Recently we reported on the investigation by the Spanish police into the mailing of bombs to organizations representing Ukrainian interests or those supporting Ukraine. According to sources close to the Spanish investigation, the “mail bomb” mailings were to alert European politicians to the possibility that Russia may carry out terrorist operations in the capitals of NATO members that support Ukraine militarily.
The Russian far-right organization Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) is reportedly responsible for sending out dangerous letters. It was previously stated that this radical group is only partially aligned with the Russian government. The movement’s leadership has criticized the incompetence of the Russian administration in the Ukraine war and accused Mr. Putin of corruption. Yet because the group shares Moscow’s aims of undermining Western governments and sowing chaos in Europe, Russian intelligence has been able to influence its operations, according to American officials.
The ability to use the Russian Imperial Movement as a sometime proxy force is helpful to Russian intelligence, mainly because that makes it more difficult for rival countries to attribute actions to the Russian government.
Nevertheless, Putin’s goals for the war and his attempts to identify himself with the Russian emperors provide more and more arguments in favor of the common goals of the Kremlin and the Russian far-right monarchists.
Who is the Russian Imperial Movement, and who are they working with within Europe?
The organization was founded in 2002 by Stanislav Vorobyev, with its headquarters in St. Petersburg.
In 2008, RIM formed its paramilitary arm, named the Imperial Legion, which has been led by Denis Gariyev since at least 2014 and has called for “young Orthodox men” to dedicate themselves to defending “Novorossiya.”
RIM’s ideology can be white supremacist, monarchist, ultra-nationalist, pro-Russian Orthodox, and anti-Semitic. The group advocates the re-establishment of the pre-1917 Russian empire and calls for the Russian state to exert influence over all territory inhabited by ethnic Russians. In pursuit of this goal, RIM has sent foreign fighters to join pro-Russian separatists in combat in eastern Ukraine. RIM valorizes the institutions of the monarchy and the Russian Orthodox Church, holding that the former has all political authority and spiritual power.
In addition to its goal of restoring a tsarist regime in Russia, RIM seeks to expand its influence in the far-right movement by building ties to white supremacist organizations in Europe and the United States, ostensibly to defend Western civilization. As part of this campaign, RIM attempted to contact U.S. citizens. RIM’s paramilitary training course furthers this mission; leaders view it as a means to prepare fighters for an upcoming civilizational struggle. Muslims are barred from participation in the program.
After the war in Donbas broke out in eastern Ukraine in April 2014, the RIM began training and sending volunteer soldiers to the pro-Russian groups in the conflict in July.
Some members of the Imperial Legion have worked as mercenaries in the Middle East and North Africa. On January 30, 2020, it was reported that Vladimir Skopinov, who had also previously fought in Donbas and Syria, had died in Libya – the second member of the Legion to die there.
RIM has supported white supremacist extremist (WSE) activity beyond Russia and Ukraine. In August 2016, the group provided paramilitary training to two Swedish members of the WSE group Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) at their St. Petersburg Partisan facilities.
RIM seeks to establish an international network ostensibly dedicated to defending Western culture.
Stanislav Vorobyev, the group’s leader, now designated by the Department of State, expressed fears of an impending “full-scale war against the traditional values of Western civilization” in a meeting with NRM and said the two groups shared a common enemy in “Jewish oligarchs in Ukraine.”
NRM’s leader Simon Lindberg has affirmed the friendly relationship between the two groups. In concert with the Russian political party Rodina, RIM invited a range of foreign organizations, including NRM, to join its “World National-Conservative Movement.” The movement was intended to stand in opposition to globalization policies that have, in the group’s eyes, produced “massive migration from foreign civilizational bases” and “impoverishment of cultures” for the benefit of a “global cabal” that “unleashes conflicts and wars throughout the world, pitting against each other ethnic groups or parts of one ethnic group.”
As part of this effort, RIM attempted to contact U.S. citizens. A movement representative traveled to the United States in September 2017 to network with US-based organizations, reportedly leading to enduring contact with U.S. citizens, including Matthew Heimbach, former head of the Indiana-based neo-Nazi Traditionalist Workers Party. The group also allegedly offered paramilitary training to the organizers of the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, and members of US-based white nationalist groups.
Center for Information Security and Cooperation at Stanford University identifies such RIM actions:
June 2014–January 2016: RIM trained and equipped foreign fighters for the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where members of the group’s Imperial Legion fought alongside pro-Russian separatists (unknown casualties).
November 11, 2016: Viktor Melin, a member of the Nordic Resistance Movement (NRM) who RIM trained through the Partizan paramilitary course in August 2016, bombed a left-wing bookstore-café in Gothenburg, Sweden (no casualties).
January 5, 2017: Viktor Melin and a man with no RIM affiliation, Jimmy Jonassons, bombed a shelter for refugees in Gothenburg, Sweden (none killed, one wounded).
January 25, 2017: Viktor Melin and Anton Thulin, trained by RIM in August 2016, attempted to bomb a public campground that housed asylum seekers in Gothenburg, Sweden. Melin and Thulin cooperated with Jimmy Jonassons, a man with no RIM affiliation, when carrying out the attack (no casualties).
April 2019 (approximate): Researchers have confirmed the presence of RIM fighters in Syria as early as April 2019, though the exact dates are unknown. According to the group’s social media, the goal of its campaign in Syria is to protect Christians in the country (unknown casualties).
January 2020 (approximate): In January 2020, RIM acknowledged that two of its fighters had been killed in combat in Libya. Analysts believe Imperial Legion militants from RIM are fighting alongside the Libyan National Army of Russian-backed warlord Khalifa Haftar. It is unclear when this campaign began (unknown casualties).
On April 6, 2020, the U.S. Department of State designated RIM as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) entity. The Department also individually designated three of the group’s leaders: Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariyev, and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov. This marks the first time the Department has established a white supremacist extremist organization.
The group was officially designated as a terrorist group in Canada on February 3, 2021.
On December 16, 2022, the European Union put RIM and the Imperial Legion on the sanctions lists, noting that the group is actively involved in the war of aggression against Ukraine on behalf of the Russian Federation. Thus, the Imperial Legion materially supports actions that undermine or threaten Ukraine’s territorial integrity, sovereignty, and independence. Switzerland later joined the sanctions.
RIM is affiliated with the Black-Yellow Alliance of Austria (which has been characterized as neo-Nazi). Thus, on November 9, 2019, Vorobyev was invited to participate in the organization’s congress, which was held in Parkhotel Schönbrunn, a guest house for the palace of Emperor Franz Joseph I.
RIM has provided paramilitary training to Finnish neo-Nazis. Finnish neo-Nazis have been recruited by Johan Bäckman and Janus Putkonen, who are aligned with the local pro-Russian party.
RIM has provided paramilitary training to German neo-Nazis.
In May 2018, German National Democratic Party’s youth organization, Young Nationalists, held a gathering in Riesa, Germany, where representatives of RIM took part with related organizations such as the neo-Nazi Serbian Action and Bulgarian National Union.
On June 5, 2020, the German magazine Focus reported that the German security services were aware of the training of German neo-Nazis in Russia. However, they could not prohibit the Germans from traveling to Saint Petersburg for legal reasons. The authorities assume that Russian President Vladimir Putin is aware of the camps and “at least tolerates them.”
In 2022, Young Nationalists and the German Neo-Nazi group “Third Way” trained in Russia in this center.
In November 2019, a representative of RIM held a speech at an international conference in Madrid organized by the neo-Nazi far-right Spanish political party National Democracy, which was attended by members of the Alliance for Peace and Freedom.
On April 29, 2020, the Spanish Ministry of the Interior received an intelligence report stating that RIM was inciting its right-wing extremist contacts in Spain to commit acts of terror, such as attacking the infrastructure and transportation system and using chemical weapons against the public.
International Security Threat
In 2022, the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism conducted an analysis and concluded:
Though RIM is not a Russian state proxy (its pro-tsarist worldview clashes with current political realities in the country), the Kremlin could attempt to coopt or even sponsor the group when its activities might further Russian foreign policy objectives. Moscow has not shied away from using assassinations as a tool of Russian foreign policy, brazenly using poison to murder dissidents and ex-intelligence operatives in Europe. Suppose a conflict erupts between Russia and a NATO country. In that case, it is possible that Russia will take a more hands-on approach to train WSEs throughout organizations like RIM and use them to fracture and destabilize the West.
Unfortunately, their conclusion was justified. If the Spanish police prove a trace of RIM in sending bomb letters, we can confirm that Russia is ready to use radicals in Europe. It follows that Russia is radicalizing with each month of the war in Ukraine.
Russian neo-Nazis see that their goals are increasingly aligned with those of the Kremlin. Unfortunately, behind the veil of Russian propaganda about the “denazification” of Ukraine, it is still poorly visible what role the actual neo-Nazis play in this war.
However, if their activities become visible and neo-Nazis strengthen their position in Europe, it is not only a threat to security, a threat of terrorist and subversive activities, but also a threat to unity in Europe.
It threatens all values and the world order that has been formed since World War II. Russia unleashed the most significant war in post-war Europe, and Russia illegally annexed the territory of another state for the first time since Hitler. Russia has financed right-wing and left-wing political forces and bribed politicians to destabilize Europe all these years.
Is it the neo-Nazis’ turn now?