Since the borders between Ukraine and Russia were easy enough to cross before the war, Russian nationalists often visited Ukraine. Maksim ‘Tesak’ Martsinkevich made Ukraine a stage for unfolding his anti-gay projects ‘Occupy Pedophily’ and ‘Down With the Pigeonhouse’ (‘pigeon’ standing for ‘gay’), and the members of the BORN gang (Boevaya Organizatsiya Russkih Natsionalistov – Military Organization of Russian Nationalists) hided or would have liked to hide in Ukraine from various criminal prosecutions. But with the beginning of the war in Ukraine in 2014, the Russian far-right eagerly started to participate in it, mostly on the pro-Russian side.
The researcher of far-right movements in Russia and Ukraine Vyacheslav Likhachev believes that while the ‘anti-terrorist operation’ (ATO, the official name for Ukrainian government’s military effort in Donbas) could be possible without Ukrainian far-right initiatives Azov and Right Sector, which anyway contain only a minor number of Russians, the ‘Russian Spring’ (the propaganda codename for the military intervention of 2014) would be impossible without Russian radical nationalists. This article provides a picture of the participation of the Russian far right in this military conflict from both sides.
The Other Russia (DR, former National Bolshevik) far-right party supported the self-proclaimed republics and widely participated in the conflict. Its pro-imperial position had been expressed many times before the war began (see for example the action in Crimea in 1999 under the slogan “Sevastopol is a Russian city”), and the participation in the war fits into it logically. The scale of this participation is quite large – according to the official statement, there are two thousand activists who went to fight against Ukraine in the so-called Interbrigades, although this number might be inflated. One well-known member of these brigades is Latvian citizen Beness Aijo.
Pavel Gubarev, the self-proclaimed ‘people’s governor’ of Donetsk region, is a former member of Russian National Unity (RNE), probably the largest and best-known Russian far-right organization. Alexandr Barkashov, the leader of the movement, provided instructions to a local pro-Russian activist on how to falsify the referendum in the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ (DNR); this phone conversation has been intercepted by the Security Service of Ukraine and publicised. RNE, as well as DR, has unfolded a wide and successful campaign recruiting volunteers to Donbas.
Activists of Donetsk Republic, the initiative which played a role in establishing a new separatist government in the region, had established long-term contacts with Ilya Goryachev, the founder of Russkiy Obraz (Russian Image) and its military wing called BORN. Both were supported from the Kremlin as part of Vladislav Surkov’s ‘anti-Orange’ politics. Goryachev himself was already arrested and put on trial when the Russian military intervention into Ukraine has begun, but his Kremlin curator Leonid Simunin had been working in the government of the DNR for some time as well, namely, in its energy ministry. On this video from 2012 Simunin is talking to Alexandr Borodai, future prime minister of the DNR. Stanislav Byshok and Evgueni Valyaev, who were also close to BORN, now both work for the pro-Kremlin foundation CIS-EMO, which observed the falsified ‘referendum’ in the annexed Crimea. Incidentally, the foundation is headed by Alexei Kochetkov, member of RNE.
Alexandr Zhuchkovsky, a supply activist and also a popular blogger, is a member of the far right National Democratic party, and participated in DPNI (Movement Against Illegal Immigration) several years ago. “Ukraine and Ukrainians should be destroyed” – writes he on his page.
Besides activists from the well-known initiatives mentioned above, individual far-rightists took part in the war individually. One of the well-known Nazis fighting on the Russian side of the war is Yan Petrovsky, an ethnic Russian mostly living in Norway. In October 2016 he was arrested in Norway and probably will be extradited to Ukraine. Before his participation in the conflict, Petrovsky became known by affinity to the Russian Nazi and former athlete Vyacheslav Datsik, who after the series of ‘adventures’ in Russia asked for a political asylum in Norway and contacted Petrovsky there.
Petrovsky’s comrade is Alexei Milchakov, a neo-Nazi and a maniac from St.Petersburg. Shocking pictures from 2011, on which he cuts ears from puppies, were published by Milchakov himself and later republished in many media. Never accused in Russia for animal abuse, he served in Russian air forces. When the Ukrainian conflict started, he went there to serve as a volunteer.
Petrovsky (“The Great Slav”) and Milchakov (“Fritz”, “Serb”) formed a commando unit Rusich consisting of the far-right as well as servicemen of Russian reconnaissance. It became a part of the larger group Batman in the armed forces of the ‘Lugansk People’s Republic’ (LNR). The group published selfies with dead Ukrainian soldiers in background. In January 2015, after the assassination of Batman commander Alexandr Bednov, Milchakov said that his group quits the LNR and begins military action against it as well. He specifically blamed the LNR leader Igor Plotnitsky. Later Ukrainian Secret Service reported that in August 2015 they had destroyed the group by letting them hit a mine; according to the report, only one member of the group was left alive. Afterwards both Petrovsky and Milchakov were spotted among the participants of the International Conservative Forum in March 2015.
Their sister in arms was Yulia Kharlamova (Tselinskaya / Tarnovskaya), also known as Nordica. In late 2000s she kept a popular blog nordica1488.livejournal.com and was a well-known person in the Russian-speaking Livejournal community. At first she was seen in Rusich as well, and later she became a journalist at the pro-Russian TV channel Anna News.
A knife fighter Sergei Ermolinskiy, known under the alias Henry and involved in the activities of a gang led by neo-Nazi Vasiliy Fedorovich, is reportedly also a pro-Russian conflict participant. The criminal file of the Fedorovich gang contains 14 episodes of murders and five attempted murders. Ermolinskiy is now listed in the international search.
Among other figures we can name Anton Raevsky, a Nazi and Orthodox monarchist, who regrets his participation in the war. Currently he says that the war is waged by politicians, while he only wishes for peace and has neutral feelings towards both sides of the conflict.
While there is a large number of Russian far-rightists fighting on the pro-Russian side, only individual activists are participating on the opposite side of the conflict. Some of them may be doing this not for strong ideological reasons, but because it is insecure for them to stay in Russia. One such person is Sergey Korotkikh from Belarus: he was a well-known activist of a major Russian far-right organization National Socialist Society. After joining the war in Donbas, he even got Ukrainian citizenship.
A far-right from Vladivostok Ilya Bogdanov left his service in FSB to participate in the war on Ukrainian side. “I understood that it is the way of my heart” – confesses he, explaining his motivation to serve. After his demobilisation, he has founded a cleaning company in Kyiv. For another Russian rightist Roman Zheleznov, the leader of a Nazi network Wotan Jugend, member of Restrukt (a project of Martsinkevich, mentioned above), and also a BORN ‘friend’, the ‘way of heart’ was more pragmatic – he moved to Ukraine to flee prosecution with regard to the criminal case of Restrukt. Here, he became the Azov media activist (see more in the text on Misanthropic Division). His colleague from Wotan Jugend and a musician of national socialist black metal group M8L8TH Alexei Lyovkin was seen in Kyiv, giving a lecture on Julius Evola.
Alexander Parinov, an ex-member of BORN, was reported to serve in Azov, although there are no proofs for this; anyway, not having Ukrainian citizenship or even legal grounds for staying in Ukraine at all, he only could fight unofficially or be a volunteer at the beginning of the war. His current location and activities are unknown, but it is likely that he is somewhere in Ukraine. The only living member of BORN who has not been put in jail, he is wanted in Russia.
Mikhail Oreshnikov, a member of Restrukt movement from Cheboksary and a criminal as well, asked for a political asylum in Ukraine in July 2014. Four Russian immigrants in Kyiv – Oreshnikov, the creator of “Right. Liberal. Independent” Orange web page Andrei Kuznetsov, Denis Vikhorev, and Roman Zheleznov – announced the creation of a Russian Centre in Ukraine in 2014. The project aimed to address the issues of Russian diaspora in Ukraine, in particular the war veterans trying to get the citizenship. However, the initiative does not seem to have gone beyond the format of a webpage.
A DPNI member who might have also been earlier convıcted for the murder of homeless people, football fan Fritz (Ivan Mikheev) from Kirov, was seen in Kyiv disrupting an anti-fascist rally on January 19 together with Zheleznov. Later he returned to Kirov where he was convicted for being a mercenary in Azov regiment (Russian law prohibits this type of activity).
A Split in the Background
An organisation called Russkie (The Russians) expressed their support of Ukraine. Its two leaders were prosecuted, although it is not clear whether these prosecutions were politically motivated or simply coincided with their political statements. These two are Alexander Belov (Potkin) and Dmitry Dyomushkin.
In August 2016, Belov went to prison for seven and a half years, convicted for financial fraud and extremism. A source of Kommersant newspaper from Belov’s network claims that he received an offer to participate in a project which would involve sending Russian far-right activists to the Ukrainian military forces in order to convict them for mercenarism later. As the source claims, Belov refused to participate in such project and wanted to leave Russia himself, and this became a reason for his criminal prosecution.
His colleague Dyomushkin was detained in October 2016 while working on the organization of Russian march. He is kept under home arrest, probably for his political position as well. Since 2014, two or three Russian marches are held separately in Moscow every year, as Russian far right movement experienced a major split on the issue of the war in Ukraine.