The Russian attack on Ukraine has prompted a flurry of activity among far-right European militia leaders, who have taken to the internet to raise funds, recruit fighters and plan travel to the front lines to confront the country’s invaders, according to a research group.
In recent days, militia leaders in France, Finland and Ukraine have posted declarations urging their supporters to join in the fight to defend Ukraine against a Russian invasion. The posts have been located and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group, a private organization that specializes in tracking extremist groups.
Rita Katz, the director of SITE, said that numerous far-right white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups throughout Europe and North America had expressed an outpouring of support for Ukraine, including by seeking to join paramilitary units in battling Russia.
The motivation to travel to Ukraine, she said, was to gain combat training. It was also ideologically-driven, she added, since these far right groups viewed the fight against Russia as a fight against communism, clinging to World War II historical narratives, and associating modern-day Russia and its president, Vladimir V. Putin, with the former Soviet Union.
“Instability in Ukraine offers white supremacy extremists the same training opportunities that instability in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria has offered jihadist militants for years,” said Ali Soufan, who heads The Soufan Group, which has been documenting for several years how the conflict in eastern Ukraine has emerged as an international hub of white supremacy.
“Civil wars and insurgencies frequently draw in outside volunteers; some may initially join for humanitarian purposes but still exacerbate and prolong the conflict and violence,” he said in a statement to the Times.
The apparent mobilization of far-right groups could be problematic for the Ukrainian government, playing into Mr. Putin’s depiction of Ukraine as a fascist country, and his false claim to be waging war against Nazis who control the government in Kyiv. In reality, Ukraine has a democratically elected government and its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish.
Some of the activity appears to be centered on the Azov Battalion, a unit of the Ukrainian National Guard that has drawn far-right fighters from around the world, SITE said. That group came together following the first Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2014 and saw action against pro-Russian militias.
In one declaration, posted this week on the messaging app Telegram, shortly before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, a leader of the Azov Battalion’s political wing called for a “total mobilization” of the group, and pointed volunteers toward recruitment resources online.
Earlier this week, Carpathian Sich, a Ukrainian group, posted donation information to its Telegram channel, seeking money from its followers via PayPal, as well as with the Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Tron cryptocurrencies.
The same information was shared on several Finnish and French far-right sites, among them “OC,” a white nationalist site. This week, the group posted a pro-Ukraine statement on its Telegram channel, encouraging its subscribers to make donations to Carpathian Sich. A subsequent post said, “Just like the U.S.S.R., Putin will be defeated,” by aligning “French nationalists” with the Ukrainian people.”
Neo-Nazi and white supremacist Telegram users from Finland also encouraged fellow Finns to join the fight alongside Ukrainians, SITE reported. One post said, “the age-old duty of the Finns has been to wage war against the Russians.”
“Russia has always been persecuting us, and that snake will not drop until it knocks its head off,” said the post, according to SITE. “The best solution would be to make a collective surprise blow and knock out Moscow to the Stone Age.”
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