The Azov Special Operations Detachment which is also known as the Azov Regiment, Azov Detachment, Azov Battalion, or simply Azov, is a neo-Nazi, right-wing extremist, a former paramilitary unit of Ukraine’s National Guard based in Mariupol, in the coast of Azov Sea.
- Azov was formed in May 2014 as a volunteer militia and has been battling Russian separatist troops in the Donbas War since then.
- In June 2014, it had its first combat experience when it retook Mariupol from pro-Russian separatists.
- Azov was incorporated into the Ukrainian National Guard on November 12, 2014, and all members have served as official soldiers in the National Guard since then.
- After allegations of torture and war crimes, as well as neo-Nazi tendencies, the battalion gained notoriety in 2014.
- The Wolfsangel, one of the Nazi symbols used by the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich, is featured in the group’s logo, which has been criticized for its usage of controversial symbols.
Andriy Biletsky, who led both the Patriot of Ukraine (formed in 2005) and the SNA (founded in 2008), was in command of the unit. In 2014, Biletsky was elected to parliament. He had to leave Azov since elected officials are not permitted to serve in the military or police force. He remained a member of Parliament till 2019. In October 2016, he founded the far-right National Corps party, whose core supporters are Azov veterans. Denys Prokopenko is the current commander of this battalion.
Becoming a part of the armed forces of Ukraine
In 2014, Ukraine’s interior minister backed the unit, recognizing that the country’s military was too weak to battle pro-Russian separatists and instead relying on paramilitary volunteer troops. These soldiers were funded privately by oligarchs, the most well-known of whom was Igor Kolomoisky, a billionaire energy entrepreneur and former governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region. Another oligarch, Serhiy Taruta, the billionaire governor of the Donetsk region, provided funding and aid to Azov.
The neo-Nazi ideology of the Azov Battalion
According to Andriy Diachenko, the regiment’s spokesperson in 2015, 10 to 20% of Azov’s recruits were Nazis. The unit has denied that it follows Nazi ideology, yet Nazi insignia such as the swastika and SS regalia appear on Azov members’ uniforms and bodies. Individual members have declared themselves to be neo-Nazis, and hardcore far-right ultra-nationalism is widespread among the group. Azov launched its National Druzhyna street patrol unit in January 2018 to “restore” order in Kyiv, the capital. Instead, the squad committed pogroms against Roma community members and assaulted members of the LGBTQ community.
Violation of Human Rights
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHA) accused the Azov battalion of violating international humanitarian law. Azov had embedded their weapons and soldiers in used civilian structures, and displaced inhabitants after looting civilian properties, according to the study, which took place between November 2015 and February 2016. The unit was also accused of raping and torturing inmates in the Donbas region.
The Azov Battalion has been fighting Russian troops in the Mariupol region of Ukraine. The battalion has announced that three Russian armoured vehicles and four infantry fighting vehicles have been destroyed by them.