The Russian Volunteer Force, one of the anti-Kremlin groups responsible for an armed incursion into Russia this week, is led by far-right extremists described by German officials and humanitarian groups. including the Anti-Defamation LeagueAs a neo-Nazi.
Vladimir V. Putin’s volunteer force, made up of Russians opposing the war, has no public ties to the Ukrainian military. But the group’s claims to fight for Ukraine’s cause present an uncomfortable situation for the government in Kiev. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin falsely claimed his country was fighting the Nazis as a pretext for invading his country, a regular theme of Kremlin propaganda.
The corps’ commander, Denis Kapustin — who has long used the alias Denis Nikitin but usually goes by his military call sign White Rex — is a Russian citizen who immigrated to Germany in the early 2000s. He came into contact with a violent football fan base and later became “one of the most influential activists”, according to officials in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The neo-Nazi split of the mixed-martial-arts scene.
He has been Banned From entering Europe’s visa-free Schengen zone of 27 countries.
The volunteer force, known by its Russian initials RDK, claimed both incidents in the Russian border region of Bryansk in March and April. Ukrainian officials have publicly denied any role in the fighting along the Russian border.
The Russian Voluntary Force was one of two groups of Russian militants who launched a cross-border attack in the Belgorod region of southern Russia.
The second group is the Free Russia Legion, operating under the umbrella of the International Legion of Ukraine, which includes American and British volunteers, as well as Belarusians, Georgians and others. It is overseen by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and commanded by Ukrainian authorities. Several hundred Russian fighters are stationed on the front lines in eastern Ukraine, officials said.
At a joint news conference with the Free Russia Legion on Wednesday, Mr. Kapustin said his group was not under the control of the Ukrainian military, but the military supported his fighters with information, gasoline, food and medical supplies. Evacuation of injured personnel. That claim could not be independently verified.
Andriy Chernyak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said he had no information about possible material support the Ukrainian military might have provided to RDK members, but “Ukraine certainly supports everyone who is willing to fight. Putin’s regime.”
“People come to Ukraine and say they want to help us fight Putin’s regime, so we let them in, like many people from abroad,” Mr. Czerniak said.
Ukraine has called the incursions an “internal Russian crisis”, and since the group’s members are Russian, the episode is aimed at the Ukrainian military, trying to force Russia to redeploy troops from the front lines to protect its borders.
Michael Colborne, a researcher at Bellingcat who reports on the international far right, said he hesitates to even call the Russian Volunteer Force a military unit.
“They’re mostly a far-right group of neo-Nazi exiles who make these incursions into Russian-controlled territory, who are more concerned with creating social media content than anything else,” Mr. Colborne said.
Some other members of the Russian Volunteer Force who were photographed during the border raids openly espoused neo-Nazi views. In 2020, Alexander Skachkov was arrested by Ukrainian security services for selling a Russian translation of the white supremacist manifesto of the shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who killed 51 mosque worshipers in 2019.
Another, Alexey Levkin, who filmed a selfie video wearing the RDK logo, is a founder. group Called Wotanjugend, it started in Russia, but later moved to Ukraine. Mr. Levkin organizes a National Socialist Black Metal Festival, which began in Moscow in 2012 but was held in Kyiv from 2014 to 2019.
Volunteer force members posted online by the militants earlier this week posed in front of captured Russian equipment, some of the militants wearing Nazi-style patches and equipment. One patch depicts a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan, while the other shows a black sun, which has a strong association with Nazi Germany.
Mr. Mr. Kapustin and his fighters said the images could damage Ukraine’s security by alerting allies that they might support far-right armed groups. Colborne said.
“I worry that something like this could backfire on Ukraine, because these are not inconspicuous people,” he said. “These are not unknowns, they are not helping Ukraine in any practical sense.”
Thomas Gibbons-Neff Report contributed from London and Oleg Matsnev From Berlin.