Russian mercenaries in Ukraine linked to far-right extremists | The extreme right
Russian mercenaries fighting in Ukraine, including the Kremlin-backed Wagner Group, have been linked to far-right extremism, including an organization designated by the United States as a terrorist, analysis reveals.
Although Vladimir Putin claims his “special military operation” is aimed at the “denazification” of Ukraine, an investigation has revealed links between pro-Russian forces and violent right-wing extremism, including those directly affiliated with Wagner.
A message on the Telegram messaging app, dated March 15, shows the flag of the Imperial Russian Movement (RIM), a white supremacist paramilitary organization that the United States classifies as terrorist, allegedly flown by Moscow-backed separatists in Donetsk . The message was shared by a pro-Putin channel.
Much of the extremist content, posted on Telegram and Russian social media platform VKontakte (VK), relates to a far-right unit within the Wagner Group called Rusich along with others linked to pro- Kremlin, some bearing the Wagner Group name and logo.
Adam Hadley, executive director of Tech Against Terrorism, a London-based initiative supported by the UN’s counterterrorism executive directorate, said their analysis indicated that Russian-backed forces in Ukraine, including the Wagner group, are “almost certainly linked to extreme right-wing organizations”.
Hadley added: “Given Putin’s absurd demands for the ‘denazification’ of Ukraine, we suggest that he should first eliminate neo-Nazis in his own ranks before pointing fingers at others.”
One of the most secret organizations in Russia, the Wagner Group does not officially exist. However, reports suggest that hundreds of its operatives are fighting in Ukraine soon after the invasion, claiming that its mercenaries were operating in Kyiv with orders from the Kremlin to assassinate Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
It is also understood that efforts are being made by private courier groups in Russia to recruit a new brigade of mercenaries to fight in Ukraine. Recently, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that 16,000 fighters from the Middle East had volunteered to fight with the Russian army.
An account on VK is devoted to Rusich’s “sabotage and assault reconnaissance group” which appears to be operating in Ukraine, according to a March 17 post. The Rusich logo features a Slavic swastika known as the Kolovrat.
Another recent VK post lists Rusich as part of a coalition of separatist groups and militias, including the far-right group, Russian National Unity.
An image shared to VK by an account affiliated with Rusich shows fighters, apparently in Ukraine although it has proven impossible to verify, holding a Valknut flag, a symbol also commonly appropriated by white supremacists.
It has been reported that mercenary units recruited by Wagner are given names such as “The Hawks”, possibly to distance themselves from the group’s reputation after repeated accusations of human rights abuses in its operations in Syria and Libya.
Tech Against Terrorism analysis revealed that a prominent Telegram channel affiliated with the Wagner Group shared an image in May 2021 of the Kolovrat allegedly daubed on a cliff in Palmyra, Syria.
He also found Telegram channels – named “Wagner PMC” in Russian – sharing images and memes as recently as March 4 relating to the torture and beheading of a Syrian captive by Wagner mercenaries in 2017.
The Wagner group was first identified in 2014 when it supported pro-Russian separatists in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It is owned by Yevgeny Prigozhin, one of Putin’s closest allies, and has since carried out covert operations across Africa and the Middle East.
Military experts believe the mercenaries allow the Kremlin – which has always denied any links to mercenary groups – to reduce its death toll.
In an effort to control its narrative, Russia recently opened a criminal case against Facebook owner Meta, accusing it of being an extremist organization.
The decision by Russian prosecutors came after the US tech giant temporarily allowed the use of terms such as “death to Russian invaders”.
Hadley added, “We condemn Russia for militarizing terrorism in this way and subverting international counter-terrorism norms.”