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  • Nikita Kale

Alt-Right Americans Amidst the Russia and Ukraine Crisis

After nearly eight years of armed conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the crisis has now magnified, as Russia launched a full-scale military invasion into Ukraine on February 24, 2022. Putin’s actions threaten the stability of Russia’s border with Ukraine and the increasing threat of insurrection has major world leaders on guard. Political analysts have long predicted a Russian invasion in Ukraine after a buildup of tension, particularly in Donbas, a territory in southeastern Ukraine occupied by separatist groups. It is common for people to have difficulty tracing the exact roots of this conflict. Many ask why Putin has pushed forth with anti-diplomatic conflict. Putin once claimed that he wants to protect Ukrainians from bullying and genocide and aims for the "de-militarization and de-Nazification" of Ukraine, though Ukraine has experienced no genocide and operates under a Jewish president. Though they do not accurately reflect Ukraine’s political and cultural reality, Putin’s statements do call to mind the violent, sometimes Neo-Nazi, alternative right – or “alt-right” – groups present in both Ukraine and Russia.

“Alt-right” describes a set of ideologies commonly associated with extreme conservative groups around the world. Members of the alt-right believe that “white identity” is under attack, and that multicultural forces seek to undermine white people. They are further categorized by their heavy use of social media and online forums to communicate and generate fervor for their beliefs. The alt-right in the United States is influential in the uprising of domestic extremism, but perhaps, it is most concerning that alt-right Americans, spurred by these forums, have now traveled abroad to seek out military training.

Far-right groups in the United States, such as the Rise Above Movement, the Base, and the Atomwaffen Division, have taken a liking to far-right Ukrainian beliefs in nationalism and “shared racial identity” and participated in transnational communications with Ukrainian groups. Inspired by alt-right Ukrainian missions, a few Americans have then traveled to Ukraine to fight or receive closer training, specifically with the Azov Regiment. The Combating Terrorism Center at West Point describes the Azov Regiment as a “well-established, trained, and equipped far-right militia" that has been actively engaged in the conflict against Russian-backed separatists in Donbas. The links between far-right groups in the United States and Ukraine are thoroughly reported and much of the violence caused by far-right groups in Ukraine has been against pro-Russian forces. In one case, a neo-Nazi group in Ukraine, the “Patriot of Ukraine,” formed their own volunteer battalion, and fought the pro-Russian groups that had begun to seize parts of Donbas in 2014.

Despite the Russian-Ukrainian divide, far-right Americans have aligned with far-right groups in both countries. Although some alt-right Americans have sought out the Azov Regiment in Ukraine, other alt-right Americans align with Putin and his alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church under the “Christian right.” The support for Russia is apparent among even less severe right-wingers. On Fox News, conservative political commentator Tucker Carlson asked “Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which, by the way, I am.” In a less direct fashion, previous Democratic presidential candidate, Tulsi Gabbard, expressed her reservations for protecting Ukraine by insisting that Ukraine was not a democracy.

The connection between far right groups in the United States, Russia, and Ukraine is a fascinating branch of the current crisis. As domestic extremism has threatened political stability within the United States, a recent, notorious, incident being the Capitol riots, it is also in international conflict. Many further inquiries can be made from this connection, including the differences between the political success these groups have had within their respective countries. Although far right groups have generally had trouble influencing the government by gaining seats, the difference between their influence in Ukraine and the United States is their preparedness as a militia, and with far-right individuals in the United States seeking out this militaristic training abroad, the United States must be cautious about the threats of domestic extremism amidst an international crisis.


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