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23 May, 2024 22:45

Russia reacts to UK MPs applauding Ukrainian neo-Nazis

A delegation from Kiev’s ultranationalist Azov unit received a warm welcome in London this week
Russia reacts to UK MPs applauding Ukrainian neo-Nazis

The warm welcome in the UK Parliament given to members of Ukraine’s neo-Nazi Azov regiment was a “grotesque spectacle,” the Russian Embassy in London said on Thursday.

The Russian diplomats were responding to an event in which three Azov regiment members visited London and spoke before a group of parliamentarians at a roundtable. The regiment, which is banned in Russia as an extremist organization, posted photos of the meeting on X (formerly Twitter), thanking the sponsors of their parliamentary visit.

The event, the group said, was chaired by MP Victoria Prentis, attorney general of England and Wales. The Azov regiment’s statement also thanked Sir John Whittingdale, former minister for data and digital infrastructure, and MP Bob Seely, chair of the UK-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group. All three MPs mentioned are members of the Conservative Party.

Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was also photographed with the Azov members while holding an Azov banner featuring the Wolfsangel symbol, which was used by a Waffen-SS division and several Wehrmacht units during WWII. A video circulating on social media shows Johnson urging London to send more weapons and money to Kiev.

In its statement on Thursday, the Russian Embassy said the Azov regiment gained “worldwide notoriety both for its widespread use of fascist Wolfsangel insignia and despicable war crimes against civilians.”

The unit, which is currently called the 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade of the Ukrainian National Guard, was originally a militia set up by a notorious neo-Nazi, Andrey Biletsky, after the 2014 US-backed coup in Kiev. It was integrated in the Ukrainian National Guard later the same year.

Biletsky was widely recognized as a white supremacist and neo-Nazi before the Azov regiment was whitewashed by Western media after the February 2022 escalation of hostilities with Russia. In 2021, TIME magazine described his ‘Patriot of Ukraine’ organization as a “neo-Nazi terrorist group,” whose “manifesto seemed to pluck its narrative straight from Nazi ideology.” This group would morph into the ‘Azov volunteer battalion’ in 2014.

The battalion’s founder told TIME in 2014 that Azov’s symbols were chosen because they were “used by Germans” in WWII. The man vanished from the public eye in 2019, but re-appeared in 2023 when he was seen meeting with the Ukrainian president, Vladimir Zelensky.

The unit has been accused by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and the UN of multiple human rights abuses, including rape and torture of civilians. In 2018, the US Congress approved a ban on providing funding to the Azov unit.

In 2016, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a lengthy report on war crimes committed by the Ukrainian military and security forces in Donbass. The document mentions the Azov battalion on multiple occasions in the context of what was described as the “beastly torture” of prisoners, including civilians.