PHOTOS: Defence Minister Jason Kenney explains who Canadian troops will train in Ukraine last fall. Below: Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ukraine in 2010. Photos are from the CBC and the Prime Minister’s Office’s Flickr account.

It’s been evident for several months now Ukraine has a problem with neo-Nazis, in particular battalions of “volunteers” who espouse Nazi ideology and use Nazi symbols fighting on the government side in the ongoing civil strife in that European country.

Now it appears Ukraine may have a problem with radical Islamist volunteers in the ranks of its army as well, according to a New York Times report on Tuesday.

This raises the spectre that Canadian troops sent to Ukraine as military trainers could not only be used train neo-Nazis, but to assist Islamic militants tied to ISIS as well.

In the early days of the continuing Ukraine crisis, which from this perspective has all the characteristics of a civil war with religious (Roman Catholic versus Orthodox) and ethno-linguistic (Ukrainian speaking versus Russian speaking) overtones, the role of neo-Nazi formations was either ignored or dismissed by supporters of the current Canadian-backed regime in Kiev as “pro-Russian” propaganda.

Russian suggestions that Islamist formations were also involved in the fight were barely acknowledged, presumably dismissed as propaganda too outlandish to be considered.

Now, at least, the Ukrainian problem with neo-Nazis is pretty widely acknowledged even in the most conservative and anti-Russian media, and the Russians’ claims about Islamists seem to be gaining traction among respected Western news organizations as well.

Regarding the neo-Nazi influence in Ukrainian volunteer regiments, even if saying it aloud makes Canada’s prime minister, Stephen Harper, extremely angry, his own minister of defence more or less acknowledges it.

At any rate, when Jason Kenney discusses Canada’s plan to send 200 Canadian soldiers to Ukraine to train the Ukrainian army – which was badly mauled earlier this year in fights with rebel militias from the country’s Russian-speaking east, which may or may not have been aided by regular Russian Army troops – he makes a point of denying they will be training neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other far-right extremists who are widely acknowledged as among the most effective fighting units of the Ukrainian Army.

“We’re not going to be in the business of training ad hoc militias,” Mr. Kenney claimed in a news report April. “We will only be training units of the Ukrainian National Guard and army recognized by the government of Ukraine,” he added, seemingly ignoring the fact the far-right units in question were then being integrated into the Ukrainian command structure and order of battle.

Last month, when U.S. lawmakers blocked the training by American troops of the notorious Azov Battalion, Mr. Kenney’s press secretary danced around the issue of whether Azov members would be trained by Canadians, saying only that the Ukrainian forces would screen the troops to be trained by Canadians to ensure there were no neo-Nazis in their ranks.

Later, Mr. Kenney dismissed the Azov Battalion in a CTV interview as “a small number of bad apples,” while a spokesperson for the formation denied the claims of far-right connections as a Russian smear campaign.

On Tuesday, under the headline “Islamic Battalions, Stocked With Chechens, Aid Ukraine in War With Rebels,” the New York Times described several units of Islamist militants from Chechnya in the North Caucasus fighting for the Ukrainians under the command of the Azov Battalion, which the Times described as “openly neo-Nazi.”

The Times also noted that French security authorities have tied members of one of the Chechen volunteer units featured in the story to ISIS.

While the weirdly upbeat Times story does its best to portray the Islamist volunteers in the Ukrainian cause as daring and skillful soldiers, which they may well be – “the Chechens’ calls of ‘Allahu akbar’ … are said to strike fear in the hearts of the Russians” – to a reader who is paying attention they sound pretty unsavoury, often refusing, for example, to take prisoners.

The Ukrainians have become reliant on both neo-Nazi and Islamist fighters because of the sad state of their thoroughly demoralized regular army, which is among the principal justifications used for U.S., Canadian and British troops training Ukrainian soldiers. Russian news sources say more than 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers have deserted since the war in Donbas began in earnest in the spring of 2014.

By contrast, wrote Times reporter Andrew E. Kramer, “the Chechens, by all accounts, are valuable soldiers. Ukrainian commanders lionize their skills as scouts and snipers.”

Harper Government assurances measures will be taken to ensure no neo-Nazis are trained by Canada’s soldiers have always sounded vague and unconvincing given both the Ukrainian reliance on such units and Canadian reliance on Ukrainian forces to determine who gets trained.

Now the same problem extends to the very Islamist extremists the Harper Government’s election ads are using to try to terrify Canadians into re-electing his Conservative government.

Can Mr. Harper or Mr. Kenny give Canadians meaningful assurances Islamist radicals with ties to ISIS won’t be among the Ukrainian forces trained and equipped by Canada?

This post also appears on Rabble.

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  1. The last time I mentioned neo-Nazi and Harper in the same paragraph in this neighbourhood, I received a slap on the muzzle delivered by a rolled-up newspaper. Unfortunately, due to this Pavlovian training, I salivate every time I see a Canadian prime minister marching behind goose stepping soldiers.

    It is no surprise that Canada’s Chubbiest Army Cadets will do anything to win the votes of the western Canadian-Ukranian diaspora. After all, they’ll need every vote they can get if they hope to be the official opposition after the next election. But, personally, I think they have gone way, way too far up the river, way too far away from civilization, to win much of anything.

    And I wonder if the Canadian military will be taking west Edmonton mall blueprints with them to be used in training sessions of Ukranian neo-Nazi and Islamist extremist recruits?

  2. The US has also been stirring up Islamic radicalism in Central Asia for years now. So it’s no surprise that Team ISIS is in Ukraine. Ever heard of the Jamestown Foundation? It’s one of those US-based think tanks backed by the CIA dedicated to helping Islamic radicals in Chechnya to rebel against Moscow. A few years ago one of the Boston bombers went to Russia on a “seminar” sponsored by this Jamestown Foundation.
    When he returned he was soon busy setting off bombs on the streets of Boston.

    Obviously this was not part of the plan. He just got his wires crossed. The Chechens have been setting off bombs in Moscow for years.

    But let’s say a few words about Nazis. In April the Parliament in Kiev passed laws honoring the “achievments” of Ukrainian ultra-nationalists who collaborated with the Nazis, helping to murder hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian Jews during WWII. This has raised eyebrows of those serving the holocaust legacy.

    In case anybody hasn’t seen it yet here is a CBC documentary on the subject done five years ago.

  3. What makes you think it is Canadians training the Azov group? Given Bill C-51, now law in Canada, it may well be the other way around.

  4. Well, if the government wants to support Islamic fundies and radicals, I would think a few more billions of dollars of business with Saudi Arabia will be a more efficient way of doing it.

  5. I recently watched an edition of PBS Frontline, talking about why ISIS is gaining supporting in Syria: the people felt that they were betrayed by the west led by the US, and believe that ISIS is better at protecting their interests. The situation in Ukraine has an eerily similar feel to it.

    It’s really unfortunate that things have deteriorated to this point, where the most effective forces against pro-Russian rebels hold ideologies we detest. In hindsight, maybe it wouldn’t have been a bad idea for NATO (which Canada and the US are a part of) to get involved militarily after MH17 was shot down, so that neo-Nazis don’t need to be the face of the Ukrainian forces.

    1. Speaking of MH17, how could you be so dense as to not notice that you were being manipulated?

      Didn’t you notice how the Western mainstream media immediately blamed Putin as soon as the accident happened, before any investigation had been done? Didn’t you notice how just a little while later (soon after the Russians asked the US to please release their satellite images, as the US had a military spy satellite directly above the point where the plane was hit), the news media suddenly went silent and the story completely stopped being talked about? Didn’t you ever wonder why the Ukrainians (who are one of the primary suspects, and had ALREADY once mistakenly shot down a passenger plane in 2001 and then lied about it for months) were given veto power over the content of the MH17 report? Do you wonder what happened to the black box?

      Please read at least this small article, and maybe reconsider your assumptions:

  6. I really enjoy reading your blog and never miss an article. However (you knew it was coming!), I do find that your articles dealing with national and international issues tend to be a little over the top. Hey often sound like something I’d expect to find from Lorne Gunter during his ridiculous rants.

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