Violence-Oriented Right-Wing Extremist Actors in Russia: Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) - Part 2

February 7, 2024
Matus Trubac  —  Research Intern

During the past decade and a half, extremist non-state actors in Russia have become a central element of the violent transnational right-wing extremist milieu. The Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and particularly its re-invasion of the country in 2022 have afforded these actors far greater opportunities to operate and increase their influence than before. This blog is the tenth in a series in which CEP highlights some of the key actors, and analyzes their extremist ideology, modus operandi, and transnational role.

The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) is a Russian right-wing extremist fascist group that aims to restore the Russian monarchy, establish Orthodox Christianity as Russia’s sole religion, and make Russians the sole ruling ethnicity in Russia. The first blog entry provided a summary analysis of the movement with a focus on its activities following Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. This entry will elaborate on the group’s financial activities and links to foreign fighters.

RIM’s paramilitary wing, the Russian Imperial Legion (RIL), as well as its combat training camp, Partizan, seem to be the principal actors in the movement’s fundraising and donation activities. Denis Valiullovich Gariyev, who appears to be a RIM coordinator, the highest ranking RIL commander, and the chief Partizan instructor, is also listed as the group’s founder. The group’s remaining founders are Alexander Grigorevich Zhuchkovsky and Merny Yuriy Mikhailovich, of the St. Petersburg public organization “Rezerv-Druzhina”, which was established in 2013. Rezerv-Druzhina was, according to the club’s own words, established to promote military values, Orthodox Christianity, and the study of Russian history. At least some Partizan training courses are conducted in the basement of the building of Rezerv-Druzhina in St. Petersburg, and one of the administrators of the St Petersburg office appears to be a Telegram and VKontakte user with the nickname “Badger Partizan.”

By 2016, RIM’s combat training arm Partizan had established an additional branch within DOSAAF, the Russian “Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Navy.” A Russian presidential decree designates DOSAAF as the central body for recruiting Russia’s military reservists. DOSAFF mirrors the organization of the Russian army and consists of cadet training schools. Partizan’s membership in DOSAAF is an indicator that the group receives funding from the Russian government, even if only indirectly.

According to the Partizan website, its headquarters are located at the “Military Sports School, Professional Military Training Partizan, 20 Drezdenskaya Street, Saint Petersburg, Russia, 194017.” Partizan also has at least two field training locations. The first, likely used for close-quarters, urban combat training, is in “Primorsky District, Saint Petersburg, Russia 197229,” at the following coordinates: 60°01’43.6“N 30°05’35.9”E. The second location is also in in Primorsky District, near the Olgino Power Plant, at the following coordinates: 60.021316, 30.094944.

RIM informally calls its donation program the “Angel of the Legion,” and it raises funds for both combat in Ukraine and supposedly humanitarian activities in Russia. According to Gariyev, RIM does not concern itself solely with war, but has been engaging in “charitable” activities for “many years.” In December 2023, the Partizan center collected donations for impoverished Russian children and families, including in Pskov and Novgorod. For this it uses Sberbank accounts associated with the name Ilya Ivanovich O. On September 1, 2021, the Partizan camp claims to have collected 190 thousand rubles ($2140) to buy school supplies for children in Pskov. On April 18, 2021, it launched a fundraiser to collect canned food, cereal, sugar, and confectionery for poor families in Novgorod and Pskov. It lists accounts in Sberbank and Yandex Money, a Russian electronic payment service. Both the accounts with Sberbank and Yandex Money are associated with the name Kirill Gennadievich. Larger fundraising activities include a charity concert held in St Petersburg on November 4, 2016 in cooperation with RIL and the “Veterans of Novorossiya.” While these may be legitimate fundraising efforts, according to the FATF, funding solicited under the cover of these ostensibly charitable activities may instead be used to benefit violent extremist causes and individuals.

However, both RIL and Partizan also raise money directly for combat efforts. Online, these calls for funding are often associated with a Sberbank account under the name Marianna Viktorovna. RIL also accepts donations in Bitcoin and the privacy coin Monero. Monero seems to be a cryptocurrency of choice for many right-wing extremist movements, including outside Russia. As of December 2023, RIL was asking for funds to purchase drones, 3D-printing materials, communications devices, transportation technology, and night vision technology. According to online posts made by Zhuchkovsky, RIL and RIM have also used donations to purchase equipment for their paramilitary fighters, including 6B45 ballistic vests and 6B47 helmets. According to other reports, RIL used donations to purchase camouflage nets, weapon cleaning supplies, lights for trenches, food, and hygiene products. According to Zhuchkovsky’s post, these supplies are for fighting not just in Ukraine but also in Syria.

According to RIM’s online posts, it receives funds from supporters in the West, including France, and uses these to provide “humanitarian aid” to locals in Donbass. In addition to funds, RIM receives material donations from the West, including painkillers such as Nefopam from France. The Partizan Training center also derives some revenue from its shop, which sells military and hunting equipment, pyrotechnics, radio communications, equipment for tactical medicine, military literature, and other accessories. The shop is based in the same location as Partizan in St Petersburg, and ships throughout Russia.

Although Partizan does train foreign fighters, according to Gariyev, around 60% of them come from St Petersburg itself. This mirrors the composition of RIM’s online members. According to an extensive data analysis conducted by New America, the self-reported locations of RIM members on VKontakte are largely concentrated in Western Russia near major urban centers such as Moscow or St Petersburg. Outside of Russia, the top three locations listed by online RIM members are Ukraine, Belarus and Germany.

Some RIM users on VKontakte claim to have served in military units outside of Russia. Active units located in Europe include: Germany’s Border Protection Group 9 (Grenzschutzgruppe 9); a Regional Operational Support Unit Of Kosovo Police; the Serbian Air Force; the British 16th Air Assault Brigade, and Romania’s 528th Reconnaissance Battalion "Vlad Ţepeş”. Outside of Europe RIM users list the 932nd Infantry Battalion (“Granite”), The 933rd "Nahal" Brigade, 162nd Armored Division, Southern Command in Israel and Kazakhstan’s Air Defense Division, Military Unit 97617. However, most of the units listed by RIM users on VKontakte are in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.

In June 2014, RIM established the Imperial Legion Military-Patriotic Club in St Petersburg, designed specifically to train foreign fighters. Since Russia’s re-invasion of Ukraine in 2022, RIM has especially sought closer cooperation with the Serbian right-wing extremist group Serbian Action. Gariyev has made special appeals to Serbs to join RIL in its fight against Ukraine. The groups share a similar ideology, especially their Orthodox Christian radicalism, white supremacism, and irredentism. However, RIM has admitted fighters with divergent ideologies into its ranks, such as the National Bolsheviks (see CEP’s profile here). In addition to fighters, in 2023 RIL was offering contracts to “specialists” with skills in 3D-printing, electronic engineering, microcircuitry, and programming.

CEP’s analysis reveals that in the online sphere, fundraising is mainly done by Partizan and RIL, while RIM spreads extremist propaganda material. RIL and Partizan claim to raise funds for both combat efforts and ostensibly charitable causes in Russia and the Donbass, although it may be assumed that RIM, like other extremist groups active around the globe, is fraudulently soliciting support for humanitarian aid while misusing these funds for extremist causes after they have been received. It seems that as of January 2024, most RIM paramilitary fighters are Russian. Those from abroad are likely to be from Belarus or Ukraine, although RIM online users self-report serving in various active military units in Europe and beyond.

There is a distinct possibility that RIM consists of, and receives monetary and material support from, members with combat experience and residencies in NATO countries. RIM operates with at least the tacit support of the Russian government, and does not seem to make any special efforts to hide its fundraising and recruitment activities. The current political situation in Russia seems conducive to the growth of violence-oriented right-wing extremist groups like RIM. This likely poses a long-term threat to Europe and its allies, many of which inadvertently play host to RIM’s supporters and sympathizers.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On February 26, 2015, a Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a market in Biu, Nigeria, killing 19 people and injuring 20 others. A second attempted-suicide bomber was caught and beaten by a crowd before he was able to carry out his attack.

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