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Russia’s Extremists in Ukraine: Neo-Nazis & Russian Imperialists

This article is a companion to the YouTube video and audio content (almost 2 hours!) Click here to view. We hear about Nazism associated with Ukraine whether it be from pro-Russian sources, left-wing sources or honest good faith investigative sources. What is absent from this discussion are the neo-Nazis and extremist who fight alongside or within pro-Russian forces in the Donbas (Donetsk/Luhansk) region of Ukraine.

Understanding right-wing extremism from a Russian perspective is key to identifying its existence whether it be from paramilitaries fighting Ukrainian forces or state endorsed messaging. Vital to this understanding is the concept of a united region based upon race and ethnicity above all. This concept might include modern day Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. It might also encompass parts of Eurasia depending upon the flavor. It also might include the totality of Europe depending upon the ambition. Regardless of those specifics the notion that nation-state borders have any significance beyond artificial and nefarious purposes (often steeped in anti-Semitism) is dismissed.

This belief has obvious ramifications for Ukraine. The influential Russian thinker Aleksandr Dugin stated, “as an independent state, Ukraine represents a grave danger for the whole of Eurasia and without solving the Ukrainian problem, talking about continental geopolitics is pointless.” It is within this world view that many Russian ethno-nationalist parties and paramilitaries operate. Russian Imperial Movement.

One of the most significant modern extremist groups with ties to Ukraine is the Russian Imperial Movement. The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) is the first white nationalist group to be designated as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the US Department of State. RIM started activities around 2002 but it wasn’t until the group’s involvement in Ukraine in 2014 that it began to gain notoriety. RIM had been training neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups in St. Petersburg for years. Most notably of these groups was the Nordic Resistance Movement. RIM members have openly discussed the idea that Ukraine does not exist “There is no Ukraine, there is Novorossiya” and that RIM was active in Donbas.

RIM leader Vorobyev traveled to Crimea in February 2014 followed by RIM representative Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov who met with Separatist leaders in Donbas. RIM militants that sometimes operated under the name “Imperial Legion” fought under the command of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic. Igor Girkin (aka Igor Strelkov) played a major role in Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and was commander of and defense minister for separatist forces in Donbas. In reaction to RIM’s classification as a white nationalist foreign terrorist entity Girkin wrote, “I take the opportunity to congratulate my esteemed comrade-in-arms of RID on receiving a high award — official recognition of their ‘terrorist organization’ by the enemies of Russia and the Russian people“. Russian Unity Movement.

Russian Unity Movement (RNE) is a far-right organization led by Alexandr Barkhashov. Wikipedia describes it as an "unregistered neo-Nazi group” which went defunct decades ago. This is inaccurate as proven by Barkhashov’s postings on the Russian social media site vk which shows images of RNE in Donbas.

RNE shares the idea of a Novorossiya with RIM, wears Nazi paraphernalia and uses the Nazi salute for greetings. The group portrays the US and Ukrainian governments as “Satanic” and part of a “Global Jewish Plot.” The current president of Ukraine is Jewish.

RNE Meeting Pavel Gubarev was a member of RNE. He was arrested by Security Services of Ukraine for attempting to promote separatism and illegal seizure of power in eastern Ukraine. This was a primary function for many far-right Russian nationalist groups in 2014. Their goal was to not only assist militarily in existing conflict zones but to stir unrest and pro-Russian action in the Donbas region.

Black Hundred This was also the case with Anton Raevsky who worked with the Russian extremist group Black Hundred. Raevsky claims that he was working under direction of Russian Special Services in 2014 to stir unrest in the Donbas region of Ukraine. Among his tactics were anti-Semitic leaflets and brochures claiming that Ukrainian president Zelensky’s Jewish heritage made him a “Zionist puppet.” Black Hundred(s) borrows its name from an early 1900’s anti-Ukrainian and anti-Semitic movement in Russia. There are many images available showing the group at pro-separatist rallies in Odessa and other cities in Russia.

An article by Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group goes into detail regarding the involvement of far-right groups including Black Hundred(s) in Donbas. The article states, “A mere glance at the first months of the conflict in Donbas makes it clear that Rogozin also enlisted other far-right groups and individuals, with these having no problem with killing Ukrainians. Both the Ukrainian supporters of ‘Russian World’ ideology whom Moscow had been cultivating since 2006, and many of the Russian militants in prominent positions or involved in the fighting in Donbas had neo-Nazi or far-right views. Those involved in fighting Ukrainians in Donbas included Alexander Barkashov, head of the neo-Nazi Russian National Unity party and other members of his party; of Alexander Dugin’s ultra-nationalist Eurasia Party; Edward Limonov’s Other Russia party and Black Hundred.”

Russian Orthodox Army The Russian Orthodox Army works closely with RNU leadership and specifically Pavel Gubarev. Nikolay Mitrokhin’s paper entitled “Infiltration, Instruction, Invasion: Russia’s War in the Donbass” delves into the direct involvement of these groups in early Donbas uprisings and briefly discusses the Russian Orthodox Army’s role. Mitrokhin writes,

“This article surveys and analyzes the evidence on the nature of the Russian military presence and the changing composition of the “separatist” forces in the armed conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine throughout the period of April-August 2014. It identifies three distinct phases in the conflict, each of which was characterized by the involvement of a different set of actors and forces operating on the pro-Russian side. It argues that the available evidence demonstrates conclusively that the new “republics” in the Donbass received vital assistance from Russia in the form of military manpower and materials throughout this period, including regular soldiers sent to the region from August 2014.”

In an interview a member of the Russian Orthodox Army stated that he was appointed commander by the separatists’ top military figure Igor Strelkov. Igor Strelkov was an alias used by Igor Girkin. Recall that Girkin played a major role in the annexation of Crimea and acted as commander and defense minister for separatist forces in Donbas. This is significant as Girkin was part of the Russian Army and Federal Security Service for Russia. The group was singled out by a US Department of State report on International Religious Freedom as a perpetrator of faith-based attacks and torture.

Wagner Group No account of Russian ultra-nationalism would be complete without an overview of the infamous Wagner Group. The Wagner Group is a Russian Private Military Company (PMC) that was present in Donbas from 2014-2015. The PMC is commanded by Dmitry Utkin. Utkin is a former Main Intelligence Unit (GRU) special forces officer. The Wagner Group has been called the “defacto private army for Vladimir Putin” and has deployed to many conflict zones. Utkin has documented Nazi tattoos on his chest and apparently chose the name in admiration of Hitler’s favorite composer Richard Wagner.

An article by MEMRI contains screenshots from various social media accounts affiliated with the Wagner Group that show their presence in eastern Ukraine. The Wagner group not only receives financial aid from the Russian government but has also been given awards for their service. Utkin believes in “Rodnovery.” This is a neo-pagan belief system steeped in racist ideology. Tech Against Terrorism conducted an investigation into the Wagner Group and captured many social media posts that tied the group to Russian extremist organizations and regional governments in Donbas.

Task Force Rusich

Task Force Rusich is a neo-Nazi mercenary unit that spread terror throughout eastern Ukraine in 2014/15. The Tech Against Terrorism research linked Rusich to the Wagner Group. This connection has reemerged as Rusich seems to have accidently provided evidence that it intended to reenter Ukraine in early 2022. Rusich has an inglorious reputation for torture, body dismemberment and corpse defilement. Rusich’s commander Alexei Milchakov has had no qualms with openly discussing his affinity for Nazism.

Alexei Milchakov

Milchakov has also claimed that men in Donbas should be forced to fight with separatist militias. There are other images of Milchakov torturing animals and holding the heads of decapitated dogs. The group has also been tied to atrocities in Syria with social media posts of members giving Nazi salutes. Alexei Milchakov was placed on the EU sanctions list for destabilizing Ukraine. Rusich is also tied to Norwegian neo-Nazi extremist Yan Petrovkiy. Petrovkiy claims that he was under command of Milchoakov in Donbas. Rusich posted a series of combat photos on social media. In one of the photos, Petrovskiy posed in front of the burning corpse of a Ukrainian soldier.

Yan Petrovkiy

Rusich, operating under the Wagner Group also had action in the Syrian conflict. Rusich published images of their presence in Syria.

There are other more violent images of Rusich in Syria. I will link one site here but be advised that the content is violent, disturbing and not censored.

Many Others...

These are only some of the far-right extremist groups that participated and continue to participate in the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. There are many more while others defy traditional left/right paradigms. The reality is that war is often not easily compartmentalized or ideologically organized. The real world is not Twitter.

A real-world example of this can be found in the Spanish publication El Pias. El Pias covered a story of Spaniards who had traveled to Donbas to fight on behalf of pro-Russian separatist forces. One of these individuals stated, “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike, for the liberation of Russia.” Meanwhile back in 2015 Andriy Diachenko, a spokesman for the Azov Brigade stated that only 10% to 20% of the group’s members were neo-Nazis. The remainder were composed of veterans from other regional wars and paid mercenaries. Regardless of these messy ideological inconsistencies it does appear that far-right nationalism and neo-Nazism dominate discussions of Ukraine but are distant when analyzing events in Donbas. Vyacheslav Likhachev stated in his paper “The Far Right in the Conflict between Russia and Ukraine”,

On the whole, members of far-right groups played a much greater role on the Russian side of the conflict than on the Ukrainian side, especially in the beginning.

This is because the volunteer groups that were eventually decommissioned and absorbed into the greater Ukrainian military infrastructure such as the Azov Brigade (Battalion) did not prove decisive in any broader actions or goals. However, without the presence of Russian far-right groups in Donbas it is reasonable to believe that the uprisings which resulted in the current breakaway republic statuses for Donetsk and Luhansk would have been successfully put down by Ukrainian military forces.

Visit the Youtube Channel to see extensive videos on far-right nationalism in both Ukraine and the Russian backed forces of Donbas.


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