A neo-Nazi paramilitary group linked to the Kremlin has asked its members to provide intelligence on border and military activities in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, raising concerns about whether Russian far-right groups are planning an attack against NATO countries.
The official Telegram channel of the ‘Task Force Rusich’ – currently fighting in Ukraine on behalf of the Kremlin and linked to the notorious Wagner group – asked members last week to pass on details of border crossings and military movements in the three states Baltic States, which were once part of the Soviet Union.
The news has sparked questions about who has overall command of pro-Kremlin far-right groups fighting in Ukraine.
Rusich is closely aligned with the Wagner Group, a military team led by a close ally of Vladimir Putin and now leading the Russian offensive to capture the Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, currently the most bitterly contested battle of the conflict.
Sources speaking on condition of anonymity said Rusich’s “extraordinary” decision could indicate disenchantment with the Kremlin and frustration with the way Putin’s war in Ukraine is unfolding.
They added that the Kremlin could lose control of its far-right Russian paramilitary organizations, which could exploit more extreme methods to prosecute the Ukrainian war, raising fears of an escalation if a NATO state were attacked.
However, sources added that the Kremlin was unlikely to be directly involved as its spy service would no doubt already have intelligence on military and border activities in the Baltic states.
The source said: “Does this indicate fragmentation within the Russian system? What if the Russians lose control of it [the paramilitary groups] and they start committing malicious actions that could accidentally make the situation worse? The real question is: how much control does the Kremlin really have?
Recent reports indicate that some paramilitary groups such as the Wagner Group, founded by powerful Russian businessman Yevgeny Prigozhin, already enjoy considerable autonomy and have as much access to Putin as official government officials.
Although interactions between online channels affiliated with the Rusich Group and Wagner have been documented recently, it remains unclear to what extent the group operates under the strategic oversight of Wagner or even the Russian Defense Ministry.
Rusich presents itself as a sabotage and reconnaissance force, although its frequent crowdfunding efforts suggest it is not effectively supported by Russian logistics operations.
Last Wednesday, the operators of Rusich’s official Russian-language channel on Telegram posted a message asking users from the Baltic countries to anonymously share information about military and related infrastructure.
The post, viewed by more than 60,000 users, called for information related to military units, with specific references to members’ data and professions, members’ relatives, and their personal transportation. He also requested details of patrol movements and the location of border posts, surveillance systems and vehicles.
Details of communications towers and border security devices, as well as contact details for fuel depots and security systems in border areas, were also requested.
Rusich’s fighters, known for their brutality in Syria and the 2014 Crimean war, were spotted via open-source intelligence in Ukraine’s Donbass and Kharkiv regions, and in Kherson.
The US Treasury Department announced in September that it was imposing sanctions on Rusich.
Recent reports indicate that the Biden administration is now considering designating the Wagner Group as a foreign terrorist organization. The group has been widely condemned after posting a gruesome video of the execution with a sledgehammer of a former recruit who defected to Ukraine but was apparently picked up by the group.