Neo-Nazis and the extreme right emerged in Russia in an organized form during the years of perestroika and gained strength in the 1990s. In the wake of the economic and ideological crisis in Russia, extreme forms of various ideologies, including the extreme right, have become popular.
In the 1990s various organizations were strong on the ideological and political front, among which the Russian National Unity (RNU) stood out.
This organization was in the mid-1990s. defined as the largest militant fascist group in Russia. The ideology of the organization was eclectic, but no less radical: the Russian Order, the nation above all, the protection of «Russians» (originally — русских и россиян) throughout the world.
Even then, the RNU did not give the Ukrainian people a chance for self-determination. In the documents of the neo-Nazi organization, “Russians are understood to be representatives of the Russian Nation, consisting of the triune Russian People — the Great Russians, the Little Russians (Ukrainians), the White Russians.”
The RNU program is a symbiosis of extreme nationalism, anti-communism, anti-Semitism, paternalism, and anti-Westernism, playing on the economic problems that arose as a result of the attempted post-Soviet transformation in Russia.
The peak of the «popularity» of the organization came in the first half of the mid-1990s. But already in the late 1990s, the RNU was perceived as a kind of bogey by the authorities. The presidential elections of 1996 exploited this theme: «Vote for Yeltsin if you don’t want the ‘Reds’ or ‘Browns’ to come to power»*.
* Even earlier, in 1993, Russian TV channels showed Barkashov’s «stormtroopers» who participated in the defense of the White House in Moscow. It is quite possible that this was a deliberate provocation to present Boris Yeltsin’s political opponents as «red-brown» radicals. In 1994, an almost forgotten documentary film “Portrait against the background of a swastika” was released, where you can see footage of RNU attack aircraft, their training and actions, and marches.
«Reds» — former comunists and «browns» — neonazi.
Other neo-Nazi organizations focused their activities on internal «problems», participating in attacks and even killings of migrants from the former Soviet republics and far abroad.
Neo-Nazis and Russian nationalists: position for 2014
In 2014, part of the «right move» in the Russian Federation decided to take part in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Suffice it to say that Pavel Gubarev, who for some time held the post of «people’s governor of the Donetsk region», also belonged to the RNU in his youth.
2014 was a watershed year for many on the right. Some supported the annexation of Crimea and joined the separatists in the so-called DPR and LPR, while others took a position in support of Ukraine (no matter how strange it may seem, they had their own logic, like the Freedom of Russia detachment, which arose in the first days after the full-scale aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine).
Among those who took up arms against Ukraine was Aleksey Milchakov, a young man with military experience who “created and led the Rusich sabotage and assault group.” He became famous on the Internet for killing animals and taking pictures with the flag of Nazi Germany. Aleksey Milchakov openly calls himself a Nazi and has already become famous for his incredible cruelty: there are photos of him on the Internet against the background of killed Ukrainian soldiers, whose ears he cut off as trophies.
But over time, far-right radicals and outright neo-Nazis became uncomfortable with the leaders of the unrecognizable DPR and LPR themselves, in connection with which the odious commanders and their units left the unrecognized republics
Neo-Nazis who came to «denazify» Ukraine: 2022
On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced the start of the so-called «special military operation», one of the goals he proclaimed was the «denazification» of Ukraine*.
*According to the count of 100% of the ballots in the 2019 parliamentary elections, the radical right-wing forces in Ukraine in total gained 2.15% (the political party Svoboda), breaking the 5% barrier only in Ivano-Frankivsk and Lviv regions. One can agree with researcher Melanie Mierzejewski-Voznyak that “during much of Ukraine’s post-Soviet history, the radical right has remained on the political periphery, wielding little influence over national politics.”
The denazification operation looks rather strange, given that representatives of a wide variety of far-right, extremist, and openly neo-Nazi groups are fighting or fighting on the side of the Russian Federation.
In March 2022, a video titled ““Russian National Unity” supported the Russian army in a special operation in Ukraine” appeared on the First Rostov channel. The presenter calls the RNE a “patriotic movement”, while the camera shows men in military uniforms, T-shirts with the letter “Z” and covered faces, who organized a photo exhibition (sic!) but are ready to go to the front. It should be noted that the speaker about the organization no longer has a stylized swastika, but an Orthodox cross, but the comments are merciless — the Russians themselves remember how the RNE marched in black shirts and greeted each other with a Nazi salute.
Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, there have been at least two groups at the front whose members share extremely radical nationalist views — the subversive-assault intelligence group «Rusich» and the «Imperial Legion».
«Rusich» is more popular and is more often mentioned in journalistic investigations, both Ukrainian and foreign.
Human rights activist Vera Alperovych, referred to by Deutsche Welle, attributes it to neo-Nazi associations, the members of which use the appropriate symbols — the swastika and the numbers 14/88 (a well-known neo-Nazi slogan). Also, among the symbols used by «Rusych», there are many pagan ones: tivaz, kolovrat, valknut.
In search of information about this organization, we had to familiarize ourselves with its official Telegram channel, which has almost 56 thousand subscribers.
One of the most informative posts, which talked about the group’s participation in the Russian-Ukrainian war, as a summary of the year, was published on December 22, 2022.
From it we learn that from the very beginning of the war, part of the «Rusych» group under the leadership of commander Slavyan (probably meaning Jan Petrovskyi) was involved in the Kharkiv region, and already from the middle of March 2022, the main part of the unit arrived in the hot direction of the Luhansk region. In the course of intense urban battles (probably referring to the battles in the Severodonetsk — Lysychansk region — author) almost the entire squad was wounded and had to go for treatment.
Since April 2022, part of the group, again under the leadership of Slavyan, was involved in the Izyum direction and took part in the assault on Dolgenky, after which it left the combat zone at the end of May (the reason was not only the wounded but also quarrels with the military leadership). After that, the main composition of the group, supplemented by new recruits, arrived in the Donetsk region and, as of the end of 2022, conducted its main activities there.
Many materials in the group are characterized by cruelty, cynicism, and hatred towards Ukrainians, including women and children. For example, a photo of a burning kindergarten (as a result of a helicopter crash on January 18, 2023, in the Ukrainian city of Brovary, 14 people died, including children — author) was published in the Telegram channel with the following caption:
«Khokhols [khokhly is a contemptuous name for Ukrainians – author]has few missiles and they bombard themselves with helicopters. The pig farm is on fire»
The Rusich Telegram channel often criticizes the Russian military authorities, but not Vladimir Putin. Thus, the head of the Department of Information and Mass Communications of the Ministry of Defense of Russia, Igor Konashenkov, is called a clown for a fake about the destruction of four Bradley infantry fighting vehicles that have not even arrived in Ukraine yet. There is a lot of criticism in the channel towards the First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces, Colonel-General Oleksandr Lapin.
Criticism is often harsh (message in the Telegram channel dated January 19, 2023):
«Attack of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation on Zaporozhye through the eyes of the Khokhols. Almost without equipment and a crowd on the field (it is not even visible that they threw UR to remove minefields). Whoever gave such orders must be castrated»
It should be noted that in addition to the «Rusich» combat group, there is also the «Rusich» military-patriotic club, which is engaged in training and preparation for service in the Russian armed forces.
Zymargl (symargl — an ancient Russian pagan god) is also mentioned in the «Rusich» telegram channel — one of the special separate units formed for operational intelligence tasks on the territory of Ukraine. The basis of this group is made up of members of «Rusich», as well as their associates.
Another Russian nationalist organization whose members actively supported and are participating in the Russian-Ukrainian war is the Russian Imperial Movement. Its mouthpiece is the «Russian Imperial Movement» telegram channel, which has far fewer subscribers than the «Rusich» channel — just over two thousand. The movement group in the social network vk.com covers almost nine thousand members.
An analysis of the information published in this channel allows us to characterize it as conservative, Orthodox, nationalist, imperial and anti-Semitic. It is filled with conspiracy theories of conspiracies and conspiracies, which includes, in particular, anti-vaccinationism. Yes, Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine is reliably proven to contain microchips.
Just like «Rusich», «Imperial Legion» has its own training base — Center for tactical and fire training «Partyzan», which is located in St. Petersburg. Its leader, like that of the «Imperial Legion» paramilitary formation itself, is a historian by education, Denys Gariev.
Already on February 24, 2022, the commander of the «Imperial Legion» published a post on the Telegram channel in which he called Russia’s attack on Ukraine a civil war of the Russian people.
Later, on May 17, 2022, we find information that the «Imperial Legion» has been fighting in Ukraine for two months, that is, it started participating in the war as early as March 2022.
In general, there are not so many photos from the front lines in the Telegram channel, but there are various types of propaganda materials related to the Russian Empire and the Orthodox Church. However, it is known for certain that legion fighters took part in battles in the Kharkiv region.
In August 2022, photographs were published on the Telegram channel showing approximately 30 Legion fighters receiving awards near Izyum before its de-occupation by Ukrainian troops.
We also find information about the soldiers who died at this time. So, on August 13, 2022, a post was published about the death of one of the legion fighters — Maxim Stoler, who died on the night of August 4-5, 2022.
The last photo, at the time of publication of the material, of the participants of the movement from the front was published in the Telegram channel on January 21, 2023.
Unlike the «Rusich» telegram channel, the «Russian Imperial Movement» group actively criticizes not only the military, but also the President of the Russian Federation — Vladimir Putin. In particular, for the exchange of defenders of Azovstal, the retreat from the right bank of the Kherson region, the late decision on mobilization, etc.
The movement shows absolute intolerance towards the Ukrainian people. The post published on the Telegram channel on May 18, 2022 denies the right of the Ukrainian people to their own territory and calls it fictitious:
«And you don’t have your own land and you can’t, because fictional peoples, elves, hobbits, and Ukrainians can only live in their own fairy-tale dimension.»
In one of his last interviews, dated February 14, 2023, Denys Gariev noted that Ukrainian lands are Russian lands, Ukrainians are separatists, and therefore they need to be killed and the territory taken away. At the same time, he noted that if in 2014-2016 the legion fighters had certain problems with recognition by the Russian authorities, then from 2022 they will receive wages from the state and all social benefits provided for by law.
Unheard-of aggression is manifested in relation to those who do not support Russia’s attack on Ukraine, let alone help Ukrainians. The Telegram channel of the «Russian Imperial Movement» (post dated February 27, 2022) reacted to the information about the transfer of 10,000 dollars to the Armed Forces of Ukraine by the famous Russian actress Lia Akhedzhakova:
“WHY IS THIS CREATURE NOT DROWN IN SHIT YET?! WHY WERE NOT HANGED BY THE SENTENCE OF A MILITARY TRIBUNAL? EVERY DOLLAR TRANSFERRED BY HER TO KHOKHLY IS A BULLET IN A RUSSIAN SOLDIER!“*
Instead of an afterword
In the countries of Western Europe over the past year, the strengthening of right-wing forces in the political field has been noticeable. Suffice it to say that the long period of domination of the Social Democrats ended in Sweden, a coalition came to power, including an right-wing political force. However, on this wave of Euroscepticism, another trend can be traced: the decline in popularity of Vladimir Putin and Russia in general among the extreme right and right-wing populist political forces.
However, one cannot but agree with the following statement: “to be sure, polling in Europe after the Feb. 24 invasion shows significant drops in approval for Russia and Putin among right-wing populist parties, especially in Italy. But, as a recent Pew survey noted, these right-wing parties still remain far more positive towards the Russian regime than the rest of the public in their societies.”
On the side of the army of the Russian Federation in Ukraine, from the very beginning of the war, organizations whose members share extremely radical nationalist views have been participating — the sabotage-assault intelligence group «Rusich» and the «Imperial Legion». They receive financial support and social benefits from the state. The commander and members of the «Rusich» group publicly declare their Nazi views and spread them on social networks and Telegram channels. The «Imperial Legion» united around itself monarchists and supporters of the Russian Empire. What these organizations have in common is hatred of Ukrainian and other peoples, chauvinism, xenophobia and cruelty. A rhetorical question arises: who is actually subject to denazification, which Vladimir Putin announced as one of the goals of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022?
Thus, the participation of a part of the extreme right forces and neo-Nazis in Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is, on the one hand, the implementation of their long-standing attitudes and ideas, and on the other hand, this is a drift of the state itself towards building an authoritarian state with an extremely eclectic, but based on the use nationalism, national patriotism and elements of xenophobia, the ideological component.