Vanguard of a White Empire: Rusich, the Russian Imperial Movement, and Russia’s War of Terror

– Executive Summary

Russian politics have steadily drifted toward the far-right since the fall of the Soviet Union and the subsequent rise of Vladimir Putin.[1] Under Putin, the Russian state has incorporated tenets of two traditionalist far-right ideologies—Eurasianism and a form of neo-fascism inspired by hardline Orthodox Christianity—as guiding principles for both domestic and foreign policy.[2] These reactionary beliefs have been embraced as alternatives to the U.S.-led liberal international order and a means of restoring Russian exceptionalism.[3] Beginning with the 2014 seizure of Crimea, the Russian state has made instrumental use of far-right extremists with whom it shares common cause in leveraging hard power abroad.[4]

This thesis follows two notable Russian far-right extremist groups that have gained prominence since the 2014 seizure of Crimea: the neo-Nazi paramilitary Task Force Rusich and the Orthodox neo-fascist Russian Imperial Movement. These groups comprise hundreds of members and have conducted operations in Ukraine and Syria in support of Russian state policy.[5] Their activities include combat operations, mass murder, torture, rape, extortion, and the industrial-scale theft of natural resources.[6]

The Russian state, while wary of the destabilizing influence of extremist groups domestically, has shown a willingness to make use of Rusich and the Russian Imperial Movement as armed proxies. This coordination is disguised through layers of different organizations and political power brokers. Such deception provides plausible deniability to the Russian government in offering direct assistance to extremist organizations. The Wagner Group, a Russian private military contractor; Rodina, a fringe political party; and a network of political power brokers organized by Russian Duma Deputy Alexander Borodai and Russian oligarch Konstantin Malofeev are the primary intermediaries for interfacing with Rusich and the Russian Imperial Movement. This coordination appears to have ramped up because of Russia’s military setbacks in Ukraine.[7] The Wagner Group, Russia’s premier private military company and irregular army, appears to be openly embracing extremists and criminal elements to generate combat power.[8]

The war in Ukraine is still extremely dynamic, but this thesis identifies the growing influence of Rusich and the Russian Imperial Movement as the Russian army has faltered on the battlefield. This increasing influence is exhibited in leadership roles assumed by Rusich leaders in the state-sponsored Union of Donbas Volunteers and the Russian Imperial Movement’s role in fighting and training conscripts as a reserve component of the Russian army.[9] Such mounting authority on the battlefield in Ukraine presents a growing transnational security threat that may impact homeland security in unpredictable ways.

It is unclear whether Russia intends to deploy armed proxies against the U.S. homeland, but indicators suggest a willingness to use extremist groups to threaten European security. Both Rusich and the Russian Imperial Movement have expressed an interest in attacking members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Russian Imperial Movement is also suspected in a series of letter bombings in November and December 2022 of government targets in Spain.[10] If Russia does decide to greenlight operations against the U.S. homeland, they will likely result from collaboration between Rusich and the Russian Imperial Movement and U.S. nationals sympathetic to their cause. The Russian Imperial Movement has historical connections with far-right organizer Matthew Heimbach and U.S. cells of the extremist Atomwaffen Division.[11] Heimbach and suspected former members of the Atomwaffen Division have returned to political activism as of February 2023 under the banner of the Patriotic Socialist Front.[12] While the nature of these connections is yet unclear, the renewed activism is concerning given its apparent pro-Russian sympathies.[13]

This thesis recommends several actions to track and understand the intensifying threat to international security posed by the increasing prominence of Rusich, the Russian Imperial Movement, and far-right ideologues like Konstantin Malofeev in Russian military action. These recommendations include additional punitive actions against Rusich members as well as investigations into Rusich involvement in crimes against humanity based on evidence collected during this research. Further investigations into the potential involvement of Konstantin Malofeev in human trafficking, attempted assassinations, and transnational terrorism are also strongly encouraged.


[1] Oleg Riabov and Tatiana Riabova, “The Remasculinization of Russia?: Gender, Nationalism, and the Legitimation of Power under Vladimir Putin,” Problems of Post-Communism 61, no. 2 (March 2014): 23–35, https://doi.org/10.2753/PPC1075-8216610202; Marcin Skladanowski, “The Myth of Russian Exceptionalism: Russia as a Civilization and Its Uniqueness in Aleksandr G. Dugin’s Thought,” Politics, Religion & Ideology 20, no. 4 (2019): 423–46, https://doi.org/10.1080/21567689.2019.1697870.

[2] Anton Shekhovtsov, “Aleksandr Dugin’s Neo‐Eurasianism: The New Right à la Russe,” Religion Compass 3, no. 4 (July 2009): 697–716, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1749-8171.2009.00158.x; Marcel H. Herpen, Putinism: The Slow Rise of a Radical Right Regime in Russia (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137282811.

[3] Melik Kaylan, “Kremlin Values: Putin’s Strategic Conservatism,” World Affairs 177, no. 1 (2014): 9–17, https://www.jstor.org/stable/43555061; Kari Roberts, “Understanding Putin: The Politics of Identity and Geopolitics in Russian Foreign Policy Discourse,” International Journal 72, no. 1 (2017): 28–55, https://www.jstor.org/stable/26414074.

[4] Andreas Umland, “Alexander Dugin and Moscow’s New Right Radical Intellectual Circles at the Start of Putin’s Third Presidential Term 2012–2013: The Anti-Orange Committee, the Izborsk Club and the Florian Geyer Club in Their Political Context,” Europolity 10, no. 2 (2016): 7–32; Marlene Laruelle, “The Izborsky Club, or the New Conservative Avant-Garde in Russia,” Russian Review 75, no. 4 (October 2016): 626–44, https://doi.org/10.1111/russ.12106; Marlene Laruelle, “The Three Colors of Novorossiya, or the Russian Nationalist Mythmaking of the Ukrainian Crisis,” Post-Soviet Affairs 32, no. 1 (2016): 55–74, https://doi.org/10.1080/1060586X.2015.1023004.

[5] Candace Rondeaux, Ben Dalton, and Jonathan Deer, “Wagner Group Contingent Rusich on the Move Again,” New America, January 26, 2022, http://newamerica.org/future-frontlines/blogs/wagner-group-contingent-rusich-on-the-move-again/; Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Samuel Hodgson, and Colin P. Clarke, “The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) and Its Links to the Transnational White Supremacist Extremist Movement,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, April 24, 2020, https://icct.nl/publication/the-russian-imperial-movement-rim-and-its-links-to-the-transnational-white-supremacist-extremist-movement/.

[6] Rondeaux, Dalton, and Deer, “Wagner Group Contingent Rusich on the Move Again”; Gartenstein-Ross, Hodgson, and Clarke, “The Russian Imperial Movement.”

[7] Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt, “Russian Agents Suspected of Directing Far-Right Group to Mail Bombs in Spain,” New York Times, January 22, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/‌01/22/‌us/politics/russia-spain-letter-bombs.html.

[8] Sergey Sukhankin, “Wagner PMC Recruits Russian Criminals and Convicts for War in Ukraine,” Jamestown Foundation, August 18, 2022, https://jamestown.org/program/wagner-pmc-recruits-russian-criminals-and-convicts-for-war-in-ukraine/.

[9] Dmitry Bobrov and Denis Gariev, “Интервью с добровольцем: ‘Все успехи СВО держатся исключительно на героизме русского солдата’” [Interview with a Volunteer: “All the Successes of the SVO Are Based Solely on the Heroism of the Russian Soldier”], Telegraph, July 9, 2022, https://telegra.ph/‌Intervyu-s-dobrovolcem-Vse-uspehi-SVO-derzhatsya-isklyuchitelno-na-geroizme-russkogo-soldata-07-09; Union of Donbas Volunteers, “Славян, руководитель Питерского отделения Союза добровольцев Донбасса” [Slavyan, head of the St. Petersburg branch of the Union of Donbas Volunteers], Telegram, May 24, 2022, 10:24, https://t.me/sddonbassa/15712; “Interregional Social Organization Union of Donbas Volunteers,” War & Sanctions, accessed February 6, 2023, https://sanctions.nazk.gov.ua/en/sanction-company/5948/.

[10] Edward Wong, Julian E. Barnes, and Eric Schmitt, “Russian Agents Suspected of Directing Far-Right Group to Mail Bombs in Spain,” New York Times, January 22, 2023, https://www.nytimes.com/2023/‌01/22/us/politics/russia-spain-letter-bombs.html.

[11] Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Samuel Hodgson, and Colin P. Clarke, “The Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) and Its Links to the Transnational White Supremacist Extremist Movement,” International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, April 24, 2020, https://icct.nl/publication/the-russian-imperial-movement-rim-and-its-links-to-the-transnational-white-supremacist-extremist-movement/.

[12] Idavox (@IdavoxOPP), “Today in DC, Matthew Heimbach and His New Crew the Patriot Socialist Front Was at the So-Called ‘Rage against the War Machine’ Rally—Which Either Ignored and/or Defended Putin’s War Machine, but Okay,” Twitter, February 19, 2023, 2:23 p.m., https://twitter.com/‌IdavoxOPP/‌status/1627403452287426560; Zeb Habash (@Habash_Zebulon), “Matthew Heimbach Has a New Crew Attending the Libertarian Rally, Calling Itself ‘Patriotic Socialist Front,’” Twitter, February 19, 2023, 3:41 p.m., https://twitter.com/Habash_Zebulon/status/1627423177046388736.

[13] Idavox, “Matthew Heimbach and His New Crew the Patriot Socialist Front.”

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