Azov Regiment

The Azov Regiment (initially Azov Battalion) is a radically politicized unit that is part of the National Guard of Ukraine, subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

It was created in the spring of 2014 on the basis of the Kharkiv-based far-right organization Social National Assembly (SNA), built on the ideas of racial social nationalism. SNA members participated in racially motivated attacks, received paramilitary training, carried out lynching attacks under the guise of fighting drug trafficking and illegal migration, and attacked leftist activists.

As of early 2014, future Azov leaders were serving prison sentences or were under arrest for terrorism, illegal handling of weapons, attempted murder, and gang robbery. They were amnestied as political prisoners immediately after the victory of Euromaidan.

When the Azov battalion was created, it also included members of such far-right organizations as the Misanthropic Division and Bratstvo. Radical ultras groups around football clubs such as Dynamo (Kyiv), Metalist (Kharkiv), Shakhtar (Donetsk), Illichivsk (Mariupol) and others were another source of volunteers for Azov.

Financial support for the creation of Azov as a volunteer battalion was provided by businessmen Serhiy Taruta, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, Roman Zvarych and Ihor Kryvetskyi. After becoming part of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the unit was financed from the state budget of Ukraine. It is known that the unit received money from Rinat Akhmetov for the protection of his enterprises. From 2015 to 2017, one of the leaders of “Azov” Sergey Korotkikh (aka Botsman or Malyuta) headed the unit on protection of objects of strategic importance under the Department of the State Security Service of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine. This unit, in particular, guarded Akhmetov’s enterprises.

The first commander of Azov was Andriy Biletsky, nicknamed White Leader, the former leader of Patriots of Ukraine, which was part of the Social National Assembly organization. As of early 2014, he was being held in pre-trial detention on charges of gang robbery, but was amnestied along with other members of the SNA. In 2014, he was elected to the 8th convocation of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine. Biletsky was a candidate for the People’s Front party, but after a letter from human rights activists about his right-wing views, he refused to run on the party list. However, he later registered as a candidate and was elected in a single-seat electoral district. He has the rank of police colonel.

Arsen Avakov, Minister of Internal Affairs of Ukraine from 2014 to 2021, also a member of the People’s Front, played an important role in the formation of Azov. He initiated the integration of the volunteer battalion into the Interior Ministry and its further transformation into a National Guard regiment. Cooperation between Avakov and Biletsky continued after the establishment of the National Corps Party on the basis of the regiment.

Azov has 1,500 full-time fighters who have received high-quality training from Ukrainian and foreign military specialists, including instructors from the United States, Canada, and Georgia. However, the U.S. Congress banned the use of U.S. military aid funds to Ukraine to arm or train Azov in 2018. A total of 5,000 men have passed through the unit’s service during the war. The regiment is well-equipped with the latest weapons and belongs to one of the most combat-ready and ideologically motivated units. Since 2016, the main forces of the unit have been withdrawn from the line of contact and transferred to security tasks. Nevertheless, some units of the regiment participated in combat missions after 2016 as well.

The regiment has three large bases; artillery, howitzer and mortar divisions; a tank company, a research institute; a non-commissioned officer school established according to NATO standards and its own training ground.

The regiment is based on the territory of military unit 3057 in Mariupol. Azov has a training base and headquarters on the territory of the former ATEK factory in Kyiv, which came under the control of the regiment as a result of Azov’s interference in a conflict between the owners of the factory.

The key element of Azov’s symbols are the overlapping Latin letters “I” and “N,” which stand for the phrase “Idea of the Nation.” This symbol is a mirror image of the so-called Wolfsangel, which was used, among others, by the SS division Das Reich and the Dutch Landstorm Nederland SS division. Earlier the battalion used the Black Sun (Schwarze Sonne) among its symbols, which is widely used by neo-Nazis in various countries as a substitute for the swastika.

Right-wing extremists from such countries as the United States, Canada, Russia, Belarus, Great Britain, Germany, Greece, France, Italy, Croatia, Slovenia, Ireland, Sweden and Brazil served and trained in Azov.

The Azov Regiment, as a subdivision of the Interior Ministry, is trying to distance itself from the affiliated National Corps party, which was created by its veterans. However, direct organizational, ideological and personnel ties between the regiment and the party remain in place. Azov’s first commander, Andriy Biletsky, became the founder and leader of the National Corps; second commander Ihor Mykhailenko and third commander Maksym Zhorin are also members of the party’s governing bodies. Ihor Mykhailenko heads the party’s paramilitary wing, the National Vigilantes (“Національні дружини”) organization, which was renamed Centuria in 2020, while Maksym Zhorin is the head of the central headquarters of the party.

International human rights organizations, in particular the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), accuse Azov of committing serious human rights violations, including torture. In 2019, 40 congressmen wrote an open letter to the U.S. Secretary of State demanding to add the Azov Regiment to the list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Azov was listed as a terrorist organization by the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium website.