Good morning. I want to first thank the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism (ICCT) for hosting this event, and for inviting me to speak here today. I’m honored to be joined by EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Ilkka Salmi, who has been an invaluable partner.
We are fortunate to have two highly respected and effective organizations collaborating on such an important topic. For more than a century, ADL has been a leading voice on efforts to counter antisemitism and other forms of hate-motivated intolerance and violence here at home and abroad.
Since its founding in 2010, ICCT has been one of the preeminent centers for research on terrorism. In June, I had the honor of speaking at ICCT’s annual conference in The Hague, which focused on hybrid threats, particularly anti-institutional violent extremism that spans the political spectrum.
The topic for today’s discussion, “Russia’s influence on far-right extremism,” is one example of a hybrid threat – a combination of what the United States calls racially or ethnically motivated violent extremism – or REMVE – and Russia’s attempts to undermine western liberal democracies through disinformation and other influence operations.
My remarks will focus on REMVE groups inside of Russia, the influence Russia has on REMVE actors across Europe, how Russia’s intelligence services exploit REMVE in covert influence operations, and the lies the Kremlin has been spreading to justify its war of aggression against Ukraine.
First, let’s discuss REMVE groups inside Russia. History has shown, and this is certainly the case in today’s Russia, that in authoritarian states it is exceedingly difficult for organizations to operate freely and fully independently. And to the extent that organizations do assert independence, the watchful eye of the government is ever-present. And in Russia, today, no organization operates without the Kremlin’s knowledge.
This includes the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM). In 2020, the U.S. Department of State designated RIM and members of its leadership as Specially Designated Global Terrorists; the first time the United States designated a white-supremacist organization.
RIM’s ideology has been described as a classical fusion of Orthodox monarchism and imperial nationalism, which views the last 100 years of Russia’s history through the prism of the so-called “global Zionist conspiracy.”
RIM has provided paramilitary-style training for REMVE actors across Europe and actively works to rally these violent ideologues against their perceived enemies. Some attendees of RIM’s training courses have committed terrorist attacks in their home countries using this training.
It is also important to note that just this past April, the Kremlin shut down the well-regarded SOVA Analytical Center, an NGO whose research focused on nationalism and racism in the Russian Federation, and which had endeavored to maintain its independence and protect its research from interference by the Kremlin. The Kremlin’s action against SOVA has made it harder to track REMVE groups operating in Russia.
I now want to discuss some similarities in the rhetoric of the Kremlin and a number of European REMVE groups; we do not believe these similarities are coincidence.
We have observed how violent white supremacists around the world, and those in Europe in particular, derive inspiration from the authoritarian, nationalistic, revanchist, and imperialistic ambitions of Vladimir Putin, whom they revere alongside Adolf Hitler.
This “brown vs. red” dichotomy may seem like a paradox to the casual observer, but when respected scholars analyze the writings and speeches of neo-imperialist Russian philosophers and ideologues who have influenced Putin, the picture becomes clearer.
Similar to Putin, REMVE actors are vehemently opposed to liberal democracy and want to impose their will and their concept of world order by any means necessary – including by force.
The Kremlin’s history of sowing distrust and exploiting societal divisions—and this includes its efforts to co-opt the disaffected, exploit racial grievances, and undermine social cohesion here in the United States — it can be difficult to distinguish between those who knowingly participate in Russia’s influence operations from those who are unwitting propagators of the corrosive and divisive messages resulting from the Kremlin’s hidden hand.
I would like to touch on a few examples of how Russia uses proxies to further its foreign policy goals.
In its 2021-22 Review, Estonia’s Internal Security Service noted that Russia’s exploitation of REMVE groups is “in line with Russian military doctrine – to approach conflicts by employing political, economic, informational, and other non-military methods as well as military ones, exploiting the protest potential of the local population.”
We have also seen open-source reporting about Russia’s proxies and their covert influence operations across Europe.
In 2018, for example, three members of the Polish pro-Russia Falanga organization were arrested for fire-bombing a Hungarian cultural center in Ukraine. Hired by a Kremlin-aligned member of Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, the perpetrators attempted a “false flag” operation to reinforce Russia’s unfounded claims that Ukraine had been overrun by neo-Nazi groups.
Through its network of proxies and spies, the Kremlin has co-opted several far-right movements across Europe in an effort to undermine the EU, NATO, and the rules-based international order more broadly.
While the bots and online trolls that Russia employs are tools of the 21st century, many of the Kremlin’s tactics have been around and in use for quite some time.
During the Cold War, for example, the KGB and Stasi sent spies to co-opt and revive neo-Nazi movements in West Germany to undermine the then-fledgling German democracy’s image in the eyes of the West.
To fully understand these dynamics and build our societies’ resilience against these malign actors, it is important that we increase our information sharing among likeminded governments and that we encourage and support independent research on this topic.
Using fact-based research, we must expose the Kremlin’s tactics. This is why the United States is supporting an ICCT project to uncover Russian ties to REMVE movements across Europe. The result of this work will be an anthology published next year and will raise public awareness of the playbook Putin uses to sow discord. This research will also inspire further research by academics and journalists.
Finally, I want to talk about Russia’s disinformation campaign, carried out across social media and against those fleeing Putin’s war of aggression against Ukraine.
These malign and divisive efforts are led by high-ranking Russian officials, such as the Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolay Patrushev, who described refugees from Ukraine as lazy and ungrateful, and likely to spread disease and crime across Europe.
Following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the NGO Moonshot analyzed anti-Ukraine and anti-refugee sentiment in Polish-language media online.
Over the course of one month, Moonshot found significant examples of “inauthentic and Russian-linked activity on Polish-language pages or accounts,” including narratives that resemble other REMVE narratives around demographic “replacement,” such as increased access to affordable housing or medical care for Ukrainians at Poles’ expense.
These accounts focused on constructing the narrative that “those fleeing Ukraine were not refugees, but instead that the influx of Ukrainians to Poland was part of an ongoing ‘Ukrainisation’ of Poland.”
It is no coincidence that REMVE actors across Central and Eastern Europe also used this rhetoric to reach new audiences. With this in mind, the United States will support other initiatives in addition to the project led by ICCT.
One such project will empower university students in Central and Eastern Europe to develop online and offline campaigns to push back against false and divisive narratives about refugees from Ukraine who have sought refuge in their respective countries.
Another project, implemented by the Strong Cities Network, is bringing cities across Central and Eastern Europe together to discuss efforts to promote social cohesion in communities where refugees from Ukraine reside.
These projects, collectively, are intended to help ensure those fleeing Russia’s war of aggression can seek refuge in neighboring countries for as long as needed.
Combined with ICCT’s efforts, these projects will help to counter Putin’s overall goals of weakening his adversaries by undermining democratic institutions.
Again, I want to thank ADL and ICCT for organizing this discussion. I look forward to the listening to the presentations on both panels. Thank you.