澳彩开奖结果

US lifts weapons ban on controversial Ukrainian military unit

The US has removed restrictions on the transfer of American weapons and training to a high-profile Ukrainian military unit with a chequered past.

The move will help the Azov Brigade, among Ukraine鈥檚 most effective and popular fighting units, move beyond its reputation as a far-right movement 鈥 a perception its commanders have been trying to dispel as Russian propaganda.

The State Department applied the Leahy vetting process to the Azov Brigade, which has been absorbed into Ukraine鈥檚 National Guard as the 12th Special Forces Brigade.

Ukrainian national guard servicemen of Khartia brigade prepare to reload a D-20 cannon while firing towards Russian positions on the front line near Kharkiv, Ukraine
Ukrainian national guard servicemen of Khartia brigade prepare to reload a D-20 cannon while firing towards Russian positions near Kharkiv (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

The State Department found 鈥渘o evidence of Gross Violations of Human Rights (GVHR) committed by the 12th Brigade Azov,鈥 according to a statement.

鈥淭his is a new page in our unit鈥檚 history,鈥 the Azov Brigade wrote in a statement on Instagram.

鈥淎zov is becoming even more powerful, even more professional and even more dangerous for occupiers.鈥

鈥淥btaining 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,鈥 the statement said.

Up until the State Department鈥檚 decision, a provision in the US appropriations law prohibited the Azov from sending fighters to Western military exercises or accessing weapons bought with American funds.

Rescue workers clear the rubble of a building which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike in Kharkiv
Rescue workers clear the rubble of a building which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike in Kharkiv (Evgeniy Maloletka/AP)

In the years since Russia鈥檚 full-scale invasion in February 2022, the brigade has tried to recast its public image away from the controversy surrounding its ultranationalist origins to that of an effective and skilful fighting force.

Azov soldiers played a key part in the defence of Mariupol, holding out in a siege and low on ammunition for weeks at the southern port city鈥檚 steel mill despite devastating attacks from Russian forces.

In Ukraine they are hailed as heroes, remembered for defence of the sprawling plant that became a symbol of Ukrainian tenacity in the war against Russia, and people take to the streets for weekly rallies calling for the release of hundreds of Azov POWs who remain in Russian captivity for two years now.

Moscow has repeatedly portrayed the Azov as a Nazi group and accused it of atrocities, but has publicly given no evidence.

In 2022, Russia鈥檚 top court officially designated Azov a terrorist group.

The brigade grew out of a group called the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 as one of many volunteer brigades created to fight Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine.

The battalion drew its initial fighters from far-right circles.

While its current members reject accusations of extremism and any ties with far-right movements, the Kremlin has seized on the regiment鈥檚 origins to cast Russia鈥檚 invasion as a battle against Nazi influence in Ukraine.

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