The Russian Far Right is heavily divided on both the pretext and the present course of the Kremlin’s large-scale war against Ukraine, yet this split is weighted in favor of the pro-imperial position.
The systemic “nationalist” opposition—primarily represented by the Rodina (Motherland) Party and the critically misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR)—has been seemingly unanimous in its support of the war. State Duma (lower chamber of the Russian parliament) deputy Alexei Zhuralev, who chairs the Rodina Party, proclaimed that the “liberated” territories in Ukraine should enter the ruble zone quickly. As he noted earlier this month, “The population was frightened by the idea that Russia would leave and in its place would come the soldiers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, furious after heavy losses and defeats. And now it has become absolutely clear that the liberated territories will return to Russia” (Rodina.ru, May 19). Before he died in April, the LDPR’s quasi-fascist leader, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, responded “with great enthusiasm.” to the news about the Russian “special military operation” against Ukraine (as the war must legally be referred to domestically). Speaking on the ill Zhirinovsky’s behalf, LDPR press secretary Alexander Diupin said that “he believes Russia will overcome any difficulties, win and prosper” (T.me/mllegion1, May 15).
Russia’s non-systemic Far Right opposition, on the other hand, is more evenly split (Sova-center.ru, April 11). Eduard Limonov’s branch of the unregistered political party The Other Russia, for instance, has seemingly patriotic “Z” imagery plastered all over its social media accounts and held a meeting in Moscow, on March 14, with a soldier who “returned from Kharkiv” (Vk.com/drugoross, March 11). In a statement, the party wrote that “under the pressure of external circumstances, President Vladimir Putin decided to launch a military operation to liberate Ukraine. The National Bolshevik movement has been in opposition to Putin since the start of his Presidency… [but] we without reservation support the Russian army, our soldiers” (Vk.com/drugoross, March 9). Likewise, the organization Male State (which sometimes styles itself as “Male Legion” and has been criminally banned for inciting violence) has a Telegram channel filled with anti-Ukrainian messages and prominent displays of the jingoistic “Z” symbol (T.me/mllegion1, May 15).
Whereas, other members of the Russian “non-systemic” opposition are clearly against the war. The leader of the unregistered political faction Society-Future, Roman Yuneman, has critiqued the Kremlin’s re-invasion of Ukraine since the day Putin announced the launch of the “special military operation” on February 24. His disapproval stems not from a disagreement with the central objective of the operation but rather with the way the Russian government has gone about trying to achieve it. Writing on VKontakte, a popular Russian social media site, Yuneman argues, “We consider the decision to launch a large-scale offensive to be a strategic mistake. It is a mistake that will cost a lot in all respects. We have for a long time and consistently said that such conflicts should be resolved through political, economic, and diplomatic tools, as well as cultural influence” (Vk.com/ob.community, February 24). Yuneman has also been arranging social and humanitarian support for Russians suffering from the pressures of the war, including psychological stress, and running blood drives for people in occupied Donbas (Vk.com/ob.community, February 28, March 3).
The Russian Imperial Movement (Russian acronym RID), designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, has also been critical of the conduct of Russia’s war if not necessarily its goals. Writing after Ukrainian forces allegedly struck fuel depots in the Russian city of Belgorod, RID posted a reproach of the authorities’ apparent inability to protect and expand the border-zone military logistics network: “Even Dzugashivili [Joseph Stalin], with his cannibalistic attitude toward the Russian soldier, was smart enough to declare a rail war during the Soviet-German war because a person with just a primary education is smart enough to realize that supply is key to success” (Rusimperia.is, April 21).
A few radical right-wing organizations are opposed to the war entirely. The “New Skinhead” movement (which styles itself as National Socialism/White Power 2.0), even allegedly arranged a plot to kidnap and murder popular Russian talk show host and leading pro-Kremlin propagandist Vladimir Solovyov and then escape to Ukraine (TASS, Sova-center.ru, April 25). Of course, in war, the truth is often the first casualty. The entire Solovyov kidnap-and-murder idea could have been conjured up by the authorities to give substance to Russian claims of a “neo-Nazi” Ukraine that is dangerous to Russia’s national security; but nonetheless, it is plausible.
If “New Skinhead” members were really planning such a dramatic deed—notwithstanding whether or not they received assistance from the “outside”—it suggests there is still a reservoir of domestic resistance to Russian irredentism among the radical Far Right that is ready to take violent action. This umbrella movement has, indeed, been involved in violent anti-state activities in the past, such as the 2018 bombing of an Arkhangelsk Federal Security Service (FSB) office (see Commentaries, November 9, 2018) or a series of school shootings that same year (see EDM, October 22, 2018). That track record also seems to resemble some of the recent attacks on targets inside Russia—in particular, a string of firebombings of at least 13 army recruiting centers across the country since the start of the “special military operation” (Meduza, May 22; see EDM, May 17).
For now, evidence of the involvement of Far Right individuals in any of these incidents is speculative at best. But such information could more readily surface after the Russo-Ukrainian war winds down or, prior to that, encourage more copycat attacks by radical members of Russian society. And some in Russia already fear that as the country’s war veterans begin to come home, their presence will lead to a growth in crime and violence, as happened in the wake of the Afghan and Chechen wars decades earlier (see EDM, April 14). Angry and physically and mentally damaged veterans will likely have a difficult time reintegrating into regular Russian society, and some may certainly turn to extremist groups or movements. If so, the Kremlin’s unjustified aggression against Ukraine is breeding not only more enemies of Russia among Ukrainians but within the Russian population as well.