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The Biden administration has lifted restrictions on the transfer of American weapons and training to the Azov Brigade, a controversial Ukrainian military unit.

The move will help the Azov Brigade, among Ukraine’s most effective and popular fighting units, move beyond its reputation as a far-right movement.

US laws prohibit providing equipment and training to foreign military units or individuals suspected of committing gross human rights violations, but the State Department said it found “no evidence of Gross Violations of Human Rights committed” by the force.

The brigade has tried to move away from its ultranationalist origins since the start of the war. Its soldiers played a key part in the defence of Mariupol.

“This is a new page in our unit’s history,” the Azov Brigade wrote in a statement. “Azov is becoming even more powerful, even more professional and even more dangerous for occupiers.”

“Obtaining western weapons and training from the United States will not only increase the combat ability of Azov, but most importantly, contribute to the preservation of the lives and the health of personnel,” the statement said.

Moscow has repeatedly portrayed the Azov as a Nazi group and accused it of atrocities – without providing evidence. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the US move was “extremely negative”.

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