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The Russian far-right is on Kyiv’s side

Notorious former football hooligan Denis Nikitin is in charge of a scandalous unit actively involved in fighting on the side of Ukrainian forces, The Guardian reports.

Before the outbreak of hostilities in Ukraine last year, Nikitin was known as a notorious Russian nationalist, forging links between far-right groups across Europe and was once a major figure in the Russian football hooligan scene. He said, dressed all in black, as the two bodyguards glowered from a short distance away:

If we had met 10 years ago on the outskirts of Luton we might have had a fight. But now I’m a grownup.

These days, Nikitin has run the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK, to use its Russian abbreviation), a controversial unit of Russian citizens that fights alongside the Ukrainian army.

Most recently, Nikitin has been running the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), a controversial unit made up of Russian citizens fighting alongside the Ukrainian army.

The RDK is a complicated ally for Ukraine, The Guardian says. Many of its members hold far-right views. Nikitin, who grew up in Russia and Germany, has been banned from entering the Schengen zone since 2019 and has a reputation as one of the most notorious neo-Nazis in Europe. His second name is White Rex. It is the name of his own clothing brand with far-right symbols.

When the full-scalle war began last year, Nikitin had a chance to fight the Russian state in a big way. He called friends in the Ukrainian army and asked if he could be of any help. The group’s activities started with a few Russians in Kyiv who unofficially helped their Ukrainian friends; gradually this turned into the core of the battalion.

Nikitin believes that the media exaggerate his notoriety. According to his words, he has never used the phrase “white supremacist”, and he is called a “neo-Nazi” only because he opposes “LGBTQ propaganda and cultural Marxism”. However, when asked about his views on Nazi Germany, he admitted that although “genocide and gas chambers are bad, regardless of who does it”, there was much he admired about the Third Reich. He said:

I extremely like the culture, the style. I extremely favour the military.

Western governments are reportedly putting pressure on the Ukrainian government to ensure that military aid coming from the West is not used for tasks on Russian territory and does not fall into the hands of the RDK. One source close to Ukrainian intelligence, said:

I know that our western partners are extremely unhappy when it comes to giving them weapons. But we are facing an existential question of war.

So far, the Ukrainian authorities are also ready to turn a blind eye to the ideological bias of the RDK, believing that readiness to fight Putin’s armies is more important than negative publicity, The Guardian emphasizes. However, not everyone agrees with this.

A western diplomat based in Kyiv said boosting RDK could prove to be a dangerous strategy for Ukraine. He said:

I think giving these guys weapons is a very bad idea, and I really hope it doesn’t backfire.

Nikitin used a film metaphor to explain why he thinks foreign governments should swallow their discomfort and support his group with arms:

It was always easy in westerns – the cowboys who had white hats were the good guys, the cowboys who had black hats were the bad guys. But then came The Good, the Bad and the Ugly … where the bad guys are fighting the very bad guys. So, consider it like that: we’re the bad guys, but we’re doing good things.

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