The Defence Department has vowed to review how the military screens for extremist views in the foreign troops it trains after a report found that far-right radicals in the Ukrainian military boasted on social media that they received training from the Canadian Armed Forces and took part in joint exercises.
The study this month out of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., found that members of Centuria have worked with and accessed training from Canada, among other NATO countries.
Centuria is a group that holds ties to far-right movements, venerates Nazi figures and aims to protect what it calls Europe’s “ethnic identity,”according to the report from the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies.
In response to the study, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center this week called for an investigation by the Defence Department.
“I think they have to reassess the program, because these are the last people on earth whom you want to train,” Efraim Zuroff, director of the centre’s Israel office, said in a phone interview from Jerusalem.
“In other words, these are people who might turn those weapons later, not against the Russians but against people among their own population who they don’t like or they don’t agree with and God knows what,” said Zuroff, who also carries the title of the centre’s chief Nazi hunter.
The Defence Department said in an email that Canada currently relies on the Ukrainian government to vet its security forces.
“If Canadian soldiers suspect that their Ukrainian counterparts or trainees hold racist views, they are removed immediately. There is no burden of proof on the CAF (Canadian Armed Forces) to demonstrate this beyond a reasonable doubt,” the department said.
Nonetheless, the study’s findings prompted the department to conduct a “thorough review of this report, including whether current policies and procedures in place are sufficiently stringent to flag and prevent the CAF from unwittingly aiding those whose views it fundamentally opposes.”
The report said none of the Western governments contacted in the study, including Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and Germany, vet Ukrainian training recipients for extremist views and ties.
“The upshot of this report is that between these two sides, nobody is actually doing their job,” Tarik Cyril Amar, a professor at Columbia University and expert on Ukraine, said in a virtual interview from Istanbul.
“Ukraine does not correspond to insane caricatures that to try to describe the whole country in a distorted manner as terribly right wing,” he added. “But from that it doesn’t follow that there isn’t an issue. And there is an issue in my view.”
—Christopher Reynolds, The Canadian Press