The training the U.S. provided to the Azov Battalion is coming back to roost in the U.S. as the National Socialist group is training and radicalizing U.S.-based groups with similar ideologies steeped in white pride and a belief in white nationalism.
According to a recent FBI indictment, several American white nationalists were allegedly radicalized by and received training from Ukraine’s National Socialist Azov Battalion, which receives funding from the current government of Ukraine as well as the U.S. government. The group has also received weapons from the Israeli government.
The indictment, filed in Los Angeles, California last month, asserts that four American members of the Rise Above Movement (RAM) — RAM co-founder Robert Rundo as well as Robert Boman, Tyler Laube and Aaron Eason — had “violently attacked and assaulted counter-protestors” at several white nationalist events throughout the U.S., including the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last year.
Court documents refer to RAM as a “white supremacy extremist group” while the group self-represents as “a combat-ready, militant group of a new nationalist white supremacy/identity movement.”
The recent indictment gives special attention to Rundo’s more recent activities, particularly his trip to Europe earlier this year where he traveled to Germany, Ukraine, and Italy “to meet with members of European white supremacy extremist groups.” The FBI became aware that one of the individuals with whom Rundo had met during this trip was Olena Semenyaka, a leader of the International Department for the National Corps, a Ukrainian political party that was formed as an offshoot of the Azov Battalion in 2016.
The affidavit detailing Rundo’s meeting with Semenyaka, signed by FBI agent Scott Bierwirth, states that “the Azov Battalion is a paramilitary unit of the Ukrainian National Guard which is known for its association with neo-Nazi ideology and use of Nazi symbolism.” It then adds that Azov Battalion “is believed to have participated in training and radicalizing United States-based white supremacy organizations,” such as RAM.
In other words, the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion is suspected by the U.S. government of both training and radicalizing violent white nationalist groups based in America. This is particularly troubling when one considers the fact that the U.S. government directly enabled the Azov Battalion’s growth and prominence. Now, it seems that those actions have translated into unwanted domestic consequences for the United States government.
The Azov Battalion’s ability to provide training to U.S. white nationalist groups is a testament to the group’s prominence in far-right and National Socialist circles. However, the group’s prominence is the direct result of U.S. government policy toward Ukraine.
Originally a paramilitary group of right-wing Ukrainian nationalists linked to the country’s Social-National Party, Azov Battalion has since become incorporated into Ukraine’s Interior Ministry as a component of the country’s National Guard. In addition, the group’s founder Andrey Bilitsky, is currently a member of Ukraine’s parliament. Bilitsky once said that “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival.”
Despite the merging of Azov Battalion with the Ukrainian government, the U.S has long continued to support Ukraine’s military with hundreds of millions of dollars in “security, programmatic, and technical assistance,” largely in the name of combatting “Russian aggression.”