House Blocks U.S. Training of Neo-Nazis in Ukraine

June 12, 2015

In the House of Representatives debate during the night of June 10 on the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2015 (H.R. 2685, for FY 2016), two key bipartisan amendments passed, proposed by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Ted Yoho (R-FL), which, as reported in a Conyers' press release today, serve "to block the training of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary militia 'Azov Battalion,' and to prevent the transfer of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles--otherwise known as Man-Portable Aid-Defense Systems (MANPADS)--to Iraq or Ukraine." The measures passed by voice vote just before and after midnight.

The first amendment, offered by Rep. Yoho, prohibits the use of funds under the Act's section 9014 for "Assistance and Sustainment to the Military and National Security Forces of Ukraine," to procure or transfer MANPADS. The second, offered by Rep. Conyers, prohibits use of funds to provide arms, training, or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.

Rep. Conyers said in his press release today, that

"If there's one simple lesson we can take away from U.S. involvement in conflicts overseas, it's this: Beware of unintended consequences. As was made vividly clear with U.S. involvement in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion decades ago, overzealous military assistance or the hyper-weaponization of conflicts can have destabilizing consequences and ultimately undercut our own national interests."

"Ukraine's Azov Battalion is a 1,000-man volunteer militia of the Ukrainian National Guard that Foreign Policy Magazine has characterized as 'openly neo-Nazi,' and 'fascist.' Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, who oversees Ukraine's armed militias, announced that Azov troops would be among the first units to be trained by the Pentagon in Operation Fearless Guardian, prompting significant international concern."

"According to Reuters, the Azov Battalion originated from a paramilitary national socialist group called 'Patriot of Ukraine,' which propagated slogans of white supremacy, racial purity, the need for authoritarian power and a centralized national economy. Azov's controversial founder, Andriy Biletsky, organized the neo-Nazi group, the Social-National Assembly (SNA), in 2008."

According to the Telegraph of London, the Conyers release quotes, "'The Azov men use the neo-Nazi Wolfsangel (Wolf's Hook) symbol on their banner...." Also, "According to the Washington Post, Battalion members 'could potentially strike pro-Russian targets on their own--or even turn on the [ukrainian] government' if it pursues a diplomatic resolution to the conflict."

Concerning MANPADS, Conyers noted that "Since their initial use on a battlefield in 1978, MANPAD attacks have resulted in nearly 1,000 civilian deaths. ... Both U.S. and Israeli officials have feared that these weapons could be used by terrorists to bring down commercial jets. As the boundaries are increasingly blurred between insurgents fighting the Syrian government and those fighting the Iraqi government, providing additional arms could further destabilize the Middle East...."