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Canadian Military Officials Tried to Hide Association With Ukraine’s Azov Battalion: Israeli Historian

Published: April 22, 2022
A masked man holds a collection box for donations to the Azov Battalion, one of several all-volunteer militia units fighting in eastern Ukraine against pro-Russian separatists, on Feb. 22, 2015 in Kiev, Ukraine. The Azov Battalion, which reportedly includes foreign fighters from Croatia, Italy, Sweden and Ireland, is commanded by Andriy Biletsky, who also heads the neo-Nazi Social-National Assembly political party, which has openly stated that it is racist, anti-semitic and anti-democratic. (Image: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Efraim Zuroff, an American-born Israeli historian and Nazi hunter, says Canada provided military training for Ukrainian military personnel connected to the controversial Azov Battalion — a unit of the National Guard of Ukraine — as well as other elements in Ukraine that have been accused of their extremist and ultranationalist ideology.

The comments come amidst a report that in 2018 Canadian military officials were concerned the media would expose them for providing military training to Azov and similar units. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian state media have used the presence of groups like the Azov Battalion to justify the “special military operation” that began on Feb. 24 as a war to “denazify” and “demilitarize” Ukraine.

Radio Canada reported on Images, posted to social media by the Ukrainian National Guard, depicting soldiers wearing Azov Battalion patches on their uniforms while participating in training with Canadian forces. 

On April 11, Radio Canada reported that Canadian military personnel trained members of the Azov unit in addition to at least one other soldier who wore the crest of a World War II-era Nazi SS unit. The training occurred in November 2020, several months before Russia launched its invasion.

“According to Oleksiy Kuzmenko, a journalist specializing in the Ukrainian far right, the presence of these patches strongly suggests that the Azov regiment had access to Canadian military training,” Radio Canada reported.

Kuzmenko told Radio Canada that the patches displayed are “firmly and exclusively associated with the Azov regiment.”

Azov and other ultranationalist groups have been accused of committing various atrocities amidst and prior to the present Russian invasion, particularly against Ukrainian citizens suspected of being pro-Russia and ethnic minorities such as the Roma.

According to the Ottawa Citizen, during another training exercise in June 2018, Canadian officials, including military personnel, “met with leaders of the Azov unit.

But despite knowledge of the group’s ideological leanings, the officials didn’t denounce the unit. Instead, they were concerned the news media would expose details of the get-together, according to National Defense documents.”

In addition, a report entitled “Far-Right Group Made its Home in Ukraine’s Major Western Military Training Hub,” published by the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University asserts that Canada was among the countries training extremist military groups.  

The report states that “as recently as April 2021, the group claimed that since its launch, members have participated in joint military exercises with France, the UK, Canada, the US, Germany, and Poland.”

“The group” referred to is Centuria, a group that according to Belltower.News has “close connections with the Ukrainian neo-Nazi scene.”

In an interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Zuroff said Canada failed to properly monitor its own training program. “The Canadian government didn’t do its due diligence. It’s the responsibility of the Canadian defence ministry to know exactly who they are training,” Zuroff said adding  that “There is no question that there are neo-Nazis in different forms in Ukraine, whether they are in the Azov regiment or other organizations.” 

The Canadian military, however, denies that they trained members of the Azov regiment and Centuria.

While acknowledging the authenticity of the evidence provided by various media outlets, Captain Véronique Sabourin told the Ottawa Citizen that Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) members are briefed on how to recognize insignia “associated with right-wing extremism” and that if members of the CAF suspect trainees held “racist views” that they would be removed.

However, Sabourin also said that, “There is no burden of proof on the CAF to demonstrate this beyond a reasonable doubt.”

In 2015, Canada’s then-Defense Minister, Jason Kennedy, referred to the Azov regiment as a “small number of rotten apples,” and the CAF issued a statement promising a “thorough review” to determine whether its procedures were adequate to prevent the CAF from “unwittingly aiding those whose views it fundamentally opposes,” after the report by the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies was published.

Canada has reportedly spent nearly $1 billion training Ukrainian soldiers since the overthrow of the pro-Russia Ukrainian government in 2014, according to the Dubai-based BigNewsNetwork.