A white nationalist organization based in St. Petersburg, Russia has recently come under the spotlight as the US government issued sanctions against its leaders and against the group as a whole.
The Trump administration officially labeled the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) along with its leaders on April 6, 2020, the first such designation against a white nationalist organization.
Rita Katz: “Designating this group...begs the question: will this be a one-off event? Or are we seeing the first of more steps to come against the many other globally engaged far-right organizations just like the Russian Imperial Movement?”
The RIM identifies itself as a monarchist organization, though the perspectives espoused regularly by its leadership and the views laid out in its official political program point toward a far-right, white nationalist ideology, and the group’s social media content makes many references to autocracy and racial supremacism.
“The Russian Imperial Movement is one piece of a larger global community of far-right groups, individuals and media outlets,” says SITE Director Rita Katz.
A State Department comment on the designation stressed the international reach of RIM's influence, stating that the organization "plays a prominent role in trying to rally like-minded Europeans and Americans into a common front against their perceived enemies." The State Department's message also claims that two Swedish men traveled to St. Petersburg to train with RIM in 2016, and a few months later, carried out "a series of terrorist attacks" in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Such training has been offered by the RIM’s self-described “military sports club,” known as the Imperial Legion. The Imperial Legion’s official VK page states that it trains individuals in hand-to-hand combat, knife fighting, tactical skills, and the use of firearms. Photos on VK depict the Imperial Legion conducting such training sessions in outdoor environments.
The Imperial Legion has also claimed that some of its members and trainees have become involved in warzones such as Ukraine and Libya. The conflict in Ukraine is of particular importance to the Imperial Legion and the RIM, as it represents a perceived clash of Russian and Ukrainian identities. The RIM’s far-right, neo-monarchist tendencies largely align the organization with pro-Russian rebels fighting to secede from Ukraine.
The RIM, to this point, has also listed a number of foreign organizations in the “international connections” section of its official website. Many of these organizations are based in Eastern Europe, while some are located in Northern and Western Europe, as well as the United States. The group does not specify to what degree all the “connections” noted on the website are maintained, and some mentions appear limited to gestures of solidarity.
“Designating this group as a terrorist organization is indeed unprecedented," says Katz. "However, it begs the question: will this be a one-off event? Or are we seeing the first of more steps to come against the many other globally engaged far-right organizations just like the Russian Imperial Movement?”