Ideology-Driven Paramilitary Groups Threaten Russia and Beyond

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 47

(Source: 24 Kanal)

Executive Summary:

  • Ideology-driven paramilitary groups in Russia have grown significantly in size and influence since the beginning of the war against Ukraine, with the Russian Imperial Movement and “Rusich” representing perhaps the most active entities in this regard.
  • Both groups are built on far-right, ultranationalist, and neo-Nazi views and have criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin’s leadership as well as his calls to “denazify” Ukraine, signaling a lack of blind loyalty to the Kremlin.
  • As the domestic situation in Russia deteriorates, these groups could pose a threat to the Putin regime’s hold on power and further destabilize Russian society.

Russia’s war against Ukraine has led to a sharp rise in crime and radicalization in Russian society, as well as a massive increase in private military groups (see EDM, January 29). Out of the numerous (semi-)private paramilitary entities, two actors stand out for their strong ideological foundations: the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) and the Sabotage Assault Reconnaissance Group “Rusich.” Both groups’ ideology is based on far-right, ultranationalist, and neo-Nazi sentiments that drive their operations. The increasingly fraught domestic situation in Russia coupled with the inherent “war-like” qualities of these and similar paramilitary groups could threaten to disrupt the Kremlin’s hold on power and destabilize Russian society in the future. 

Created in the early 2000s, RIM is a St. Petersburg-based, far-right, monarchist, and ultra-nationalist group that promulgates ideas of white supremacy and irredentism. The group is a strong proponent of the Novorossiya (“New Russia”) project, which contends Russia has a right to control Eastern Ukraine. RIM leaders have long argued for terrorist actions as the most effective means of succeeding in their struggle (Radio Svoboda April 7, 2020). Members of the movement took part in Russian operations in Ukraine in 2014, as well as in Syria and Libya, where several of their fighters were confirmed to have been killed (, August 10, 2022). In 2022, RIM played a role in Russia’s expanded invasion of Ukraine (, May 22, 2022). Subsequently, the group was added to the list of terrorist organizations in the United States and Canada, and later in the European Union and Switzerland (Official Journal of the European Union, December 16, 2022).

Analysis of social media and other open-source material uncovers several vital details about RIM. First, RIM’s fighters have participated in various international conflicts for over a decade and have conducted “several operations in Russia.” Second, the organization has been actively collaborating with the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Wagner Group. Russian state and Wagner medals have decorated the movement’s fighters. Third, the organization openly admits to “preparing an underground” in Europe and the United States “to challenge the [existing] global order” (, accessed March 14).

Aside from its international activities, RIM may pose a serious challenge to the Russian state and its mode of governance. Firmly in favor of Sergey Uvarov’s triad (“Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationality”), the movement openly claims that its main goal is to end what they call the over-a-century-long “Time of Troubles,” through which they articulate their discontent with the Kremlin’s current strategies for ending this difficult period (, accessed March 14). 

Rusich was created in 2009 by Russian neo-Nazi Alexey Milchakov and was heavily involved in Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine starting in June 2014 (, June 5, 2022). The group has also played an important role in Russia’s full-scale invasion. Following a stint of fighting in southeast Ukraine, Milchakov and his close associates engaged in cybercrimes, drug dealing, and illegal operations with cryptocurrency. One of Milchakov’s associates, Yan Petrovskii, was a neo-Nazi who used to live in Norway and built a close relationship with members of the Finnish far-right organization Soldiers of Odin. Petrovskii later became an extremely popular figure among Russia’s neo-Nazi youth movement (, November 16, 2022).

Rusich actively forged ties with the Wagner Group immediately following Moscow’s expanded invasion in February 2022. This development was confirmed through statements and photos from the Central African Republic, where the two groups held joint trainings (, accessed March 14). Aside from Wagner, Rusich established close ties with the Svarog organization, with which it trained recruits for the Union of Donbas Volunteers. In carrying out recruitment efforts, Rusich established close relations with Alexander Barkashov, a Russian radical and former leader of the far-right Russian National Unity organization (, August 10, 2022).

In early March, Milchakov gave a lengthy interview to Sweden-based, far-right media outlet Nordfront. He outlined five points critical to understanding Rusich, its goals, and its potential future role in Russian society (, March 7;, March 9). First, Rusich has a unique structure. Milchakov pointed out that, unlike any other nationalist movement in Russia, Rusich was explicitly created as a group “for participation in war … armed and trained according to a military model.” Aside from its “military wing,” the organization also includes “a military-patriotic club, an information department, a finance department, and several other departments.” Rusich’s complex, multilayered structure means the group could spread its ideas and find recruits independently or in an alliance with other ideological groups.

Second, Rusich has a distinctive ideology. Its ideological foundation is a peculiar combination of National Socialism, drawing heavily on white supremacism and anti-Semitism, and Russian nationalism of the Stalinist variety. Milchakov argued that Rusich’s “ultimate political goal is the development of Russia in the traditional and classical sense as a white, European, heterosexual country” (, March 7;, March 9). Such ideas will undoubtedly find a target audience and avid supporters in Russia and internationally, especially in Europe.

Third, Rusich has connections to the Wagner Group and Yevgeny Prigozhin. Milchakov confirmed that, while Rusich is not a part of Wagner, cooperation between the two groups has been substantial. He also expressed his respect for Prigozhin, claiming that “his criticism of Russia’s military leadership was justified. … His criticism was right, and here we fully support him. …We do not think [his death] was an accident” (, March 7;, March 9). The paramilitary leader, however, refused to elaborate on who was behind Prigozhin’s assassination, arguing that “this goes beyond his knowledge.” Both regret over Prigozhin’s death and discontent with the actions of the Russian elite are apparent in the interview.

Fourth, the interview shed light on Rusich’s perception of the West. Milchakov noted, “Russia is not a threat to Europe. … Russia should cooperate and have a friendly dialogue with European countries first, not with Asian countries” (, March 7;, March 9). However, so long as Europe is pursuing what Milchakov deems as its “current course”—Islamization, denial of the heterosexual family, destruction of traditional norms and values, as well as being “completely subordinated to the United States”—Russia and Europe cannot be partners.

Fifth and perhaps most revealing, Milchakov elaborated on his stance toward Russia’s incumbent political regime. While he stated that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “strong leader,” his approach is “not always in the national interests of the Russian people.” This is reflected in, Milchakov continued, “the attempts to replace Russians with immigrants from Central Asia.” He also expressed frustration with Putin’s lack of understanding regarding “the goals [Russia’s] political leadership is pursuing [in Ukraine] right now” since the declared goal of “denazification” is preposterous. He concluded, “In Ukraine, there is actually no clear Nazism or [even] real nationalism” (, March 7;, March 9).

The primary threats RIM and Rusich pose to Russia and the international order are threefold. First, given the issues these groups take with the Kremlin and its strategic course, they could put up an armed struggle against the ruling elite in the case of a major crisis (e.g., the Crocus City Hall terrorist attack). This will largely depend on the future course of the war in Ukraine. Second, for Russian society, the fact that such formations exist is a bad omen, potentially precipitating new waves of violence in Russia as veterans from the war return home and search for purpose (see EDM, January 19). Third, these groups have established strong ties with their foreign, mainly European, peers. Given the European Union’s own internal strife, such cooperation could become a serious security concern for Europe.