German neo-Nazis have been travelling to Russia for weapons and martial arts training from a white supremacist organization, German news magazine Focus has reported.
Members from two neo-Nazi groups – the National Democratic Party and the Third Path – have been making their way to the training camp, known as Partizan, just outside St. Petersburg for training in paramilitary techniques, including in the use of weapons and explosives, and in military close combat.
According to Focus, a number of former trainees at the camp, including Swedes and Finns, went on to join pro-Russian militia groups fighting in Ukraine.
The camp is run by the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM), which in April was added to the US government's list of proscribed international terrorist groups for providing "paramilitary-style training to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe,” according to Vice News.
The involvement of Germans and other Europeans in the Russia-based training camp was indicative that the white supremacist movement was cooperating internationally, intelligence experts have noted.
“It signals that RIM is a critical node in the transnational white supremacy extremist movement,” Mollie Saltskog, intelligence analyst at The Soufan Group told Vice. “RIM is going beyond networking and ideology, and is actually providing paramilitary training to individuals who adhere to this violent ideology."
A report by the Soufan Center found that, although no Americans have attended training camps run by RIM, the organization has forged ties with American white supremacists including Matthew Heimback, founder of the Traditionalist Worker Party and one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Heimbach welcomed a delegation from RIM to the United States in 2017 and received an invitation to train with them, Saltskog told Vice, although he has since insisted that he has modified his views.
"RIM has efficiently built an infrastructure that has allowed it to expand its network, train terrorist operatives, and entrench itself as a viable entity in Russian society, even as its primary objectives are, at times, at odds with the Kremlin’s priorities," the Soufan Center's report noted, going on to explain that the organization was an ultra-nationalist group aiming to restore imperial rule by the tsars to Russia. The group also insists on membership of the Russian Orthodox Church, and aims its vitriol primarily at Jews and Ukrainians.
The conflict between Russia and the Ukraine has become an important focal point for the white supremacist movement, thanks to the Russian government's willingness to turn a blind eye to activities such as those carried out by RIM, Kacper Rekawek, an affiliated researcher for the Counter Extremism Project, told Vice.
“I don’t think these [German] guys would be able to do this sort of thing anywhere in Europe,” he said.
RIM's notoriety has been boosted by the group's involvement in the conflict with Ukraine, Rekawek said, with the group acting as a "conveyor belt" for militants into the Ukraine conflict, making it an attractive prospect for foreign fighters who wanted to get involved.
“They have the street cred,” he said. “They’re saying, ‘We’ve got the experience, we’re the real deal.’”
Back in America, the primary concern is that extremists trained in the camp would strike on home soil, such as the series of attacks carried out in Gothenburg by Swedish white supremacists, Viktor Melin and Anton Thulin in 2016. Both had attended a RIM training camp just months before the attacks.
“The tacit knowledge transfer, for example when it comes to bomb-making… presents a great threat to the countries these individuals are from,” Saltskog said. “In my opinion, the threat is no different than if a German or Swede would travel to participate in an ISIS or al-Qaeda training camp.”