A gaggle of fighters aligned with Ukraine, who had participated earlier this week in probably the most intense combating inside Russia’s borders because the invasion, gathered the international and native press in an undisclosed location on Wednesday to rejoice, to taunt the Kremlin and to point out off what they referred to as “army trophies” from their incursion into their fatherland: Russia.
Their chief, Denis Kapustin, was proud that his drive of anti-Putin Russians at one level managed, he stated, 42 sq. kilometers, or 16 sq. miles, of Russian territory.
“I need to show that it’s attainable to battle towards a tyrant,” he stated. “That Putin’s energy isn’t limitless, that the safety companies can beat, management and torture the unarmed. However as quickly as they meet a full armed resistance, they flee.”
It was the rhetoric of a dissident freedom fighter, however there was a discordant be aware that emerged as clearly because the neo-Nazi Black Solar patch on the uniform of one of many troopers: Mr. Kapustin and distinguished members of the armed group he leads, the Russian Volunteer Corps, brazenly espouse far-right views. In actual fact, German officers and humanitarian teams, together with the Anti-Defamation League, have recognized Mr. Kapustin as a neo-Nazi.
Mr. Kapustin, who has lengthy used the alias Denis Nikitin however sometimes goes by his army name signal, White Rex, is a Russian citizen who moved to Germany within the early 2000s. He related to a bunch of violent soccer followers and later grew to become, “probably the most influential activists” in a neo-Nazi splinter group within the mixed-martial-arts scene, officers within the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia have stated.
Mr. Kapustin has reportedly been banned from getting into Europe’s visa-free, 27-country Schengen zone, however he has stated solely that Germany canceled his residency allow.
The truth that the group has garnered consideration for its operation and revived protection of the group’s ties to neo-Nazis is an ungainly improvement for Ukraine’s authorities, notably since President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has justified his invasion on the false declare of combating neo-Nazis and made it a daily theme of Kremlin propaganda.
A lot of the anti-Russian teams harbor long-term political ambitions to return dwelling and overthrow the Russian and Belarusian governments.
“The Russian Volunteer Corps marches in and destroys the present authorities — that’s the one means,” Mr. Kapustin stated earlier this yr. “You can’t persuade a tyrant to depart, and some other drive could be seen as invaders.”
In actuality, far proper teams in Ukraine are a small minority, and Ukraine has denied any involvement within the Russian Volunteer Corps or any function in combating on the Russian aspect of the border. However Mr. Kapustin stated that his group “positively acquired a number of encouragement” from the Ukrainian authorities.
Some on the far proper in Russia way back soured on Mr. Putin, notably for his jailing of so many nationalists, but additionally for his insurance policies on immigration and for what they understand as granting an excessive amount of energy to minorities like ethnic Chechens. For the reason that 2014 Maidan revolution and the onset of struggle between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists within the japanese Donbas area, a lot of them have made a house in Ukraine and at the moment are combating on the aspect of their adopted nation.
The Russian Volunteer Corps, additionally identified by its Russian initials R.D.Ok., was one in every of two teams of anti-Russian fighters that performed a cross-border assault within the Belgorod area of southern Russia on Monday, participating enemy troops over two days of skirmishing.
The purpose of the incursions, the teams say, was to drive Moscow to redeploy troopers from occupied areas of Ukraine to defend its borders, stretching its defenses forward of a deliberate Ukrainian counteroffensive, a objective which aligns with the broader targets of Ukraine’s army.
The Russian Volunteer Corps additionally claimed credit score for 2 incidents within the Russian border area of Bryansk in March and April.
The second group was the Free Russia Legion, which operates below the umbrella of Ukraine’s Worldwide Legion, a drive that features American and British volunteers, in addition to Belarusians, Georgians and others. It’s overseen by Ukraine’s Armed Forces and commanded by Ukrainian officers.
On the information convention on Wednesday, Mr. Kapustin affirmed that his group was not managed by the Ukrainian Military, however stated that the army had wished the fighters “good luck.” There had been “nothing additional than encouragement” from the Ukrainian half, he stated.
“All the things we do, each choice we make, past the state border is our personal choice what we do. Clearly we will ask our comrades and buddies for his or her help in planning,” he continued. “They’d say ‘sure, no’ and that is the type of encouragement, assist I used to be speaking about.” That declare couldn’t be independently verified.
Andriy Chernyak, a consultant of Ukraine’s army intelligence service, defended Kyiv’s willingness to permit the group to battle on its behalf.
“Ukraine positively helps all those that are able to battle the Putin regime,” he stated, including: “Folks got here to Ukraine and stated that they need to assist us to battle Putin’s regime, so in fact we allow them to, similar as many different individuals from international nations.”
Ukraine has referred to as the incursions an “inside Russian disaster” on condition that the members of the group are Russians themselves.
Some analysts dismissed the importance of the R.D.Ok. as a combating drive at the same time as they warn of the risks they pose. Michael Colborne, a researcher at Bellingcat who studies on the worldwide far proper, stated he was hesitant even to name the Russian Volunteer Corps a army unit.
“They’re largely a far-right group of neo-Nazi exiles who’re enterprise these incursions into Russian-held territory who appear way more involved about making social media content material than the rest,” Mr. Colborne stated.
Another members of the R.D.Ok. photographed throughout the border raid even have publicly embraced neo-Nazi views. One man, Aleksandr Skachkov, was arrested by the Ukrainian Safety Providers in 2020 for promoting a Russian translation of the white supremacist manifesto of the shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who killed 51 mosque worshipers in 2019. Mr. Skachkov was launched on bail after spending a month in jail.
One other member, Aleksei Levkin, who filmed a selfie video carrying the R.D.Ok. insignia, is a founding father of a bunch referred to as Wotanjugend that began in Russia however later moved to Ukraine. Mr. Levkin additionally organizes a “Nationwide Socialist Black Steel Pageant,” which started in Moscow in 2012 however was held in Kyiv from 2014 till 2019.
Photos posted on-line by the fighters earlier this week confirmed them posing in entrance of captured Russian gear, with some carrying Nazi-style patches and gear. One patch depicted a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan.
Mr. Colborne stated the photographs of Mr. Kapustin and his fighters may injury Ukraine’s protection by making allies cautious they may very well be supporting far-right armed teams.
“I fear that one thing like this might backfire on Ukraine as a result of these will not be ambiguous individuals,” he stated. “These will not be unknown individuals, and they aren’t serving to Ukraine in any sensible sense.”
Mr. Kapustin, who along with talking Russian speaks fluent English and German, informed reporters he didn’t assume being referred to as “far proper” was an “accusation.”
“We have now by no means hid our views,” he stated. “We’re a proper, conservative, army, semipolitical group,” he stated.
Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Andrew E. Kramer and Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.