The 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act, signed into law by US President Barack Obama late last year, did not include a previously expected ban against the funding of the Azov Regiment, a military organization that originated as a volunteer militia in May 2014 and was subsequently incorporated into the National Guard of Ukraine.
The Azov Regiment is notorious for the openly white supremacist and anti-Semitic views of its members, and its use of the Wolfsangel, a swastika-like symbol once used by certain divisions of the armed forces of Nazi Germany, as well as its leading role in the Battle of Mariupol in May-June 2014. The regiment’s leader is Andriy Biletsky, a current member of the Ukrainian Verkhovna Rada (parliament) and also leader of the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly. In a characteristic statement, Biletsky was quoted by the UK Telegraph last August as stating, “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival, a crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”
The 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act includes a section entitled “Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative,” which appropriates $250 million “to provide assistance, including training; equipment; lethal weapons of a defensive nature; logistics support, supplies and services; sustainment; and intelligence support to the military and national security forces of Ukraine.. .” Additionally, the US is to spend at least $658.2 million on “bilateral economic assistance,” international security assistance,” “multilateral assistance,” and “export and investment assistance” for Ukraine in 2016. All this follows nearly $760 million in “security, programmatic, and technical assistance” and $2 billion in loan guarantees that the US has provided Ukraine since the February 2014 Maidan coup.
In June last year, the House of Representatives voted to amend the 2016 Department of Defense Appropriations Act so as to include the text, “None of the funds made available by this Act may be used to provide arms, training, or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.” Representative John Conyers, Jr. (Democrat-Michigan) had introduced this proposal, pointing out that the magazine Foreign Affairs as well as other leading media organizations characterized the Azov Battalion as “openly neo-Nazi” and “fascist,” and arguing that “these groups run counter to American values.”
According to the Nation, the Defense Department subsequently began exerting pressure on the House Defense Appropriations Committee to withdraw the proposed amendment, arguing that the restriction was redundant. According to this specious line of reasoning, funding of the Azov Regiment should already be prohibited by the Leahy Law, which establishes that “No assistance shall be furnished … to any unit of the security forces of a foreign country if the Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.”
The Department of State explains on one of its official web sites that it
“vets its assistance to foreign security forces, as well as certain Department of Defense training programs, to ensure that recipients have not committed gross human rights abuses. When the vetting process uncovers credible information that an individual or unit has committed a gross violation of human rights, US assistance is withheld.”
Reports published by Amnesty International in 2014 and 2015 gave evidence of widespread torture and summary executions in Ukraine but did not specifically name the Azov Regiment or its members as suspects. The UN also issued a report in 2014 accusing both sides of the Ukrainian civil war of committing acts of torture and attacks on civilian targets.
While Conyers’ amendment was widely reported in the media when it passed the House of Representatives in June last year, it was never subject to a vote in the Senate. The 2016 Department of Defense Appropriations Act was incorporated into the 2016 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which became law on December 18. The absence of the prohibition on funding for the Azov Regiment was first noted in the media by the Nation on January 14.
Even without the intervention of the Department of Defense and the Senate’s rejection of the proposed amendment, the prohibition in question was a red herring and a fraud from the beginning. While the Azov Regiment and its leader have gained notoriety for the peculiarly repugnant, intensely hateful political positions of its leader and members, those positions distinguish them only superficially from the rest of the officers, special forces operatives, volunteers and mercenaries who have been leading Kiev’s war against the people of eastern Ukraine.
The fact that the Azov Regiment’s leader and at least some of its members participate in neo-Nazi politics does not apparently impede their ability to fight alongside other far-right Ukrainian nationalists who do not identify specifically as “fascist” or “neo-Nazi” but are nevertheless rabidly anti-Russian and generally identify with the political legacy of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army and the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which collaborated with the Nazis in World War II against the Soviet Union and took part in mass killings of civilians, including Jews and Poles. Such extreme nationalists represent the prevailing political tendency in the Ukrainian government today, and particularly its military leadership.
The Azov Regiment, which has approximately 1,000 members, is one of many subdivisions of the Ukrainian National Guard. The Ukrainian National Guard was re-established in March 2014, consists currently of approximately 60,000 servicemen, and has played a key role in the ongoing Ukrainian civil war.
In addition to the Azov Regiment, there are at least thirteen other special forces units of the Ukrainian National Guard, including Alfa, Bars, Donbas, Hepard, Kobra, Lavanda, Omeha, Skat, Skorpion, Tin, Tyhr, Veha, and Yahuar; as well as over 30 special forces units of the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, of which the National Guard is itself a subdivision. There are also over 40 volunteer territorial defense battalions operating within the Ministry of Defense.
Among the various units and organizations participating in Kiev’s war should also be counted the Right Sector Volunteer Ukrainian Corps, which operates as an independent militia not subordinate to any branch of government; as well as mercenaries, special agents, advisers, and “instructors” from foreign countries.
According to an article published in the Daily Beast last July, in an interview for that publication, Sgt. Ivan Kharkiv of the Azov battalion “spoke about his battalion’s experience with US trainers and US volunteers quite fondly, even mentioning US volunteer engineers and medics that [were] still currently assisting them.”
Yaryna Ferentsevych, Press Officer of the US Embassy in Ukraine, also told the Daily Beast that “as far as we know,” there were no members of the Azov Regiment being trained by US forces. She explained,
“Whether or not some may be in the lineup, that is possible. But frankly, you know, our vetting screens for human rights violations, not for ideology. Neo-Nazis, you know, can join the US army too. The battalions that are in question have been integrated as part of Ukraine’s National Guard, and so the idea is that they would be eligible for training, but in all honesty I cannot tell you if there are any on the list we train. There were not any in the first rotation as far as I am aware.”
Capt. Steven Modugno, US Army Public Affairs Officer from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, which trains Ukrainian forces in Yavoriv, also told the Daily Beast that he didn’t know whether they had trained any members of the Azov Regiment, but that they had trained the Hepard (“Cheetah”) and Yahuar (“Jaguar”) regiments, which also belong to the Ukrainian National Guard.
The United States has been supplying military hardware to Ukraine since last March, and US instructors have been training Ukrainian National Guard units since April last year. As of December 2015, approximately 400 American military instructors, as well as military instructors from Canada, Lithuania, and the United Kingdom, were training Ukrainian military servicemen at the Yavoriv Training Center in Lviv Region. American instructors are also teaching Ukrainian special operations forces in Khmelnytsky Region. Instructors from the United States have also been sent to Ukraine to train special police units analogous to US SWAT teams. NATO troops have been participating in joint military exercises in Western Ukraine. And, according to “hacktivist” organization Cyber-Berkut, American specialists have been sent to Kiev to train their Ukrainian counterparts in methods of psychological warfare and disinformation.
On March 17, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted in favor of a bill submitted by Poroshenko on admitting foreign servicemen for multinational exercises in Ukraine in 2015.
This bill violates the Minsk agreements. These actions by the United States and by Ukraine violate the Minsk agreements.
From Rick Rozoff
March 30, 2015
U.S. army personnel to train National Guardsmen in Lviv region
On April 20, U.S. army personnel will arrive at Yavoriv training ground in Lviv region to participate in a joint military exercise with National Guard of Ukraine personnel, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov has said.
“American commandos, numbering 290, will come to Yavoriv training ground, Lviv region, on April 20. This is where a long-term military exercise of 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team of the U.S. Army and combat units of the National Guard will be held,” he wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
Avakov said that 900 guardsmen will participate in the exercise.
“Three parts with 300 national guardsmen each. Three parts for eight weeks each. Then the joint exercise [will be held],” he said.
According to Avakov, the following battalions will take part in the exercise – Azov [Right Sector], Kulchynsky Yahuar (jaguar), Omega, and others from Kyiv, Kharkiv, Zaporizhia, Odesa, Lviv, Ivano-Frankivsk and Vinnytsia.
“Our American partners will present special ammunition and communication devices to the National Guard detachments that underwent training at the end of the exercise,” he said.
Avakov also said that preparative work between the Cabinet of Ministers and the National Guard had been completed.
“I’m grateful to Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, and the employees of U.S. embassy in Ukraine. Without their vigor, the important and complicated preparation of training would have been impossible,” Avakov said, and he added that the agreement on the military exercise had been reached during negotiations between Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden.
On March 17, the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine voted in favor of a bill submitted by Poroshenko on admitting foreign servicemen for multinational exercises in Ukraine in 2015.
On March 22, U.S. Department of Defense reported it was taking the necessary measures to organize the military exercises, and that it would dispatch U.S. army personnel to Ukraine to train National Guard personnel
In keeping with the scheduled exercises, the Yavoriv district in Lviv region will host the Ukraine-U.S. Fearless Guardian 2015 drills scheduled for March through November 2015. Up to 2,200 servicemen will participate: up to 200 Armed Forces of Ukraine personnel, up to 1,000 National Guard of Ukraine personnel, and up to 1,000 U.S. Armed Forces personnel.
From July to October 2015, the international center for peacekeeping and security in Yavoriv district in Lviv region will host the Ukrainian-U.S. Saber Guardian/Rapid Trident 2015 exercises. The total number of participants will be up to 2,100 servicemen. This will include 1,000 Armed Forces of Ukraine personnel, 500 U.S. Armed Forces personnel, and up to 600 from NATO member states and countries participating in the Partnership for Peace program.
Servicemen from the 173rd Sky Soldiers airborne brigade stationed in Vicenza, Italy, will be sent to Ukraine to train six National Guard companies with an emphasis on domestic security and territorial defense, Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren had said.
He said that the training program is part of a long-term strategy to improve Ukraine’s defense potential and capabilities, and to increase the professionalism of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
According to Warren, the program will be similar to the ones held in Ukraine since 1995, and he added that the United States was holding joint exercises with parties and allies in Europe, and also throughout the world.
Lviv is a hotbed of Ukrainian ultra-nationalism.
By Greg Butterfield
March 16, 2015
International Action Center
As activists, students and workers gather in Washington, D.C., for the “Spring Rising” anti-war mobilization March 18-21, many are probably unaware that 300 U.S. troops arrived in Ukraine this month, with another 300 expected to join them shortly.
The U.S. soldiers are stationed at the Yavoriv Training Area in Lviv, near the Polish border in western Ukraine. Their mission, according to the Pentagon, is to train divisions of the Ukrainian National Guard.
But their presence also establishes a provocative U.S. military “footprint” in this key agricultural and industrial country on the Russian Federation’s western border.
The first open and public U.S. military presence on Ukrainian soil comes amid a civil war raging in former southeastern Ukraine, now the independent Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics, also called Novorossiya. It’s accompanied by unprecedented NATO war games and military buildup threatening Russia.
All this despite a ceasefire agreement, negotiated by Russia, Germany and France, which went into effect Feb. 15. As happened during previous ceasefires, the U.S.-backed government in Kiev routinely violates the terms and is using the “breathing spell” to rebuild its military forces to assault the embattled Donbass mining region.
“Before this week is up, we’ll be deploying a battalion minus … to the Ukraine to train Ukrainian forces for the fight that’s taking place,” the U.S.’s 173rd Airborne Brigade commander, Michael Foster, told a meeting of the Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Washington on March 3. (Global Research, March 3)
U.S. forces are scheduled to stay six months. But discussions are underway about “how to increase the duration and the scope of the training mission,” Foster said, echoing remarks made in January by former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Derek Chollet.
Meanwhile, in London, Prime Minister David Cameron told a House of Commons committee on Feb. 24 that up to 75 British soldiers would be sent to Ukraine to develop “an infantry training program with Ukraine to improve the durability of their forces,” the BBC reported.
“Today’s announcement builds upon the work that we have already undertaken through NATO and bilaterally,” added British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon. (Sputnik, Feb. 24)
Poland, too, plans to send military instructors to train Ukrainian soldiers, Boguslaw Pacek, advisor to the country’s defense minister, told Reuters on Feb. 26.
What is the Ukrainian National Guard?
When most people in the U.S. hear the term “National Guard,” they think of the recruiting commercials touting “one weekend a month, two weeks a year” of training to “serve your country.” The Pentagon is playing on this association to make their mission sound benign.
Of course, the National Guard in the U.S. has a long history of being employed to put down rebellions and strikes in the U.S., often with the most brutal methods. And in the last 15 years, since the start of Washington’s “war on terror,” many National Guard soldiers have been required to serve long stretches in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the Ukrainian National Guard is something else altogether. The brainchild of far-right Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, it came into being one year ago, shortly after the U.S.-backed coup that overthrew Ukraine’s elected president.
The National Guard is based on neo-Nazi street-gangs and fascist political organizations that formed the power base of the Euromaidan protest movement which carried out the February 2014 coup in Kiev. It answers to Avakov, not the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which the coup makers considered unreliable, and which has continued to disintegrate during the war in the southeast.
The National Guard, in fact, has been the backbone of Kiev’s brutal “Anti-Terrorist Operation” against Novorossiya. This operation has targeted civilians throughout the Donbass mining region since April 2014. It is nearly as ruthless as the “volunteer” fascist battalions affiliated with the openly fascist Right Sector.
While the Ukrainian Armed Forces today are a meat grinder for workers, unemployed people and youth forcibly drafted, and who frequently desert at the first opportunity, the National Guard comprise the forces most loyal to the junta of oligarchs, neoliberal politicians and fascists in Kiev.
This is the force the U.S. wants to train and strengthen.
But there’s much more to the story.
Throughout Europe, the Baltic and Central Asian states bordering Russia, and even on U.S. soil, an unprecedented volume of provocative war games are underway, all clearly threatening Moscow.
Why? Because the real aim of the U.S. power play in Ukraine is to establish NATO military power on Russia’s border, with the aim of fomenting regime change aimed at breaking up the Russian Federation into pliable, profitable pieces that can be easily dominated by Wall Street and its European junior partners.
That’s why since day one of the Ukrainian crisis, Democrats, Republicans and the corporate media have united to turn reality on its head by portraying Russia as the aggressor — a Big Lie to cover up their own role.
Here’s a sampling of the provocative moves in the past month, culled from U.S. military sources, Ukrainian and Russian media, as well as anti-war sites like StopNATO.org and Global Research:
- On Feb. 10 — as ceasefire talks were underway in Minsk, Belarus — the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution to authorize $1 billion for training, equipping and providing “lethal aid” to Kiev through September 2017.
- On Feb. 24, U.S. military vehicles took part in a NATO parade in the Estonian town of Narva, just 300 meters from the Russian border. It included 140 armored vehicles and nearly 1,500 troops, including U.S. soldiers.
- The same day, in Alaska, paratroopers from the U.S. Army’s 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team performed the largest U.S. airborne mission north of the Arctic Circle in more than a decade as part of Exercise Spartan Pegasus. “This exercise demonstrated their unique ability to rapidly mass power on an objective in extremely cold and austere environments,” said an Army press release.
- U.S. Marines and soldiers from the Republic of Georgia staged a “pre-deployment training” during Mission Rehearsal Exercise in Hohenfels, Germany, on Feb. 27.
- NATO Supreme Commander in Europe and Chief of the U.S. European Command Philip Breedlove told the Senate Armed Forces Committee on March 3 that it is “essential” for Washington to provide “military support” to “U.S. partners Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine [which] face a different security challenge from Russia than those facing NATO allies.”
- On March 6, U.S. and Canadian soldiers carried out drills “in winter conditions” with their Latvian counterparts, while live-fire training exercises were conducted at Drawsko Pomorskie in northern Poland.
- Some 450 U.S. soldiers and 25 Black Hawk helicopters will be deployed to Illesheim, Germany, in March “in support of Operation Atlantic Resolve, a multinational training mission to reassure Poland and the Baltic countries of NATO’s commitment in the face of Russia’s aggressive moves in Ukraine.” The deployment is to last nine months.
- The European Union needs its own army to confront Russia, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a German newspaper on March 8.
- Latvia received more than 120 armored units, including tanks, from the U.S. on March 9. U.S. Army Gen. John O’Connor, who witnessed the tanks’ arrival, declared that “Freedom must be fought for, freedom must be defended.”
- A major NATO naval force is amassing in the Black Sea, including U.S., Canadian, German, Italian, Turkish, Bulgarian and Romanian warships.
Washington’s unreal ‘debate’ over arming Ukraine
“Watch what they do, not what they say” — the old adage is always good advice when dealing with U.S. imperialism. And nowhere is that more apparent than in Washington’s current “debate” over arming Ukraine.
The media depict a dispute over whether the U.S. should provide “lethal weapons,” heavy weapons and offensive weapons to Ukraine for its war against “pro-Russian separatists,” as the anti-fascist resistance in Donbass is usually labeled.
For example, on March 6, leading congressional Republicans and Democrats, headed by John Boehner, urged President Obama to provide “lethal defensive weapons” to Kiev due to Russia’s “grotesque violation of international law.”
The White House states that it is still “considering” whether to provide so-called lethal aid. However, top administration officials, from Secretary of State John Kerry on down, have voiced their support.
All of this amounts to smokescreen and posturing for political gain. In fact, the Obama administration and Congress have colluded all along to arm the fascist junta, which they collaborated with in bringing to power. In December, Congress overwhelmingly approved and Obama signed the “Ukrainian Freedom Support Act,” in fact authorizing “lethal aid.”
Airfields in eastern Ukraine immediately shut down as U.S. military cargo planes flew in massive amounts of old and new NATO weaponry. Much of this war materiel was captured and put on public display by the Novorossiyan people’s militias following the defeat of Ukraine’s January 2015 military offensive.
In February, Ukrainian President Peter Poroshenko inked an arms agreement with the United Arab Emirates, a U.S. client state that frequently serves as a hub to funnel advanced weaponry to right-wing regimes and counterrevolutionary movements supported by Washington.
On March 11, Obama approved $75 million in additional “nonlethal” military aid to Ukraine, including secure communications equipment, drones, counter-mortar radars, night-vision goggles and military ambulances, to be delivered in the next six to nine months. He also approved the provision of 30 armored and 200 unarmored Humvees, Sputnik reported.
The same day, the U.S.-dominated International Monetary Fund approved a new $17.5 billion financial aid package for Ukraine in exchange for additional painful austerity measures. (RT.com, March 11) This is meant to ensure that Kiev will remain solvent enough to continue its proxy war in the coming months, despite its collapsing economy.
Whether or not the U.S. openly arms Ukraine with offensive weapons, or continues to do so covertly and through third countries, is far less significant that the blatant war moves of U.S. and NATO forces in the region.
Every day, it grows more urgent for the anti-war forces in the U.S. to stand up and demand: Stop the weapons, stop sanctions, stop provocations against Russia! Stand with the people of Donetsk and Lugansk resisting austerity and genocide!
“This assistance is part of our ongoing efforts to help sustain Ukraine’s defense and internal security operations,” Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.
This is a shocking admission from the Pentagon that this is part of ongoing assistance by the U.S. in Kiev’s military campaign against the Ukrainian people. The United States has been helping to sustain this ethnic cleansing — i.e.. keep it going.
“Ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” are renamed “security operations” by Kiev and the Pentagon — the semantics and propaganda game.
300 U.S. soldiers going into Ukraine, in violation of Minsk, to assist in genocide — what happens when soldiers engaging in these types of operations come home to America?
March 20, 2015
Pentagon to begin training Ukrainian forces next month
The Pentagon has said that it is moving forward with plans to train six Ukrainian National Guard companies and headquarters staff next month.
The training is scheduled to begin in late April and will focus on “internal defense capabilities,” according to Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, who is quoted by The Hill online edition.
“This assistance is part of our ongoing efforts to help sustain Ukraine’s defense and internal security operations,” Lainez said.
A total of 300 U.S. soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade, based in Vincenza, Italy, will conduct the training in western Ukraine near the border with Poland, she said.
The training was originally scheduled to begin this month, but was delayed after Ukraine and Russia reached a second ceasefire agreement
From Rick Rozoff
March 19, 2015
Biden: US military to train Ukraine’s National Guard soldiers soon
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has discussed the situation in the Donbas with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, and informed him about the latest laws adopted by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine to implement the Minsk agreements, the Ukrainian president’s press service reported on Wednesday.
Speaking by phone with Poroshenko, Biden said U.S. President Barack Obama had decided to send U.S. servicemen to conduct the training of 780 Ukrainian soldiers of the Ukrainian National Guard in the near future.
The Vice President also said that a first shipment of U.S. military vehicles, which Washington is sending to enhance the country’s defense, would arrive in Ukraine in late March.
Ukrainian President thanked the United States for its strong stance with regard to Crimea and consistent support for the territorial integrity of Ukraine.