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  • Alex Pack

Justifications for the invasion of Ukraine?

Why do the justifications for the invasion of Ukraine feel hollow?

For months, members of the intelligence community predicted a Russian invasion of #Ukraine. Even as the Russian president repeatedly denied the possibility of an invasion, intelligence agencies around the globe continued to raise the alarm.

At the beginning of February, officials from the United States presented reliable #intelligence that even as Russia claimed that it was not preparing to invade, they were preparing to "fabricate a pretext for an invasion" by releasing a "very graphic propaganda video" suggesting an attack from Ukraine. This type of action is often referred to as a "false flag" operation. In the following weeks, Telegram channels began to circulate videos alleging different attacks carried out by Ukraine or the Ukrainian people, including bombings.

But, on 24 February 2022, the Russian president delivered an address where he stated his intention to invade Ukraine was a defensive measure against alleged Ukrainian aggression. The Russian president also argued that one of his primary goals with the invasion was the "demilitarization and denazification" of neighboring Ukraine. But where did this argument come from?

Ukraine & the Far-Right

Since 2014, with the removal of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and the Russian annexation of Crimea, there has been an ongoing conflict between Russian-Separatists and Ukrainians against joining the Russian Federation. From the outset of the conflict, volunteer paramilitary groups--often with neo-Nazi tendencies--have fought on both sides. One noted group is the Azov battalion, a volunteer paramilitary force that--while fighting against the Russian separatists--have espoused deeply neo-Nazi and fascistic views.

Symbol of the Azov Battalion

Additionally, conflicts have a tendency to attract like-minded extremists, such as when would-be Jihadists flocked to Iraq and Syria. The conflict in Eastern Ukraine is no different, and has inspired scores of far-right followers and would-be extremists from abroad to come and fight. Coming in droves from countries in Europe and North America, these far-right actors have become #foreignfighters, training in weapons, tactics, and explosives.

Given all of this, is Russia's alleged justification for invading Ukraine legitimate?

Russia & the Far-Right

While the Russian president claimed that his goal was the "denazification" of #Ukraine, a significant body of research suggests that Russia is also home to a vibrant #farright, specifically, white nationalist community.

The Russian Imperial Movement

The Russian Imperial Movement (#RIM), a stated white, Christian, nationalist organization based in Russia, maintains multiple training facilities in the country. Two facilities where the RIM "provides paramilitary-style training to neo-Nazis and white supremacists" are located in St. Petersburg (approximately 706 kilometers from Moscow; compared to the nearly 875 kilometer distance separating Moscow and Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine). In addition to their domestic activities, the United States (US) Department of State suggests that the RIM also operates abroad to "rally like-minded Europeans and Americans into a common front."

Symbol of the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM)

For several years, the RIM has worked to expand its sphere of influence by supporting other international far-right groups such as the Nordic Resistance Movement, a white supremacist organization based in Sweden. The group has also been documented as contacting white supremacist and nationalist groups in North America.

The Base

In addition to allowing domestic far-right extremists to prosper, the Federation also has a history of serving as a home to leaders of international groups. For example, Rinaldo Nazzaro, the leader of "The Base," moved to St. Petersburg, Russia in approximately 2018. The Base is a known neo-Nazi group originally from the United States, which has since expanded internationally, with cells in the US, Canada, South Africa, and Australia. While Nazarro--who at times writes under the pseudonyms "Norman Spear" or "Roman Wolf"--lives in Russia, reports suggest that he still actively leads the organization.

Symbol of The Base

Like the RIM, The Base has also faced international condemnation for its white nationalist and neo-Nazi activities. In February 2021, The Base was officially designated a terror group by the government of Canada, followed quickly by the United Kingdom (UK) in July 2021, and Australia in December 2021.

"Denazification" in Eastern Europe

The goal of "denazification" is good. Given the horrors executed by the original Nazi regime, world governments should work to combat the rise of neo-Nazi and white nationalist groups everywhere. The continued presence of neo-Nazi's in Ukraine is a serious danger, especially as it continues to serve as a training ground for foreign fighters from the global far-right. But, like Ukraine, Russia is also home to vibrant white nationalist and neo-Nazi community. If the regime is truly committed to "denazification," and not just using it as a manufactured justification for invasion, then it should start at home.

Sections of this post were originally written and published as part of the author's analytical work with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism. The thread from the ICT can be seen here.

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