TORONTO – Report exploring far-right in Ukraine’s military revealed neo-Nazis and supporters of far-right groups in the ranks were boasting online that they had received training from Canada and others NATO countries, which prompted the promise of a thorough review from the Department of National Defense.
The report, titled “Far-right group has taken up residence in Ukraine’s main western military training center” and 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 âMilitary Order Centuriaâ or simply âCenturiaâ.
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, the LGBTQ2S + community and Roma.
A 2016 report released by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights details charges against the Azov movement militia known as the “Azov battalion” of torture and other war crimes in the conflict which followed after the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014. The Ukrainian National Guard later took the Azov Battalion into its ranks – where it is now known as the Azov Regiment.
“I discovered evidence that a far-right group consisting of military personnel, officers and cadets 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, âsaid 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 describe themselves as an “order of ‘European traditionalist’ military officers” who share the goal of reshaping the Ukrainian military with right-wing ideologies and defending what they are. call “the cultural and ethnic identity of the European people”. . “
Evidence detailed in the report, including photos taken on social media and posts on messaging platforms, shows members of Centuria performing Nazi salutes. They have also 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. Kuzmenko said several photos and videos of suspected members were removed from various social media accounts and websites after contacting the group for the report.
Kuzmenko detailed an example of his past research on Twitter which shows the proximity of Ukrainian army extremists to the Canadian Armed Forces, where a man he describes as a “neo-Nazi opposite” graduated from a military-led tactical medicine program in 2018 Canadian armies and the United States Army and later trained other cadets. The soldier, who is not part of Centuria, says Kuzmenko, appears on several social media posts with 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 “.
One 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 seems to tolerate open far-right activity in its ranks,” Kuzmenko said by email. . âTo be clear, I’m not suggesting that Ukraine is ruled by neo-Nazis, or that the Ukrainian military is dominated by the far rightâ¦ what I’m saying is that there are strong indications that Ukraine is ignoring an obvious problem, as are its Western allies.
Kuzmenko said the Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied allegations about Centuria made in the media before its report, but then announced an investigation after its publication.
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 ââand 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 âexpect moreâ from Ukraine, which has received an immense amount of resources, time and energy over the years from Canada.
“It is a country that wants to join the EU and ultimately wants to join NATO, and when you openly and actively court and tolerate undemocratic elements in the very institutions that [are] there to defend your way of lifeâ¦ it will raise questions in Canada if this mission is worth the candle, âhe said.
WHAT IS CANADA DOING IN UKRAINE?
Canada has been present in Ukraine since 2015 as part of Operation UNIFIER, in support of 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” materials 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, âthe 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. âWhen Ukrainian military officers are selected to seize opportunities in Canada, it is imperative that members do not have values ââcontrary 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 âthe Minister is deeply concerned about these reports and he asked officials to look into this issue. 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.” .
âOur 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, âthe 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.
âThe government has always claimed to be values-drivenâ¦ so that really puts Ukraine at odds with the larger agenda that the federal government claims to be leadingâ¦ which then becomes a high political risk,â 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.
This story has been updated with additional context regarding Centuria’s online activities and clarification on how the Ukrainian Defense Ministry responded to the report.