Kremlin Double Standards: Russia Fights “Fascism” but Welcomes Neo-Nazi Training in St. Petersburg

  • Valeriia Krykhta, Martin Fornůsek
  • 3.9.2020 12:10

Despite claiming to fight against European and Ukrainian “fascism”, Russia is actively involved in support and training of far-right militant groups across Europe. The latest example is a tacit tolerance of the Russian Imperial Movement, which is training German Neo-Nazis and Swedish terrorists on the outskirts of St. Petersburg.

At the beginning of June, paramilitary training in Russia came into the spotlight of the European media. Although new paramilitary pro-government Cossack formations are being created in Russia on a regular basis, this time the training involved German right-wing extremists. Some of them were reported to be members of the youth wing of NDP and The Third Way, German political parties with open neo-Nazi views.

The organization operating the exercise facilities outside St. Petersburg - the Russian Imperial Movement - has been associated with the training of individuals that participated in the hostilities in Ukraine on the side of separatists. Its tacit presence spread further to Europe, as two Swedish citizens that undertook the training on IEDs from the organization bombed a café and migrant center in 2017.

 

The Narrative Paradox 

Even though the Russian Imperial Movement encourages white supremacy organizations and repeatedly propagates anti-Semitic views, the Kremlin has decided to stay silent on the issue. Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary of Vladimir Putin, stated that he does not possess information on RIM and thus finds it impossible to discuss the agenda. Notably, RIM has been critical about Putin himself, blaming him for "falsifying the history to the damage of Russia”. Despite all the infamous persecution precedents of the regime`s opposition, often because of allegedly “extremist statements”, the leaders of the Movement have not faced similar repercussions for their stance. Not being challenged by the state, the extremist organization finds itself in the situation of silent patronage of the regime known for its ability to take rapid action on persona non grata.

This state of affairs stands in striking contrast to the rhetoric Russia has been building up and channeling since the start of the war in Ukraine. The occupation of Crimea and combat involvement in Donbas was presented by Russia as a crusade against fascism (used interchangeably with Nazism in the Russian tradition of thinking). The whole idea has been revolving around Russian claims to protect the Russian-speaking population from “fascists” and “neo-Nazis” in the interim Ukrainian government of 2014. Russia continues to apply the narrative for the subsequent Ukrainian governments and translates the distorted reality abroad. In fact, the alleged Russian opposition to neo-Nazism integrated into its information warfare strategy in the region, growing in scale in the Baltics and some Central European countries. Lately, Russia stated that it was concerned about Nazism being promoted in the Czech Republic.

 

“The freedom of operation for the Russian Imperial Movement, an organization calling for the restoration of Russian power over all territories where ethnic Russians reside, contradicts the main, state-level stance of modern Russia.”

 

Specifically, under Russian laws, the activities “rehabilitating Nazism” are subject to criminal liability, making RIM and its established relations with right-wing extremists a threat to the Russian state and society. The freedom of operation for the Russian Imperial Movement, an organization calling for the restoration of Russian power over all territories where ethnic Russians reside, contradicts the main, state-level stance of modern Russia. This way, the priority is given to the political goals the Russian Imperial Movement may serve in Putin`s Russia.

 

At Home and Abroad: Far-Right Extremists as a Russian Tool

Outside of its own territory, Russia’s relations with militant far-right go beyond tacit tolerance. For example, Slovak right-wing extremists are most often characterized by two common aspects – reverence towards the Second World War-era fascist Slovak State and close alignment with Russia, both on the political and material levels. The Slovak Revival Movement (SHO), which claims the legacy of fascist Slovakia and defends its anti-Semitic policies, cooperates with Dobrovolec (Volunteer), a Russian Orthodox military club that assists in training Donbas separatist fighters on the Russian soil. The right-wing paramilitary Slovak Conscripts (SB) provides combat training to its members under the supervision of Cossacks and Spetsnaz officers, and even though SB officially disavows fascist ideologies, it cooperates with neo-Nazi groups and its leader Peter Švrček, himself trained by the Russian Stiag military club, took part in SHO’s Tiso commemoration event.

While less overt, similarly worrying are the ties between the only Tiso-revering far-right party in the Slovak parliament, the People’s Party – Our Slovakia. Next to public overtures to Russia through the support of the Donbas separatist movement and criticism of NATO expansion, its leader Marián Kotleba has been accused by the Polish intelligence of taking money from the Kremlin. The Neo-Nazi paramilitary Action Group Resistance Kysuce (VK), considered by the Slovak security institutions to be the most dangerous and radical of all, called for infiltration of the military and police in direct response to the deteriorating Slovak-Russian relations.

 

“Reportedly, members of GRU, the Russian military intelligence, took part in MNA exercises.”

 

Unlike in Slovakia, the Hungarian far-right scene lacks the tradition of pro-Russian orientation due to more pronounced historical and cultural differences. However, there  was a sudden surge of these groups after the war in Ukraine broke out. Extremist groups with paramilitary and Neo-Nazi aspects connected to Jobbik, such as Betyársereg, MÖM, and Farkasok, voiced support for the violent dismemberment of Ukrainian territory due to old Hungarian claims on Zakarpattia. As was later discovered through an email communication leak, the support of the Hungarian revisionism was part of the Kremlin’s strategy during the Crimea campaign.

Though now defunct, the Hungarian National Front (MNA) stood at the very edge of the Hungarian right-wing spectrum. Openly espousing Nazi ideology, this group provided its members with military training and illegal weaponry. Here the Russian footprint was especially worrying, since reportedly, members of GRU, the Russian military intelligence, took part in MNA exercises, hinting at a deep connection between the group and the Kremlin. The danger it presented to the national security was best illustrated by a murder of a policeman in 2016 by the MNA’s leader, which also lead to the dissolution of the group.

 

Dangerous Alliance Threatening Western Security

In exchange for the silent patronage, authorities can rely on RIM members in many ways. First, the organization provides Russia with a useful pool of private individuals who are ready to fight in regional conflicts together with Russian-backed militias, further reigniting atrocities in Europe. Second, these organizations have the potential to become the agents of Russian influence across the European Union, providing training to radicals and potential terrorists. The last aspect seems the most disturbing, as it indicates that the Russian state is ready to tolerate terrorism, as long as its indirect orchestrators stay handy. In the end, the Russian narrative as to its special mission to fight Nazism takes a back seat to the chance to fracture and destabilize the West, even if through the hands of the declared ideological opponents. 

 

“The Russian state is ready to tolerate terrorism, as long as its indirect orchestrators stay handy.”

 

Given the record of Russian collaboration with right-wing extremists in V4 countries, the Russian Imperial Movement may align with akin groups in Central and Eastern Europe, making dangerous expertise available to a wider number of radicalized Europeans.

About author: Valeriia Krykhta, Martin Fornůsek

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