In Digest, Ukraine

By David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen (Postmedia), June 16, 2015

U.S. lawmakers have voted to block American troops from training a unit with neo-Nazi members that’s operating with Ukraine’s forces — a move that raises questions about what safeguards Canada has to ensure it doesn’t help extremist groups.

Azov Battalion members at training session in Kyiv June 13, 2015 (Sergei Chuzavkov, AP)

Azov Battalion members at training session in Kyiv June 13, 2015 (Sergei Chuzavkov, AP)

Canadian soldiers from Petawawa Garrison in the Ottawa Valley are preparing to head to Ukraine later in the summer to train government forces. U.S. troops are already there.

But Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives are concerned some of those to be trained could be linked to extremist groups.

Democratic Congressman John Conyers Jr. joined forces with Republican Congressman Ted Yoho last week to add an amendment to the Pentagon’s defence spending request. The amendments, passed unanimously by members of both parties, blocks “the training of the Ukrainian neo-Nazi paramilitary militia Azov Battalion,” Conyers’ office noted.

“If there’s one simple lesson we can take away from U.S. involvement in conflicts overseas, it’s this: Beware of unintended consequences,” explained Conyers in a statement.

Defence Minister Jason Kenney acknowledged in April that Canadian military leaders discussed how to avoid training extremists in the upcoming Ukraine mission. He said Canadian soldiers would not be training ad hoc militias and would only instruct units of the Ukrainian National Guard and the army.

But Conyers pointed out while the Azov Battalion is a 1,000-man militia unit, it is also now part of the Ukrainian National Guard. He labelled the battalion as “repulsive”.

The unit has continued to face accusations of neo-Nazi links.

Andrey Dyachenko, a spokesman for the battalion, told USA Today in March that only 10 to 20 percent of the unit are neo-Nazis. Last year, members of the battalion were shown on German television wearing helmets with Nazi insignia.

Department of National Defence spokeswoman Ashley Lemire said Tuesday that Ukraine is responsible for screening the troops that will be trained by Canada. “The first instalment of trainees will be members of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (Land Division), which falls under the Ministry of Defence,” she stated in an email.  “We have been assured that this group will not include members of the Azov Battalion as this battalion is not integrated into the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence.”

No details were provided as to when the National Guard troops will be trained by the Canadians.

Conyers’ office noted that Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov recently announced that Azov troops would be among the first to be trained by the U.S.

Jack Harris, the NDP defence critic, said concerns have been raised before on what on kind of forces Canada could end up training in Ukraine.

“If they’ve integrated (Azov) into the larger organization then we will be seeking clarification from Mr. Kenney about what is happening here,” Harris said.

He noted that Kenney is up Wednesday before a Commons committee and will face such questions about the training.

The Conservative government has committed as many as 200 Canadian soldiers to train Ukraine’s military.

Some Ukrainians claim that accusations against the Azov Battalion have been fabricated by Russian propagandists to undercut support for Ukraine.

The battalion issued a statement that it is outraged by the statements by the U.S. congressmen and that the unit has always embraced patriotism.

Canada is a key supporter of Ukraine and has denounced Russian involvement in the ongoing crisis in the region.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine and has provided support to the separatist forces. Canada and NATO have accused Russia of sending troops and equipment to take part in the war, but Russia denies that.

The Conservative government has provided more than $570 million worth of aid to Ukraine.

Some former Canadian diplomats, however, have suggested the government’s position on Ukraine is aimed at winning votes from Ukrainian-Canadians in the upcoming federal election.

The amendments put forward by Conyers and Yoho would also prevent the transfer of portable shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to Ukrainian or Iraqi troops.

U.S. lawmakers have voiced concern about American military equipment falling into the wrong hands. Tanks, trucks, anti-tank rockets and other gear were captured by the Islamic State after Iraqi troops retreated in large numbers. Some U.S. supplies provided to Ukraine’s government have ended up on the black market.

Note by New Cold editors: The above article appears in other Postmedia print editions, including the National Post and the Vancouver Sun.

The Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail published articles earlier this year in support of fundraising in Canada for Ukraine’s extreme-right paramilitary battalions. So far, they are not reporting on the decision of the U.S. Congress on June 11 to deny training and equipping to the Azov Battalion.

The news service of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation is similarly silent on the U.S. Congress vote. No wonder. For the past 14 months, CBC has been dutifully parroting the version of events in Ukraine which posits a “Russian invasion” of eastern Ukraine and a “Russian annexation” of Crimea. For the CBC, the war by Kyiv on the east of the country and the prominent role of far-right battalions and leaders in that war is an uncomfortable truth that is best censored out of the news.

Read also:
Controversy in Canada after U.S. blocks training of neo-Nazis in Ukraine, by Marie-Danielle Smith, Embassy magazine (Ottawa), June 17, 2015

U.S. House passes resolution warning against training of Ukraine extreme-right paramilitaries, on New Cold, June 12, 2015

U.S. House of Representatives admits Nazi role in Ukraine, by Robert Parry, Consortium News, June 12, 2015


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