The leader of a Russian group involved in a border incursion is described by watchdogs as a neo-Nazi.

One of the anti-Kremlin groups responsible for armed incursions into Russia this week, the Russian Volunteer Corps, is led by a far-right extremist described by German authorities and humanitarian groups. including the Anti-Defamation Leagueas a neo-Nazi.

The volunteer corps, made up of Russians opposed to Vladimir V. Putin’s war, has no public affiliation with Ukraine’s military. But the group’s claims to be fighting for the Ukrainian cause present an uncomfortable situation for the government in Kiev. Russian President Vladimir V. Putin falsely claims that his country is fighting the Nazis as a pretext for invading his country, a regular theme of Kremlin propaganda.

Corps Commander — Denis Kapustin, who has long used the alias Denis Niketan, but usually goes by it. His military call sign, White Rex — is a Russian citizen who moved to Germany in the early 2000s. He became involved with a group of violent soccer fans and later became “one of the most influential activists,” according to officials in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. A neo-Nazi splinter of the mixed martial arts scene.

He has been Stopped Visa-free entry into the Schengen zone of 27 countries in Europe.

The volunteer corps, known by its Russian initials RDK, also took credit for two incidents in the Russian border region of Bryansk in March and April. Ukrainian officials have publicly denied any role in the fighting on the Russian side of the border.

The Russian Volunteer Corps was one of two groups of Russian fighters who launched a cross-border offensive in southern Russia’s Belgorod region that began on Monday, sparking two days of clashes with Russian troops. The groups say the incursions are aimed at forcing Russia to redeploy troops from occupied Ukrainian territories to defend its borders, as Ukraine prepares to retaliate.

There was another group. Free Russia Legion, which operates under the umbrella of the Ukrainian International Legion, a force that includes American and British volunteers as well as Belarusian, Georgian and others. It is supervised by the Armed Forces of Ukraine and commanded by Ukrainian officers. Several hundred Russian fighters have been deployed to the front lines in eastern Ukraine, officials said.

At a joint news conference with the Free Russian Legion on Wednesday, Mr Kapustin said his group was not under the control of the Ukrainian army, but that the army had provided its fighters with information, petrol, food and medical supplies. Is. Evacuation of injured personnel. This claim could not be independently verified.

Andriy Chernyak, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said he had no information about possible material support from the Ukrainian military to members of the RDK, but added that “Ukraine certainly “Supports all people who are ready for war. Putin’s regime.”

“People came to Ukraine and said they wanted to help us fight Putin’s regime, so of course we let them, as did many others from foreign countries,” Mr. Cherniak said.

Ukraine has described the infiltration as an “internal Russian crisis” given that the group’s members are themselves Russian, and the incident plays into Ukraine’s military goal of redeploying troops from the front lines to Russia to defend its borders. Had to be forced to do it.

Michael Colborne, a Belling Cat researcher who reports on the international far right, said he hesitates to even call the Russian volunteer corps a military unit.

“They are largely a far-right group of neo-Nazi exiles infiltrating Russian-occupied territories who seem more concerned about creating social media content than anything else,” Mr Colborne said. are.”

Some other members of the Russian volunteer corps, taken during border raids, have also publicly embraced neo-Nazi views. A man named Oleksandr Skachkov was arrested by Ukrainian security services in 2020 for selling a Russian translation of the white supremacist manifesto of the shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who killed 51 mosque worshipers in 2019.

Another, Aleksei Levkin, who made a selfie video wearing the RDK insignia, is a founder The group The so-called Wotanjugend started in Russia but later moved to Ukraine. Mr Liukin also organizes the National Socialist Black Metal Festival, which started in Moscow in 2012 but was held in Kiev from 2014 to 2019.

Photos posted online by the fighters earlier this week showed volunteer corps members standing in front of captured Russian equipment, with some fighters wearing Nazi-style patches and paraphernalia. One patch depicts a hooded member of the Ku Klux Klan and the other depicts a black sun, a symbol of strong ties to Nazi Germany.

Mr Colborne said images of Mr Kapustin and his fighters could undermine Ukraine’s defenses by warning allies that they could support far-right armed groups.

“I’m afraid something like this could backfire on Ukraine because they’re not opaque people,” he said. “These are not unknown people, and they are not helping Ukraine in any practical sense.”

Thomas Gibbons Neff Contributed reporting from London and Oleg Matsnev From Berlin

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