One of the anti-Kremlin groups responsible for the armed incursion into Russia this week, the Russian Volunteer Legion, is led by a far-right extremist who German officials and humanitarian groups have described as, Including the Anti-Defamation Leagueas a neo-Nazi.
The Volunteer Corps, made up of Russians who oppose Vladimir Putin’s war, has no overt affiliation with the Ukrainian military. But the group’s claim that it is fighting for the cause of Ukraine presents an uncomfortable situation for the government in Kiev. Russian President Vladimir Putin has falsely claimed that his country is fighting the Nazis as a pretext for invading his country, a regular theme in Kremlin propaganda.
Corps commander, Denis Kapustin—who has long used the alias Denis Nikitin, but usually goes by his military call sign, White Rex—is a Russian national who moved to Germany in the early 2000s. He associated himself with a group of violent football fans and later became, according to officials in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, “one of the most influential activists” in the Neo-Nazism is a splinter from the mixed martial arts scene.
He was done blocked From entering the European visa-free Schengen area, which is made up of 27 countries.
The Volunteer Corps, known by its Russian initials RDK, also claimed responsibility for two incidents in Russia’s border region of Bryansk in March and April. The Ukrainian authorities have publicly denied any role in the fighting on the Russian side of the border.
The Russian Volunteer Corps was one of two groups of Russian fighters that launched a cross-border offensive in Russia’s southern Belgorod region that began on Monday, engaging Russian forces over two days of skirmishes. The groups say the aim of the incursions is to force Russia to redeploy soldiers from occupied regions of Ukraine to defend its borders, while Ukraine prepares to launch a counterattack.
The second group was the Free Russia Legion, which operates under the umbrella of the Ukrainian International Legion, a force that includes American and British volunteers, as well as Belarusians, Georgians, and others. It is supervised by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and commanded by Ukrainian officers. Officials said that several hundred Russian fighters have been deployed to the front lines in eastern Ukraine.
At a joint news conference with the Free Russia Corps on Wednesday, Mr. Kapustin said his group was not under the control of the Ukrainian military, but that the military had supported his fighters with information, petrol, food and medical supplies, along with evacuating the wounded. This claim cannot be independently verified.
Andriy Chernyak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said he had no information about possible material support the Ukrainian military might have provided members of the RDK, but said that “Ukraine definitely supports all those who are ready to fight Putin’s regime”.
“People have come to Ukraine and said they want to help us fight Putin’s regime, so of course we let them do it, as do many other people from foreign countries,” said Mr. Chernyak.
Ukraine has called the incursions an “internal Russian crisis” given that the group’s members are Russians themselves, and the incident leads to a Ukrainian military objective of trying to force Russia to redeploy troops from the front lines to defend its borders.
Michael Colburn, a researcher for Bellingcat who reports on the international far right, said he was hesitant to even call the Russian Volunteer Corps a military unit.
“It’s very much a far-right group of exiled neo-Nazis who are making these incursions into Russian-controlled territory who seem more concerned about creating content on social media than anything else,” Colburn said.
Some other members of the Russian Volunteer Corps who were photographed during the border raids openly espoused neo-Nazi views. Ukrainian security services arrested a man named Aleksandr Skachkov in 2020 for selling a Russian translation of the white supremacist manifesto of the Christchurch, New Zealand shooter, who killed 51 mosque worshipers in 2019.
Another one, Alexei Levkin, who shot a selfie video wearing an RDK badge, is a founder group It is called Wotanjugend which started in Russia but later moved to Ukraine. Mr. Levkin also organizes the National Socialist Black Metal Festival, which started in Moscow in 2012 but was held in Kiev from 2014 until 2019.
Pictures posted online by the militants earlier this week of volunteer corps members in front of captured Russian equipment showed some of the fighters wearing Nazi-style patches and equipment. One patch depicts a masked member of the Ku Klux Klan while the other shows the black sun, a symbol with a strong connection to Nazi Germany.
Mr. Colburn said the images of Mr. Kapustin and his fighters could harm Ukraine’s defense by making allies wary that they might support far-right armed groups.
He said, “I’m afraid something like this could backfire on Ukraine because these are not mysterious people.” “These are not faceless people, and they are not helping Ukraine in any practical sense.”
Thomas Gibbons Neff Contributed reporting from London and Oleg Matsnev from Berlin.
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