Embedded within the vast $1.3 trillion omnibus bill, the US Congress included a provision which quietly managed to slip through. This limits US provision of deadly arms to Ukraine’s military, specifically excluding the neo-Nazi-linked Azov Battalion from getting US arms.
This was the first time this language, which originated in the House, was proposed, and it actually got included three consecutive years House military spending bills, only to be stripped out in committee to reconcile the bill with the Senate versions.
Theoretically, officials note, the Leahy Law should’ve already precluded the Azov Battalion getting US aid, given the faction’s history of war crimes. Proponents, however, note the State Department never recognized those crimes, meaning it wasn’t clear if they’d follow the law or not. This led to this inclusion singling them out.
Though originally a militia, and still presented as one in many reports, the Azov Battalion is formally now part of Ukraine’s special forces, and recognized as a National Guard regiment within the country. This is in recognition of their eager attacks on separatists in the ethnic Russian east.
The battalion’s actual origin dates all the way back to 1982, however, when they established themselves as a band of violent soccer hooligans loyal to FC Metalist Kharkiv. When the civil war in Eastern Ukraine began, they quickly reorganized as a paramilitary force, first quasi-governmental and later with official imprimatur.
The group has come under fire for its use of looting and torture, and media reports have many of the fighters in the faction wearing swastika helmets, and having SS tattoos. The formal logo of the group includes the logo of the fascist Social-National Assembly, though Ukraine’s government has claimed all attempts to label them neo-Nazis are Russian propaganda.