U.S. Approves Weapons Transfers to Ukrainian Azov Brigade

Russia Ukraine War

KYIV, Ukraine — The U.S. Department of State announced on Tuesday that it has lifted restrictions on the transfer of American weapons and training to the Azov Brigade, a prominent Ukrainian military unit with a controversial past.

This decision aims to help the Azov Brigade, known for its effectiveness in combat and popularity among Ukrainians, move beyond its association with far-right ideologies, an image its commanders have been working to dispel amid Russian propaganda.

The State Department conducted a vetting process on the Azov Brigade, now officially recognized as the 12th Special Forces Brigade within Ukraine’s National Guard, according to U.S. laws, which prohibit the provision of equipment and training to foreign military units or individuals suspected of committing gross human rights violations. The State Department found “no evidence of Gross Violations of Human Rights (GVHR) committed by the 12th Brigade Azov,” according to a statement.

“This is a new page in our unit’s history,” the Azov Brigade stated on Instagram. “Azov is becoming even more powerful, even more professional and even more dangerous for occupiers.”

“Obtaining western weapons and training from the United States will not only increase the combat ability of Azov, but most importantly, contribute to the preservation of the lives and the health of personnel,” the statement said.

Prior to this decision, a provision in the U.S. appropriations law prohibited the Azov from participating in Western military exercises or using weapons purchased with American funds. Lifting the ban is expected to significantly enhance the brigade’s combat capabilities, particularly during the ongoing war against Russia’s invasion. Ukraine faces a shortage of …

Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, the brigade has been working to change its public image, distancing itself from its controversial ultranationalist roots and emphasizing its reputation as a skilled and effective fighting force.

Azov soldiers played a pivotal role in the defense of the besieged southern port city of Mariupol, holding out for weeks in the city’s steel mill despite intense attacks from Russian forces. They remain low on ammunition. In Ukraine, they are celebrated as heroes, remembered for their defense of the sprawling plant, which became a symbol of Ukrainian resilience in the war against Russia. People participate in weekly rallies demanding the release of … who have been held captive by Russia for two years.

Moscow has repeatedly portrayed the Azov as a Nazi group and accused them of committing atrocities, but has not publicly provided any evidence. In 2022, … officially declared Azov a terrorist organization.

The brigade originated from a group called the Azov Battalion, formed in 2014 as one of many volunteer brigades created to combat Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. Initially, the battalion recruited members from far-right circles.

While current members of the Azov Brigade reject accusations of extremism and any ties to far-right movements, the Kremlin has used the regiment’s origins to justify its invasion of Ukraine, portraying it as a battle against Nazi influence in the country.