The State Department has allowed the members of the notorious Azov Brigade to use US-supplied weapons Members of the Azov Battalion during a ceremony in Kiev on July 16, 2014. © Aleksandr Maksimenko / Sputnik

The State Department has allowed the delivery of US weapons to Ukraine’s Azov Brigade, whose members openly espouse ultranationalist and neo-Nazi views. The flow of arms had previously been restricted due to the unit’s ties to hateful ideology.

“After thorough review, Ukraine’s 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade passed Leahy vetting as carried out by the US Department of State,” the agency said in a statement to the Washington Post on Monday, referring to the legislation that bans military aid to units that were implicated in human rights violations. The State Department added that it found “no evidence” of such violations committed by Azov.

Azov was founded as a volunteer battalion in 2014 and participated in the war with the breakaway republics of Donbass after they chose to secede from Ukraine in the wake of the Western-backed coup in Kiev. The unit’s core fighters were active and former members of ultranationalist and neo-Nazi groups, as well as far-right football hooligans.

Boris Johnson pictured holding Ukrainian neo-Nazi banner (PHOTO) Boris Johnson pictured holding Ukrainian neo-Nazi banner (PHOTO)

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Boris Johnson pictured holding Ukrainian neo-Nazi banner (PHOTO)

The unit’s primary co-founder Andrey Biletsky was a member of a white supremacist organization in the 2000s. He has since toned down his rhetoric and denied ties to neo-Nazism. Nevertheless, many Azov fighters continue to sport Nazi tattoos and memorabilia associated with the Third Reich. The brigade continues to use banners with the Wolfsangel symbol, which was used by several German divisions during World War II, including the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich.

The unit was incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard in 2015 and has significantly grown in size over the years.

In 2018, Congress banned the delivery of arms to the Azov Brigade, citing its ties to neo-Nazi ideology. Ro Khanna, a Democrat from California, said at the time that “white supremacy and neo-Nazism are unacceptable and have no place in our world.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which combats anti-Semitism and monitors hate groups, described the unit in 2019 as a “Ukrainian extremist group” with ties to US-based neo-Nazi organization Atomwaffen and similar white supremacist movements in Europe. The ADL has since changed its view, however, writing in an email to The Grayzone news outlet in late 2022 that it no longer considered Azov as the “far-right group it once was.”

Many Azov fighters surrendered to Russian troops during the siege of the city of Mariupol in 2022. Moscow has accused the members of the unit of war crimes, including torture and execution of civilians.