The Russian far right and the second Ukrainian campaign

July 27, 2022
Vera Alperovich
Expert of the SOVA Center for Information and Analysis
Russian nationalist organizations generally supported the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Some, though not many, joined the military campaign, while others took part in passionate discussions, often critical of the government’s actions. By the end of spring, Vera Alperovich writes, far-right organizations began to lose interest.
The majority of far-right groups and personalities support the invasion. Among them are pro-government nationalists, such as the Tsargrad Society founded by businessman Konstantin Malofeev (on the US and EU sanctions lists since 2014), Conservative Russia, the Russian All-People's Union led by Sergei Baburin, as well as oppositionist “imperialist” organizations like the Russian Imperial Movement led by Stanislav Vorobyov (included in the list of terrorist organizations in the US) and national bolshevik the Other Russia of Eduard  Limonov party, and the national democratic opposition – what is left of the National Democratic Party (NDP) and Dmitri Bastrakov’s publishing house Black Hundred. 
Konstantin Malofeev, 2020. Source: Wiki Commons
Loyalists and oppositionists on the Right

The “special operation” was supported in one way or another by Alexander Dugin, an influential ultra-right ideologist from the recent past, Egor Kholmogorov, a well-known nationalist and a reporter for Malofeev’s Tsargrad TV channel, and Vladislav Pozdnyakov, the leader of the banned Male State movement, which promotes radical forms of xenophobia and misogyny, among others.

As expected, pro-government groups welcomed the special military operation, publishing on their internet resources excerpts from Ministry of Defense official briefings and various military symbols with the letters Z and V. They readily picked up the line about the "denazification" and "demilitarization" of Ukraine, published materials about “biological weapons” found in Ukraine, discussed NATO expansion, etc.
Oppositionist organizations, while supporting the idea of the invasion, frequently adopted some of the official language but also criticized the authorities with varying degrees of harshness."
Almost all of them expressed indignation that the "special operation" had not been launched right after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and emphasized that had it not been for this delay, it would have been successfully completed in the shortest possible time. They also criticized the actions of the Russian army and the Russian leadership in Ukraine.

For example, the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) has criticized the Russian authorities for losing the "ideological war.” Since ideology is borrowed from Soviet models, Russian soldiers, according to RIM leader Vorobyov, do not understand what they are fighting for. Vorobyov and other figures on the right are also unhappy with the government propaganda framing the special military operation as a fight against Ukrainian nationalists.  

They point out that this framing positions Russian troops as invaders of the lands of the Ukrainian nation. In their opinion, no such nation exists. As long as the authorities stick to the idea of "denazification,” Russian soldiers will continue to look like occupiers. Instead, Kremlin propagandists should switch to the Russian imperial idea: justify the right to Crimea and the lands of Ukraine based on peace treaties concluded in the 18th and 19th centuries. They also criticize the authorities for suppressing the nationalist movement in Russia, which otherwise could provide much better ideological support for the "special operation.”
Igor Strelkov, 2015. Source: Wiki Commons
Igor Strelkov and other critics

Igor Strelkov (his nom de guerre – his real name is Girkin), a leading figure of Donbas irredentism in 2014-15, supports the operation in general, but has sharply criticized the tactics chosen, as well as poor supply and equipment, the extremely low quality of training for soldiers and significant losses.

He believes that the shelling of Russian territory by the Ukrainian military is due to the withdrawal of Russian troops from the Chernihiv line, which supposedly exposed the Russian command as cowards and provided the enemy with access to the border.

Strelkov condemns as a failure the diplomatic component of the operation, citing the move by Sweden and Finland to join NATO and the miscalculated assumption that the West would not help Ukraine out of fear of being cut off from Russian natural resources. He suggests that Russia should immediately declare mass mobilization, appoint a new military command, restructure the economy according to the principle "everything for the front, everything for victory,” and move deep into the Ukrainian territory toward its western borders instead of fighting for Donbas only.
Strelkov's interviews have millions of views. His audience is not just supporters of the invasion."
He has regular followers even among Ukrainian online communities. Many of his former supporters sharply criticized him for his "defeatism." However, quite a few nationalists came to his defense: some because they agree with his pessimistic view of the situation, others because they respect him enough, and believe that he has the right to express his opinion and definitely does not mean harm.

Vladimir Kvachkov, a retired Spetsnaz colonel and military intelligence officer and the former leader of the ultra-right organization People's Militia in the name of Minin and Pozharsky, recognized as a terrorist organization in Russia, speaks in approximately the same vein, although he is not as radical as Strelkov. While supporting the invasion, he criticizes the tactics of Russian troops and the overall management of the "special operation," which, in his opinion, has failed as such and turned into a war. He talks about the “collapse” of the army and blames the reforms introduced by former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Vladimir Putin personally. A similar opinion was expressed by Ivan Otrakovsky, the leader of the nationalist movement Army of Defenders of the Fatherland. He continues to sharply criticize Putin's regime and believes that victory cannot be achieved while "jackals command lions."

Other right-wing oppositionists criticize the Russian command for "half-measures:” for avoiding strikes on the centers of decision-making (apparently, they mean Kyiv), for negotiating with the Ukrainian side in spring and for failing to eliminate the political leadership of Ukraine.

There are also those on the far right, who oppose the "special operation,” though they are not many. For instance, Great Russia party leader Andrei Savelyev says that "the current war is the fruit of the Satanism of the authorities on both sides of the border. It is an alien plan to kill and ruin as many Russian people as possible… This war will be a defeat for all Russians, and a victory for the backstage scoundrels who will warm their hands on the trouble that ends our history.” Savelyev apparently believes that the whole plan was drawn up with the secret approval of the West.

The Nationalists’ Movement expresses similar views. Sofya Budnikova, one of their leaders, writes: "The ‘military operation’ in Ukraine will have the following outcomes: the extinction of Russians in the Russian Federation will accelerate, Ukraine will never be a second home for Russians again, of the very idea of Russian nationalism nothing but ruins will remain." Nationalists’ Movement activists are also concerned that this war will have grave consequences for nationalists in Russia, since the invasion was started precisely under the pretext of fighting nationalists.
Roman Yuneman, 2022. Source: Wiki Commons
Those in the middle

There are also those on the far right who take a middle position. Among them, for example, is the national democratic movement Society.Future led by Roman Yuneman. When the "special operation" began, Society condemned it, saying that it was a "strategic mistake" and that such problems should be resolved through cultural, economic and diplomatic channels. At the same time, Society expresses no sympathy for Ukraine, "which has been systematically killing Russians in Donbas for eight years," and said that it would support the "Russian army" and society, as "worse than a war is only a lost war."

The ambiguous position (to put it mildly) taken by the Conservator movement led by Mikhail Ochkin and Valentina Bobrova is also worth mentioning. On the one hand, they call the "special operation" a fratricidal war; on the other, they are constantly repeating that it should have been launched in 2014. They also go on waging their usual struggle against "liberals," blaming them for the fact that the whole world believes that the "war" was unleashed by "Russians” and not by the "multinational people of Russia."

They call Russian President Putin a hypocrite who uses the "Russian card" to boost his ratings while at the same time suppressing the "Russian movement" in Russia. Moreover, they accuse him of incompetence and unpreparedness: before Russian troops went into Ukraine, the Stabilization Fund should have been kept close at hand instead of abroad, the oligarchs should have been dispersed and the "fifth column" eradicated.
Unlike in 2014, when disagreement over Ukraine led to splits and squabbles on the far right, now all the discord has barely changed anything in terms of relations among various nationalist groups."
The splits that occurred eight years ago have not been overcome, and the spectrum of views on the "special operation" is about the same as during the "Russian Spring" in 2014. Perhaps the only example of nationalists sorting things out with one another  was the March attempt to set fire to the door of the Listva bookstore in St Petersburg: according to Listva itself, the attack was carried out by a nationalist who, unlike the store owners, is anti-war.
Logo of the Russian-Slavic Unification and Revival (RSUR), 2018. Source: Wiki Commons
Support for and involvement in the “special operation”

Unlike in 2014-15, we are not aware of anyone from the Russian far right participating in the hostilities on the Ukrainian side; the political activity of far-right supporters of Ukraine in Russia has been minimal.

The number of those on the far right who volunteered for the “special operation” is significantly smaller than in 2014-15. Still, several organizations were spotted there.

First and foremost, it is The Other Russia: according to a statement, their entire Donetsk branch went to the front, and a number of volunteers from Russia joined them. Not even estimates as to their number are available.

The Russian Imperial Legion headed by Denis Gariev (military unit of the Russian Imperial Movement) is also fighting, although back in March RIM announced that it had sent only about 10 fighters to the front. The Legion has suffered losses: the death of Gariev's deputy, Denis Nekrasov (nickname Dobry, or Kind) has been confirmed, while at least two other fighters were wounded and Gariev himself suffered a small injury. In June, Gariev called on graduates of his "Partisan" combat training courses to join a new unit of fighters being sent to the front.

Russian-Slavic Unification and Revival (RSUR) announced in early April that about 30 of their supporters went as volunteers, but there is no confirmation of such a large number. Also fighting is Andrei Afanasyev, a RSUR cofounder and head of the Novosibirsk branch of the NDP. In an appeal recorded as he was leaving for Ukraine, he criticized state television for equating pagans with supporters of Nazi ideology, claiming that the percentage of rodnovers (neo-pagans) was quite high among volunteers.
The Rusich group, the most infamous on the far right fighting for Russia, is back in Donbas."
Judging by the personalities who are leading it, as well as symbols and some photos, it consists mainly of neo-Nazis. Rusich is only a combat unit and does not exist as a political organization, unlike RIM, RSUR and others. The leader of the group is Alexei Milchakov (nickname Serb; included in the EU sanctions list; for more, see Natalia Yudina of the Illiberalism Studies Program at GW's Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES) on The New Exile Strategy of Russian Nationalists. The composition of the unit is unknown, but no more than 10 people are visible at any time in their published photos.

As in 2014, well-known Rusich activist Yevgeni Rasskazov (nicknamed Topaz) is fighting in Ukraine. In his Telegram channel he covers the war and offers his view on developments at the front. During the 2014-15 campaign, Rusich became infamous for photos with dead Ukrainian army soldiers. Today, Rasskazov also calls for murdering and torturing captives and shares his vision of the future for Ukrainians. In one post, he says that wives of the fallen Ukrainian soldiers should be "employed as prostitutes in saunas around Moscow so that the girls can earn food for their children" and calls Ukrainians "pathetic creatures, practically cockroaches," who will soon be forced to "work for the benefit of Russia in harmful industries." At least one Rusich member, Alexei Pozharov (nicknamed Kamen, or Stone), was killed in May.

According to various information sources, all those fighting have signed short-term contracts, while some of them have perhaps joined private military companies. Whether any of them, apart from the National Bolsheviks, are fighting in the DPR or LPR militias is unknown.
More details Logo of the Russian All-People's Union, 2020. Source: Wiki Commons
Nationalists’ activities beyond involvement in the operation

Besides fighting, nationalists are involved in humanitarian projects, such as collecting and delivering aid to residents of the territories occupied by Russian troops, as well as providing assistance of various kinds to Ukrainian refugees in Russia.

The ultra right also made attempts to organize street actions. In the very first week, two applications were filed for large rallies in Moscow in support of the "special operation:” one by Yegor Kholmogorov, political scientist Andrei Sych and curator of the YouTube channel Tsarskoe TV Svyatoslav Pavlov (they expected to attract up to 25k people), the other by the Russian All-People's Union. However, both groups were denied permits under the pretext of the ban on public activity due to the pandemic. As a result, the Russian All-People's Union contented itself with a small car rally near the Moscow suburb of Domodedovo, which was attended by no more than 30 people.

Since the nationalists realized that they would not be allowed to hold anything big in the capital, they opted for small-scale activism. The far right took to the streets in support of the "special operation" with small or even individual pickets with pro-war posters, laid flowers at war monuments and the graves of famous people, held prayer services "for the victory of Russian weapons," organized car rallies, pasted leaflets with patriotic slogans, etc.

Other actions were held not so much in support of the army but against those who expressed anti-war sentiment. Basically, these small-scale events organized by the right wing boiled down to removing anti-war stickers and symbols and picketing with posters against "defeatists." There are several known cases when nationalists came to anti-war rallies and got into arguments, but this practice did not become widespread, since
“A few days after the start of the 'special operation', the police began to detain protestors at anti-war rallies so quickly that the nationalists simply had no one to argue with."
The nationalists partially compensated for the almost complete absence of street actions with online activity, providing informational support to the "special operation" and joining the "information war" and the "fight against Ukrainian fakes." Vladislav Pozdnyakov was the most active in this regard. Not only did he publish plenty of material about the "special operation," but he also called on his supporters to send messages to Ukrainian phone numbers with a call to evade military service and not support the decisions of the Ukrainian leadership; to spam administrators of Ukrainian Telegram channels; to write comments in “enemy" channels to sow panic and convince [readers] of the imminent victory of Russian troops; to spam phone numbers provided by the Ukrainian side intended for finding relatives among the Russian soldiers killed in Ukraine, etc. By the middle of spring, his activity in this area had somewhat waned, and Pozdnyakov switched to prophesizing about the inevitability of nuclear war, which he urged his colleagues to prepare for, even creating rather detailed instructions.

By the end of spring, the "Ukrainian topic” on far-right resources began to lose steam, and posts dedicated to the "special operation" began to be gradually obscured by typical content, including anti-migrant statements. Like across Russian society broadly, the war fatigue seems to be growing.
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