Friends of the neo-Nazis
About two thousand protesters gathered on the central square of Cologne on Sunday, September 4. People in T-shirts with the inscription "Russia" and with Russian flags stood at the mobile stage in front of the Cologne Cathedral. Many held signs calling for the lifting of sanctions and the launch of Nord Stream 2, as well as stopping the supply of weapons to Kyiv and improving relations with Moscow. Fundraising was also organized on the square to support separatists from the “Donbass republics”, although the so-called LPR and DPR were recognized as terrorist organizations by the German Prosecutor General’s Office back in 2014.
The news about the rally was picked up by Russian and Belarusian propagandists. “Mass uprisings began in German Cologne. The inhabitants of the country [...] demand the lifting of sanctions against Russia,” writes the state channel of Belarus BelTa . “The inhabitants of German Cologne came out to a rally in support of Russia and against the supply of weapons to Ukraine,” the Russian propaganda resource Sputnik echoed. The pro-government Telegram channel Readovka noted that the action was anti-Ukrainian.
The Russian media wrote that most of the dissatisfied were native Germans. However, at the gathering, Russian speech sounded almost louder than German. The organizers of the action are also indicated on the flyer of the action - they turned out to be Elena Kolbasnikova and Maxim Shlyund. Like most of those who came to the rally, they are representatives of the Russian diaspora, who have been living in Germany for more than 20 years. Kolbasnikova, according to her, "works in the medical profile" and provides medical care at home. A native of Dnipro, but actively supports Russian aggression. In an interview with the pro-Putin YouTube channel Voice of Germany, she calls Maxim her husband. Both pose for a 2019 photo at Moskovsky Komsomolets during the Light a Candle campaign, and both regularly stage pro-Russian rallies. In April, Elena was fired from her job for organizing such events. True, she managed to achieve compensation in court.
After February 24, Kolbasnikova and Shlyund, as well as other immigrants from Russia, staged loud rallies and car rallies several times. Actions of this format were held in several other German cities and caused a wave of indignation. Many demanded that Kolbasnikova be deported or at least held accountable for justifying the war. Despite the dissatisfaction of the Germans, the woman declares that she will continue to organize rallies for Russia.
The leader of the ultra-right Pro NRW party, right-wing radical Markus Beisicht, known, in particular, for his intolerance towards refugees, helps arrange rallies for Kolbasnikova. In 2012, his supporters deliberately brought caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to the mosque to provoke Muslims. This ended in clashes in which 29 police officers were injured.
Although Markus Beisicht does not call himself a neo-Nazi, his views are not a secret to anyone, for example, he volunteered to be a lawyer for the open neo-Nazi Alex Reitz, also known as the "Cologne Hitler", when he was tried for extremist activities (he posted campaigning with a swastika , incited hatred of Jews and glorified Hitler). Yes, and Bayzicht himself published articles inciting hatred towards Jews, Muslims and sexual minorities.
This is not the first time that neo-Nazis help the Russian diaspora in Germany to organize rallies. For example, back in 2016, The Insider talked about how neo-Nazis from another ultra-right movement, Pegida, help the Russian diaspora organize anti-migrant rallies. And then, as now, these rallies were clearly synchronized with the disinformation stuffing of Russian TV propaganda. But if now they are dedicated to the war in Ukraine, then the reason was the stuffing of a fake about a “Russian girl raped by migrants”. This synchronization, however, is far from accidental. An important role in coordinating these rallies was played by Russian state structures, primarily Rossotrudnichestvo, a federal agency that oversees the issues of compatriots living abroad.
Little helpers of Rossotrudnichestvo
In total, according to UN estimates, there are about 10 million immigrants from Russia (this is the third figure after India and Mexico), while about 30 million people outside of Russia consider themselves Russians - a rather serious resource for the Kremlin's "soft power". Rossotrudnichestvo from its very foundation was engaged in propaganda indoctrination of the Russian diaspora, and after the war became an important part of the Kremlin's propaganda machine in justifying the war in Ukraine.
On the pages of community structures in social networks, dozens of videos about the invasion are posted - with manipulation, substitution of concepts, lies and other propaganda techniques. In particular, in a series of the same type of videos under the general title #stophatingrussians, it is said that in the West it is forbidden to play the works of great Russian composers, and Germany "after 77 years has again returned to the genocide of the Russian-speaking population." According to one of the videos, sanctions against Russia were imposed because Europe does not appreciate the feat of the Soviet soldier who liberated her, without mentioning the true reason at all.
The use of compatriots abroad has become a viable option under the sanctions. This part of the “soft power” turned out to be the most resistant to economic and visa sanctions. European laws protect emigrants who have settled in EU countries. It is possible not to issue an entry visa to a tourist, but it is extremely difficult to expel or deprive a residence permit for supporting Russia. After February 24, the Kremlin began to skillfully use this. Putin's supporters in the EU countries are mostly not tourists, but Russians who have long since moved. Even before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, such events were regularly held in the EU states and, as a rule, did not cause much emotion among the Europeans. The situation changed after 24 February. The state symbols of Russia - the flag, the coat of arms, as well as the St. George ribbon - have turned into symbols of the aggressor state. Many compatriots living abroad refused to participate in such actions, but part of the community continues to visit them and defend the values of the “Russian world”.
In total, dozens of pro-Russian actions have taken place in Europe since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. All of them received media support from the structures of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and propagandists - even despite the fact that no more than 10 people came to some rallies. For example, all major Russian media outlets reported on the extremely sparse action in Dublin: Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Izvestia and Channel One. The rally in Haifa, which brought together 30 people, was covered not only by the media, but also by the head of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. One of the protesters called on Russia to deal with Ukraine and then go to Israel. In response to this proposal, there were shouts of “Akhmat is power!”.
“Great “success” of the Russian Embassy in Israel! [...] Pro-Russian activists, fed by various departments, drowned each other, did not want to hold joint actions and quarreled over slogans and personal ambitions,” journalist Shimon Breman wrote about the Putinist meeting in Haifa.
On the eve of the Day of the State Flag of the Russian Federation, on August 20, in Limassol, dozens of compatriots stretched out the Russian tricolor 53 meters long and made the symbols of the Russian "special operation" - the letters Z and V out of it. In addition to the flag, they held posters in their hands "Russia, we are with you !" and “We support Russia's actions!”. Two days later, the same thing "were able to repeat" in Larnaca. In addition to this action, a patriotic motor rally was organized. The event was initiated by Russians living in Cyprus, armed with the support of the Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots (KSROS) and the Youth Club of Russian Compatriots in Cyprus.
Despite the clearly provocative nature, the action was approved by the local authorities. However, the event ended in a scandal: a Ukrainian woman ran up to the organizers, brandishing a kitchen knife and shouting insults at the audience. A few seconds later, she was taken to the police. The odious head of Rossotrudnichestvo , Yevgeny Primakov, called the hooligan trick a terrorist attack, the woman was a terrorist and demanded that a criminal case be opened against her. The Coordinating Council of Russian Compatriots fearlessly stated that they would continue to carry out pro-Russian actions.
In France, Russians in T-shirts with Z-symbols can be found in the south-west of the country in the brasserie of the Atlantic Pyrenees department - and this, apparently, does not bother the authorities in the region. There are regular meetings of immigrants from Russia under the auspices of pro-Russian communities, such as Russophones des Pyrenees . Judging by their Facebook page, community members permanently live in France on long-term visas or have already received citizenship, which means that they are not threatened with visa sanctions for wearing the Z symbol.
Most of the publications of Russophones des Pyrenees are of an everyday nature. However, among the posts about the search for a plumber or a French tutor are reposts from employees of Rossotrudnichestvo and its structures about the abolition of Russian culture and “an unprecedented growth of Russophobia.” There are also posts in support of the Russian "special operation" and videos from the actions of Rossotrudnichestvo in other cities of France. For example, in Marseille, where on March 19 a demonstration took place outside the Russian embassy in support of the war and against sanctions. It was organized by the France-Russia-Consent association, known for its pro-Russian position. From February to June, the group held several promotions.
In Germany, a wave of indignation was caused by car rallies in support of Russia. They were staged in several cities at once in April. The largest one is in Berlin , 700 cars participated in it. The run took place immediately after it became known about the tragedy in Bucha. Back then, many Putin supporters called the massacre in the Ukrainian city staged. Russian-speaking residents of Bonn and Hannover also organized car rallies. The police tried to prevent possible clashes between Russians and Ukrainians who did not want to see the flag of the aggressor country. In Hannover, demonstrators were pelted with manure. And after the event, some participants in the run found that their cars had been burned. In some cities, such as Frankfurt am Main, the authorities banned the passage of cars and the use of "special operation" symbols at rallies. As in the cases with other countries, the organizers and participants of events in Germany were immigrants from Russia who have a residence permit or a passport of a German citizen.
In social networks, events organized by Rossotrudnichestvo structures are often passed off as “actions of local residents”, and the position of Putinists is often presented as the beliefs of a significant part of Europeans. “In Italian Verona, caring residents came to a rally in memory of the tragically deceased Daria Dugina,” reads the description of the event in Telegram channels . However, this event was organized by the "Association of Verona - Russia", and mainly supporters of the community, led by its president Palmarino Zoccatelli, came there. He knew Dugina and appeared to share her views, regularly justifying the Russian invasion in Russian media comments.
Many Russians abroad prefer to financially help the Russian military involved in the hostilities in Ukraine, as well as the militants of the "LPR" and "DPR". Transfers from EU countries to volunteers with Russian bank cards are carried out in thematic groups in Telegram. The collected money goes to expensive equipment that the Ministry of Defense does not provide for Russian soldiers: copters, sights and thermal imagers. Most transfers are from Germany, followed by Italy and Spain. It is difficult to calculate how many people participate in such a charity, since fundraising occurs irregularly, groups are most often closed. Sometimes the money is collected into a European account and then one big transfer is sent to Russia.
Transfers in euros are made through the Russian payment system Zolotaya Korona, which operates in the EU under the KoronaPay brand. This service, unlike other operators, was able to avoid European sanctions and operates completely legally. The only changes that affected the application were expressed in limiting one-time transfers to $5,000. Cryptocurrencies are also used to help the DNR and LNR militants. On August 23, the SBU announced the blocking of the cryptocurrency wallet of a Russian volunteer who collected money for the occupiers. Most of the funds went to the purchase of military equipment. By the time of blocking, there was $21,000 in the account. Now these funds have been arrested, and the issue of their withdrawal to Ukrainian jurisdiction is being decided.
The lion's share of the stories that have been sensational in the press related to the performance of the Putinists in Europe are the antics of not very adequate singles, which can hardly represent the mood of minds in the Diaspora, but because of the scandalousness, these antics receive wide publicity.
So, for example, in Salzburg in early August, a Russian woman pursued two Ukrainian women with shouts of “Glory to Russia”, “Russia will win” and “Fuck your Ukraine”. The identity of the girl was quickly established, she turned out to be Yulia Prokhorova (Chernysheva). She has been living in Germany for about three years and maintains patriotic blogs on YouTube and Telegram, in which she talks about the nuclear attack on Kyiv. Julia came to Austria on vacation. Law enforcement agencies in Austria and Germany did not hold the Russian woman accountable. The punishment overtook her in another form: the hotel in which she was going to settle, canceled the reservation after an outburst in Salzburg. This was not the first time that Yulia Prokhorova tried to provoke the Ukrainians. Previously, she came to protests against the war, where she danced "Kalinka" and unfurled the Russian flag. Residents of Austria and Germany regularly complain about the girl to BAMF - the German Federal Office for Migration and Refugees.
Another egregious case occurred in Bad Wiessee, where a Russian woman attacked a Ukrainian woman with a child with the words “you must be destroyed like Jews.” At the same time, she called herself a “native German”. A video has also been circulating on the Internet, in which two immigrants from Russia attacked a refugee from Ukraine because her son shouted “Glory to Ukraine”. The president of the Russian Club in Tokyo, Mikhail Mozzhechkov, also distinguished himself, on his Facebook page he called the Ukrainians who fled the war "rabies".
The ban on tourist visas will not affect either Prokhorova, or the “native German”, or other boorish compatriots. However, experts fear that the measures could hit the Russian opposition - so far, leaving Russia in the event of threats or persecution is the easiest way to travel Schengen.
Fighting Putinists in Europe
After the clashes between Russians and Ukrainians, Germany banned the demonstration of the letters Z and V as support for the “special operation”. This is considered a violation of article 140 of the German penal code on the public justification of war. Violation is punishable by a fine or imprisonment for three years. To circumvent this law, compatriots gave neutral and non-war names to motor rallies and rallies, for example, "against discrimination and Russophobia."
In Germany, hundreds of cases have already been opened to justify the war, including against those who supported the invasion on the Internet. In Hamburg, on August 4, National Bolshevik Marcel Jacobs, an activist of the Other Germany (Das andere Deutschland) movement, was detained . “He was searched, equipment and knives were confiscated,” Olga Shalina, head of the Moscow branch of the Other Russia E.V. Limonova, told RTVI. The arrest was allegedly linked to a Telegram channel in which Jacobs expressed support for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Latvia is discussing amendments to the law on immigration, according to which residence permits already issued to citizens of Russia and Belarus will not be extended. The Estonian Foreign Ministry warned that Russians could be deprived of a residence permit, for example, for rallies against the demolition of Soviet monuments.
And the head of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry offered to let the Russians into the country after the question "Whose Crimea?". “Only from this answer, that a person crossing the border of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Finland, Poland, will say that, in his opinion, Crimea is not occupied, it can be assumed that the admission of this person does not meet the interests of national security,” the minister said. .