To many in the West it is abundantly clear that we should #StandWithUkraine. I fully agree. What Valdimir Putin is doing is morally wrong, often barbaric, and needs to be stopped.
As peace negotiations resumed again this week, albeit with a delay, everyone involved should be hoping for a way to end this war quickly, although Vladimir Zalensky has indicated that perhaps not all Western Countries do actually want that peace to come as soon as his citizens desperately need it to. You can read his comments here (free registration on The Economist website required to read the full article).
In the meantime it is clear that Ukraine continue to need more help with weapons, and NATO countries seem to be fine with supplying said weaponry even if they won’t go as far as sending troops or helping secure Ukrainian air space. This is understandable given the huge risk that they would be taking against a nuclear state if NATO were to get directly involved.
I came across the above tweet recently (ironically enough re-posted to facebook) and it inspired this article. Do NATO know who they’re sending weapons to? Do we as citizens of NATO countries know who we’re arming? Do we care? Should we? Who are the Azov regiment?
Ok ok, that was a lot of questions. But they’re important ones. I’m actually going to start with the last one since it answers some of the earlier ones, at least according to that photo from NEXTA who from what I can tell seem to be legitimate.
Who are the Azov Regiment
According to Aljazeera:
Azov is a far-right all-volunteer infantry military unit whose members — estimated at 900 — are ultra-nationalists and accused of harbouring neo-Nazi and white supremacist ideology.
By contrast France24 report:
“In 2014 this battalion had indeed a far-right background, these were far-right racists that founded the battalion,” said Andreas Umland at the Stockholm Centre for Eastern European Studies.
But it had since become “de-ideologised” and a regular fighting unit, he told AFP.
Its recruits now join not because of ideology but because “it has the reputation of being a particularly tough fighting unit,” Umland said.
So it would seem that some are more than happy to call the Azov Regiment neo-Nazis while others believe them to be reformed from their far right roots. It should be noted, by the way, that nobody seems to disagree that they were founded as a far right group with close ties to neo-Nazism.
So now we know who the Azov Regiment are, sort of. We know that they are a fighting force, that they are made up of volunteers, and that they were founded by far right activists/neo-Nazis, but that the current force of 900 or so might not all agree with those political ideals. So… do we and should we care if they are getting hold of the weapons that NATO are sending to Ukraine.
For most Westerners I suspect that the primary concern is that the weapons NATO are sending are proving helpful to Ukraine in repelling attacks from the Russian Federation. That is the key point of being an ally after all… helping your mate win. What ‘winning’ looks like to the Ukraine at this point is a whole other story, one I may write soon… but nonetheless the weapons would seem to be helping in the fight against Russia. Whether we care about who is using them is mostly an individual choice, but the why of the matter is more about what happens next than what’s happening now.
What Happens to the Weapons After the War?
Let’s look at the best case scenario: the Russians withdraw completely from Ukraine, agree to allow them to be a sovereign neutral nation, and give them the security assurances Zalensky is asking for. Realistic? Probably not, but I did say best case scenario.
If this happens anytime soon, say in the next 2–6 weeks, then I would imagine there are likely to be a bunch of weapons that have been supplied to the Ukrainian forces, including the Azov Regiment, that won’t have been used. I admit to not having much military knowledge so I may be wrong on that point but come along with me on this thought experiment for a moment.
So the Russians have retreated, Ukraine is ‘safe’ as much as it ever will be… and the Ukrainian Armed Forces have a bunch of NATO weapons that they haven’t needed to use. What happens to those weapons? Where do they go? To my mind there are three realistic options:
- They get sent back to NATO
- They get kept by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in an organised way, for example in some kind of munitions silo or armoury with proper documentation.
- They get forgotten about/left to the individual fighting forces with little or no documentation.
Far be it from me to make assumptions but I think that in a post-war State it would be all too easy for option three there to happen… and for the weapons to just get left with whoever had them when the peace was declared.
Now it is of course possible that Putin would demand some kind of accounting of the NATO/Western weapons as part of that peace deal. Especially since he used the supposed existence of Nazism and groups like the Azov Regiment as a pretext for his invasion. But again, for the purposes of this thought experiment let’s assume that doesn’t happen.
So at the conclusion of this thought experiment what we have is NATO military hardware in the hands of the Azov Regiment, a volunteer fighting force with links to the far right and accusations of Nazism lingering over their past and possibly present. How many people from NATO and EU member states are comfortable with that thought? I suspect the answer comes down to how you feel about the far right.
Personally, it worries me more than a little.
What Do You Think?
What are your thoughts on the issue of supplying weapons to the Ukraine and how they are deployed there? Should NATO caveat their weapons supply or is what Putin doing so evil that it justifies supplying potentially troublesome or problematic military groups like the Azov Regiment? Is it about defeating the greater evil? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section, and remember to keep the conversation civil please.
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