Is Russia using the extreme right to carry out operations in Europe? By Roger Pearce

By Searchlight Team

As Searchlight has previously reported, the British far-right is bitterly divided over whether to support Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. For the past two years this has caused splits among nazis and other extremist groups around the world. Recent events in the UK – including arrests for terror offences allegedly carried out on behalf of Russia – raise again the question of whether Russian intelligence might use its connections on the far right to carry out violent attacks and other subversive activity.

One of the few precedents for this was during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia thirty years ago, when Serbian military intelligence exploited contacts with Charlie Sargent’s violent gang Combat 18, while some other British nazis with a paramilitary inclination signed up to fight for Croatia.

At the end of 2022 several European police and intelligence services suspected that far-right networks were behind a series of letter bomb attacks against Ukrainian targets, including the Ukrainian Embassy, in Spain. They had good reasons for these suspicions, because Spanish fascists including some who explicitly identify themselves as “National Bolsheviks” had built close connections with the Russian Imperial Movement, which acts as a bridge between Putin’s intelligence services and the European right.

The emblem of the Russian Imperial Movement

Eventually the trail led to a retired local government grave digger, Pompeyo Gonzalez Pascual, who is now facing terrorism charges. He is passionately pro-Russian but his political connections are strange. He seems also to have been influenced by ‘anti-imperialist’ journals and online channels that support the Venezuelan government and other Latin American populist movements, sometimes linked to the European left but also backed by far-right conspiracy theorists. He had the Russia Today and Sputnik apps installed on his mobile phone as well as the Sputnik VPN application, to conceal his geolocation. 

Pompeyo under arrest

Pompeyo’s targets also included the US Embassy in Madrid, which led to a much-increased focus by US intelligence on the activities of Russia-supporting right-wing extremists. His other targets included the Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez; Serhii Pohoreltsev, director of the Instalaza company which manufactures C-90 rocket launchers for the Ukrainian army; the director of the Satellite Centre at the Torrejón de Ardoz air base in Madrid; and Margarita Robles, the Spanish Minister of Defence. Pompeyo’s intention, according to prosecutors, was to force a change in Spain’s pro-Ukraine policy.

Police said that “Although it is presumed that the detainee made and sent the explosive devices by himself, (we) do not rule out the participation or influence of other persons in the events.”

Elsewhere in Europe, anti-Ukrainian terrorism has been very clearly linked to prominent far-right individuals working for Moscow. The most blatant case dates back more than three years before Putin’s invasion, when Russian intelligence was using terrorist networks as part of a plan to sow discord between Ukraine and its neighbours.

The leading far-right German journalist Manuel Ochsenreiter (above, with ‘Putin’s philosopher’ Alexander Dugin) paid a Polish extremist to firebomb a Hungarian cultural centre in the western Ukrainian border city of Uzhhorod. The idea was to blame the attack on “Ukrainian nazis”, in line with Putin’s regular strategy of highlighting the wartime role of many Ukrainian nationalists such as the notorious antisemite Stepan Bandera.

At the time Ochsenreiter was employed in the parliamentary office of an AfD Bundestag member, Markus Frohnmeier. He was also known to have close connections to Russian intelligence agents, including another far-right Pole, Mateusz Piskorski.

Mateusz Piskorski

Though he at first protested his innocence, Ochsenreiter quickly fled to Moscow, where he conveniently died in 2021 aged 45. Anti-fascists had for years seen Ochsenreiter as one of the leaders of the German far right’s younger generation. He stood at the interface between the semi-respectable parliamentary extremism of AfD, the German and European neo-nazi movement, and pro-Moscow circles.

At the age of 18 Ochsenreiter began writing for Junge Freiheit, a weekly paper that appeals mainly to well-heeled young conservatives, but via the Burschenschaften student fraternities also has some overlap with the extra-parliamentary right.

In 2011 Ochsenreiter became editor of the monthly nationalist magazine Zuerst. This had more overt ties to neo-nazis, but was expensively produced and unlike most fringe publications had wide distribution.

The most interesting aspect is that Zuerst was and is part of Dietmar Munier’s publishing empire and grew out of a much older German extremist journal, Nation und Europa (originally known as Nation Europa and dating back to the earliest efforts to rehabilitate Nazism in post-war Germany).

Under its several guises, the Nation Europa project tried to unite German nationalist factions and also to build a pan-European fascist network, at times linked to the “Europe a Nation” schemes of Sir Oswald Mosley.

But after it was taken over by Munier in 2009 and transformed into Zuerst, this idea of European unity took on a more explicitly anti-American, and implicitly pro-Moscow slant. Munier had previously been known as the main sponsor of efforts to resettle ethnic Germans in the Kaliningrad region of the former East Prussia, which was taken over by the old Soviet Union in 1945 and remains part of Russia.

And editorial board meeting of Zuesrt, shortly after Munier’s takeover

Beginning in the mid-1990s both Munier and the convicted nazi terrorist Manfred Roeder were involved with these projects. Former BNP deputy leader Richard Edmonds and several other leading British nazis visited Kaliningrad in 1993 in connection with Roeder’s efforts, and in 1999 Edmonds returned to the region, this time working for several years teaching as part of Munier’s project in a settlement known as Trakehnen.

Kaliningrad (known for centuries as Königsberg and still regarded by German nationalists as a German city) is today a potential flashpoint for confrontation between NATO and Russia.

Both antifascists and European intelligence agencies have been concerned by developing ties between the German far-right and Russia. During Putin’s early years in power, he seemed to be hostile to Munier, who after being banned from travelling to the Kaliningrad region eventually sold the Trakehnen settlement to a Russian businessman.

But during the past decade Munier and Zuerst have built more cordial ties to Moscow, especially with the ultra-nationalist ‘philosopher’ and anti-Ukrainian propagandist Alexander Dugin. The magazine has also published articles by pro-Moscow AfD activists such as Björn Höcke, leader of the party’s extremist Flügel faction.

Another European nazi group with suspicious ties to Moscow is the Nordic Resistance Movement, which operates in several countries and was banned by the Finnish authorities in 2019 for terrorism. Former NRM member Mikko Vehvilainen (half-Finnish) joined the British Army but also signed up to the nazi terror group National Action and was jailed for eight years under the Terrorism Act.

National Action terrorist Mikko Vehvilainen

Yan Petrovsky, second in command of the Russian militia Rusich and a veteran of Wagner Group atrocities in Ukraine, Syria and Africa, spent several years in Scandinavia where he built ties both to the NRM and to the more openly terroristic and pro-Moscow Soldiers of Odin. Petrovsky is wanted in Ukraine for war crimes, and while Finnish courts have refused his extradition, he is facing trial for other offences in Finland.

Petrovsky’s activities are one of the reasons for bitter arguments within the neo-nazi scene between pro-Ukraine and pro-Russia factions. These disputes have already disrupted plans to revive the Holocaust denial publishing scene. Convicted Holocaust denier Germar Rudolf is so hostile to Moscow that he has broken off contact with many of his former friends, as have his fellow nazis at the British neo-Nazi magazine Heritage & Destiny, Peter Rushton and Isabel Peralta.

A few days earlier in Germany, AfD’s number one candidate at this year’s European elections, Maximilian Krah, was embarrassed by the arrest of his parliamentary aide on charges of spying for China. Krah has long been known as one of the most pro-Chinese and pro-Russian officials of AfD. But again, he is a divisive character in far-right circles. A few years ago, Catholic extremists linked to the Holocaust-denying Bishop Richard Williamson (including at least one former National Front directorate member) accused Krah of acting as an agent of – you might have guessed! – mysterious global Zionist forces, looking to undermine Williamson’s defence.

Several British and German nazis have now revived these old allegations to add to Krah’s troubles. For it’s guaranteed that any discussion in these circles, whether of Ukraine or China or global warming, will eventually develop into an antisemitic conspiracy theory.

2 responses on “Is Russia using the extreme right to carry out operations in Europe? By Roger Pearce

  1. Furubotnik

    The NRM was banned in Finland for various reasons that had to do with «activities contrary to the law, irregularities in the funding of the organisation and incitement to racial hatred», even «being contrary to worthy costum» was used…but they were not banned «for terrorism» at all.

    That the Soldiers Of Odin are «more openly terroristic than the NRM» have no basis in reality, rather the exact opposite is true: members of the NRM have been involved in many crimes bordering on terrorism like murder and gun crime especially in Sweden. SOO on the other hand was an attemt at founding a vigilante group at street level to confront «gangs» in the aftermath of the 2015/16 migrant crisis, they hardly exists anymore.

    That any group of Finns claiming to be nationalists would be pro-Moscow at all is highly unlikely.

  2. Againe

    UKIP has been very careful to refrain from publishing any statement in any way supportive of the Zhelensky regime or the Ukrainian cause.
    I have good cause to believe successive principled UKIP leaders who refused to lubricate Putin’s Posterior were edged out.
    No problems now with the incumbents, who have a track record of belonging to the highest bidder.
    From cash for questions and cash from swindled property-owners, cash for allegiance isn’t even a small jump.