The Russia connectionWhy Are German Neo-Nazis Training in Russia?

By Hans Pfeifer, Mikhail Bushuev, Vladimir Esipov

Published 10 June 2020

Militant far-right extremists from Germany, Sweden, and Finland are receiving combat training in Russia. IntelThe training camps are run by the right-wing extremist Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), which, in April, was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization – the first white supremacist group to be so designated. Russia’s active campaign to weaken the West and undermine liberal democracies has so far been limited to covert and overt support of populist, far-right, polarizing leaders and political movements in the West. Western intelligence services are worried that military training of far-right extremists is part of the next chapter in Russia sustained, disciplined campaign to undermine Western democracies.

German right-wing extremists are receiving paramilitary training in St. Petersburg, Russia, according to a new report by news magazine Focus. Who is running the training, and what do we know about the participants?

What Kind of Camp Did Right-Wing Extremists Reportedly Visit in Russia?
Participating in paramilitary training is legal in Russia. Such training takes place under the protective umbrella of DOSAAF (Volunteer Society for Cooperation with the Army, Aviation, and Navy), an organization whose founding dates back to the days of the Soviet Union. The actual training, in which Germans reportedly participated, is provided by a club appearing under two different names: “Rezerv” or “Partizan.” It takes place at a military facility on the outskirts of St. Petersburg. Until 2018, “Partizan” and its members were listed on the website of St. Petersburg’s municipal office as a vigilante group in the Vyborg district. “That was prior to my taking office,” a district representative told DW when asked about the matter.

Talking to local journalists in 2017, one of the organizers of the paramilitary camp confirmed that the center also provided paramilitary training for foreigners, “including Germans.” Today, the center advertises both offline and online courses, including classes on handling weapons and on “military topography” — in June 2020 alone, it offers six different classes, bookable via the Russian social network Vkontakte.

Right-Wing Populists in Russia
Russia in the past has served as a meeting point for right-wing populists and radicals from around Europe. In 2015, St. Petersburg hosted the “International Russian Conservative Forum.” Participants included the former chairman of the German extreme-right National Democratic Party (NPD), Udo Voigt, as well as representatives from Italy’s extreme-right Forza Nuova party, Greece’s neo-fascist Golden Dawn party and Italy’s far-right League (Lega) party.

In 2017, just prior to presidential elections in France, Marine Le Pen — then the leader of French far-right party National Front, which was renamed Rassemblement National in 2018 — visited Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow. Le Pen advocated closer ties with Russia and criticized European Union sanctions against the country. The National Front also received a €9 million ($10.2 million) loan from a Russian bank.

Representatives of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) paty, led by then-chairperson Frauke Petry, also visited Moscow in 2017. The delegation met both lawmakers from the ruling United Russia party and representatives from the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, led by right-wing populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.