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500 Neo-Nazi Groups In Europe As Kremlin Claims?

Nikolai Patrushev

Nikolai Patrushev

chairman of Russian Security Council

“Neo-Nazi ideas are reviving in Europe. According to available data, there are more than 500 neo-Nazi and national-radical groups (often youth groups) in the European Union. More than 7 million people are members.”

Likely False
...number likely too high, plus debate on definition.

While Patrushev specifically claimed the "500 groups" were only in the European Union, by the time the Kremlin-funded media outlet Sputnik International picked up the story, they added in mention of Ukraine.

But even if Ukraine is added, along with non-members of the EU in Europe, it is hard to see where Patrushev would get a number as large as 500. A list compiled on Wikipedia numbers 55, including the EU, Scandinavia and Ukraine.

Anton Shekhovtsov, a visiting fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Austria and author of a forthcoming study to be published by Routledge, Russia and the Western Far Right: Tango Noir, has studied extremist movements in Europe as well as Russia and Ukraine. "I have no idea where Patrushev got those figures from," he told "I think it is an unfounded claim."

Commenting in general on such movements, Atlantic Council political expert Alina Polyakova has said “it's a struggle to really understand how big they are.”

Of course, the main difficulty is defining what is meant by "neo-Nazi" or "national-radical groups." As the New York Times has reported, some far-right parties such as the Jobbik Party in Hungary, for example, "are extremist in their right-wing views but stop short of outright fascism."

The People’s Party - Our Slovakia (LSNS), which won 10% of the seats in parliament in March 2017 elections, openly admires the Nazi puppet state in Slovakia in World War I.

Yet as has reported, LSNS is the party touted by Kremlin propagandists for its anti-NATO stance, with no mention made of these extreme views.

Andreas Umland, Senior Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation in Kyiv told "I guess it’s just a matter of whom exactly you count in and out."

Umland pointed out that "neo-Nazi" is a term used for "generic right-wing extremist groups" as well as "those that indeed refer to Nazism.”

If a broader definition was used, perhaps Patrushev's figures could make sense -- but the Kremlin might welcome some of them. Says Umland:

"Oddly, many of these 500 groups would be pro-Putin. The most prominent far right Putin-admirer is, perhaps, Breivik."

On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik killed 76 people in a bomb attack and shooting spree at a Labour Party youth summer camp and was noted for saying Putin was "worthy of respect" and he would like to meet him. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Kremlin responded at the time by calling Breivik a "mad-man" and “the devil incarnate,” yet it remains unclear where Moscow would draw the line for unacceptable extremism.

Pro-regime far-right parties in Russia have embraced their European counterparts with the Kremlin’s tacit approval.

Even if there could be as many as 500 groups, it is hard to fathom how they could have as many as 7 million members. In France, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen may have lost big in the presidential runoff to Emmanuel Macron but still secured nearly 34 percent of the vote. But while nationalist and anti-immigrant, her political party, the National Front, is not considered so extreme as to warrant calling its leaders "neo-Nazis."

About 500,000 Greeks cast votes for the fascist party Golden Dawn in 2015 elections, winning 18 of 300 seats in parliament.

And if there are as many neo-Nazis and far-right extremists as Patrushev claims, they have not won presidential elections or obtained a majority in parliament in Europe. In Ukraine, far-right parties like Svoboda have not crossed the 5 percent threshold to enter parliament.

The neo-Nazis that Russia's security officials have to worry about the most are in Russia itself, where the conflict in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region has served as a magnet for such extreme nationalists.

The ultra-nationalist group SERB (South East Radical Bloc) routinely attacks liberal opposition demonstrators such as anti-corruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny, organizations such as the Sakharov Center and LGBT pride parades but its members are seldom detained by police.

In recent years, Russia has prosecuted a number of neo-Nazi extremists responsible for murders of a lawyer, journalist, human rights activists, migrants, and law-enforcers."