The commander of Ukraine’s famed Donbas Battalion, Semen Semenchenko, is in Washington this week to lobby U.S. officials for stepped-up non-lethal aid and possible West Point training for his men.
Snowiss: What’s the purpose of your visit to Washington?
Semenchenko: "I have three goals. First, to see what kinds of dual-use technologies – those not prohibited from export to Ukraine – that we can purchase.
"When I say ’we,’ I mean volunteer units financed directly by the [Ukrainian] people. We are the most motivated resistance fighters. We are now officially registered [in Ukraine], and I command a battalion in the National Guard. We are actually more pro-active than the government. That’s the first reason [for my trip].
"Secondly, we would like to help strengthen our political leaders, to present the real situation in Ukraine to the U.S. officials, including members of Congress and the president, [since] the situation there endangers the entire world. We need help, first and foremost from the United States, since Europe and Russia have close relations and [Brussels] is blocking a lot of things. It’s clear that with U.S. participation, these questions get resolved more quickly.
“Third, I want to deepen ties with the Ukrainian diaspora [in order to] organize international support, in particular, financial assistance. For example, we are buying remotely-piloted surveillance #drones which can be put to [immediate] use.”
“I want to make Ukraine into another Israel. I mean, a country that has seen the type of danger [Israel] has must drastically change its approach to national security and create a modern military with special forces to protect itself.
But If fighting resumes in east, even if I’m an MP, I will pick up my weapon and go to battle again.”
Snowiss: What’s your response to allegations of fascism among Ukraine’s volunteer brigades?
Semenchenko: "I have a very warm feeling toward the Russian people. I’m Russian by nationality but also a patriotic Ukrainian. I haven’t seen any expressions of fascism in my unit. But I did see [fascism] on the other side, the terrorist side.
"They engage in aggressive propaganda, political killings and use other terrorist methods, which are the attributes of fascism. They propogate the notion of the superiority of Russian people, and justify everything they do if needed to protect their interests.
“On our side, I saw ethnic nationalists too. But they don’t engage in aggressive propaganda or fascist methods.”
Snowiss: What about the videotaped footage obtained by a German news agency that shows Nazi symbols on the helmets of members of Ukraine’s volunteer Azov Battalion?
Semenchenko: “We have to see what these people have done, and judge by their deeds.
If the ones wearing those symbols have committed crimes, and there is evidence to support this, they should be tried in court. If not, we’ll have to ask directly why they wear these symbols and explain that there’s no place for fascism in our units.”