Posted on March 8, 2022

Fighting Russia in Ukraine Sadly Appeals to Racist, Far-Right Extremists

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, MSNBC, March 7, 2022

Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine prompted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to later call on all “citizens of the world” to join the fight against the Russian army and help defend “peaceful coexistence.” Thousands appear to be taking up the cause, including dozens of Americans and Canadians.

But among the well-meaning citizens lining up to fight for Ukraine are some global volunteers with links to white supremacist and far-right extremism. In recent years, global neo-Nazi and white supremacist extremist foreign fighters have sought training and combat experience by joining ultranationalist defense militias in Ukraine. A member of the U.S. neo-Nazi group The Base, an ex-Marine, joined the Ukrainian war effort in 2020 before he was expelled from the country.

Factions of Ukrainian fighters have been linked to white supremacist or neo-Nazi movements over the past eight years, including some members of the ultranationalist Azov Battalion, which fought against pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine in 2014 and eventually became a volunteer arm of the National Guard of Ukraine. As the conflict with Russia escalated last week, Azov members posted a video of themselves greasing bullets in pig fat and warning Russian Muslim soldiers, likely those from Russia’s Muslim-majority Chechnya, that they “will not go to heaven.”


But the conflict has clearly created an opportunity for extremists to recruit white supremacist foreign fighters who seek training and networks or seek to intensify their engagement to the cause in other ways. Far-right militia leaders in Europe have responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine by raising funds online, recruiting fighters and planning travel to the front lines, activities the SITE Intelligence Group has described as an “outpouring of support for Ukraine” from “numerous far-right white nationalist and neo-Nazis groups” across Europe and North America.

There are also risks of fighters becoming radicalized once overseas and returning to their home countries with additional military training and tactical combat skills. {snip}

To be clear, the global far right is by no means unified in support of Ukraine against Russia. Many among the American far right admire Putin’s authoritarian and anti-Western, anti-feminist and anti-LGBTQ+ stances. My research team at American University’s Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab has noticed in online white supremacist extremist channels an increased sharing of antisemitic conspiracy theories about a so-called “Jewish plot” against Russia or a “Jewish war” that pits whites against whites.