Canadian officials who met Ukrainian unit linked to Nazis feared exposure by media: documents

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A year before the meeting, the Canadian Joint Task Force in Ukraine produced a briefing note on the Azov Battalion, acknowledging its links to Nazi ideology.

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Canadian officials who met with members of a Ukrainian battalion linked to the neo-Nazis did not denounce the unit, but rather feared the media would release details of the meeting, according to recently released documents.

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The Canadians met and were briefed by the leaders of the Azov Battalion in June 2018. The officers and diplomats did not object to the meeting and instead allowed themselves to be photographed with battalion officials despite previous warnings that the unit considered itself pro-Nazi. The Azov Battalion then used the photos for its online propaganda, noting that the Canadian delegation had expressed “hope for further fruitful cooperation.”

After a reporter asked the Canadian Forces about Azov’s social media posts, officers rushed to find an answer, according to documents obtained by the newspaper thanks to the Freedom of Information Act. .

Lt. Col. Fraser Auld, commander of the Canadian Joint Task Force Ukraine, warned that a news article could be published soon and could raise questions within the Canadian government about the reasons for such a meeting.

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A year before the meeting, the Canadian Joint Task Force in Ukraine produced a briefing note on the Azov Battalion, acknowledging its links to Nazi ideology. “Several members of Azov described themselves as Nazis,” Canadian officers warned in their 2017 briefing.

Bernie Farber, head of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, said the Canadians should have immediately left the Azov Battalion briefing. “Canadian Armed Forces personnel do not meet the Nazis; period, period, ”said Farber. “This is a horrible mistake that shouldn’t have been made.”

Farber said it was also troubling that the Azov unit could use the Canadians in propaganda attempts to legitimize its far-right ideology. In addition to his support for Nazi ideology, Azov members have been charged with war crimes and torture.

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A rally that reporters did not find out was an event in December 2018 in Ukraine attended by the Commander of the Canadian Army, Lieutenant General. Jean-Marc Lanthier, according to the documents.

Members of the Azov Battalion were present, but, once again, instead of denouncing the battalion’s Nazi sympathies, the Department of National Defense and the Canadian Forces became concerned about the possibility that photos had been taken showing Canadian soldiers. with members of the Azov unit.

Chris Henderson, then Assistant Deputy Minister of Public Affairs, emailed more than 20 DND public relations officers, fearing photos could appear online. “Do we have a clear expression of CAF policy towards this group? He asked the Azov battalion. “It may or may not prompt questions, but we have to be prepared and not appear to be taken by surprise.”

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Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, policy director at the Center of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal, said Canada must ensure that its military personnel are in no way involved in far-right fascist militias in Ukraine. “It is worrying that, for the second time in a month, we have seen evidence of Canadian military officials engaging with Ukrainian neo-Nazi groups,” she added.

Kirzner-Roberts was referring to a recent report from an institute at George Washington University in the United States revealing that Centuria, a far-right group of Ukrainian soldiers linked to the Azov movement, boasted of having received training. Canada and other NATO countries. . University researchers followed Centuria’s social media accounts, documenting its Ukrainian military members making Nazi salutes, promoting white nationalism and praising members of Nazi SS units.

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In 2018, the US Congress banned the use of US funds to provide arms, training, and other assistance to the Azov Battalion because of its ties to the far right and neo-Nazis.

National Defense spokesman Dan Le Bouthillier said the Canadian military was reviewing its policies on controlling the foreign troops it trains as well as the information revealed by the George Washington University report.

He previously noted that the 2018 meeting with members of the Azov Battalion was planned and organized by the Ukrainian authorities. Canadian military representatives had no prior knowledge of those who would be present, he added. Le Bouthillier stressed that it was the job of the Canadian Defense Attaché to assess the situation in the conflict zone. “Canada has not provided, will not provide and will not provide support to Azov and its affiliates,” said Le Bouthillier.

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In 2019, the Soufan Center, created by former FBI agent Ali Soufan, involved in several counterterrorism cases, warned of the connection between the Azov Battalion and white nationalists. “In Ukraine, the Azov Battalion recruited foreign fighters motivated by white supremacy and neo-Nazi beliefs, including many Westerners, to join its ranks and receive training, indoctrination and instruction in irregular warfare,” said The report.

The Azov battalion was previously incorporated into the Ukrainian army, at least in theory, the Sufan Center report notes. But the battalion maintained relations with members of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi terror network based in the United States, he added.

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