According to a recent FBI indictment, several American white supremacists were allegedly radicalized by and received training from Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which receives funding from the current government of Ukraine as well as the U.S. government. The group has also received weapons from the Israeli government.
The indictment, filed in Los Angeles, California last month, asserts that four American members of the “Rise Above Movement” (RAM) — RAM co-founder Robert Rundo as well as Robert Boman, Tyler Laube and Aaron Eason — had “violently attacked and assaulted counter-protestors” at several white nationalist and white supremacist events throughout the U.S., including the violent “Unite the Right”rally in Charlottesville last year.
The named individuals are alleged to have “used the Internet to coordinate combat training in preparation for the events” and to have celebrated “their acts of violence in order to recruit members for future events.”
Court documents refer to RAM as a “white supremacy extremist group” while the group self-represents as “a combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy/identity movement.”
The recent indictment gives special attention to Rundo’s more recent activities, particularly his trip to Europe earlier this year where he traveled to Germany, Ukraine, and Italy “to meet with members of European white supremacy extremist groups.” The FBI became aware that one of the individuals with whom Rundo had met during this trip was Olena Semenyaka, a leader of the International Department for the National Corps, a Ukrainian political party that was formed as an offshoot of the Azov Battalion in 2016.
The affidavit detailing Rundo’s meeting with Semenyaka, signed by FBI agent Scott Bierwirth, states that “the Azov Battalion is a paramilitary unit of the Ukrainian National Guard which is known for its association with neo-Nazi ideology and use of Nazi symbolism.” It then adds that Azov Battalion “is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations,” such as RAM.
In other words, the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion is suspected by the U.S. government of both training and radicalizing violent white supremacist groups based in America. This is particularly troubling when one considers the fact that the U.S. government directly enabled the Azov Battalion’s growth and prominence. Now, it seems that those actions have translated into troubling domestic consequences for the United States.
As usual, U.S. chickens come home to roost
Originally a paramilitary group of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists linked to the country’s Social-National Party, Azov Battalion has since become incorporated into Ukraine’s Interior Ministry as a component of the country’s National Guard. In addition, the group’s founder Andrey Bilitsky, is currently a member of Ukraine’s parliament. Bilitsky once said that “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.”The Azov Battalion’s ability to provide training to U.S. white supremacy groups is a testament to the group’s prominence in far-right and neo-Nazi circles. However, the group’s prominence is the direct result of U.S. government policy toward Ukraine.
Despite the merging of Azov Battalion with the Ukrainian government, the U.S has long continued to support Ukraine’s military with hundreds of millions of dollars in “security, programmatic, and technical assistance,” largely in the name of combatting “Russian aggression.”
This military aid has repeatedly found its way to the Azov Battalion. Indeed, the cooperation between the U.S. military and Azov Battalion has been reported on several occasions since 2015 such as when an Azov Battalion member told the Daily Beast in 2015 about “his battalion’s experience with U.S. trainers and U.S. volunteers quite fondly, even mentioning U.S. volunteers engineers and medics that are still currently assisting them.”
When news of the close cooperation caused an outcry in the U.S., the Obama administration shot down congressional efforts to limit arms, training and other assistance to the Azov Battalion. U.S. assistance to the Azov Battalion was only banned earlier this year.
However, Azov Battalion continues to receive arms from U.S. allies such as Israel. As journalist Max Blumenthal has noted in the past, Israel has a “history of working as a kind of proxy for the U.S. to arm forces that are committing human rights abuses, or that are fascistic.”
Yet now, as the recent indictment against RAM members shows, the training the U.S. provided to the Azov Battalion is coming back to roost in the U.S. as the neo-Nazi group is training and radicalizing U.S.-based groups with similar ideologies steeped in hatred and a belief in white racial supremacy.
This troubling consequence takes on an even more troubling dimension given that the Trump administration has cut funding for efforts aimed at curbing domestic terror threats, such as those posed by white supremacist groups, instead focusing almost exclusively on Islamic extremism.
Top Photo | Servicemen from the Azov battalion read during a ceremony before being sent to eastern Ukraine, in Kiev, Aug.17, 2015. The battalion’s symbol seen on the t-shirt, center, is reminiscent of the Nazi Wolfsangel. Efrem Lukatsky | AP