Neo-Nazi foreign fighters returning from Ukraine could pose threat -report

Members of over 35 extremist groups have been identified in Ukraine.

 Members of Azov battalion attend a rally on the Volunteer Day honouring fighters, who joined the Ukrainian armed forces during a military conflict in the country's eastern regions, in central Kiev, Ukraine March 14, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)
Members of Azov battalion attend a rally on the Volunteer Day honouring fighters, who joined the Ukrainian armed forces during a military conflict in the country's eastern regions, in central Kiev, Ukraine March 14, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/GLEB GARANICH)

Some of the foreign fighters who have gone to Ukraine to fight Russia are neo-Nazi extremists, and are returning to their home countries with combat skills, which could pose a threat, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported on Thursday.

 20,000 foreign fighters went to serve in Ukraine at the beginning of the conflict, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine said in early March.

These fighters have been trained for combat, learning skills that they could use to train, recruit and plan violence upon their return home, foreign policy expert Tarek Megerisi wrote in Foreign Policy

“On the ground in real-world battle situations, the extremists are gaining experience in combat, guerilla warfare, explosives, and sniper activity. These skills and this experience could ultimately be turned against Western governments.”

MEMRI

Ukraine previously enlisted foreigners, including extremists, in 2014 to assist its defense of Crimea. However, MEMRI explained that fighters are now screened before being granted entry into the country.

Nevertheless, some Ukrainian groups are actively recruiting “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist-white supremacists to join various neo-Nazi volunteer battalions in the war against Russia,” according to a document from US Customs and Border Protection. American officials from the Department of Homeland Security expressed concern in the document with the fact that extremists could return to the US with more military training.  

 Members of Azov battalion attend a rally on the Volunteer Day honouring fighters, who joined the Ukrainian armed forces during a military conflict in the country's eastern regions, in central Kiev, Ukraine (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS) Members of Azov battalion attend a rally on the Volunteer Day honouring fighters, who joined the Ukrainian armed forces during a military conflict in the country's eastern regions, in central Kiev, Ukraine (credit: GLEB GARANICH/REUTERS)

Concern over returning fighters

The UK, Australia and Germany are similarly worried with the prospect of their extremist citizens going to Ukraine to fight.

British counterterrorism police were stationed at departure gates of flights heading for Ukraine in mid-February in order to screen passengers out of concern that some extremists were seeking military experience and weapons training, according to The Guardian.

Australian authorities also took precautions. “The Australian government is alert to the potential for Australians to travel to Ukraine to engage in hostilities and will continue to monitor and assess movements of individuals from Australia and apply policy and operational mitigations where necessary,” a spokesman from the Department of Home Affairs said, per ABC News.

Among foreign fighters who have returned to the US, several have been identified as neo-Nazis, MEMRI reported. One of the fighters, who had posted extreme antisemitic content online, boasted about the skills he had learned which could be used for bombmaking and sniper attacks, among other things. Other returnees are affiliated with the boogaloo movement.

MEMRI’s Domestic Terror Threat Monitor (DTTM) has identified members from over 35 neo-Nazi, anti-government and white supremacist extremist groups who are fighting in Ukraine.

Aside from the US, these fighters come from countries including Canada, France and Spain.

Calls for recruitment have been shared on white supremacist social media channels. A number of extremists who have not been confirmed to be in Ukraine may very well be there fighting. Some extreme neo-Nazis monitored by the DTTM have ceased to have an online presence since the beginning of the conflict, meaning that they could have gone to fight.

“Being on the ground in a real-world fighting situation will allow them to gain valuable experience, as they further hone their skills in weapons, planning attacks, using technology in war including communications and encryption, and using cryptocurrency for clandestine funding of their activity.”

MEMRI

ISIS returning foreign fighters

ISIS foreign fighters who returned home after fighting abroad have been involved in plotted attacks in their home countries.

On November 13, 2015 in Paris a well-planned terror attack by ISIS foreign fighters who returned home resulted in 137 deaths.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Ukraine have posted photos of deceased war victims whom they fought alongside, reminiscent of the Islamic extremist practice of photographing “martyrs” at ISIS’s peak, MEMRI noted.

Extremist fighters will and already have returned home with multiple skills that they could use in acts of domestic terror.

“Being on the ground in a real-world fighting situation will allow them to gain valuable experience, as they further hone their skills in weapons, planning attacks, using technology in war including communications and encryption, and using cryptocurrency for clandestine funding of their activity,” MEMRI stated. “On the ground in real-world battle situations, the extremists are gaining experience in combat, guerilla warfare, explosives, and sniper activity. These skills and this experience could ultimately be turned against Western governments.”