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Canada failed when it trained Ukrainian troops linked to the far right, says Nazi hunter

Ottawa Citizen logo Ottawa Citizen 2022-04-13 David Pugliese, Ottawa Citizen
Canadian first aid methods are demonstrated to soldiers from the National Guard of Ukraine in November 2020 in Zolochiv, Ukraine. © Provided by Ottawa Citizen Canadian first aid methods are demonstrated to soldiers from the National Guard of Ukraine in November 2020 in Zolochiv, Ukraine.

A top Nazi hunter and Holocaust scholar says Canada failed when it allowed Ukrainian military personnel connected to far-right groups to receive training as recently as 17 months ago.

But the Canadian Forces says it had no obligation to be entirely certain of the backgrounds of those soldiers it trained in Ukraine.

Radio Canada reported Monday that Canadian military personnel trained both members of the far-right Azov regiment as well as at least one Ukrainian soldier who sported the crest of a Nazi SS unit from the Second World War. The training took place in November 2020.

Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel said in an interview with this newspaper that Canada failed to properly monitor its own military training program. “The Canadian government didn’t do its due diligence,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of the Canadian defence ministry to know exactly who they are training.”

“There is no question that there are neo-Nazis in different forms in Ukraine, whether they are in the Azov regiment or other organizations,” he added.

Defence sources acknowledged the crest worn by the Ukrainian soldier in Canadian military photos is the insignia of Ukraine’s SS unit which fought for the Nazis. The other photos show Ukrainian troops with insignia linked to the Azov unit.

Canadian Forces Capt. Véronique Sabourin said all Canadian military members training Ukrainian troops were given information to help them recognize patches and insignia associated with right-wing extremism. Ukraine is responsible for vetting its own personnel, she added.


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If Canadian soldiers suspect their Ukrainian counterparts or trainees hold racist views or belong to right-wing organizations, then the trainees are removed, Sabourin explained. But she added: “There is no burden of proof on the CAF to demonstrate this beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Canadian military has denied training members of the Azov unit.

The Azov unit, sometimes known as a battalion or a regiment, has been formerly incorporated into the Ukrainian military. But its connections to the far-right have long been recognized. In 2017, Canada’s Joint Task Force Ukraine produced a briefing on the Azov Battalion, acknowledging its links to Nazi ideology. “Multiple members of Azov have described themselves as Nazis,” the Canadian officers warned in their briefing.

In 2018, the U.S. Congress banned the use of U.S. funds to provide arms, training and other assistance to the Azov Battalion because of its links to the far-right and neo-Nazis. The UN and Amnesty International have accused the unit of human rights violations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has justified his invasion of Ukraine by falsely claiming the country was led by Nazis. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish.

But the Russian invasion and the sympathy it has generated for Ukraine in western nations has served as a catalyst for a wider acceptance of Azov.

Some Jewish groups have watched with concern as journalists have lionized the unit or made excuses for its actions by pointing out there are only a few neo-Nazis in the organization. Japan’s Public Security Intelligence Agency reportedly removed Azov from its international terrorist list.

Still, the far-right sympathies of some Ukrainian military units have proved to be a problem. NATO recently used Twitter to highlight women in Ukraine’s military but had to pull the tweet after social media users pointed out women pictured were wearing Nazi-affiliated insignia.

Others have claimed allegations made against the Azov regiment are part of a Russian disinformation campaign.

Zuroff dismisses such claims. “It’s not Russian propaganda, far from it,” he explained. “These people are neo-Nazis. There is an element of the ultra-right in Ukraine and it’s absurd to ignore it.”

In June 2018, Canadian officials, including military personnel, met with leaders of the Azov unit. But despite knowing about the neo-Nazi links, the officials didn’t denounce the unit. Instead, they were concerned the news media would expose details of the get-together, according to National Defence documents. The Canadians allowed themselves to be photographed with unit members, which Azov then used for its propaganda purposes.

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