The leader of a Russian group involved in an incursion at the border is described by the gendarmes as a neo-Nazi.
One of the anti-Kremlin groups responsible for an armed incursion into Russia this week, the Russian Volunteer Corps, is led by a far-right extremist described by German officials and humanitarian groups including the Anti-Defamation League , like a neo-Nazi. .
The Volunteer Corps, made up of Russians who oppose Vladimir V. Putin’s war, has no public affiliation with the Ukrainian military. But the group’s claims to fight for the cause of Ukraine present an uncomfortable situation for the government in kyiv. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin falsely claimed that 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 pseudonym Denis Nikitin, but usually uses his military call sign, White Rex – is a Russian citizen who moved to Germany in the early 2000s. to a group of violent football fans and later became, according to officials in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, “one of the most influential activists” of a neo-Nazi split in the martial arts scene mixed.
He was banned from entering the Schengen zone of 27 European countries without a visa.
The Volunteer Corps, known by its Russian initials RDK, also claimed responsibility for two incidents in the Russian border region of Bryansk in March and April. Ukrainian authorities have publicly denied any role in the fighting on the Russian side of the border.
The Russian Volunteer Corps was one of two groups of Russian fighters that carried out a cross-border attack in the Belgorod region of southern Russia that began on Monday, engaging Russian troops in two days of skirmishes. The purpose of the incursions, the groups say, is to force Russia to redeploy soldiers from occupied areas of Ukraine to defend its borders, as Ukraine prepares for a counteroffensive.
The second group was the Free Russian Legion, which operates under the Ukrainian International Legion, a force that 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. Several hundred Russian fighters have been deployed to front lines in eastern Ukraine, officials said.
At a joint press conference with the Free Russian Legion on Wednesday, Kapustin said his group was not under the control of the Ukrainian military, but that the military had supported its fighters with information, gasoline, food and medical supplies, as well as the evacuation of injured personnel. This claim could not be independently verified.
Andriy Chernyak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said he had no information about any material support the Ukrainian military might have provided to RDK members, but said “Ukraine definitely supports anyone willing to fight Putin’s regime.
“People came to Ukraine and said they wanted to help us fight Putin’s regime, so of course we let them, like many other people from foreign countries,” Chernyak said.
Ukraine called the incursions an “internal Russian crisis” given that the members of the group are Russians themselves, and the episode plays into a Ukrainian military objective of trying to force Russia to redeploy troops from the lines of front to defend its borders.
Michael Colborne, a Bellingcat researcher who reports on the international far right, said he was hesitant to even call the Russian Volunteer Corps a military unit.
“They are largely a group of far-right, neo-Nazi exiles who are making these inroads into Russian-held territory and who seem far more concerned with creating social media content than anything else,” he said. declared Mr. Colborne.
Some of the other members of the Russian Volunteer Corps pictured in the border raids have also publicly held neo-Nazi views. A man, Aleksandr Skachkov, was arrested by Ukrainian security services in 2020 for selling a Russian translation of the white supremacy manifesto of the Christchurch, New Zealand gunman who killed 51 mosque worshipers in 2019.
Another, Aleksei Levkin, who filmed a selfie video wearing the RDK badge, is the founder of a group called Wotanjugend which started in Russia but later moved to Ukraine. Mr. Levkin also organizes a National Socialist Black Metal Festival, which started in Moscow in 2012 but was held in Kyiv from 2014 to 2019.
Photos posted online by the fighters earlier this week of members of the volunteer corps posing in front of captured Russian equipment showed fighters wearing Nazi-style patches and gear. One patch depicts a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan and another features a black sun, a symbol strongly linked to Nazi Germany.
Mr. Colborne said images of Mr. Kapustin and his fighters could damage Ukraine’s defense by raising concerns among allies that they were supporting far-right armed groups.
“I fear something like this will backfire on Ukraine because they are not ambiguous people,” he said. “They are not strangers, and they do not help Ukraine in practice.”
Thomas Gibbons-Neff contributed reporting from London and Oleg Matsnev from Berlin.