TORONTO – Report exploring far-right extremism in the Ukrainian military found neo-Nazis and supporters of far-right white nationalist groups boasted of having received training from Canada and others NATO countries, prompting the promise of a thorough review from the Department of National Defense.
The report, entitled “Far-right group has moved into Ukraine’s main western military training centerAnd published by the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at George Washington University, details a group within the National Academy of the Ukrainian Army (NAA) known as the “Centuria of the military order ”or simply“ Centuria ”.
The group is led by people with ties to the internationally active far-right Azov movement, according to the report. The Azov movement attacked anti-fascist protests, city council meetings, media, art exhibitions, foreign students, LGBTQ2S + and Roma community.
A 2016 report published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights details the charges against the militia of the Azov movement known as the “Azov Battalion” of torture and other war crimes in the ensuing conflict after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. Ukrainian National Guard later took the Azov battalion in its ranks – where it is now known as the Azov Regiment.
“I discovered evidence that a far-right group of military, officer and cadet with a clearly defined international agenda and apparently dozens of members were able to operate in a prestigious military academy supported by the West in Ukraine, proselytizing academy cadets since 2018, ”said report author and Washington, DC-based investigative reporter Oleksiy Kuzmenko in a series of emails to CTVNews.ca Wednesday.
Kuzmenko said the Centuria Military Order has ties to the international Azov movement, which he describes as “a large far-right organization with thousands of members stretching from a highly skilled and politicized Azov regiment to the Ukrainian National Guard to a far-right political organization. National Corp. party
The report states that members of the Centuria Military Order are part of an “order of ‘European traditionalist’ military officers” that shares the goal of reshaping the Ukrainian military with right-wing ideologies and defending what it is. they call “the cultural and ethnic identity of European peoples.”
Evidence detailed in the report, including photos taken on social media and posts on messaging platforms, shows members of Centuria, as well as unaffiliated cadets and other NAA officers, performing Nazi salutes , professing their admiration for Hitler and other Nazi figures, and espousing open and violent anti-Semitic rhetoric. Centuria members have boasted online that they have received training from foreign military forces, including those of Canada, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom
The report states that the NAA denied that Centuria operated within the academy, despite the evidence presented. Kuzmenko said several photos and videos of suspected members were removed from various social media accounts and websites after Kuzmenko contacted the group for the report, including a propaganda video showing suspected Centuria members using weapons.
Kuzmenko detailed an example of his research on Twitter which shows the proximity of Ukrainian military extremists to the Canadian Armed Forces, where a man he describes as a “neo-Nazi opposite” graduated from a tactical medical program run by the Canadian Armed Forces and the United States military and is now training other cadets. The soldier, Kuzmenko says, appears on several social media posts holding Nazi flags and in others posing with Canadian instructors. CTVNews.ca has not independently verified Kuzmenko’s photos or claims.
Noting that the Ukrainian in question was wearing clothes that clearly showed his affiliations, Kuzmenko said that members of Centuria and other far-right groups in the military “are practically screaming who they are with the way they operate in the country. big day “.
Another Centuria member received officer training in 2020 at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst in the UK, according to the report, and another attended the German Army Officers Academy in Dresden in 2019 .
“I think my report shows that despite the far-right’s lack of electoral success, it continues to strengthen its influence in Ukraine, especially in the military which appears to tolerate open far-right activity in its ranks,” Kuzmenko said by email. . “To be clear, I’m not suggesting that Ukraine is ruled by neo-Nazis, or that the Ukrainian military is dominated by the far right… what I’m saying is that there are strong indications that Ukraine is ignoring an obvious problem, as are its Western allies.
Kuzmenko said Ukraine’s Defense Ministry initially denied the allegations in detail in its report, but later announced an investigation after local and Russian media picked up on the story.
Several Ukrainian agencies did not respond to CTVNews.ca’s request for comment at the time of publication.
Christian Leuprecht, security analyst and professor at Royal Military College and Queens University and senior researcher at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, says Kuzmenko’s report should give Canada and its allies a ‘pause’ from their missions ongoing in Ukraine.
“It is ultimately up to Ukraine to control its own soldiers, but when it is not careful about getting soldiers who fundamentally do not match our values and interests, it increases the risk that the allies will do everything. just their luggage, “Leuprecht said in a statement. telephone interview with CTVNews.ca Saturday.
Leuprecht said he believes Canadians will “expect more” from Ukraine, which has received an immense amount of resources, time and energy over the years from Canada.
“It’s a country that wants to join the EU and ultimately wants to join NATO, and when you openly and actively court and tolerate anti-democratic elements in the very institutions that [are] there to defend your way of life… it will raise questions in Canada if this mission is worth the candle, ”he said.
WHAT IS CANADA DOING IN UKRAINE?
Canada has been present in Ukraine since 2015 as part of Operation UNIFIER, as support to the Ukrainian security forces – which includes military training, according to the website of the Ministry of National Defense.
Canada is part of a multinational joint commission that includes the United Kingdom, United States, Denmark, Poland, Sweden, Lithuania and Ukraine, and sends approximately 200 members of the Canadian Armed Forces to the country all six months and provides “non-lethal” supplies and equipment such as night vision goggles and medical kits.
According to the FAC, as of September 30, more than 30,000 Ukrainian Security Forces candidates had participated in the training since the start of the mission, with the FAC claiming to have provided training to 1,951 members of the Ukrainian National Guard.
The mission is scheduled to expire in March 2022, unless it is further extended by the federal government.
WHAT IS CANADA’S RESPONSE TO THE REPORT?
In an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca on Monday, the Canadian Armed Forces said they were “very concerned” by the results of the study.
“In light of these findings, DND will conduct a thorough review of the report, including to determine whether the current policies and procedures in place are strict enough to report and prevent the CAF from unintentionally assisting those whom it fundamentally opposes. opinions, ”the statement read. bed.
The statement says Canada relies on the Ukrainian Defense Ministry to control its members, but if Canadian soldiers suspect their Ukrainian counterparts or trainees have racist views, they are immediately fired.
“There is no burden of proof on the CAF to demonstrate this beyond a reasonable doubt,” the statement continued. “When Ukrainian military officers are selected to seize opportunities in Canada, it is imperative that members do not have values contrary to those of their Canadian hosts in the Ukrainian government. “
CTVNews.ca contacted the Prime Minister’s Office and received an emailed statement Tuesday from a spokesperson for the Department of National Defense, who responded on behalf of the government that “the Minister is deeply concerned about these reports and he asked officials to look into this matter. Our government and the Canadian Armed Forces do not tolerate anti-Semitic, racist or hateful views.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh called the report “alarming” in an emailed statement to CTVNews.ca on Tuesday, adding that the party planned to “examine the report in more depth in the coming weeks.” .
“Our armed forces should not train or support any far-right group in the world. The Liberals promised to make Canada’s commitment to democracy and human rights a central strategic priority of their new government. The new defense minister should examine this and put in place mechanisms to avoid any situation like this in the future, ”the statement said.
CTVNews.ca has contacted Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole, but has not received a response at the time of publication.
And while control of foreign soldiers rests with their home country, questions about responsibility and liability may arise for Canada in the long run, Leuprecht said.
“The government has always claimed to be values-driven… so that really puts Ukraine at odds with the larger agenda that the federal government claims to be leading… which then becomes a high political risk,” Leuprecht said. “Because if one of those more members or units commits war crimes or other types of violations of the law of armed conflict or international law – and it turns out that they were trained by Canadians – the government will have to provide some very difficult answers.