Also Known As:
- Russkoie Imperskoe Dvizhenie
- Russkoe Imperskoye Dvizheniye
- Imperial Legion
- Russian Imperial Legion
- Saint Petersburg Imperial Legion
The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) is a fascist group based in St. Petersburg, Russia, that seeks to create a “mono-ethnic state” led by a “Russian autocratic monarchy,” preferably one descended from the Romanov dynasty that ruled Russia before the 1917 revolution. Although the group is not sponsored by the Russian state, the RIM has allegedly recruited and trained Russian fighters for Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine. The RIM is best known for having members and sympathizers linked to violent activity abroad. Its militant branch, the Imperial Legion, reportedly has sent fighters to Ukraine, Syria, and Libya.
The RIM also runs a training course in St. Petersburg known as “Partizan.” Courses are reportedly led by ex-Russian military members, who conduct trainings on bombmaking, marksmanship, combat medicine, and small group tactics such as assaulting and clearing buildings.
Additionally, the RIM has supported the efforts of neo-Nazi groups in Scandinavia. Two members of the Swedish, neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement, Viktor Melin and Anton Thulin, underwent the Partizan military training course before carrying out a series of bomb attacks against refugee centers in Sweden in January 2017. During their trial, the prosecutor stated that “attending this paramilitary camp in St. Petersburg was a key step in Melin and Thulin’s radicalization.…We also believe it may be the place where they learned to manufacture the bombs that they used in Gothenburg.”
The RIM has also networked with non-Russian white-supremacist groups. According to media reports, in 2020, extremists who belonged to the youth wings of two German far-right political parties—the National Democratic Party (NPD) and The Third Path—attended Partizan, where they received training in weapons, explosives, and close combat. In June 2015, the RIM reportedly worked with the Russian political party Rodina to convene the World National-Conservative Movement (WNCM). Rodina is an extreme-right faction founded in 2003 by Dmitry Rogozin, who served as Russia’s deputy prime minister from 2011 to 2018, overseeing the country’s defense industry. WNCM’s manifesto claims to bring together like-minded activists who believe that the world is governed by “liberalism, multiculturalism and tolerance” that results in “the erosion of nations, massive migration from countries with foreign civilizational bases, falling away from religion, replacement of spirituality by materialism, impoverishment of cultures, destruction of the family and healthy moral values” through “abortion, propaganda of debauchery and acceptance of sexual perversions.”
Matthew Heimbach, founder of the U.S.-based Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP), met RIM representatives in the United States in September 2017. Heimbach said of the meeting, “We’re really aiming to have TWP kind of be the representative of America at the future gatherings of the Russian Imperial Movement.” According to Heimbach, he and the RIM have been in contact since at least 2015. Heimbach also stated in 2016 that he had intended to participate in the WNCM conference in 2015 but was unable to due to unspecified circumstances. Heimbach was a central organizer of the August 2017 Unite the Right protest in Charlottesville, where a vehicle attack by a white supremacist killed one and injured at least 30 others.
The RIM; its militant branch, the Imperial Legion; and the Partizan training course all operate official pages with more than 30,000 followers on the Russian social media site VKontakte (VK). These pages are used to advertise activities, attracts new recruits, and connect with supporters globally.
The RIM is an ultranationalist, Orthodox Christian, paramilitary organization that is outwardly opposed to President Vladimir Putin and has the stated aim of restoring the Russian monarchy. The group opposes globalization, multiculturalism, and liberalism, and operates alongside other international white-supremacist extremist groups.
While the group is not officially sponsored by the Kremlin, some analysts believe the Russian government tolerates the RIM. Georgetown University professors Shelby Butt and Daniel Byman argue that one reason for this is that much of the RIM’s activities are focused on aiding extremist groups operating in countries whose governments are opposed to Russia. The RIM works with white-nationalist groups in Europe and the United States, in what these groups consider a war against a “globalized elite” who reject “traditional” values. The group has also fought alongside the Russian army and other Russian paramilitary formations in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya.
The RIM has a paramilitary wing, the Imperial Legion, which reports directly to RIM leadership. The RIM also runs a weeklong military training course, Partizan, for both its own members and members of foreign white nationalist movements. According to RIM leader Stanislav Vorobyev, Partizan courses were created in June 2014 due to the high number of “volunteers” with no military experience, who sought to travel to Eastern Ukraine to fight the Ukrainian government. After receiving their training, these men traveled to Ukraine as part of the newly formed Imperial Legion. Between June and December 2014, the RIM had reportedly sent at least 100 such militants to frontline positions under the banner of the Imperial Legion to fight in Ukraine. Alongside these militants, RIM member Alexander Zhuchkovsky organized more than 30 million rubles worth of shipments of weapons and military equipment to Ukrainian separatists.
According to posts on the official Imperial Legion VK page, members of the militant group have gone on to fight alongside other Russian mercenaries in Syria and Libya, with two RIM men dying while fighting alongside Russian-backed warlord Khalifa Haftar.
In a 2015 interview with a sympathetic Russian outlet, RIM leader Stanislav Vorobyev claimed that the Imperial Legion is entirely funded through donations, and that the RIM receives enough money to provide “clothes, shoes, special equipment—communications, body armor” for every militant it sends to Ukraine. “If there are twice as many donations, we can send twice as many people,” Vorobyev added. “If there are none, we won’t be able to send anyone.”
In June 2015, the RIM reportedly worked with the Russian political party Rodina to convene the World National-Conservative Movement (WNCM). Rodina is an extreme-right faction founded in 2003 by Dmitry Rogozin, who served as Russia’s deputy prime minister from 2011 to 2018, overseeing the country’s defense industry. WNCM’s manifesto claims to bring together like-minded activists who believe that the world is governed by “liberalism, multiculturalism and tolerance” that results in “the erosion of nations, massive migration from countries with foreign civilizational bases, falling away from religion, replacement of spirituality by materialism, impoverishment of cultures, destruction of the family and healthy moral values” through “abortion, propaganda of debauchery and acceptance of sexual perversions.”
Extremist groups from 28 countries attended WNCM in 2015, including several far-right European political parties. Among them were the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) from Sweden; Jobbik from Hungary; the National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD); Golden Dawn from Greece; British Unity from the United Kingdom; Front National from South Africa. Four U.S.-based groups participated, including the American Freedom Party, American Renaissance, League of the South, and the Traditionalist Youth Network. In 2020, several men belonging to the NPD and The Third Path’s youth movements reportedly attended the RIM’s training camp in St. Petersburg, where they were taught how to use weapons and explosives.
The RIM, the Imperial Legion, and the Partizan training course are all able to attract foreign interest through their online outreach, largely conducted via their official VKontakte (VK) pages, which have more than 30,000 followers. NRM members who had previously undergone military training by the RIM carried out multiple bomb attacks against refugee centers in Sweden in January 2017. The leader of the Traditionalist Youth Network helped organize the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, after members of his group attended the WNCM conference.
The RIM operates a training course in St. Petersburg known as “Partizan.” The group makes no attempt to hide its training operations, publicizing its address on the Partizan VKontakte social media page, and many foreigners have reportedly taken the course after learning about it online. Partizan was officially established in June 2014 to provide military training to the many RIM-affiliated men seeking to fight against the Ukrainian government. However, the RIM had already operated a similar course prior to this. Many graduates of Partizan formed the core of the Imperial Legion, although the course is open to men unaffiliated with the RIM as well. According to The Soufan Center, all men who participate in the Partizan course hold white-supremacist and neo-Nazi beliefs.
Partizan runs for one to two weeks, training groups of between 10 and 15 men at a time. The course consists of “military-style training,” which includes bombmaking, marksmanship, combat medicine, and small-group tactics such as assaulting and clearing buildings. According to Vorobyev, some of the trainers are former Russian military service members. More than 500 men were trained in the Partizan course and its predecessor between 2011 and 2017.
Two of the three Swedish neo-Nazis responsible for a string of bombing attacks in January 2017, Viktor Melin and Anton Thulin, participated in the Partizan training course. During their trial, the prosecuting attorney stated that “attending this paramilitary camp in St. Petersburg was a key step in Melin and Thulin’s radicalization.…We also believe it may be the place where they learned to manufacture the bombs that they used in Gothenburg.”
In January 2015, Vorobyev claimed that Russian police had repeatedly visited the training site in attempts to find proof of illegal activity. Analysts believe the course operates with covert approval of the authorities and may even receive direct support from them. U.S. officials believe the RIM operates a second training base in St. Petersburg as of 2020.