Ukraine, Russia May Attract Extremist Foreign Fighters

(New York, N.Y.) — Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has sparked online activity from far-right white nationalists and neo-Nazi groups, supplementing the existing movement of extremists emboldened by Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine. The Counter Extremism Project (CEP) previously published two reports—Career Break or a New Career? Extremist Foreign Fighters in Ukraine and Looks Can Be Deceiving: Extremism Meets Paramilitarism In Central and Eastern Europe—outlining the motivation of far-right extremists to join the war.

Neither Ukraine nor Russia have acknowledged mobilizing foreign fighters along extreme right wing (XRW) lines, and neither has attracted their allegiance. However, the separatist movement in Ukraine made it an appealing destination for the XRW. The 2014 conflict—in which pro-Russian separatists launched rebellions against Ukrainian forces—provided far-right extremists with a purpose: they could leave behind the West to fight their real or perceived enemies. Those “enemies” are broadly understood as the western establishment or mainstream, and in this case, Ukraine. The local right-wing extremist scene was presented with an opportunity for combat experience that has the potential to affect the current situation on the ground.

The Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 also drove far-right extremism in Russia and beyond its borders. Ethnic Russians make up approximately 60 percent of the autonomous Crimea region of Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatists carried out violent protests and occupied government buildings while calling for Crimea to become part of Russia. Additionally, the U.S.-designated Russian Imperial Movement (RIM)—a fascist group based in St. Petersburg—has allegedly recruited and trained Russian fighters for Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine. Its paramilitary wing, the Imperial Legion, reports directly to RIM leadership and has also reportedly sent fighters to Syria and Libya in the past.

The overall majority of foreign fighters that took part on both sides of the conflict in Ukraine after 2014 were Russian nationals, while European and American fighters were a relatively small minority. Currently, online communities both in the United States as well as Europe indicate again an initial desire among some violence-oriented right-wing extremist individuals to travel to Ukraine and take part in the conflict. This also seems to be the case for violent right-wing extremist individuals in Russia, wishing to fight on the Russian side of the current war.

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

To read CEP’s report Looks Can Be Deceiving: Extremism Meets Paramilitarism In Central and Eastern Europe, please click here. To watch the webinar on this topic, please click here.

To read CEP’s resource Russia: Extremism and Terrorism, please click here.

To read CEP’s resource Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), please click here.

To watch CEP’s webinar The Logistics of Foreign Fighters from 3 Ideological Backgrounds, please click here.

To watch CEP’s webinar The Azov Movement in Ukraine, please click here.

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On May 23, 2016, two suicide bombings at a military base in Aden, Yemen, killed at least 45 army recruits and injured approximately 60 people. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.   

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