Saturday, June 15, 2024

US lifts 10-year weapon ban on Ukraine’s controversial Azov Brigade

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A controversial Ukrainian battalion has received weapons from the US for the first time in a decade as Kyiv continues to strike targets inside Russia.

The US State Department announced on Tuesday the Azov Brigade is now allowed to use American weapons against Russia, marking another expansion of American support for Kyiv.

Meanwhile, Kharkiv’s mayor has touted the decision to let Ukraine strike inside of Russian territory with Western weapons as bringing relative “calm” to the beleaguered city.

However, Russia has said it has managed to claim two villages in Ukraine on Tuesday – one in Kharkiv Oblast and one in the Russian-occupied parts of Luhansk Oblast.

The Azov Brigade, which has far-right and ultra-nationalist roots, is part of Ukraine’s National Guard and evolved out of a battalion that fought during Russia’s occupation of Crimea 10 years ago.

But in response to the neo-Nazi ideology of the group’s founders, the US had banned the regiment from using American weapons in 2014.

The State Department has now said they found “no evidence” of gross human rights abuses or violations from Azov Brigade, which has been absorbed into Ukraine’s National Guard as the 12th Special Forces Brigade.

Current members of the group reject any ties with the far-right, but have been designated as terrorists by Russia, who continue to say they are an “ultranationalist armed formation”.

Read more: Briton who joined Azov claims they’re not ‘monsters’

In response to the ban being lifted, the army group said on Instagram: “This is a new page in our unit’s history.

“Azov is becoming even more powerful, even more professional and even more dangerous for occupiers.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said Moscow took an “extremely negative” view of Washington’s decision, saying it shows the US is “ready to flirt with neo-Nazis”.

Rubble of a building which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Pic: AP
Image:
Rubble of a building which was destroyed by a Russian airstrike in Kharkiv, Ukraine. Pic: AP

It comes as Kharkiv mayor Ihor Terekhov said in an interview in Berlin the decision by the US to partially lift restrictions on the use of Western weapons has reduced the number of attacks on the city.

“This has helped,” he said. “That is why maybe Kharkiv has… this period of… calm the last couple of weeks… that there were no great strikes as it was, for example, in May.”

Sky News learnt over the weekend a Ukrainian warplane had for the first time fired a weapon that struck a target inside Russia.

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A Ukrainian military source said a “Russian command node” was hit on Sunday in the area of Belgorod, western Russia.

It also comes after Russian forces have captured the village of Miasozharivka in Luhansk and the village of Tymkivka in Kharkiv, according to Russian state media agency TASS.

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Moscow’s defence ministry has also said its nuclear-powered submarine Kazan and its frigate Admiral Gorshkov are practising the use of high-precision weapons in the Atlantic Ocean.

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