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US clears way for Ukrainian military unit to use American weapons

FILE PHOTO: Servicemen of the National Guard of Ukraine fire a howitzer towards Russian troops in Donetsk region

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. review found no evidence of human rights violations by Ukraine’s Azov Brigade, paving the way for it to use American training and weapons, the State Department said on Tuesday, citing Russian disinformation aimed at discrediting the unit.

U.S. law bars foreign security forces from U.S. military assistance if they have committed gross violations of human rights, but a review of the National Guard of Ukraine’s 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade cleared them for U.S. funds, the department said in a statement.

“After thorough review, Ukraine’s 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade passed Leahy vetting as carried out by the U.S. Department of State,” the department wrote, referring to the Leahy Law.

The move allows the Biden administration to reverse a decade-old ban on allowing the Ukrainian military unit to use U.S. weapons, according to The Washington Post, which first reported the decision.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called the move “extremely negative.”

There was no immediate comment by representatives of Kyiv.

The Azov Regiment, which has far-right and ultra-nationalist roots, is part of Ukraine’s National Guard and evolved out of a battalion that was formed in 2014 and fought against Russian-backed separatists who carved out breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine.

The unit said in a statement that Western weapons would improve the combat capabilities of their fighters and save lives. It voiced gratitude for efforts taken to lift the ban despite what it described as Russian propaganda about the group.

The regiment is lionized in Ukraine for defending the country against Russia’s invasion and in particular the southern city of Mariupol.

“Russian disinformation has actively worked to discredit Special Forces Azov Brigade” trying to conflate it with a 2014 militia that disbanded in 2015, the State Department said. “The composition of Special Forces Brigade Azov is significantly different.”

Peskov, in a briefing with reporters, called the brigade forces “ultra-nationalist armed units.”

“This sudden change of position by Washington shows that they do not shy away from anything in their attempts to suppress Russia, using Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as a tool in their hands, and are even prepared to flirt with neo-Nazis,” Peskov said.

(Reporting by Reuters, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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