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Denys Prokopenko (callsign Redis), commander of the Azov Regiment

“We fight real Nazis of today”: Azov commander slams US weapons ban in plea for aid

“How many more fighters of our brigade who defend Ukraine and entire free Western world from the real, non-fictional Nazis of today, must die due to the lack of necessary modern Western weapons?” asks Col. Prokopenko
Denys Prokopenko meeting with his soldiers after returning from captivity. Photo by Azov brigade.
“We fight real Nazis of today”: Azov commander slams US weapons ban in plea for aid

Colonel Denys Prokopenko has been commanding the Azov brigade since 2017, including during the defense of the encircled Ukrainian city of Mariupol in February-May 2022. The brigade has been one of Ukraine’s most effective combat units due to challenging training for recruits and a high command level. At the same time, it has been deprived of supplies of any US-made weapons due to accusations of alleged “nazism.”

The accusations were conjured by Russian propaganda and not supported by evidence, let alone the fact that the brigade is part of Ukraine’s National Guard and obeys all national legislation, including the laws banning propaganda of Nazi and Soviet totalitarian ideologies.

Due to the lack of Ukrainian voices in Western media after 2014, Russians managed to create the image of Azov as an alleged “Nazi unit” and use this not only to lobby a ban on any military supplies for Azov but also to justify the invasion of Ukraine overall and later claim that Ukraine needs to be “denazified.”

In his statement, published on 19 April 2024, Colonel Prokopenko urged the US politicians to abandon their current policy of humiliating and blacklisting the Azov Brigade as well as abandon prejudices imposed by Russian propaganda and help achieve victory over the invading Russian troops, who are “real, non-fictional Nazis of today.”

We publish Prokopenko’s statement below and also address the most common myths about Azov and the so-called “Ukrainian Nazis.”

Commander Denys Prokopenko before and during the siege of Mariupol in 2022. Photo: open source

Prokopenko’s statement

Nonsense. This is the first word that comes to mind in the context of the existing ban on the transfer of Western weapons to the 12th Special Operations Brigade “Azov” of the National Guard of Ukraine.
Few people in Ukraine know about this, and almost no one talks about it publicly. It is time to draw attention to this situation. From 2017 to the present, several US Consolidated Appropriations Acts contain the following amendment: “None of the funds provided in this Act may be used to provide arms, training, or other assistance to the Azov Battalion.”

In 2015, Congressman John Conyers Jr., a Democrat from Michigan, proposed this amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act. The congressman introduced this proposal, noting that Foreign Affairs magazine, as well as “other leading media,” characterized the Azov Battalion as “openly neo-Nazi and “fascist.”

According to media reports, the Department of Defense later urged the removal of the proposed amendment, arguing that assistance to Azov should already be prohibited by the Leahy Law, which prohibits the US Government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights. At that timethe ban on the transfer of weapons to Azov was not included in the final law.

However, in 2017, this amendment was already included in the text of the appropriations bill. It is also present in this year’s defense appropriations bill.

It is significant that the Leahy Law, which requires consideration of human rights violations incidents based on specific facts, was not applied to Azov, and the decision to adopt the amendment was primarily based on the characterization of Azov by Western media, which, obviously, formed their attitude to the unit under the influence of Moscow propaganda.

All the main accusations against Azov have been repeatedly refuted based on facts online and in the media. In particular, at AzovContraFake.

Is it worth once again drawing attention to the fact that the very wording “Azov Battalion,” which is used in the law, actually refers to a non-existent unit. At the end of 2014, Azov ceased to be a battalion and became a separate special operations detachment. Since February 2023, our unit is the 12th Special Operations Brigade “Azov” of the National Guard of Ukraine. Not a battalion, not a regiment. A brigade.

This amendment, which migrates from one appropriations bill to another year after year, is the reason why, in 2022, during the defense of Mariupol, Azov did not have the latest Western weapons. At that time, we restrained the enemy’s superior forces in the besieged Mariupol, using our extremely limited resources, and showed especially high efficiency.

How many lives of personnel could have been saved, and what would have been the results of the city’s defense if, in addition to high motivation, cohesion, and professionalism, Azov fighters had modern armored vehicles and artillery systems at their disposal? 

How the West enabled genocide in Mariupol with its misguided Azov obsession

Even after 2022, when it seemed that the world had finally learned the truth about Azov, we still do not have the opportunity to send our fighters to most of the leading Western military training and do not receive the necessary weapons that allies transfer to Ukraine.

This problem is partially solved thanks to volunteers and active Ukrainians who do everything possible to help the unit. For example, the Tylovyky volunteer project raised UAH 77 million ($2 million) for 17 FV432 Bulldog armored personnel carriers for the Azov Brigade. But the war requires more.

Now, all of Ukraine is experiencing what Azov has been dealing with since 2014. Unfortunately, Azov became not only the first unit in the Ukrainian army to implement Western military standards but also one of the first and main targets of Moscow propaganda.

Since the beginning of the Russian-Ukrainian war in 2014, the Russian Federation has been accusing Azov and other volunteer units of “neo-Nazism,” “aiming to destroy them. In 2022, the Russians wanted to “denazify” all of Ukraine, labeling an entire nation as “Nazis. Ten years ago, no one helped Azov resist the influence of hostile propaganda. Today, the entire country finds itself in an identical situation. And just like Azov for ten years, Ukraine may now face a lack of Western assistance.

I emphasize that the very existence of such amendments and prohibitions not only does not allow Azov to carry out its combat missions even more effectively but is a blow to the defense capability of our state and is humiliating for the entire Ukrainian army.

There is no evidence or confirmation of the accusations that Russian propaganda has been pouring on Azov for ten years. If they existed, delegations of Azov fighters would not be received in the United States of America, in European countries, in Israel.

Azov fighters would not meet with representatives of the US Congress or human rights organizations. They would not speak at the UN, at the Council of Europe, at the best Western universities. They would not give interviews to leading world media and would not participate in panel discussions at major military conferences. This is the absurdity of the situation: Azov is accepted at the highest level throughout the Western world but still not given weapons.

Azov is used to overcoming difficulties on its own. We were the first unit in Ukraine to switch to NATO standards, and we did it on our own initiative. Even without Western weapons, in ten years, we have become one of the most combat-ready units in the country. Our fighters return to the ranks after Russian captivity, beat the enemy, and fulfill all the tasks set by the command.

No obstacles will stop us on our way. However, justice requires answers. How many more refutations of the theses of the Kremlin do we have to provide for the eyes of politicians in the West to finally open to the truthHow long will a structural unit of the Security and Defense Forces of Ukraine, subordinate to the military leadership of the state, be stigmatized by such humiliating amendments?

And most importantly: how many more Ukrainian military personnel, fighters of our brigade, who defend not only the freedom and independence of Ukraine but also the entire free Western world from the real, non-fictional Nazis of today, must die and be injured due to the lack of necessary modern Western weapons, for Azov to finally be removed from the Appropriations bill and all “blacklists?

Azovstal under Russian bombardment, 2022. Photo: Azov Regiment’s TG channel

Where does the myth about Azov as neo-Nazis originate from?

The common practice of Russian propaganda, based on the KGB playbook, is to take true fact out of context and then exaggerate or interpret it in the necessary context.

The fact is that back in 2014, when Russia invaded Ukraine for the first time, the Azov battalion was created by volunteers sharing rather right-wing values, although not exclusively. In particular, the Azov’s first commander, Andriy Biletskyi, who led the then-battalion for a few months in 2014, also became the founder of the Ukrainian right-wing political party National Corps in 2016.

Currently, Biletskyi is the commander of another Ukrainian unit, the Third separate assault brigade, while his party suspended activity after the 2022 Russian invasion began. He, like other Azov members, didn’t commit any crimes to be accused of extremism.

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The Azov itself highlights that in 2014, amid the chaos and surprise of an attack from the Russian Federation, the selection criteria were not regulated and strict:

Azov recruited anyone who was ready to defend the country with a weapon in their arms. In this regard, some people with radical political views and outlooks joined Azov.

As soon as Azov got on the rails of development and discipline, such people were dismissed from the unit, as any form of discrimination or hate speech is unacceptable for the regiment. It is important to note that those people with unacceptable positions for the unit did not commit any crimes against any individual anyway,” the brigade states.

The Azov is not an ideological unit, as Russian propaganda tries to portray it. Ukrainian military units are prohibited from having any particular ideology or political affiliation other than those outlined in military statutes and the Ukrainian Constitution.

Russian propaganda tries to highlight some conservative or far-right individuals who once tried to join Azov as volunteers, such as Norwegian citizen Joachim Furholm.  However, he wasn’t even accepted by Azov.

 In reality, since 2014, people of various ethnicities have served in Azov, including Jews and Georgians, such as Giorgi Kuparashvili or Ruslan Serbov.
Azov Georgian
Georgian Giorgi Kuparashvili, who played a key role in the creation of Azov, served in the unit for nine years, in 2022 took part in the defense of Mariupol, was seriously wounded and evacuated by a helicopter.

“We must draw the attention of dear ‘journalists’ to the fact that, according to the laws of Ukraine, a citizen serving in the military cannot be a member of any political party,” the Azov statement reads, debunking the 2021 publication of Time, one of numerous publications bringing false accusations.

That’s why the claim that the Azov Regiment is the power wing of a political party is also false and manipulative.

Following the same logic, it can be said that the US Marine Corps is the power wing of the Republican or Democratic Party of the United States, because veterans of this military formation are among the members of these parties.

Further, it is said in the article that the persons who have actually been trained in the ranks of Azov are being persecuted by the FBI.

If it is so, why, in the course of all these years, the only known request for the extradition of a US citizen from Ukraine to the United States was a volunteer of Right Sector Craig Lang?

Azov brigade Jew
One of the most famous Azov fighters of Jewish origin is Ruslan Serbov with the call sign “David.”

Vyacheslav Likhachev, Ukrainian political scientist and human rights watcher, debunked the Kremlin propaganda myths about the Azov Regiment in his article, stating that no units among the Ukrainian National Guard or the Armed Forces of Ukraine are created based on ideology.

The only possible ideology of any unit of the National Guard of Ukraine is the Disciplinary Statute. Among other rules, it states the obligation to respect human rights, honor, and dignity” and refrain from expressions and actions which can violate human rights or humiliate honor and dignity of a person.”

As of today, there are absolutely no grounds for accusations that neo-Nazis serve in the Azov Regiment,” Likhachev concludes.

What is Azov Regiment? Honest answers to the most common questions

Meanwhile, political analyst Anton Shekhovstov believes that the West’s obsession with the supposed neo-Nazi threat of Azov is simply an excuse for its moral procrastination: avoiding taking the steps to stop Russia’s very real genocide in Ukraine:

There are many in the West who – instead of even starting to comprehend the brutal horror of the Russian war against Ukraine – prefer to distract themselves with inquiries of whether Azov fighters have any politically incorrect tattoos or t-shirts.

It’s much more exciting, of course, than to stand up to the Russian genocidal invasion. This is moral procrastination that should be met with disdain and contempt.

Another concern aired by the Kremlin propaganda was the emblem of Azov, which Russians claimed was a Nazi symbol. 

In reality, the symbol is merely a combination of the letters N and I to denote the words “National Idea.

The National Idea for the Azov fighters implies a militant devotion to the Ukrainian people and willingness to sacrifice their own health and even their lives for the well-being and safety of Ukrainians,” the brigade officially explains its emblem.

 Nation in this context is not interpreted in some biological sense, which is confirmed by the presence of representatives of different ethnic groups in the unit’s ranks. Azov’s nationalism was structured around the value of a civil nation and its political freedoms: democracy, pluralism, and tolerance.

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