Anti-Kremlin group involved in border raids led by neo-Nazis

A group of Ukrainian fighters, who have engaged in the deadliest fighting since the invasion within Russia’s borders earlier this week, gathered foreign and local press at an undisclosed location to celebrate on Wednesday, mocking the Kremlin and showing off what. clarified what was done. They called the invasion of their homeland Russia a “military trophy.”

Their leader Denis Kapustin said he was proud that anti-Putin Russian forces once controlled 42 square kilometers (16 square miles) of Russian territory.

“I want to prove that it is possible to fight a tyrant,” he said. “President Putin’s power is not unlimited and that security officials can beat, control and torture unarmed people.

It was dissident freedom fighter rhetoric, but discordant notes appeared as plainly as neo-Nazi black sun patches on the uniforms of one of the soldiers, Mr. Kapustin, and a prominent member of the armed group he led. there were. Russian militias openly support far-right views. Indeed, German officials and humanitarian groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have identified Kapustin as a neo-Nazi.

Kapustin, who has used the alias Denis Nikitin for many years, usually operates under the military callsign “White Rex” and is a Russian citizen who moved to Germany in the early 2000s. Officials in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia state said he was involved with groups of violent football fans and later became “one of the most influential activists” of the neo-Nazi splinter group in mixed martial arts.

Kapustin was reportedly barred from visa-free entry into the Schengen area, which includes 27 European countries, but he said only that Germany had revoked his stay permit.

The fact that the group has gained prominence for its activities and the resurgence of media coverage of the group’s ties to neo-Nazis specifically justifies the invasion by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin on the basis of false claims that he will fight neo-Nazis. It has been an embarrassing development for the Ukrainian government since then. – The Nazis made it a regular theme of Kremlin propaganda.

Most anti-Russian groups have long-term political ambitions to return to their homelands and overthrow the governments of Russia and Belarus.

Earlier this year, Mr. Kapustin said: “The Russian militia will advance and destroy the current government. That’s the only way.” “The tyrant cannot be persuaded to withdraw, and other forces will be considered aggressors.”

Members of the Free Russian Corps and Russian Volunteers pose for journalists at a press conference in northern Ukraine this…Finbar O’Reilly for The New York Times

In fact, Ukrainian far-right groups are a minority, and Ukraine denies any involvement with Russian militias or any role in fighting on the Russian side of the border. But Kapustin said his group “definitely received a lot of encouragement” from the Ukrainian authorities.

Some of Russia’s far right have long been dissatisfied with Mr Putin, particularly for his imprisonment of many nationalists, as well as his immigration policy and the empowerment of minorities like the Chechens. They were also dissatisfied with policies they perceived as giving too much. Many of them have settled in Ukraine since the 2014 Maidan Revolution and the beginning of the war between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region, and are now fighting on the side of their adopted country. .

The Russian militia, also known by its initials RDK, was one of two groups of anti-Russian fighters to launch a cross-border strike in the Belgorod region of southern Russia on Monday, following a two-day skirmish with enemy forces. fought.

The group said the purpose of the invasion was to force the Russian government to redeploy soldiers from Ukraine’s occupied territories to defend its borders and to strengthen its defenses ahead of a planned Ukrainian counteroffensive. Consistent with the broad objectives of the Ukrainian Armed Forces.

Russian militias also claimed credit for two incidents in the Russian border region of Bryansk in March and April.

The second group is the Free Russian Corps, which operates under the umbrella of the Ukrainian International Corps and includes American and British volunteers, as well as Belarusians, Georgians and others. It is overseen by the Ukrainian Armed Forces and commanded by Ukrainian officers.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Kapustin confirmed his group was not under Ukrainian military control, but said the military had wished the fighters “good luck”. “There was nothing more than encouragement” from the Ukrainian side, he said.

“Everything we do, every decision we make, we decide for ourselves what we do, across state lines. You can ask them to help you plan,” he continued. “They will say yes or no, and this is the kind of encouragement, help I was talking about.” This claim could not be independently verified.

The head of Ukrainian military intelligence, Andriy Chernjak, defended Kiev’s intention to allow the group to fight for the country.

“Ukraine definitely supports all those who are ready to fight the Putin regime,” he said. So of course, I accepted them, like so many other people,” he added. people from foreign countries. ”

Ukraine has called the attack a “crisis within Russia” given that the group’s members are Russian.

While some analysts warn of the dangers the RDK poses, they deny its importance as a combat force. Bellingcat researcher Michael Colborn, who covers the international far right, said he hesitated even to call the Russian militia a military force.

“They are mostly far-right neo-Nazi exile groups, with incursions into Russian-held territories, and seem more interested in creating social media content than anything else,” Colborn said.

“Ukraine definitely supports all those who are ready to fight the Putin regime,” said Andriy Chernjak, head of Ukrainian military…Finbar O’Reilly for The New York Times

Other members of the RDK who were photographed during the border raid have also publicly embraced the neo-Nazi views. Aleksandr Skachkov, a man, was arrested by the Ukrainian Security Service in 2020 for selling a Russian translation of the white supremacist manifesto of the shooter who killed 51 worshipers at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019. rice field. Mr. Skachkov was subsequently released on bail. He will spend a month in prison.

Another member who took a selfie video wearing the RDK insignia, Alexei Levkin, is the founder of a group called Wotan Yougend, which started in Russia but later moved to Ukraine. Levkin also hosts the National Socialist Black Metal Festival, which started in Moscow in 2012 and was held in Kiev from 2014 to 2019.

Photos posted online by fighters earlier this week showed soldiers posing in front of captured Russian equipment, some wearing Nazi-style patches and equipment. One patch featured a member of the Ku Klux Klan wearing a hood.

Colborn said images of Kapustin and his fighters alerted allies to possible support for far-right militants, which could damage Ukraine’s national defense.

“Ukraine is not an ambiguous person, so I’m afraid this kind of thing will backfire,” he said. “They are not anonymous people and they are not helping Ukraine in any practical sense.”

Kapustin, who speaks fluent English and German in addition to Russian, told reporters that being called “far-right” was not a “condemnation.”

“We never hid our views,” he said. “We are a righteous, conservative, military and semi-political organization,” he said.

Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Andrew E. Kramer and Oleg Matznev Contributed to the report.

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