According to a report in the US newspaper “Washington Post”, the USA wants to allow the once notorious Azov Brigade, which has now been integrated into the Ukrainian National Guard, to use US weapons. This will lift a ban imposed on the 12th Special Brigade “Azov” ten years ago, the newspaper reported on Monday (local time), citing a statement from the US State Department.

The brigade now has access to the same military support from the US as all other units. The State Department has found no evidence of violations of human rights, among other things, which led to the weapons ban at the time, the Washington Post quotes from the statement.

The Azov press service confirmed the release of weapons. However, no information was given as to whether the brigade had already received weapons. The unit was founded in 2014 by right-wing extremists as a volunteer battalion to fight against the Moscow-backed eastern Ukrainian separatists on the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčAzov. The unit, which grew into a brigade, was incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard shortly afterwards. Most of the radical founding members have now left the group.

The Kremlin sharply criticized the US decision. “This sudden change of position by Washington shows that they will stop at nothing in their attempts to suppress Russia, using Ukraine and the Ukrainian people as an instrument and are even ready to flirt with neo-Nazis,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, according to Russian news agencies.

During the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the brigade was wiped out while defending the port city of Mariupol, and the survivors were taken prisoner by the Russians at the Azovstal steelworks. Some of them, including commander Denys Prokopenko, were released in prisoner exchanges. The unit uses the wolfsangel symbol, which is considered unconstitutional in Germany.

About ten years ago, US officials discovered that some of its founders held racist, xenophobic and ultra-nationalist views, the Washington Post wrote. UN human rights representatives also accused the group of human rights violations.

The change in strategy in the US State Department coincides with new advances by the Russian military in eastern Ukraine and attacks on the country’s energy infrastructure. Ukraine has been defending itself against the Russian war of aggression with Western help since February 2022.

Lifting the ban was a top priority for Ukrainian government officials, according to the newspaper, as the brigade could have been more effective in defending Azovstal if it had access to American equipment. Members of the brigade were also not allowed to attend training organized by the US military.