It should go without saying that this is a good idea:
The House of Representatives has unanimously approved an amendment to the U.S. military budget, proposed by Conyers and Florida Republican Ted Yoho, banning support and training for “the Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary militia ‘Azov Battalion.'” Azov was set up in May 2014 to fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. Here’s how the group’s Facebook page describes the circumstances:
In the first weeks after the Putin invasion of Donbass began, the authorities and law enforcers were confused and demoralized. Nationalists had to take initiative. The Patriot of Ukraine organization and allied unofficial groups of right-wing youth rallied around Andriy Biletsky and challenged the separatists.
By now, though, the Azov Battalion has become a regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard and enjoys the enthusiastic support of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.
BUT, and there has to be a but, that last bit there kind of wrecks the whole plan. Euromaidan was a big old mess of pro-European and anti-Russian groups, including fascist and Neo-Nazi elements, and now that the Donbas war has made Russia and Russians the biggest threat to Ukraine, Azov Battalion has gone from being a fringe right-wing gang to being “a regiment of the Ukrainian National Guard.” The national freaking guard! That means they’re part of the reserve element of the real-deal by-God Ukrainian army! This is a group whose leader, Biletsky, to go by that Bloomberg piece, complains that the “Nation’s biological resistance to everything alien” is being weakened so as to leave Ukraine vulnerable to “immigrant hordes.” And Avakov defends this; when people complained last year that Azov’s flag includes the freaking Nazi Wolfsangel, Avakov said:
Yes, most of the guys who assembled in Azov have a particular worldview. But who told you you could judge them?
I generally assume that I’m in no position to judge pretty much anybody, but Neo-Nazis? Yeah, I feel pretty comfortable judging those guys.
So good on Conyers and Yoho for trying to bar these guys from getting any US assistance. But here’s the thing: money is completely fungible, and training is pretty fungible too. Any money we send to Kiev to support its other military units frees up money that it can spend on Azov. Any training we give to other Ukrainian military units can then be taught to Azov. The only way to ensure that no US training or aid winds up benefiting Azov is for Kiev to stop treating Azov as an official military unit. I mean, FFS, how can this even be a thing? Kiev wants to call the Donbas separatists “terrorists,” because labeling anybody a “terrorist” is the surest way to paint yourselves as the good guys these days, and certainly the separatists have plenty for which they need to answer. But the separatist movement also started from a place of genuine concern over the nature of the government that ousted and replaced Viktor Yanukovych, and when that government brings Neo-Nazis into the official military fold it kind of validates that concern.