For immediate release | Monday, May 4, 2020

New CEP Report: Career Break or New Career? Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine

Press Contact:

Media at CEP

(New York, N.Y.) – The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) published a new report today that analyzes the profiles of individuals that joined the conflict in the Ukraine from abroad. The study, Career Break or New Career? Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine, focuses on the motivations of western foreign fighters from the extreme right-wing milieu. The study aims to explain who these fighters are, where they come from, and what they are likely to do next, as well as assess to what extent these individuals pose a security threat.

The report’s findings will be of particular interest to the public and policymakers given the controversy surrounding some of the units involved in the war in Ukraine. For example, the Azov Regiment within Ukraine’s National Guard has hosted such foreign fighters. The ultra-nationalist Russian Imperial Movement, which was recently designated by the U.S. Department of State for its role in providing paramilitary-style training to neo-Nazis and white supremacists, has also deployed its members to the frontlines in Ukraine.

Although these fighters share the same ideology, their impetus for engaging in combat in Ukraine varied. From this study, three groups of extremist right-wing foreign fighters emerged:

  • The “resetters”: Those seeking a new career in a new country either fighting for Ukraine or the so-called separatist republics.
  • The “ghosts”: Those traveling back and forth between their home country and the frontline in Ukraine, using the time at home to recuperate and fundraise.
  • The “adventurers”: Those who are restless, often considered war junkies, and are open about their intention to fight in future wars.

Of these three archetypes, ghosts and adventurers pose the highest risks as they remain ready and able to join other conflicts.

The report was authored by Kacper Rekawek, PhD, an affiliated researcher at CEP and an associate fellow at Bratislava, Slovakia-based think tank GLOBSEC. For this report, Dr. Rekawek interviewed 18 foreign fighters of seven nationalities, who took part in the Ukrainian conflict on either side. He also interviewed Ukrainian experts, former officials, and journalists who encountered these fighters, as well as academics, experts, and researchers who follow the extremist right-wing scenes in Europe.

To read CEP’s report Career Break or New Career? Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine, please click here.