Meet Russia’s New “International Brigades”

For months, the most prominent meme pushed by Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin as it wages Special War against Ukraine has been that the country is a nest of fascist vipers, and that Jew-hating Neo-Nazis are in power in Kyiv. As such, Moscow’s aggression against Ukraine is therefore defensive, indeed a replay of the Second World War, rather the Great Patriotic War that Russia continues to misrepresent for current political purposes. Just today, according to Interfax, Konstantin Dolgov, the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Democracy and Rule of Law, stated that the problems of Nazism and anti-Semitism are “the most pressing ones” in Ukraine now. This meme has become pervasive among many in the West too, despite its fraudulence. A good guide to judging how close a person is to the Kremlin position on Ukraine is how often and how loudly s/he informs you that “fascists” are running that country.

In keeping with the Ukraine-Is-Fascist theme, we have an interesting new piece of propaganda from the Strategic Culture Foundation, a Russian far-right think-tank established in 2005 which is prone to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which explicitly compares the war being waged in eastern Ukraine today with Spain in the 1930s. “The International Brigades in the Donbas: Like Spain in 1936 – only volunteers!” is authored by Nikolay Malishevsky, a Belarusian who is a frequent contributor to SCF and possesses the ultra-nationalist views fused with Orthodox spirituality that are all the rage in the Kremlin these days. The article itself is pure agitprop, complete with vintage propaganda images from the Spanish Civil War – it should be noted that SCF has been warning about rising “fascism” in Ukraine long before the current war started – but it reveals several things about the not-so-secret secret war being waged by Russian intelligence in eastern Ukraine.

According to Malishevsky, the self-proclaimed Donbas People’s Republic has hailed the the establishment of new International Brigades to defend its territory against Ukrainian “aggression,” and its “Prime Minister” Aleksandr Boroday has said that the parallels with Spain in the 1930s are “obvious” and his government is “ready to accept the service of volunteers from all countries, without exception, in Europe, America, Asia and Africa.”

This, Malishevsky makes clear, is a deeply inclusive appeal to: “Men and women. Natives of Western, Central, Eastern and Southern Europe, the Caucasus, the Middle East and Central Asia. Socialists and conservatives. Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims … all united in military brotherhood and the desire to stop the brown plague of the 21st century.” He is at pains to note that volunteers are not coming solely from Orthodox countries like Russia, Belarus, and Serbia, but from many places.

The reader is shown a purported picture of an unnamed Czech volunteer, while Malishevsky claims that a unit of Poles showed up to defend “Russian Donbas” in late May, led by one Bartosz Becker, a group of “free Polish people who object to the basing of NATO terrorists in Poland.”  The author asserts that among the “antifascist volunteers” there is a Hungarian unit calling itself the “Legion of Saint Stephen,” made up of ethnic Hungarians and “traditionalists” who are fighting for “a New Europe, in which Hungary could become a key partner for Russia and Poland.” Given known ties between Russian intelligence and Hungary’s far-right, this is an interesting statement, if true. Malishevsky claims that some “antifascist” Italians are supporting the Donbas People’s Republic with humanitarian aid, but not (yet) with fighters.

There is allegedly also a unit of twenty Israelis serving with local Donbas militia in the “Aliya” Battalion, veterans of the Israeli and Soviet militaries, while there is a unit of German volunteers serving in Novorossiya calling itself the Ernst Thälmann Battalion (which, not coincidentally, was the name of the German unit in the International Brigades in Spain, circa 1936-39). Its leader is Alexander Kiefel, said to be a veteran of East German special forces, including a tour in Afghanistan in the late 1980s, and according to Malishevsky the Germans are there as volunteers, not mercenaries, and more are coming to defend “free” Ukraine. There is also a unit of Serbs commanded by one Bratislav Živković.

According to Malishevsky, these volunteers are fighting under the command of the Donbas mystery man and “Defense Minister” Igor Strelkov, who is known to be an an officer of Russian military intelligence (GRU). The author waxes romantically about recreating the International Brigades of “heroes like Hemingway” in Spain, adding that soon there will be more volunteers  – “Russians, Serbs, Belarusians, Poles, Israelis, Germans, Hungarians, Italians, Spaniards, Frenchmen, Canadians and many others.”

In truth, these new International Brigades seem to have hardly more than a handful of fighters of dubious provenance. But you can expect to hear more about them and their struggle against “fascism” in Ukraine in the days ahead. So far, the only obvious similarity between this effort and the iconic International Brigades in Spain in the 1930s is that both are the creation of the Kremlin’s intelligence apparatus, and fully under its control.






11 comments on “Meet Russia’s New “International Brigades””
  1. Guy Montag says:

    It’s high time that (pro) Urainians should co-opt both the left and the right to their cause just like their (pro) Russian counterparts. Because the Kremlin is in truth not a sincere ally of neither but rather an opportunistic and cynical user of both. The sooner the ideologues of both left and right in Europe and America realise this, the better for their own sake. Otherwise they’ll be in for a rude shock if or rather when Tsar Emperor Putin and his crooked crony elites have no clothes. Nobody nowadays wants to be associated with disgraced former French President Nicholas Sakozy for example.

  2. uwe says:

    Kiefel has already denied that he has founded a military formation. You can read that on the ever so reliable and objective “Stimme Russlands” website:

    According to thies article, the unit should be recruited from Russian
    veterans living Germany.

    As a sidenote: There was one Josef Kiefel, German emgigree to the SU from 31 to 45. Member of NKVD and working with NKVD’s partizans and underground communists behind German lines. Later he became the chief of Stasi’s HA II (counterintelligence). So the name might well be a pseudonym and a historical reference.

    Good to have you back,

    1. 20committee says:

      Wait, Kremlin agitprop maybe exaggerated things?

      Fascinating background, thanks for that information re MfS.

      PS Thanks 🙂

      1. uwe says:

        Either an exaggeration or some clever mind has found out that recruting for foreign military service is a felony under German law. Maybe I should have a look whether some of the guys of our local Systema and Sambo club have gone missing 🙂

  3. starsaredestinationnotdestiny says:

    Who is that Bartosz Becker guy, what did he do before joining GRU action? Where was he born and where he got educated?

      1. starsaredestinationnotdestiny says:

        ‘Given known ties between Russian intelligence and Hungary’s far-right’ – we can add to that close relations between far Hungarian right and far Polish right groups – i.e. their leaders. Thanks for the YT material, “UKSW” student – he should know better than that.

  4. Jim Taylor says:

    Very interesting information about Malishevsky’s article. He certainly has no trouble with letting facts get in the way of a good yarn.
    The Internationalist Brigade in Spain did provide Hemingway with the grist for a fine novel, but it also provided another more sober and circumspect author a first hand view of the evils of Communism. That man was named Eric Blair, a former policeman in the Burmese Police and graduate of Eton College who was known to the world by his pen name, George Orwell.
    Orwell’s time in the colonial government in Burma had given him a distaste for empire. It made him question the rigid class structure of England and the capitalist system. But his time spent in the service of the International Brigade opened his eyes to the inequities and callousness of Communism. Orwell returned to England with the conviction that Communism and Fascism were both evil and must be stopped by free men. He went on to write Animal Farm and 1984, both which were inspired in part by his exposure to their Russian “Volunteers” in their Internationalist Brigade.

    Maybe this new Internationalist Brigade will provide material for another Englishman who can write a novel or two and sound the alarm yet again about Mother Russia.

  5. For verification or clarification of Ukraine’s far right philosophy Google”Azov”. They are a battalion with certain beliefs about their East Ukrainian compatriots.

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