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Israel Is Arming Ukraine’s Blatantly Neo-Nazi Militia the Azov Battalion

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A shocking new report in the Electronic Intifada reveals that Ukrainian neo-Nazis are using Israeli weapons to fight Russia. Journalist Max Blumenthal discusses the SS-wearing Azov Battalion, a neo-Nazi militia that uses Hitlerian symbols and is embedded in the National Guard of Ukraine, which also receives support from the US and Canada

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BEN NORTON: Western media outlets have finally begun reporting on the neo-Nazi threat that is growing inside Ukraine, which is a close Western ally against Russia. Well, one of the most scandalous reports now shows that another key U.S. ally, Israel, is in fact arming some of these neo-Nazi groups in Ukraine who have carried out attacks on ethnic or religious minority groups, including the Roma, and also Jews inside Ukraine. Journalist Asa Winstanley wrote about this for the website The Electronic Intifada in an article titled “Israel Is Arming Neo-Nazis in Ukraine.” Asa Winstanley’s report reveals that the neo-Nazi militia the Azov Battalion, which is part of the Ukrainian National Guard, posted online propaganda, including video showing it using Israeli Tavor rifles.

As I said, the Azov Battalion, which began as a neo-Nazi militia, is now incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard and is fighting pro-Russian separatists. And in Asa Winstanley’s report, he also quotes a letter from the Israeli Defense Ministry that it wrote in response to a lawyer who had requested an end to Israeli military aid to Ukraine, citing the reports of Nazis attacking Ukrainian Jews, and also Roma in Ukraine.

Joining us to discuss this is Max Blumenthal. Max is an award-winning journalist and the editor and founder of the website The Grayzone Project, where he has reported extensively on the neo-Nazis in Ukraine. Max previously here at The Real News reported on how the United States has directly armed Nazis in Ukraine by arming the Azov battalion, and in fact, the Azov battalion has posted photos on its website showing it meeting with American military officials. So today we’re going to talk about how Israel, which claims to defend international Jewry, is in fact arming Nazis in Ukraine. Thanks for joining us, Max.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Great to be on.

BEN NORTON: So can you just respond to this shocking report from Asa Winstanley that Israel, which, again, claims to speak on behalf of international Jewry, is arming anti-Semitic, violent neo-Nazis in Ukraine?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Yeah. It would be shocking to those who didn’t know Israel’s history. This actually didn’t shock me at all, especially given the fact that U.S. Congress has enacted a prohibition on selling arms to the Azov Battalion this year thanks to the efforts of representative Ro Khanna. I’ll explain why a little bit later. But just to summarize this really excellent report by Asa Winstanley, which is really authoritative in explaining the origins and ideology of Azov and the danger they present to Ukraine and to Europe as a whole.

The Defense Ministry of Israel has confirmed several shipments of arms and tenders for weapons sales to Ukraine, to the Ukrainian military. The Azov Battalion has posted photos of its soldiers on its own YouTube channel and social media channels with the Tavor rifle. And the Tavor rifle is one of the most distinctive weapons in the Israeli arsenal. It is the standard issue rifle for Israeli soldiers, and it was recently used in some of the atrocities committed on the border of Gaza. And it replaced the Uzi, which is another really distinctive Israeli weapon. So there’s no mistake here. This is clearly an Israeli weapon, and it reflects what was seen in the Israeli Defense Ministry documents which were turned up by Israeli human rights lawyers and were obtained by Asa and the Electronic Intifada. And basically, the Israeli Defense Ministry has refused to deny shipping weapons to the Azov Battalion.

The reason that they have kind of some plausible deniability about directing weapons to neo-Nazis is that the Azov Battalion has been incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard through the Interior Ministry, which is run by an ultra-right nationalist named Arsen Avakov. So Israel is basically just sending weapons to the Ukrainian military, which is now filled with hardcore neo-Nazi ideologues. But there’s no disputing the truth of the headline to Asa Winstanley’s article. Israel is arming neo-Nazis in Ukraine. The self-proclaimed Jewish state is literally arming neo-Nazis. And that should shock everyone, but at the same time it’s not shocking given Israel’s history, which I can kind of briefly explain.

BEN NORTON: Yeah, we’ll talk more about that in a moment. But first let’s talk more about the Azov Battalion. We mentioned that this is a neo-Nazi, an avowedly neo-Nazi militia. It uses the [wolfsangel], which is a Nazi symbol, and many of its members have SS tattoos and white supremacist tattoos. Can you talk more about what the Azov Battalion is, and also specifically its founder, Andriy Biletsky?

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Well, the Azov Battalion grows out of the Patriot of Ukraine, which was a violent racist militia. That was sort of the street wing of the, or the military wing of the Social National Party, founded after the end of the Cold War by Andriy Parubiy and Oleh Tyahnybok, two politicians who remain extremely influential in Ukraine. Azov has been the shock troops, function as the shock troops of the Ukrainian military in eastern Ukraine in the fight against pro-Russian separatists around the Donbass. They operate training camps in the country not just for potential soldiers but for children, and they function as fascist indoctrination centers.

They’ve been visited by Western media, and USA Today sent a reporter to one of these camps, spoke to a drill sergeant who said, kind of laughingly, that no more than half of his men are hardcore neo-Nazis. There are Nazi symbols all over their uniforms. Another sort of spokesman, someone more higher up, someone higher up in the eyes of the Battalion, told the Guardian that actually only 10 to 20 percent of the Battalion consists of ideologically hardcore neo-Nazis. Gregor Monteux is one of the foreign fighters who has come to assist the Azov Battalion, and was arrested on his way to attack mosques and synagogues in France with an incredible arsenal of explosives and advanced weapons after training with Azov. And they believe in this ideology of the Reconquista, or the reconquest of Europe.

Their leader Andriy Biletsky has sworn, after he was elected to Parliament, that he would eventually dissolve Parliament and that his ultranationalist forces would take power. And they started to kind of make some moves in that direction. Besides attacking Roma camps all over the country and menacing religious minorities, they have deployed a national corps to Kiev to supposedly restore order. And as part of their ideologic-. As part of their, you know, sort of their, one of their ideological goals or political goals is to discredit what they see as a corrupt technocratic government that’s foreign-run and initiate the Reconquista from Ukraine, and spread it outwards to the, and restore order in the other white nations. So their mission extends well beyond Ukraine.

So this is the group that Israel is now arming. And I should also mention that, you know, we had reported earlier that the U.S. was arming the Azov Battalion. They sent us officers to meet with Azov officers in the field to discuss logistics. That’s probably, possibly no longer taking place because of the congressional prohibition. But Canada recently sent its military attache Colonel Brian Irwin to meet with Azov officers. And Canada has had to actually defend this meeting in an official statement to Asa Winstanley. And they said that, I mean, this is absolutely pathetic. They said-. I’m not quoting directly, I’m paraphrasing. That they aim to encourage diversity and tolerance in Ukraine through these person to person contacts. So you know, there’s nothing like arming neo-Nazis to encourage tolerance, is there. It actually speaks to the ideological tendencies of the foreign minister of Ukraine, I’m sorry, of Canada, who is a Canadian Ukranian, Chrystia Freeland, whose grandfather was a Nazi. Grandfather was a Ukrainian Nazi collaborator, a hardcore Nazi ideologue, who was welcomed into the West as so many other former Ukrainian Nazi collaborators were. And when he was exposed as such by Russian diplomats in Canada, Justin Trudeau responded by expelling those diplomats rather than, you know, punishing Freeland for lying publicly lying about this fact.

So what’s going on here is that the U.S., this is what I think is going on, the U.S. is unable to arm Azov, and it makes it harder for them to arm the Ukrainian military, because Azov is incorporated into the National Guard. So they are turning to their allies. And one of the allies that the U.S. has always relied on is kind of this back channel to arm fascist death squads during the Cold War, was Israel.

BEN NORTON: Yeah. And we saw this in the war in Guatemala. The Guatemalan civil war, where Israel, along with the U.S., helped arm Rios Montt, who was a genocidal dictator; carried out [inaudible]. But really quickly getting back to Israel and Ukraine here, I’ll just note that Andriy Biletsky, who is the founder of the Azov Battalion, he’s now a lawmaker in the Ukrainian Parliament. And Asa Winstanley quotes him in his article, and notes that Biletsky has, quote, pledged to restore the honor of the white race. And he has also proposed laws forbidding so-called race mixing. But before we [inaudible] here, Max, I’m wondering if you could briefly talk about why you weren’t surprised to hear that, that Israel today is arming Nazis in Ukraine, given its history.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Because of what you just explained, which is Israel’s history of working as a kind of proxy for the U.S. to arm forces that are committing human rights abuses, or that are fascistic. And, you know, to give the U.S. some kind of distance. During the 1980s, I think it was in ’84, in one of the rare periods where there was intelligence reform and Congress actually put the brakes on some of the excesses of the so-called intelligence community, the Congress passed the Boland amendment, which required the executive, the president, to put his signature on any covert action that took place. And this was to slow down the arms to the, to the Contras in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and the fascist forces in Guatemala. And so the U.S. turned to Israel and Guatemala. Efraim Rios Montt, this right-wing dictator, genocidal dictator, who you mentioned actually said that our soldiers are, you know, reflect the Israeli spirit. And he openly praised Israel for not just supplying them with weapons, but training them. So I think this scenario is in play again. And the U.S. can easily turn to Canada, as well. It doesn’t seem like Canada has particularly ashamed of the fact that it just held these high-level military meetings with a neo-Nazi battalion.

BEN NORTON: We’ll have to end our discussion there. I was joined by the journalist Max Blumenthal, who has reported extensively on the neo-Nazis who have embedded themselves in different government institutions in Ukraine, which is a close Western ally, and an ally of NATO. And we were discussing a shocking recent report by Asa Winstanley in The Electronic Intifada about how Israel is arming the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion in Ukraine. As always, Max, thanks for joining us.

MAX BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.

BEN NORTON: For The Real News, I’m Ben Norton.