FRESH AIR

Russia is the Iran of White Supremacy

Jan 31, 2023 | Oved Lobel

Alexey Milchakov, founder of the neo-Nazi Rusich unit that links Wagner and the Russian Imperial Movement
Alexey Milchakov, founder of the neo-Nazi Rusich unit that links Wagner and the Russian Imperial Movement

In November and December, several letter bombs were dispatched to various sites across Spain, including the official residence and office of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez as well as Spain’s Defence Ministry, the American and Ukrainian Embassies and other targets. While nobody was killed, a Ukrainian embassy employee was injured when one package exploded. This is textbook terrorism, and the New York Times recently revealed who American and European officials believe was behind the terrorist attacks: Russia.

The officials believe that Russian military intelligence (GRU) – specifically Unit 29155, which has conducted much of the assassination and destabilisation campaigns throughout Europe as well as allegedly encouraging and bankrolling Taliban attacks against coalition troops in Afghanistan – used the globally networked white supremacist terrorist group Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) to conduct the attacks. As Nathan Sales, the former US State Department counterterrorism coordinator, told the New York Times, “This seems like a warning shot. It’s Russia sending a signal that it’s prepared to use terrorist proxies to attack in the West’s rear areas.”

RIM, which is inextricably intertwined with Russian intelligence, was designated by the US in 2020, the first time the US had ever targeted a white supremacist group as Specially Designated Global Terrorists. The group trains white supremacists and neo-Nazis from across Europe, including the former members of the neo-Nazi Nordic Resistance Movement that conducted bombings in Sweden in 2017, and has even allegedly networked with US-based far right extremists. It has also directly participated in Russia’s destabilisation and then invasion of Ukraine since at least 2014. In 2022, the US sanctioned two key facilitators of the group, which it said is “building a global network of violent groups that foster extremist views and subvert democratic processes” and continues “to exacerbate Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine.”

None of this should come as a surprise. I warned in March 2022:

On top of safe haven and training, the Kremlin funds and allies with far-right and neo-Nazi political parties across Europe and the world, which grants Moscow not only destabilising political influence, but also the potential for state-backed neo-Nazi terrorism as a weapon against the West.

Nor is this a remotely new phenomenon. Russia was the original state sponsor of terrorism, having not only infiltrated and co-opted neo-Nazi movements in the West during the Cold War since at least the 1960s, but supporting and even controlling, both directly and via their client states and proxies, the full spectrum of terrorist groups throughout the world, most famously the groups comprising the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Most infamously, Wadie Haddad of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – who masterminded multiple attacks, including the hijacking that resulted in the Israeli Entebbe raid in Uganda, during which Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s brother was killed – was a KGB agent. Russia also works closely with Hezbollah and has relations with both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

As I explained in June 2022, “Russia has long had a state policy of using and exporting its own extremists, forming relationships with far-Right political parties and groups across the world, and even making itself the headquarters of transnational neo-Nazi groups.” Russia’s far right, likely the largest and most active in the world for decades, has been a key tool in its destabilisation campaigns inside Ukraine as well as active participants in the war.

During the Cold War, when the unofficial-but-true border of the Soviet Union was Berlin, West Germany suffered a similar fate to Ukraine when it came to the export of extremists, with one politician complaining in 1989 that “East Germany palms its neo-Nazis off on us”. An excellent profile of Cold War neo-Nazi leader and KGB/Stasi agent Rainer Sonntag details how Vladimir Putin played a direct role in these activities, becoming the KGB liaison with East Germany’s Stasi and masquerading as a Stasi agent. His instrumentalisation of the far right never ended, and contrary to the incessant Russian propaganda about Ukrainian Nazis, it is the Kremlin that lies behind the political and security threat of the global far right.

There is a reason why the alleged leader of the recent vague coup plot in Germany involving the deranged, conspiratorial Reichsbürger movement reached out to Russian “diplomats” – that is, Russian intelligence officers – at the Russian consulate in Leipzig. The precise involvement of the Russians in this would-be revolution is murky, particularly given how early the nascent plot was rolled up, but based on circumstantial evidence was of a piece with both contemporary and historical Russian practice.

Listing RIM and Wagner under Australia’s Criminal Code

Notably, almost all of the contemporary, transnational far right networks emerged from Russia, including groups listed under Australia’s Criminal Code like The Base. It is time to add RIM to the list. AIJAC warned in our submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s review into the listing of Hezbollah and The Base as terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code in 2021:

Given the transnational reach of these inter-related, Russia-based [nationalist and racist violent extremist] groups and the building tensions with Russia over Ukraine, the threat of such groups mounting attacks against Australia on Russia’s behalf needs to be factored into the overall risk analysis and listing of these groups.

Now that the Russian Imperial Movement has been directly linked to terrorist attacks in the West, the Government should quickly move to list it as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code. The group is already included in Australia’s Consolidated List under certain authorities, but not subject to Australia’s autonomous sanctions or listed under the Criminal Code.

The Russian Imperial Movement is also directly linked to the Wagner group, Russia’s “implausible deniability” imperial tool built around a neo-Nazi core that commits horrific atrocities and massacres across Africa, the Middle East and Ukraine. While Wagner is already autonomously sanctioned by Australia, it too should be listed under the Criminal Code as a terrorist organisation, for which it, like RIM, meets every requirement, including reportedly working with al-Qaeda in Somalia. The group was recently designated by the US as a Transnational Criminal Organization, but given Australia doesn’t have equivalent legislation, the closest move would be listing Wagner under the Criminal Code.

While the debate over listing Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – which incidentally works closely with Wagner – under the Criminal Code continues in Australia and around the world due to it being erroneously considered a state entity, RIM and Wagner are extremely low-hanging fruit and won’t raise such spurious objections. Despite technically being organs of the Russian state, Moscow itself has insisted on the separation, leaving both groups wide open to listing by Australia.

The European Parliament already adopted a resolution in November 2022 calling on the EU to add Wagner to its terrorist list, while in the US, bipartisan legislation to designate Wagner a Foreign Terrorist Organisation, the Holding Accountable Russian Mercenaries (HARM) Act, was recently introduced in Congress. The European Parliament also symbolically designated Russia itself a State Sponsor of Terrorism.

Australia doesn’t have a State Sponsor of Terrorism designation, but listing Wagner and RIM under the Criminal Code, aside from its practical impact, would send an important message to Russia that the Australian Government understands, even without such legislation, that it is one.

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