Introduction & Updates in National Landscape
February 2023 marked the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many expected an intensification of hostilities, but this did not happen. On 20 February, US President Joe Biden visited Kyiv, where he gave a speech and promised new arms supplies. On 21 February, Russian President Vladimir Putin delivered his address to the Federal Assembly.
At the global level, the issue of nuclear security and related US-Russian relations became crucial again. It was the main issue in the president’s address and was the reason for the extraordinary session of the State Duma and the Federation Council the next day. At issue is Russia’s suspension of its participation in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3). This treaty was signed by Medvedev and Obama in 2010, and it came into force in February 2011. At the beginning of 2021, the treaty was extended until February 2026.
Contrary to the expectations of some observers, there were no significant changes in the war zone against the background of the presidential address and on the eve of the war’s first anniversary, indicating the successful implementation of certain strategic plans. In particular, the overall course of events was negatively influenced by unsuccessful offensive attempts from the south near Vuhledar. The pressure on Bakhmut increased but did not culminate in any fundamental shift.
Much of the new escalation was due to the renewed conflict between the Russian Ministry of Defence and E. Prigozhin’s structures, which usually played a key role in the occupation of a number of small settlements in the Donetsk direction. However, the lack of ammunition at a time when PMCs have become more dependent on the Ministry of Defense has taken its toll. And this has turned into a new active criticism of the Ministry of Defense by E. Prigozhin with demands to provide the Wagner PMCs and a clear hint that this is the only chance to ensure the advancement of Russian troops.
In mid-February, Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist Seymour Hersh, who published an article on US involvement in sabotaging Russia’s Nord Stream and Nord Stream 2 pipelines, called for “no switch” and said that “this is only the first stage.”
The conflicts between youth groups were the most important themes for the Russian far-right in February. On 8 February in Chelyabinsk, a nationally-motivated conflict between tenth-graders Nikita and Feruz escalated into an attack on a school with weapons. Nikita invited six friends with hammers and a traumatic gun to meet Feruz, after which the hooligans stormed the school and began beating Feruz in front of guards and children. The police detained Nikita’s friends the next day. The Investigative Committee is now investigating the hooliganism case. The suspects are three teenagers aged 14-17 and their 18-year-old boyfriend. They were detained in a rented flat. Law enforcers found an air rifle with bullets, hammers, and a gas pistol. The oldest participant in the fight was placed under house arrest by court order. The others are under house arrest. The victims in the case are three high school students. The news went viral on patriotic publicity boards, where Nikita defended Russian children from the “national mafia.” The far-right organization Russian Community organized legal defense for the detainees.
One of the most discussed topics of late has been the new teenage subculture of fighting anime fans, “PMC Redan,” which unexpectedly gained fame on a national scale. Officials have called the movement destructive, their existence has been commented upon even in the Kremlin, and security forces raided the gathering places of teenagers around the country. The whole story with the “dangerous” PMC Redan is overblown and demonized by the media and authorities. Many publications, including our colleagues from Fontanka, have already concluded that no Redan PMC does not exist. The teenagers themselves say the same thing.
Detentions of teenagers calling themselves “PMC Redan” began in shopping malls in Moscow, St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Rostov-on-Don, and Kazan. The trend spread to Ukraine and Belarus. “PMC Redan” is a youth subculture. Its members are inspired by Hunter x Hunter manga and anime (Japanese comics and cartoons). The teenagers who belong to this group wear long black hair and checkered trousers. Also on their clothing is a spider with the number “4”, which is consonant with the word “death.” It is clarified that the anime and manga feature the criminal gang “The Spiders.” “PMC Redan” is made up mostly of teenagers. The youngest of them is 15 years old. The subculture has several communities on the social networking site VKontakte. The largest one has about 193 thousand subscribers. According to media reports, “PMC Redan” opposes football fans, skinheads, and migrants. Movement members find their target and stage mass brawls in shopping malls.
PMC Redan is a typical youth subculture that emerged from the war in Ukraine, where the Wagner PMC has shown its effectiveness. The far-right has tried to co-opt the Redan PMCs and present them as “fighters against migrant mayhem,” but so far without success.
It should be noted that youth subcultures in Russia have increased significantly, with the fashion for early Nazi-skinhead subcultures also returning, which is of considerable concern.
Transnational Activities & Group Interactions
On 18 February, leaders of the Russian Imperial Movement (RID) Stanislav Vorobyev and the head of its combat wing, Imperial Legion, Denys Gariyev, admitted that a former member of the Legion had defected to fight on the side of Ukraine as part of the Freedom of Russia Legion. RID leaders claim that at least one former comrade-in-arms named Maksim Andronnikov has defected to the enemy’s side. According to them, Maksim Andronnikov is an Orthodox monarchist who was also a member of the Imperial Legion under the call sign “Legat.” He left the RID in 2007-2008 and disappeared. Suddenly he was discovered as part of the Ukrainian Legion under the callsign “Caesar.”
In early February, it was reported that the Barcelona City Council had hired Russian citizen Stanislav Shevchuk, a member of the Russian Imperial Movement, recognized as an international terrorist organization in the US.
RUSOV reported a congress of Polish nationalist organizations in the Świętokrzyskie Mountains area was held in February. “They do not support the Russophobic policy of the Polish government and are in favor of a fraternal alliance with Russia. Among those gathered were associates of the International RUSOV Movement from the well-known Polish organization Zadrużny Krąg (ZKDS),” the post says.
RUSOV reported that the Serbian fighters of the Sudoplatov battalion Danube and Sava, as well as all Serbian volunteers in the Russian army, condemn the arrest of Serbian far-right activists, Damnjan Knežević, leader of the People’s Patrol movement, and editor of Srbin.info media Dejan Zlatanović.
In early February, Russia 24 channel shot a story about Serbian volunteers in the ranks of the Pavel Sudoplatov battalion.