Russia's top court on Tuesday designated Ukraine's Azov Regiment as a terrorist group, a Reuters correspondent in the courtroom said, paving the way for captured soldiers to be tried under stringent anti-terror laws and be jailed for up to 20 years.
The Azov Regiment, which has far-right and ultra-nationalist roots, has been one of the most prominent Ukrainian military formations fighting against Russia in eastern Ukraine. Having begun as a paramilitary unit fighting against pro-Russian rebels in 2014, it was later integrated into Ukraine's national guard.
Kyiv says it has been reformed away from its radical origins and that it has nothing to do with politics. The regiment itself has also distanced itself from the views of its nationalistic founder. read more
In a statement posted on Telegram, the Azov Regiment said that Russia was looking for new justifications for war crimes, and urged the US State Department to designate Russia a terrorist state.
"After the public execution of prisoners of war from the 'Azov' regiment in Olenivka, Russia is looking for new excuses and explanations for its war crimes," the unit said in the post, referring to last week's explosion at a site holding Ukrainian POWs, which Moscow says killed over 50. Both Ukraine and Russia have blamed the other for the blast. read more
Russia has regularly cited Azov in support of its assertion that Ukraine is controlled by "fascists". Russian state media has compared Azov fighters to World War Two-era Nazis, whose defeat by the Soviet Union remains a core part of Russian national identity.