine, and SNA, he’s just sort of hung out with groups like that a lot (and let’s just ignore that fact that “Patriots of Ukraine” and SNA were founding of Right Sector).

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 11, 2015, 1:21 pm
  3. The US involvement in Ukraine’s civil war just got a little more complicated, in a good way this time:

    Blooomberg Views
    Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis Won’t Get U.S. Money
    Jun 12, 2015 10:41 AM EDT
    By Leonid Bershidsky

    It’s easy to see why Representative John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, would have a problem with the military unit commanded by Ukrainian legislator Andriy Biletsky: Conyers is a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Biletsky is a white supremacist.

    The House of Representatives has unanimously approved an amendment to the U.S. military budget, proposed by Conyers and Florida Republican Ted Yoho, banning support and training for “the Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary militia ‘Azov Battalion.'” Azov was set up in May 2014 to fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Here’s how the group’s Facebook page describes the circumstances:

    >
    In the first weeks after the Putin invasion of Donbass began, the authorities and law enforcers were confused and demoralized. Nationalists had to take initiative. The Patriot of Ukraine organization and allied unofficial groups of right-wing youth rallied around Andriy Biletsky and challenged the separatists.

    By now, though, the Azov Battalion has become a regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and enjoys the enthusiastic support of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

    Biletsky had run Patriot of Ukraine since 2005. In a 2010 interview he described the organization as nationalist “storm troops” with its biggest unit in Kharkov, Biletsky’s native city in eastern Ukraine. The group’s ideology was “social nationalism” — a term Biletsky, a historian, knew would deceive no one.

    The main targets for Biletsky and his organization’s hostility were immigrants in Kharkiv and the capital Kiev, both of which are relatively cosmopolitan cities. In 2007, Biletsky railed against a government decision to introduce fines for racist remarks:

    So why the ‘Negro-love’ on a legislative level? They want to break everyone who has risen to defend themselves, their family, their right to be masters of their own land! They want to destroy the Nation’s biological resistance to everything alien and do to us what happened to Old Europe, where the immigrant hordes are a nightmare for the French, Germans and Belgians, where cities are ‘blackening’ fast and crime and the drug trade are invading even the remotest corners.

    Such expressions of hatred would be beyond the pale even for the European far right. Biletsky landed in prison in 2011, after his organization took part in a series of shootouts and fights. Following Ukraine’s so-called revolution of dignity last year, he was freed as a political prisoner; right-wing organizations, with their paramilitary training, played an important part in the violent phase of the uprising against former President Viktor Yanukovych. The new authorities — which included the ultra-nationalist party Svoboda — wanted to show their gratitude.

    The war in the east gave Biletsky’s storm troopers a chance at a higher status than they could ever have hoped to achieve. They fought fiercely, and last fall, the 400-strong Azov Battalion became part of the National Guard, receiving permission to expand to 2,000 fighters and gaining access to heavy weaponry. So what if some of its members had Nazi symbols tattooed on their bodies and the unit’s banner bore the Wolfsangel, used widely by the Nazis during World War II? In an interview with Ukraine’s Focus magazine last September, Avakov, responsible for the National Guard, was protective of his heroes. He said of the Wolfsangel:

    In many European cities it is part of the city emblem. Yes, most of the guys who assembled in Azov have a particular worldview. But who told you you could judge them? Don’t forget what the Azov Battalion did for the country. Remember the liberation of Mariupol, the fighting at Ilovaysk, the latest attacks near the Sea of Azov. May God allow anyone who criticizes them to do 10 percent of what they’ve done. And anyone who’s going to tell me that these guys preach Nazi views, wear the swastika and so on, are bare-faced liars and fools.

    Two months later, Biletsky was a member of parliament. In that election, far-right parties failed to draw enough votes to make it into the national legislature, but individuals such as Biletsky did. He ran for office in a middle-class constituency of Kiev, on this program: “Strong nation! Honest authorities! A mighty country!” That was enough to win him more than 30,000 votes.

    This year, when the U.S. sent military trainers to western Ukraine to help the National Guard, Avakov said Azov would be among the first units to take part in the Fearless Guardian exercise, but the U.S. insisted the unit be left out.

    Now, Conyers and Yoho have almost succeeded in making Azov ineligible for any form of U.S. assistance. “These groups run counter to American values,” Conyers told Congress. “And once the fighting ends, they pose a significant threat to the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. As we’ve seen many times, most notably within the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, these groups will not lay down their arms once the conflict is over.”

    That is a reasonable assumption, given that Biletsky’s organization was training to fight well before the war started. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko should take note of Conyers’ view, as well as of Western calls for the repeal of a recent law that makes it obligatory to honor World War II-era Ukrainian nationalist groups. Biletsky’s graduation thesis was about one of them, the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, a militia guilty of the ethnic cleansing of Poles in western Ukraine.

    Well, it’s progress. One down and who knows how many to go. So let’s hope the US congress expands on this move, ideally by halting all of the military aid that’s only going to fuel this conflict for years to come.

    But if the military aid is destined to continue, hopefully the cut off of aid to the neo-Nazi battalions ends up cutting down their recruitment numbers too. Because as John Conyers pointed out, when you give violent extremists whack jobs a bunch of weapons and training to go kill the people you want them to kill, they don’t tend to stop the killing once they’ve done your dirty work:

    Now, Conyers and Yoho have almost succeeded in making Azov ineligible for any form of U.S. assistance. “These groups run counter to American values,” Conyers told Congress. “And once the fighting ends, they pose a significant threat to the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people. As we’ve seen many times, most notably within the Mujaheddin in Afghanistan, these groups will not lay down their arms once the conflict is over.”

    Yep.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 13, 2015, 10:02 am
  4. It looks like the Azov Battalion is about to receive some gifts from Uncle Sam. Gifts that the US House of Representatives explicitly banned in a unanimous vote. At least, based on the early Christmas present the US Congress just gave to the group, more gifts for Azov seem highly likely:

    The Nation
    Congress Has Removed a Ban on Funding Neo-Nazis From Its Year-End Spending Bill
    Under pressure from the Pentagon, Congress has stripped the spending bill of an amendment that prevented funds from falling into the hands of Ukrainian neo-fascist groups.

    By James Carden
    1/13/2016 10:08 am

    In mid-December 2015, Congress passed a 2,000-plus-page omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2016. Both parties were quick to declare victory after the passage of the $1.8 trillion package. White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters “we feel good about the outcome, primarily because we got a compromise budget agreement that fought off a wide variety of ideological riders.” The office of House Speaker Paul J. Ryan touted the bill’s “64 billion for overseas contingency operations” for, among other things, assisting ”European countries facing Russian aggression.”

    It would be safe to assume that one of the European countries which would stand to benefit from the omnibus measure—designed, in part, to combat “Russian aggression”—would be Ukraine, which has already, according to the White House, received $2 billion in loan guarantees and nearly $760 million in “security, programmatic, and technical assistance” since February 2014.

    Yet some have expressed concern that some of this aid has made its way into the hands of neo-Nazi groups, such as the Azov Battalion. Last summer the Daily Beast published an interview by the journalists Will Cathcart and Joseph Epstein in which a member of the Azov battalion spoke about “his battalion’s experience with U.S. trainers and U.S. volunteers quite fondly, even mentioning U.S. volunteers engineers and medics that are still currently assisting them.”

    And so, in July of last year, Congressmen John Conyers of Michigan and Ted Yoho of Florida drew up an amendment to the House Defense Appropriations bill (HR 2685) that “limits arms, training, and other assistance to the neo-Nazi Ukrainian militia, the Azov Battalion.” It passed by a unanimous vote in the House.

    And yet by the time November came around and the conference debate over the year-end appropriations bill was underway, the Conyers-Yoho measure appeared to be in jeopardy. And indeed it was. An official familiar with the debate told The Nation that the House Defense Appropriations Committee came under pressure from the Pentagon to remove the Conyers-Yoho amendment from the text of the bill.

    The Pentagon’s objection to the Conyers-Yoho amendment rests on the claim that it is redundant because similar legislation—known as the Leahy law—already exists that would prevent the funding of Azov. This, as it turns out, is untrue. The Leahy law covers only those groups for which the “Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Yet the State Department has never claimed to have such information about Azov, so funding to the group cannot be blocked by the Leahy law. The congressional source I spoke to pointed out that “even if Azov is already covered by Leahy, then no there was no need to strip it out of final bill.” Indeed, the Leahy law cannot block funding to groups, no matter how noxious their ideology, in the absence of “credible information” that they have committed human-rights violations. The Conyers-Yoho amendment was designed to remedy that shortcoming.

    Considering the fact that the US Army has been training Ukrainian armed forces and national guard troops, the Conyers-Yoho amendment made a great deal of sense; blocking the avowedly neo-Nazi Azov battalion from receiving US assistance would further what President Obama often refers to as “our interests and values.”

    Whether White House spokesman Josh Earnest was referring, in part, to the Conyers-Yoho amendment as one of those “ideological riders” the administration fought to defeat is unclear. What is clear is that by stripping out the anti-neo-Nazi provision, Congress and the administration have paved the way for US funding to end up in the hands of the most noxious elements circulating within Ukraine today.

    “Whether White House spokesman Josh Earnest was referring, in part, to the Conyers-Yoho amendment as one of those “ideological riders” the administration fought to defeat is unclear. What is clear is that by stripping out the anti-neo-Nazi provision, Congress and the administration have paved the way for US funding to end up in the hands of the most noxious elements circulating within Ukraine today.”

    This is one of those sentence fragments that you pretty much never want to be used in a non-Onion sentence:
    “What is clear is that by stripping out the anti-neo-Nazi provision, Congress and the administration have paved the way for…”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 14, 2016, 10:19 pm
  5. @Pterrafractyl–

    Note that the Lukhansk-1 battalion, formerly commanded by Artyom Vitko, an unabashed Nazi, received U.S. training.

    http://m.jpost.com/Diaspora/Ukrainian-legislator-toasts-Hitler-438561#article=6024OEFFMUUzRTczNzUxNkZDNTY3NENDQkZENUE2NzIzM0E=

    Then again, this is no surprise, since elements of U.S. intelligence, as well as the GOP’s ethnic heritage outreach organization, have supported the OUN/B from the end of WWII to this day.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | January 15, 2016, 4:47 pm
  6. Here’s an unusual bit of good news regarding the US policy towards Ukraine: For the past three years, the US budgets passed in the House of Representatives have included a ban on US aid to Ukraine going to the Azov Battalion. But that provision was always removed before the final passage of the bills.

    This year, however, it looks like the provision made it all the way through, with Democratic representative Ro Khanna leading the charge on this matter. As a result, the final version of this year’s spending bill contains the language, “none of the funds made available by this act may be used to provide arms, training or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.” That said, the omnibus spending bill this year still has about $620.7 million in aid for Ukraine, including $420.7 million in State Department and foreign operations funds and $200 million in Pentagon funds, so odds are some of that military funding is going to be heading in the direction of the Azov Battalion. But at least it won’t be officially approved when that happens. It’s progress:

    The Hill

    Congress bans arms to Ukraine militia linked to neo-Nazis

    By Rebecca Kheel – 03/27/18 01:42 PM EDT

    A little-noticed provision in the 2,232-page government spending bill passed last week bans U.S. arms from going to a controversial ultranationalist militia in Ukraine that has openly accepted neo-Nazis into its ranks.

    House-passed spending bills for the past three years have included a ban on U.S. aid to Ukraine from going to the Azov Battalion, but the provision was stripped out before final passage each year.

    This year, though, the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law last week stipulates that “none of the funds made available by this act may be used to provide arms, training or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.”

    “White supremacy and neo-Nazism are unacceptable and have no place in our world,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), an outspoken critic of providing lethal aid to Ukraine, said in a statement to The Hill on Tuesday. “I am very pleased that the recently passed omnibus prevents the U.S. from providing arms and training assistance to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion fighting in Ukraine.”

    The United States has been aiding and training Ukrainian forces in their fight against Russian-backed separatists since 2014, and recently expanded that aid to include arms. The omnibus includes about $620.7 million in aid for Ukraine, including $420.7 million in State Department and foreign operations funds and $200 million in Pentagon funds.

    The Azov Battalion was founded in 2014, and its first commander was Andriy Biletsky, who previously headed the neo-Nazi group Patriot of Ukraine. Several members of the militia, which has been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, are self-avowed neo-Nazis.

    But a spokesman for the group has defended it, telling USA Today in 2015 that only 10 to 20 percent of recruits are neo-Nazis and that those people do not represent the official ideology of Azov.

    “The State Department should pressure Kiev to dissociate itself with this group and investigate whether any of our weapons or training have already been provided to them,” Khanna said in his statement. “This is just one of many reasons why lawmakers should be concerned about channeling huge amounts of weapons into this volatile conflict zone.”

    Last year, online posts by the militia’s news service showed members testing U.S.-made grenade launchers at a firing range. The posts have since been deleted, and the Ukrainian National Guard insisted in a January statement that the grenade launchers were not in Azov’s possession.

    U.S. officials have said vetting required under the so-called Leahy Law already prevents the United States from aiding Azov. The Leahy Law bans U.S. aid from going to groups when the “secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

    But proponents of a ban specific to Azov say the Leahy Law did not preclude it from getting aid, since the secretary of State has never made such a determination about the group.

    ———-

    “Congress bans arms to Ukraine militia linked to neo-Nazis” by Rebecca Kheel; The Hill; 03/27/2018

    “House-passed spending bills for the past three years have included a ban on U.S. aid to Ukraine from going to the Azov Battalion, but the provision was stripped out before final passage each year.”

    Yes, the provision to ban US aid going to the Azov Battalion was always stripped out. Until now. And Rep. Ro Khanna appears to be the most outspoken advocate of keep that ban in place:


    This year, though, the $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill signed into law last week stipulates that “none of the funds made available by this act may be used to provide arms, training or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.”

    “White supremacy and neo-Nazism are unacceptable and have no place in our world,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), an outspoken critic of providing lethal aid to Ukraine, said in a statement to The Hill on Tuesday. “I am very pleased that the recently passed omnibus prevents the U.S. from providing arms and training assistance to the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion fighting in Ukraine.”

    “The State Department should pressure Kiev to dissociate itself with this group and investigate whether any of our weapons or training have already been provided to them,” Khanna said in his statement. “This is just one of many reasons why lawmakers should be concerned about channeling huge amounts of weapons into this volatile conflict zone.”

    “The State Department should pressure Kiev to dissociate itself with this group and investigate whether any of our weapons or training have already been provided to them…This is just one of many reasons why lawmakers should be concerned about channeling huge amounts of weapons into this volatile conflict zone.”

    Bravo for Rep Khanna. It will be interesting to see what kind of political push back he experiences.

    So will this ban actually prevent aid to flowing to the Azov Battalion? Well, if the following incident last year – a video showing up online of Azov members testing US-made grenade launcher, followed by a removal of that video and a denial by the Ukrainian National Guard that Azov was in possession of these grenade launchers – is an indication of what to expect, which should probably expect Azov getting their hands on US military aid and just not talking about it:


    Last year, online posts by the militia’s news service showed members testing U.S.-made grenade launchers at a firing range. The posts have since been deleted, and the Ukrainian National Guard insisted in a January statement that the grenade launchers were not in Azov’s possession.

    Interesting, one reason some US official have given for not imposing this Azov-specific ban on US military aid is that existing US law already bans US aid from going when the “secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” The problem is that the US Secretary of State has never actually made that determination about Azov:


    U.S. officials have said vetting required under the so-called Leahy Law already prevents the United States from aiding Azov. The Leahy Law bans U.S. aid from going to groups when the “secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”

    But proponents of a ban specific to Azov say the Leahy Law did not preclude it from getting aid, since the secretary of State has never made such a determination about the group.

    And that means that when Azov inevitably gets its hands on the US military aid to Ukraine, banned or not, we had better hope the evidence of the inevitable gross violations of human rights that Azov is going to commit with that military aid gets well documented. Yes, Azov was banned from military aid this year. But not in previous years and who knows whether Rep. Khanna and his in congress will succeed again.

    So while there’s no shortage of reason to document the human rights abuses by neo-Nazis, we can sadly add this to the list of reasons: so the US Secretary of State can finally label these neo-Nazi organization unworthy of US military aid and specific provisions in annual spending bills won’t be necessary.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 28, 2018, 2:02 pm
  7. Well that didn’t take long: It looks like the same smear machine that targeted former Rep. John Conyer’s over his opposition to arming the neo-Nazi Azov battalion is turning its focus on Rep. Ro Khanna after Khanna ensured that the ban on funds going to arming or training the Azov Battalion remained in place in the congressional spending bill that passed a couple weeks ago. In a particularly disgusting op-ed in The Hill, Kristofer Harrison – a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign and who also happens to a co-founder of a company that specializes in Russian information warfare, with offices in Washington and Kyiv – declared that Khanna’s characterization of the Azov Battalion as neo-Nazi in nature is ridiculous an all part of a big lie pushed by Putin. As Harrison puts it, Azov keeps getting smeared as a neo-Nazi battalion because it’s one of the most effective defensive units and the entire notion that there are is a significant neo-Nazis presence in Ukraine is all just Russian propaganda and Khanna fell for it:

    The Hill

    Did California’s Ro Khanna get duped by Russia’s propaganda?

    By Kristofer Harrison, opinion contributor —
    04/02/18 11:20 AM EDT

    Congratulations, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), it appears you were just duped by Russia (and bragged about it). As a result, you promoted Russian propaganda about Ukraine’s Azov Battalion being Nazis with text in the behemoth $1.3 trillion spending bill. The question is, who put you up to it?

    Ukraine is not your jam. Your focus is on visiting coal mine towns, antitrust issues and, as one of Silicon Valley’s representatives, technology — all legitimate issues. Yet, even though experts on Ukraine are typically unfamiliar with the Azov Battalion, you weighed in on the issue. Of course, it is always possible that you have a secret obsession with Ukraine, but it’s more likely that some K Street swamp creature asked for a favor.

    Just know, the favor was for Vladimir Putin.

    It is ridiculous nonsense that Ukraine is beset with a bunch of Nazis. The Russians have been pushing this foolishness for a while. In Russia, if you want to discredit someone, call them a Nazi. Putin is using it to justify his war to his subjects. Russians are not particularly keen on attacking Ukraine. But if it is to free them from the yoke of Nazis, well, that’s different.

    The reason why the Kremlin is using information war against the Azov Battalion, specifically, is partially because they sometimes make themselves easy PR targets. These are guys with guns fighting a Russian invasion, not a PR agency with media training. But the bigger reason is that the Azov Battalion is one of the most effective defensive units.

    Russia can’t beat them on the battlefield, so they use K Street lobbyist sellouts to help cripple them. Who wants to provide guns to fascists? Nobody. That is the ruse you fell for.

    You are filling illustrious shoes. In 2015, an unidentified lobbyist snookered Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to do exactly what you have done. Conyers singled out the Azov Battalion to prevent it from getting assistance in the defense appropriations bill. The Defense Department objected, and the process of correcting the mistake in Conference created yet another opening for Russian propaganda. Only, this time, the bill has been signed into law. So whatever fix you choose has to make it to the president’s desk.

    The technique Russia used was a classic KGB tactic — that’s the sure tell that what duped you was a Kremlin operation. In the 1980s, the KGB used this technique to spread the falsehood that the CIA created AIDS. Somehow, they convinced an Indian medical journal to print an article “proving” the case. They then referenced that article in publications all over the world.

    In this instance, the Russian active measure began with an article in a publication that should know better: Foreign Policy. John Conyers read the piece on the Congressional Record. It then spread like wildfire among lazy journalists and Russia’s network of fools, knaves and propagandists.

    Naturally, correcting the mistake should be your first order of business. And Khanna, should forswear writing laws, about which you have no expertise, at the instigation of lobbyists. That is just good governance. There is also a lesson here about how massive, 2,000-plus page spending bills lend themselves to corruption.

    But this need not be a black mark on your record as the process of correcting it presents an opportunity for you to help your country. Help the country smoke out the K Street sellout. Identify who played you for a fool and left you holding Putin’s dirty laundry.

    Russia is attacking the U.S., and quisling K Street lobbyists are helping them. Help us identify them.

    Kristofer Harrison worked for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and was a foreign policy adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign. He is a co-founder and principal of ITJ Strategies, a grassroots PR consultancy, and of AMS, a company that specializes in Russian information warfare, with offices in Washington and Kyiv. The company does not do any work on behalf of the Azov Battalion or related interests.

    ———-

    “Did California’s Ro Khanna get duped by Russia’s propaganda?” by Kristofer Harrison; The Hill; 04/02/2018

    It is ridiculous nonsense that Ukraine is beset with a bunch of Nazis. The Russians have been pushing this foolishness for a while. In Russia, if you want to discredit someone, call them a Nazi. Putin is using it to justify his war to his subjects. Russians are not particularly keen on attacking Ukraine. But if it is to free them from the yoke of Nazis, well, that’s different.”

    It’s just “ridiculous nonsense that Ukraine is beset with a bunch of Nazis.” So says the guy who runs a consulting firm that specialized in “Russian information warfare”. No, according to Harrison, the Azov Battalion keeps getting smeared with these neo-Nazi allegations because it’s so effective on the battlefield:


    The reason why the Kremlin is using information war against the Azov Battalion, specifically, is partially because they sometimes make themselves easy PR targets. These are guys with guns fighting a Russian invasion, not a PR agency with media training. But the bigger reason is that the Azov Battalion is one of the most effective defensive units.

    Russia can’t beat them on the battlefield, so they use K Street lobbyist sellouts to help cripple them. Who wants to provide guns to fascists? Nobody. That is the ruse you fell for.

    And then Harrison goes on to draw parallels between Khanna and former congressman John Conyers, who Harrison also portrays as a Kremlin dupe:


    You are filling illustrious shoes. In 2015, an unidentified lobbyist snookered Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) to do exactly what you have done. Conyers singled out the Azov Battalion to prevent it from getting assistance in the defense appropriations bill. The Defense Department objected, and the process of correcting the mistake in Conference created yet another opening for Russian propaganda. Only, this time, the bill has been signed into law. So whatever fix you choose has to make it to the president’s desk.

    So, along those lines, lets take a look at the analogous article that Harrison wrote about John Conyers and his opposition to providing US support for the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion back in 2015. Harrison pretty much mades the same charges against Conyers back then that he just made against Khanna – that he was falling for Kremlin propaganda about Azov – and casually dismisses the neo-Nazi nature of the Azov (he claims that Azov doesn’t actually use the Nazi Wolsangel symbol and the resemblance is merely a coincidence).

    And note the basis for Harrison’s dismissals of the Conyers’s concerns over the neo-Nazi nature of Azov: Harrison talked with Azov’s spokesperson who assure Harrison that there was no truth to the claims that Azov was a neo-Nazi battalion. That was the source Harrison repeatedly cites to refute the assertions of Azov’s neo-Nazi nature: Azov’s spokesperson:

    The Huffington Post

    Putin’s Man in Congress

    By Kristofer Harrison
    08/07/2015 03:56 pm ET Updated Aug 07, 2016

    Are you skeptical that Moscow’s crass propaganda efforts could really impact hearts and minds in Europe? Unfortunately, they not only have an impact there; those information operations are making inroads right here in the United States thanks to a senior Democratic congressman and pliable media.

    On June 11th, the House passed Amendment 492 to the National Defense Authorization Act. It was rushed through by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), now on his 50th year in Congress. The amendment would prevent the U.S. from aiding Ukraine’s volunteer Azov Battalion based on the Moscow-inspired lie that it is a neo-Nazi organization.

    There is no charitable excuse for Conyers’ amendment, even if it is stripped from the final bill: It was the product of Russian disinformation. Over the past six weeks, news of the amendment featured prominently in virtually all Russian- and foreign-language propaganda outlets, and is even appearing in some U.S. press. Rep. Conyers should disclose which lobbyist cajoled him into becoming a cog in Putin’s propaganda machine.

    This matters a lot to Ukraine. The Azov Battalion has been one of the most effective units at halting Russia’s advance into Ukraine. The nonsense that Ukraine is filled with Nazis has been part of a propaganda meme pumped through Russia’s state-controlled media for more than a year. Russia is trying to create the fiction that Ukraine is beset by Nazis and Islamic terrorists, thus necessitating Russian military intervention. If the idea actually takes hold in the United States, it could also cripple whatever support Ukraine is receiving.

    Ukraine’s volunteer battalions are slowly coming under the tent of the Ukrainian government, after having been born as private units in the chaos of Yanukovych’s abdication, Russia’s invasion and Russian-created dysfunction at Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense (Yanukovych’s defense minister was actually a Russian citizen). And to be sure, the Azov Battalion has not always been a public relations darling. The battalion ceded the early information war, shying from an aggressive defense against Russia’s propaganda, and from putting out PR fires.

    An aggressive PR defense would have been helpful when a couple of their soldiers allegedly sported swastika or SS patches, and it would have helped to counter Russia’s smothering propaganda campaign aimed at convincing people that the Azov’s emblem is a Nazi “Wolfsangel“ (it’s not, it an “N” and an “I” transposed over one another — the resemblance is merely coincidental). As a result, they have some PR spade work to do. But let’s be clear: We’re talking about a unit at war, not a daycare. The Azov Battalion should not have to be responsible for defending itself against lies thrown over the transom from Moscow and repeated by irresponsible Members of Congress and reporters. Much of what little support the Obama administration has provided Ukraine is focused on integrating these volunteer units into Ukraine’s National Guard. That is helping them regain some much needed legitimacy.

    To put things into perspective, in 2010 a photograph surfaced from Helmand Afghanistan of U.S. Marine Scout Snipers posing in front of a Waffen SS flag. The Marines chose the flag because of the SS, for “Scout Sniper.” Clearly, they were guilty of bad judgement, but I challenge Rep. Conyers to make a neo-Nazi case about the U.S. Marines. President Putin actually tried that.

    The Azov’s spokesman, Roman Zvarych, told me that the battalion has a selective screening program that accepts only 50 out of almost 300 recruits each month. He says they have a thorough background check and reject members for various reasons, including having fascist leanings. He explained further that they have actually committed two former members to psychiatric hospitals because of their pro-fascist viewpoints. Were the Azov a neo-Nazi unit it would be mighty odd behavior to intern supporters of fascism in psychiatric hospitals, stridently deny any support of Nazism, as Mr. Zvarych does, and nonetheless suffer 33 fatalities and 196 severe injuries in combat.

    Rep. Conyers played an important role in helping the Russian Nazi meme evolve from the stuff of conspiracy theorists, kooks and fellow-travelers into something the mainstream press happily prints. Rep. Conyers took to the floor of the House to submit his amendment and label the unit, “The repulsive Neo-Nazi Azov Battalion.” From there, the Daily Beast ran a story titled “Is America Training Neonazis in Ukraine?” using Conyers’ bill as factual support. The day after the amendment’s passage, Leonoid Bershidsky ran a Bloomberg View article titled “Ukraine’s Neo-Nazis Won’t Get U.S. Money.” Even the Canadians have been affected. On June 16th, the National Post ran a story titled “Fears that Canadian Mission in Ukraine May Unintentionally Help Neonazi Groups.”

    The New York Times fell for this nonsense in “Islamic Battalions, Stocked with Chechens, Aid Ukraine in War with Rebels.” From there it has been a steady drumbeat. Most recently, Reuters got into the game with “Ukraine Struggles to Control Maverick Battalions.” Before Conyers’ amendment we saw one of the more egregious examples of journalistic lapse: Last summer, Foreign Policy ran the little noticed article “Preparing for War With Ukraine’s Fascist Defenders of Freedom.” A year later, Rep. Conyers actually used the FP article on the House floor as the main factual support for his amendment. That Rep. Conyers reached back to an article that was more than a year old shows how long and pervasive this calculated strategy of corrupting journalism and Congress has been going on.

    The Foreign Policy article references Andriy Biletsky, who the article states is the founder of the Azov, and accuses him of being a member of a group called the Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine. According to Zvarych this group no longer exists, and when it did, Biletsky was serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence on political charges. A Telegraph article references a soldier by the name “Phantom.” True to his nom de guerre, he does not exist.

    The article also references a Mikael Skillt. The article selectively quoted an interview he gave in which he said he considered himself a Nazi as a young man and went on to claim he plans to fight for Assad in Syria because it would pay “very good money.” Unlike “Phantom,” Mr. Skillt does exist. He is the Azov’s head sniper trainer. Zvarych pointed out that Skillt also gave an interview where he said he did indeed harbor neo-Nazi leanings as a young man, but “after having spent some time in Azov he realized that he was mistaken.” I didn’t ask about the preposterous claim that Mr. Skillt wanted to be a hired gun for Bashar Assad.

    This is embarrassing and dangerous. How did blatant Russian propaganda make it past these papers’ editors? It’s a similar situation as the Rolling Stone UVA rape story, only this one involves dozens of stories from most news outlets and the longest serving Representative in the House blindly repeating lies spun by Vladimir Putin so as to make his invasion of a U.S. ally easier. According to Mr. Zvarych none of the reporters for the above stories contacted them for comment. Yet these reporters felt okay labeling Azov Nazis. Like Rep. Conyers, these reporters simply danced to Putin’s tune.

    Journalistic standards of Russia’s aggression have been pretty poor, even in describing the war itself. Since Russia’s invasion, some journalists have inaptly chosen to show their impartiality by adopting some of Putin’s verbiage. For example, few news outlets call the war what it is: a Russian invasion. Rather, they prefer to frame it as Putin has, and speak of it as a fight between Ukraine and “pro-Russian rebels.” Objective journalism would show that calling them “pro-Russian rebels” is like calling King George’s Hessians “pro-British rebels.” Yet, this formulation is pervasive.

    I find it hard to believe Congressman Conyers reads a lot of press about Ukraine and independently drafted that amendment. It appears that, in addition to the press, someone is hawking Putin’s line in Washington. I asked Rep Conyers’s press secretary multiple times what proof the congressman used to formulate his opinion and she had no response. Who bent Conyers’s ear? Earlier this month, The Blaze ran an article suggesting that Lanny Davis (yes, Hillary’s Lanny Davis) might be one of the potential culprits. He quite publicly did President Putin’s bidding in 2008 after Russia’s invasion of Georgia, penning an op-ed that blamed Russia’s invasion, implausibly, on the Georgians. He currently lobbies for U.S.-indicted Putin crony Dmytro Firtash, who was recently released from an Austrian court on a $136 million bond.

    At the same time, the media needs to be more mindful of how it covers Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and future belligerence. Reporters should be honest that it is a Russian invasion aided by mercenaries and they should investigate before lazily reprinting Kremlin propaganda. Mr. Zvarych extended an invitation for journalists to embed with them. Go visit them. At least email them.

    Lastly, everyone needs to stop falling for neo-Nazi smears. They are ludicrous. Not everyone should be expected to follow events closely in Ukraine. That only makes it more important that our journalists and political leaders get it right.

    Kristofer Harrison was a Defense and State Department advisor during the George W. Bush administration. He is currently a partner at Political Alpha and a co-founder of the China Beige Book.

    ———

    “Putin’s Man in Congress” by Kristofer Harrison; The Huffington Post; 08/07/2015

    “On June 11th, the House passed Amendment 492 to the National Defense Authorization Act. It was rushed through by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), now on his 50th year in Congress. The amendment would prevent the U.S. from aiding Ukraine’s volunteer Azov Battalion based on the Moscow-inspired lie that it is a neo-Nazi organization.

    It’s all a Moscow-inspired lie. The numerous reports of neo-Nazi pledges and ideologies that permeate Azov are all Moscow-inspired lies, according to Kristofer Harrison. And the Nazi Wolfsangel on their uniforms isn’t a Wolfsangel at all. It’s a totally random symbol that coincidentally happens to look like the Wolfsangel:


    An aggressive PR defense would have been helpful when a couple of their soldiers allegedly sported swastika or SS patches, and it would have helped to counter Russia’s smothering propaganda campaign aimed at convincing people that the Azov’s emblem is a Nazi “Wolfsangel“ (it’s not, it an “N” and an “I” transposed over one another — the resemblance is merely coincidental). As a result, they have some PR spade work to do. But let’s be clear: We’re talking about a unit at war, not a daycare. The Azov Battalion should not have to be responsible for defending itself against lies thrown over the transom from Moscow and repeated by irresponsible Members of Congress and reporters. Much of what little support the Obama administration has provided Ukraine is focused on integrating these volunteer units into Ukraine’s National Guard. That is helping them regain some much needed legitimacy.

    And we can be sure of all of this because Azov’s spokesman, Roman Zvarych, assured Harrison that there were no Nazis allowed into the unit. And, in fact, they actually committed two members to a psychiatric unit for their extremist beliefs. Yep, Azov is so anti-Nazi that it actually commits real Nazis to mental institutions when identified:


    The Azov’s spokesman, Roman Zvarych, told me that the battalion has a selective screening program that accepts only 50 out of almost 300 recruits each month. He says they have a thorough background check and reject members for various reasons, including having fascist leanings. He explained further that they have actually committed two former members to psychiatric hospitals because of their pro-fascist viewpoints. Were the Azov a neo-Nazi unit it would be mighty odd behavior to intern supporters of fascism in psychiatric hospitals, stridently deny any support of Nazism, as Mr. Zvarych does, and nonetheless suffer 33 fatalities and 196 severe injuries in combat.

    And what about the fact that Azov battalion was founded by Andrey Biletsky, the co-founder and former leader of the neo-Nazi “Social-national Assembly”? How does Harrison explain that one away? Well, according to Harrison, this is all because the point because, according to Roman Zvarych, the Social-national Assembly no longer exists. And when it did exist Biletsky was serving a 2 1/2 year prison sentence. That’s his explanation. An explanation that’s not historically accurate (Biletsky started the Social-national Assembly in 2008 and didn’t go to prison until 2011) and wouldn’t make sense even if it was historically accurate:


    The Foreign Policy article references Andriy Biletsky, who the article states is the founder of the Azov, and accuses him of being a member of a group called the Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine. According to Zvarych this group no longer exists, and when it did, Biletsky was serving a two-and-a-half year prison sentence on political charges. A Telegraph article references a soldier by the name “Phantom.” True to his nom de guerre, he does not exist.

    And remember all those reports about Mikael Skillt, the Swedish neo-Nazi who joined Azov? Well, according to Zvarych, that’s all a misunderstanding. You see, Skillt used to be neo-Nazi when he was younger, but he’s not one anymore. So all those interviews where Skillt openly shares his white power ideology don’t reflect the real Skillt. See, no Nazis!


    The article also references a Mikael Skillt. The article selectively quoted an interview he gave in which he said he considered himself a Nazi as a young man and went on to claim he plans to fight for Assad in Syria because it would pay “very good money.” Unlike “Phantom,” Mr. Skillt does exist. He is the Azov’s head sniper trainer. Zvarych pointed out that Skillt also gave an interview where he said he did indeed harbor neo-Nazi leanings as a young man, but “after having spent some time in Azov he realized that he was mistaken.” I didn’t ask about the preposterous claim that Mr. Skillt wanted to be a hired gun for Bashar Assad.

    And the fact that the journalistic world couldn’t see how all these neo-Nazi against Azov were all just Moscow-inspired lies is just embarrassing and dangerous, the way Harrison sees it:


    This is embarrassing and dangerous. How did blatant Russian propaganda make it past these papers’ editors? It’s a similar situation as the Rolling Stone UVA rape story, only this one involves dozens of stories from most news outlets and the longest serving Representative in the House blindly repeating lies spun by Vladimir Putin so as to make his invasion of a U.S. ally easier. According to Mr. Zvarych none of the reporters for the above stories contacted them for comment. Yet these reporters felt okay labeling Azov Nazis. Like Rep. Conyers, these reporters simply danced to Putin’s tune.

    “This is embarrassing and dangerous.”

    And in that narrow sense Harrison is correct. This a all very embarrassing and dangerously. So let’s hope Rep. Ro Khanna is ready for the maelstrom of embarrassing and dangerous pro-neo-Nazi propaganda heading his way thanks to PR mercenaries like Kristofer Harrison.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 16, 2018, 1:19 pm
  8. @Pterrafractyl–

    Fundamental to your analysis is Roman Zvarych.

    In the early 1980’s, he was the personal secretary to Jaroslav Stetzko, the war-time head of the Ukrainian collaborationist government that implemented Nazi ethnic cleansing/genocide programs in Ukraine!

    Zvarych was also: Minister of Justice (the Ukrainian equivalent of Attorney General) in Viktor Yuschenko’s government.

    Yuschenko’s wife was the former Ykaterina Chumachenko, UCCA/OUN/B operative and Deputy Director of Public Liaison in Ronald Reagan’s government.

    Zvarych (also sometimes transliterated as Svarych) also was Minister of Justice in both Timoshenko governments and is an adviser to Petro Poroshenko.

    In short, Zvarych himself is a direct, incarnate link between the Ukrainian fascism of the WWII era and contemporary Ukrainian fascism.

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | April 16, 2018, 3:09 pm

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