Washington has lifted the ban on weapon transfer and training for Ukraine’s Azov Brigade, meaning the group will now likely have access to more of the advanced heavy weaponry that Uncle Sam has to offer.

The ban was imposed by Washington in 2018 through a House spending bill for aid to Ukraine, which stipulated that “none of the funds made available by this act may be used to provide arms, training or other assistance to the [then] Azov Battalion.”

The US Department of State informed the Washington Post of the new development, which was later confirmed by the Azov’s press service to Ukrainian news outlet Suspilne.

However, neither the US nor Azov commented on when the ban was lifted or whether US weaponry had reached the Azov Brigade at the time of writing.

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“After thorough review, Ukraine’s 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade passed Leahy vetting as carried out by the US Department of State,” the announcement read, as reported by the Washington Post.

The announcement referenced the Leahy vetting policy named after former Senator Patrick Leahy, which stipulated that “prior to a decision to provide any training, equipment, or other assistance to a unit of a foreign security force full consideration is given to any credible information available to the Department of State relating to human rights violations by such unit.”

The agency said it has found “no evidence” of such violations.

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The 12th Special Forces Azov Brigade has been a controversial group. Supporters praised it for its discipline and effectiveness – in particular its defiant last stand in defending Mariupol in 2022 – while others criticized it for its contentious past in relation to the extremist views held by some of the group’s founders.

Founded in 2014 after Euromaidan and Russia’s subsequent military actions in eastern Ukraine and Crimea, the group first started as a paramilitary unit that has since officially incorporated into Ukraine’s National Guard in November 2014.

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Andriy Biletsky, one of the group’s founders, has made racist and xenophobic comments in the past that contributed to the group’s tainted image – one which the Kremlin continues to leverage in its neo-Nazi accusations against Ukraine.

However, the Azov Brigade has long distanced itself from its controversial origins and maintained that ideologies represented by some of its founders have no bearing on the group at present.

What are the implications of the latest developments?

Lifting the ban would likely allow Azov to access more advanced US weaponry, such as Bradley fighting vehicles and Javelin anti-tank missiles.

Since the full-scale invasion started in 2022, US standard small arms – as well as some US-manufactured armored vehicles – have been seen in use with Azov, but it’s possible the brigade acquired the weapons from other sources since some of them are either manufactured outside of the US or available commercially.

The lift also has no impact on Ukraine’s 3rd Assault Brigade, another brigade founded by mostly Azov veterans in 2022, where Kyiv Post sources within the brigade confirmed that, to their knowledge, there had been no limitations or restrictions imposed on the group by Washington.

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