CEP Report: Western Extremists And The Russian Invasion Of Ukraine In 2022

(New York, N.Y.) – The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) is releasing its latest report Western Extremists and The Russian Invasion of Ukraine in 2022, authored by CEP affiliated researcher Dr. Kacper Rekawek, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX), University of Oslo, in collaboration with a number of regional experts. This is the second CEP report analyzing extremist foreign fighters in Ukraine.

Since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2022, there has been significant concern about the phenomenon of foreign fighters of various extremist ideologies traveling to take part in the conflict. Carefully examining all the available evidence, this report shows that only a fraction of the nearly 20,000 foreigners who expressed an interest in joining the war actually have done so.

While some of these foreigners are indeed extremists, the report’s careful analysis of extreme right-wing scenes across seven countries—the United States, Canada, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, and Poland—reveals that the current conflict has not led to a significant flow of extremists to the war zone. Rather, it has been, as the report’s subheading puts it: All Talk, But Not A Lot Of Walk.

CEP Affiliated Researcher Dr. Kacper Rekawek said:

“This paper demonstrates that widespread reports about extremist foreign fighters overrunning Ukraine have been largely overplayed. While there is a notable extremist foreign fighter contingent in the country, their numbers pale in comparison to those recruited through official government channels and there is no evidence that extremist causes are flourishing as a result of the invasion.

“Foreigners in Ukraine have not yet coalesced into recognizable highly ideological fighting units and, as individuals, have been largely unsuccessful in acting as recruiting multipliers for sympathizers in their home countries. Units such as the Azov Regiment, with a history of featuring foreigners since 2014, have either recruited a small number of such individuals in 2022, are nationally focused, and do not advertise for foreigners to join.

“Preventing the travel of violence-oriented extremists to the war zone should nonetheless be a priority for governments. These individuals will not add significantly to Ukraine’s ability to defend itself. However, they may yet present a challenge to domestic security upon their return.

“The combination of a violence-oriented ideology; potential combat training and experience; access to arms, ammunition, and explosive material in the conflict zone; as well as improved transnational networking opportunities for these extremists is worrying and requires mitigation measures.

“Governments should begin exploring opportunities for managing returning violence-oriented extremists from the war zone. Given the currently small number of high-risk individuals, this should be well within already established capacities.”

To access the report, please click here.

To read the first report Career Break or a New Career? Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine, please click here.

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