Updated: Jun 19
The Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) is an armed, far-right paramilitary organization fighting against the Russian state. Based in Ukraine, the group recently gained attention by launching raids into the Bryansk and Belgorod regions of Russia. Founded by Denis Nikitin in 2022, the group claims to be part of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, however this is disputed by Ukraine itself. Its goal is the toppling of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the replacement of the Russian Federation with a Russian ethno-state.
History & Foundations
Denis Nikitin (real last name Kasputin) was born in Russia but spent much of his childhood in Cologne, Germany. There he joined up with a group of football hooligans and regularly participated in fights and forced immigrants and minorities out of the gang. Nikitin eventually returned to Russia and joined a group of ultras who supported the CSKA soccer club, though the game was not what the young Russian was interested in; he loved the thrill of combat. He even used funds from his white nationalist apparel company White Rex to help pay fines or bails for jailed far-right activists across Europe. The fusion of politics and fighting was just getting started for Nikitin.
Years later, he would begin organizing amateur mixed martial arts tournaments across European far-right communities to help grow his brand and to involve more people in politics. Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Italy, and more were stages for these events, which even attracted members of the Rise Against Movement (RAM), an American neo-Nazi organization. One group that Nikitin became affiliated with through this process was the Azov Battalion and its political wing, the National Corps. Azov is a far-right militant group that arose following the 2014 Euromaidan and war in Donbas. Nikitin allied himself with many members of the group and helped introduce National Corps members to other far-right parties in Europe. In 2019, Nikitin began operating on a lower profile. The reasons for this are unclear, though possibly it has something to do with his ban from entering EU countries for his ideas. However, the Russia-Ukraine War would provide a new space for Nikitin to operate.
Nikitin founded the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) in August 2022 along with veterans of the Azov Battalion. In March of 2023, they claimed to have launched a raid from Ukraine against the Bryansk Oblast of Russia and in May 2023, launched a larger one into the Belgorod region. The second attack propelled the group to a level of notoriety previously unseen in its short history.
Ideology & Objectives
RDK is often labelled a neo-Nazi group, however Nikitin himself rejects the label. In one message in the group’s Telegram channel, they “adhere to right-wing conservative political views and traditionalist beliefs. Other members of RDK are open believers in Nazism, including the likes of Alexi Levkin. Levkin, a former member of the far-right Ukrainian nationalist group Azov Battalion, describes himself as the “hammer of national-socialism.”
However the individual members of RDK prefer to label themselves, it is clear the group detests immigration and the idea of multiculturalism. Their writings often touch on demographic change in Russia, especially on the influx of Muslims. They loathe the concept of a “worldly Russia” which they see as duplicating the Soviet conception of nationality. Based on essays published by the group in their Telegram channel, their ultimate goal seems to be the destruction of the Russian Federation and its replacement with a Russian ethno-state. One essay stated that “Russians need an "ethnic" idea of a nation and political power that defends the interests of Russian people by origin. Without multinational cuckoldism, without situational change of shoes to appease the diasporas, and without sticking to territories where there are practically no Russians left.”
Political & Military Abilities
RDK, along with the Russian Legion, used American-made military equipment in its raid on Belgorod, making use of “at least two M1224 MaxxPro armoured vehicles and several Humvees.” Ukraine responded by saying they keep American provided arms tightly secured, indicating cooperation from the UAF on some level for the raid (though they attempted to obfuscate their role and denied handing over the equipment). Apart from the vehicles used in the Belgorod raid, RDK seems to be reliant on donations for acquiring transportation and other weaponry. The group has requested funds from supporters in the past for vehicles and a Nemesis UAV which can be used for reconnaissance. The number of fighters RVC boasts is currently unknown.
Approach to Resistance
RVC are militant and willing to carry out bold attacks inside Russia. In the March 2023 Bryansk raid, “Russian authorities claimed the raid left two civilians dead and a child injured. Nikitin, in his first interview since the incursion, said a shootout occurred in one of the two villages his men had raided but was unaware of the casualties.” Nikitin aimed to show the vulnerability of Russia and inspire more to join his ranks. The Belgorod attack was more ambitious.
Using Humvees and armoured vehicles, the RVC, working alongside the Freedom of Russia Legion, stormed the Belgorod region, taking control of some border outposts and even claiming control over some towns. In a press conference following the raid’s end, Nikitin claimed that their forces had reached 42-kilometers inside Russia before being forced to withdraw. The amount of casualties RVC and Russian Legion took are disputed, with Russia claiming 70+killed and RVC claiming only two.
International Relations & Potential Alliances
As seen in Belgorod, RDK cooperates with the Russian Legion, but most of its international contacts are among the right. In addition to Azov, Nikitin has had contacts with other European fascist movements, including the Italian CasaPound Party and National Democratic Party of Germany. The RDK claims to be part of the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, but Ukraine denies this. At some level, there appears to be cooperation between the RDK and Ukrainian state, but what level remains a mystery.
The Russian Volunteer Corps is only getting started. If it manages more attacks like the one seen in Belgorod, it could find its way gaining further support.
Works Cited (Chicago-style)
(1) - Kovalenko, K. (2023, April 4). Fight for the white race. how the Russian neo-nazi Denis Nikitin promotes his ideas in Ukraine, and Why the Azov Regiment. Заборона. https://zaborona.com/en/fight-for-the-white-race-how-the-russian-neo-nazi-denis-nikitin-promotes-his-ideas-in-ukraine-and-why-the-azov-regiment/
(2) - Ibid.
(3) - Besart. (2019, September 3). Russian hooligan, Neo-Nazi and martial artist Denis Kapustin barred from Schengen Area. SchengenVisaInfo.com. https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/russian-hooligan-neo-nazi-and-martial-artist-denis-kapustin-barred-from-schengen-area/
(4) - Demyanik, D. (2022, August 31). Российская оппозиция начинает вооруженное сопротивление Путину: подписано декларацию. Glavcom. https://glavcom.ua/ru/news/mozhovoj-tsentr-sverzhenija-rezhima-putina-budet-dejstvovat-v-ukraine-872092.html
(5) - Monitoring, B. A.-E. (2020, July 16). The “hardcore” russian neo-nazi group that calls Ukraine home. bellingcat. https://www.bellingcat.com/news/uk-and-europe/2019/09/04/the-hardcore-russian-neo-nazi-group-that-calls-ukraine-home/
(6) - Miller, C., Ivanova, P., & Schwartz, F. (2023, May 23). Militias used US armoured vehicles in attack over Russian border. Subscribe to read | Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/0b57c31b-814d-4554-91d8-d49b066cea69?shareType=nongift
(7) - Miller, C., Seddon, M., & Stognei, A. (2023, March 3). Russian far-right fighter claims border stunt exposes Putin’s weakness. Subscribe to read | Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/c4ffe9b8-a3f5-4f33-a420-effe32754bbf
(8) - Miller, C., Ivanova, P., & Schwartz, F. (2023, May 23). Militias used US armoured vehicles in attack over Russian border. Subscribe to read | Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/0b57c31b-814d-4554-91d8-d49b066cea69?shareType=nongift
(9) - Kovalenko, K. (2023, April 4). Fight for the white race. how the Russian neo-nazi Denis Nikitin promotes his ideas in Ukraine, and Why the Azov Regiment. Заборона. https://zaborona.com/en/fight-for-the-white-race-how-the-russian-neo-nazi-denis-nikitin-promotes-his-ideas-in-ukraine-and-why-the-azov-regiment/
(10) - Miller, C., Ivanova, P., & Schwartz, F. (2023, May 23). Militias used US armoured vehicles in attack over Russian border. Subscribe to read | Financial Times. https://www.ft.com/content/0b57c31b-814d-4554-91d8-d49b066cea69?shareType=nongift