Spanish National Police on Friday arrested eight individuals on suspicion of joining pro-Russian militants while in Ukraine and charged with compromising Spanish national security, possession of arms and explosives, and homicide.
The arrests have been detailed by the New York Times and two reports by El Pais, Spain’s largest newspaper. Previous reports have placed Spanish fighters among the notorious Vostok Battalion, a unit documented for the use of child soldiers.
The group, arrested in what Spanish officials are calling Operation Danko (a reference to the 1988 Schwarzenegger movie Red Heat), included three former Spanish armed forces personnel.
Members of several communist organizations, the men reportedly received support from an ‘unofficial’ pro-Kremlin network in Europe. Two, however, were met by a Russian government worker during a stopover in Moscow. Only one of the un-named men so far has been confirmed by police to have taken part in frontline action against Ukrainians.
“We fought together, communists and Nazis alike [for] the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”
In a bizarre statement by the suspects, half of the pro-Russian militants they enlisted with were fellow communists, while the other half were neo-Nazis. The group then collaborated with pro-Russian Nazi militants to ‘liberate’ Russia from Ukraine, from within Ukraine. “We fought together, communists and Nazis alike,” they said. “We all want the same: social justice and the liberation of Russia from the Ukrainian invasion.”
This sentiment is a microcosm of Russia’s indoctrination and war propaganda that has seen extremist far-left and right groups in Europe often intertwine in its favor. Author and political expert Anne Applebaum attributes this to a divide in Europe between “established, integrationist politics and isolationist, nationalist politics.” In an almost anarchistic effort, members of the radical left and right are thus predisposed to band together against the European Union by aiding what they see the ‘anti-Europe’ – Russia.
The Spanish sting operation was assisted in identifying the suspects through their social network postings, which included photos of themselves showing off military equipment and making statements seeking to recruit fighters for the pro-Russia militias. In the raids that followed, police recovered Russian military clothing, knives, machetes, and military insignias
According to multiple posts by other Spanish volunteers, the men were joined by similar militants from Italy, France, Serbia and the U.S. Police have said that another group of pro-Russian, communist Spaniards were also planning to travel to Ukraine.
Leftist “anti-fascist” slogans (and even organizations) are also typically espoused as a smokescreen by Russia’s far-right to lure members of the far-left under a common cause, a political sphere that ironically contains a plethora of racist, neo-Nazi and indeed fascist figures. Acclaimed historian Timothy Snyder best explains the politics of the fascist-anti-fascist phenomenon:
Thus began the politics of fascism and anti-fascism, where Moscow was the defender of all that was good, and its critics were fascists. This very effective pose, of course, did not preclude an actual Soviet alliance with the actual Nazis in 1939. Given today’s return of Russian propaganda to anti-fascism, this is an important point to remember: The whole grand moral Manichaeism was meant to serve the state, and as such did not limit it in any way. The embrace of anti-fascism as a rhetorical strategy is quite different from opposing actual fascists.