Staunton, August 6 – Some extremist Russian nationalists are now fighting on the side of anti-Moscow militants in the North Caucasus sometimes because of ideological or religious sympathies but more often because of a desire to acquire combat experience, a development that has prompted the Russian special services to launch a major investigation into this trend.
In “Novaya versiya” this week, Ruslan Gorevoy points out that “Russian nationalists and North Caucasus militants have operated hand in hand and continue this cooperation even now,” with some of the Russians involved accepting Islam, taking Arabic names and even become “field commanders” (versia.ru/articles/2010/aug/04/slavyane_v_ryadah_boevikov).
While this phenomenon has roots going back to the early 1990s, Moscow has generally preferred to keep quiet about it. But now, after finding two people having “a Slavic appearance” in a militant unit federal forces wiped out in Chechnya in June and another two additional dead Slavs in a separate operation there, Moscow has decided to focus on this issue.
According to Gorevoy’s sources, approximately half of the second militant group “consists of ethnic Russians,” some of whom “have accepted Islam and another including Russian nationalists who came to the Caucasus [and fought with the rebels against federal forces] in order to improve their military skills.”
Some of these extremist nationalists are members of the outlawed Slavic Union and Russian National Unity, the “Novaya versiya” journalist continues, and they are “participating not only in military operations but in reprisals with captured co-ethnics who have been fighting on the side of federal forces.”
That Slavs have fought on the side of the Chechens is “hardly news,” he continues. Belarusian and Ukrainian nationalists sent some of their members to fight against Moscow in the first post-Soviet Chechen war, and one Ukrainian nationalist leader Dmitry Korchinsky said that “at least 10,000” members of Ukrainian groups passed through the North Caucasus.
But if the actions of some Belarusians and Ukrainians are explicable in nationalist terms, Gorevoy says, “why are Russians travelling to the North Caucasus to shoot at their own?”
The journalist’s sources in the Russian special services say that “annually not less than a hundred youths from Russia go to the Caucasus not in order to restore their health in local sanitariums” but rather to “develop the skills of using firearms under conditions to a maximum decree approaching military ones.”
Among the radical Russian nationalist groups who have been identified as sending their members south are the Society of Whites—88 (a code for “Heil Hitler,” after the 8th letter of the Latin alphabet), the Militant Terrorist Organization from Nizhny Novgorod, Volkssturm from Yekaterinburg, and Detachment—88 from Moscow, among others.
While Russian forces have generally killed rather than captured the militants in the North Caucasus and thus have not had the opportunity to interrogate them, a few ethnic Russians fighting on the side of the anti-Moscow groups have been taken prisoner and provided some information about what is going on.
According to some of them and to others who have left the fighting such as Ukrainian nationalist Korchinsky with whom Gorevoy spoke, “it is easy to understand why Russian nationalists have begun to use the North Caucasus for the development of their military prowess.”
There it is possible, he points out that “one can shoot and learn to use a knife” not a simulated fashion “but against living people. Such experience is “worth a lot and therefore there has emerged a kind of symbiosis.” Moreover, the North Caucasians are pleased because it shows that “not all Russians are against them and that there are supporters of independence” for them.”
Consequently, while the numbers of Russian national extremists involved in this trend are not large, “cooperation [between them and the North Caucasus militants] will not end anytime soon.” That is a major reason why, Gorevoy suggests, the Russian security services are currently so concerned.
At the same time, of course, although the “Novaya versiya” journalist does not mention this possibility in his article, it is entirely possible that Moscow’s decision to call attention to this troubling phenomenon may represent an attempt to discredit the radical Russian nationalists and even presage a more concerted campaign against them in the near term.