Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine

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A few hundred Western individuals with extreme right wing (XRW) or “nationalist” convictions travelled to fight in the conflict in Ukraine. Many had known each other from before the war.

They had made an exceptional decision to deploy to a foreign war but otherwise, do not stand out from among their peers in the Western XRW milieu. Many had been members of XRW political parties before the war, some had experience with political militancy.

Neither side of the Ukraine conflict purposefully mobilised foreign fighters along XRW lines. However, it is also true that members of such broader Western milieus must have found elements of the Ukrainian as well as the “separatist” political discourses sufficiently appealing to join. Marrying this discourse with their fatalistic approach to life in the West, where they are allegedly repressed or ostracised and where they think that they cannot get a fair hearing for their ideas, was the key motivation behind their deployment to the war in Ukraine. The conflict provided them with a chance of leaving behind the hated West (“here”) to fight their real or imaginary enemies that is broadly understood as the Western establishment or mainstream (“there”)—in this case, in Ukraine.

The fighters were enchanted with visions of either a nationalist revolution (on the Ukrainian side) or a “Donbass in my country” (on the “separatist” side), a revolt aimed at the overthrow of the hated political order. At the same time, they confess to being too weak to attempt something similar in their countries of origin (too weak for “Donbass in my country”). This admission only strengthened their determination to fight in Ukraine.

Ukrainian units that hosted such fighters did not mind them coming to Ukraine, but the units were not set up with an intention of becoming global XRW hubs. These units would ideologically evolve along the same lines independent from the arrival of Westerners in their ranks. Nowadays, some members of the Ukrainian XRW scene are ready to host and liaise with foreigners as they are keen on making anti-Russian inroads into the Western XRW milieu. They are not, however, hosting them in Kyiv with the view of turning them into XRW terrorists, who could stage attacks upon their return back home.

The situation is more complex on the “separatist” side. They abhorred the idea of hosting Czech XRW fighters who are intent on staging terrorist attacks back at home (e.g. the Czechoslovak Soldiers in Reserve). However, the Russian Imperial Movement, recently designated as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) by the United States, which previously funnelled the fighters into Donbass, is ready to host and train, e.g. members of violent and anti-democratic organisations such as the Nordic Resistance Movement. Simultaneously, the groups such as the Russian National Unity of A. P. Barkashov, an organisation with a track record of terrorist activity in the Baltic States, also sent members into the ranks of the “separatist” forces.

The Russian aspect in connection with the XRW issue in the West has so far been understudied. Russian organisations not only train or recruit people from the former Soviet Union to fight in the East of Ukraine but later also funnel them to other conflict zones like Libya or Syria. Moreover, Russia hosts the pipeline through which the XRW foreign fighters joining the “separatist” side were travelling. It did not object to their travel to Moscow, and rarely intercepted them on the way to the Rostov Oblast in the South of the country and close to the Ukrainian border where a rudimentary hosting infrastructure was put in place.

XRW fighters share a set of common beliefs (traditionalism, anti-consumerism, anti-capitalism, anti-socialism, anti-liberalism, dislike/hatred of the EU/NATO/the U.S./Israel, sympathy for president Putin but not necessarily Russia etc.). Therefore, their choice to join different sides of the conflict in Ukraine was not based on ideology. Quite often their choice was influenced by individual or group connections (e.g. the Party of Swedes with the Ukrainian Svoboda) with a “gate keeper” (journalist, activist, humanitarian worker, etc.) closer to a given side. This led to a so-called civil war within the Western XRW milieu with pre-war peers or colleagues shooting at one another in the East of Ukraine.

These—sometimes random—choices of a side in the conflict are an indication of the shallowness of the ideological convictions of the individual XRW fighters. For them the war in Ukraine was post-modern, tribal, memetic in nature as many fought in defence of their preferred symbols, images, and even badges, and not grand ideologies.

Three groups of XRW foreign fighters in Ukraine emerge: the “resetters” (i.e. those wanting a new career in a new country—Ukraine or the “separatist” republics), the “ghosts” (i.e. those coming back and forth to the frontline, after recuperating and fundraising spells back at home), and the “adventurers” (i.e. the restless, publicly available and open about their intention to fight in other wars in the future).

The XRW alumni of the war in Ukraine, especially the adventurers, redeployed to different conflict areas around the world. They are still looking for their “Donbass” wherever they might find it.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.


On October 4, 2017, suspected ISIS fighters ambushed a military vehicle convoy outside the village of Tongo Tongo in Tillabéri, Niger. Five Nigeriens, four U.S. soldiers, and at least 21 militants were killed. The attack also left eight Nigeriens and two American troops wounded.   

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