U.S. policymakers have been in a precarious position since backing the coup that overthrew Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014.
Though many within President Barack Obama’s administration support a policy of tension with Russia and believe a new Cold War can secure budgets and promote their relevance, the Ukrainians actually fighting on behalf of the post-coup government in Kiev are a less-than reputable sort. In fact, many are outright neo-Nazis or neo-Nazi sympathizers who see their fight as part of a larger struggle for racial purity in Ukraine.
Though many of those neo-fascist fighters in Ukraine hearken back to popular figures in Ukrainian history who allied with the Nazis, few Americans and even fewer American policymakers typically cast a fond gaze at the ideology or history of the Third Reich.
Thus, the dilemma: give up support for the neo-fascist militias and be seen as weak in standing up to Russia or support the militias and be seen as getting into bed with murderous neo-Nazis.
Not surprisingly, the first course of action for policymakers was to support the militias and hope no one noticed. This did not go well, as the Associated Press and other media outlets noticed that one of the groups being trained by the U.S. military was the Azov Battalion, which actually uses an emblem from Nazi Germany.
Even the reliably neoconservative Daily Beast started publishing stories wondering if the US was training Neo-Nazis, then eventually confirming that, indeed, the US was providing military and financial support to neo-Nazi militants in Ukraine.
The outcry over the U.S.-Neo-Nazi alliance in Ukraine led Congressmen John Conyers and Ted Yoho to draft an amendment to the House Defense Appropriations bill to limit “arms, training, and other assistance to the neo-Nazi Ukrainian militia, the Azov Battalion,” which passed by unanimous vote in the House of Representatives.
But that amendment was stripped out of the final bill, allowing U.S. aid to neo-Nazis in Ukraine to continue. According to The Nation, the Department of Defense were the ones who successfully lobbied Congress to kill the Conyers-Yoho amendment and did so on a thoroughly dishonest basis:
The Pentagon’s objection to the Conyers-Yoho amendment rests on the claim that it is redundant because similar legislation—known as the Leahy law—already exists that would prevent the funding of Azov.
This, as it turns out, is untrue. The Leahy law covers only those groups for which the “Secretary of State has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Yet the State Department has never claimed to have such information about Azov, so funding to the group cannot be blocked by the Leahy law. [emphasis added]
While it is nice to see the Pentagon pretending to care about redundancy (please carry that view forward to procurement), the truth is if the previous bans had covered the Azov Battalion the US military would not have been training them in the first place.
The reason the Pentagon is playing such a dirty game with Congress on funding the neo-fascist elements in Ukraine is not hard to deduce. Neo-Nazi militias, like the Azov Battalion, are the most dedicated and fierce killers, driven by racial bloodlust and unmoored to civilized thinking or conduct. Azov and their comrades are anxious to get into the fight and spill blood whereas many other Ukrainians are doing everything they can to avoid the war in the east.
What the Obama Administration will soon learn, as the government in Kiev knows now, is that the rabid dog you release on your enemy can just as easily bite your own hand. Empowering the neo-fascist militias today may lay the groundwork for another coup tomorrow.