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20 Apr, 2024 21:25

‘We don’t like the Russian government, but we support the army’: Opposition activist puts politics aside during conflict

RT meets a Russian nationalist who supports the military operation against Ukraine despite his dislike of the country’s authorities
‘We don’t like the Russian government, but we support the army’: Opposition activist puts politics aside during conflict

Two years ago, Savva Fedoseev – a member of the nationalist opposition movement Society.Future – was an independent candidate for the Legislative Assembly election in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city. He collected over 5,000 signatures in support of his nomination but did not succeed in officially competing on the ballot. In his campaign, Fedoseev was critical of the city authorities and even after the vote, continued to engage in opposition activities.

However, following the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine, he paused his political activities and is now collecting supplies for Russian soldiers. Fedoseev has already raised over 20 million rubles ($213,000) through his Telegram channel. This money was spend on purchasing military gear, technical equipment, and medical supplies for servicemen on the front line. RT spoke with Fedoseev about his work and the relationship between Russian nationalists and the authorities since the start of the Ukraine conflict.

Everything is for the benefit of the front

RT: How did you get involved in humanitarian work?

Fedoseev: I first started collecting aid for Donbass [residents] while I was still in school in 2014. I intuitively felt that something bad had happened to Russian people [in Donbass]– and we don’t abandon our own, right?

I came to the guys who organized the Partisan course, which is a basic military training course, and asked how I could help. I would just sit [where they collected humanitarian aid] for a few hours, write down who brought what items, and carry boxes. I also participated in rallies in support of the Russian Spring [as the popular uprising in what was then eastern Ukraine was called].

Then, in March 2022, a friend contacted me and said that he was going to the front as a volunteer. He asked if I could help with the purchase of military equipment. On my Telegram channel, I raised about 20,000 rubles ($2,130) for his needs, specifically for military medical supplies. At the time, demand for them wasn’t huge and they didn’t cost a lot, so with this money you could buy a lot of medical supplies. 

Over the next few months, several other friends went to the front and I raised money for them the same way. At that time, I did not know how successful these fundraising attempts would be, I had never raised money through my Telegram channel before. But it worked. More and more people started writing to me.

RT: Why did you decide to continue raising money through your personal Telegram channel instead of joining a major humanitarian aid organization? Wouldn’t that be more effective?

Fedoseev: There were many reasons for this. First of all, it was easier for me to raise money through my channel. Why would I search for some kind of organization just to buy two first-aid kits for a friend who went to volunteer at the front? I could collect a small amount of money in just an hour by sharing information through Telegram chats. This was much more efficient. 

Now that I have to raise more money and buy more complex equipment, I have another reason to collect money this way. Some things I have to buy directly from people and pay with cash. No charitable foundation will carry out such a transaction. For example, I once bought a chronograph for snipers, which they needed for their rifles. I had to literally get it from smugglers who brought it from Finland. How could you ever get that through some charitable organization? 

This method is fast. During one of my trips to the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR), we arrived literally a week before the start of the Avdeevka offensive and delivered about 200 first aid kits specifically to those units that would be taking part in the offensive.

RT

RT: How has your humanitarian work changed since the beginning of the conflict?

Fedoseev: Things changed a lot since the [partial] mobilization [in the fall of 2022]. Before that, servicemen mainly asked for technical equipment like quadcopters. Sometimes they needed cars for the front, or requested bulletproof vests and helmets. But when the mobilization started, the troops needed everything – from nails to chainsaws and wet wipes.

With the start of mobilization, many people who were not ideologically motivated and previously did not pay much attention to the Donbass conflict, suddenly got involved [in humanitarian work]. The relatives of mobilized soldiers created online chats where they also collected aid.

Nationalists and the state

RT: Why have Russian nationalists who were opposed to the government come to support it now? 

Fedoseev: You know, during WWI, French monarchist Charles Maurras was visited by his associates, who were also against the Third Republic. When the situation at the front was particularly difficult, they proposed to organize a coup and establish a monarchy with the help of the Germans. But Maurras replied that as long as France was at war, he would never engage in opposition activities. My logic is the same. 

Moreover, I am convinced that the Russian nationalists respect the Russian state. They understand that the Russian nation cannot exist without the Russian state. This is clearly demonstrated by the example of White Russian émigrés – millions of Russians had left the country [following the Russian Revolution] and even though they had an army, various institutions, and political structures, they could not survive as a political force.

Russian nationalists understand that the collapse of state institutions – as was the case in 1917 and 1991 – is catastrophic for the Russian nation. The collapse of the Soviet Union brought Russian people poverty, and a genocide started on the outskirts of the former Soviet Union. 

The collapse of Russia in any shape or form is a terrible and irreparable blow to the Russian nation and I have no intention of finding out whether Russia will survive a “new 1991”. I don’t want to become someone who destroys the nation for the sake of one’s own political ambitions. First of all, the external conflict must end. 

Moreover, Russian nationalists support evolutionary mechanisms of change in Russia. The conflict in Ukraine allows us to create parallel institutions. Humanitarian work not only saves the lives of soldiers right now, but also allows us to build a network of people for the future. We are talking about a civil society which is united by a common ideology and is very loyal. Such people will be able to carry out the most difficult tasks in the most difficult conditions.

This society currently stands together with the army. Sure, we still have complaints against the government. It would be strange if we didn’t, considering that we are the ones who have to supply the army with many things. We see that the government has made many mistakes, from the planning of the military operation to the lack of preparatory work – people were not told why these hostilities started. 

Russian nationalists have been an opposition group, and remain in the opposition. They have not dropped their complaints against the Russian Federation. When the war ends, Russian nationalists will legitimately continue their fight in a normal political environment. 

RT: Your position has not changed, despite the arrest of Igor Strelkov [a former Donbass militia leader] – one of the most prominent right-wing critics of the government. Why is this so?

Fedoseev: It’s not just Strelkov, there were other cases as well. The resources of the Russian Imperial Movement were blocked. This movement has a paramilitary wing – the Imperial Legion – which now fights in the ranks of the Russian Armed Forces. Also, there were the cases of Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov and Yuri Evich. Actually, there was a whole series of events.

As for our position... Do you suppose that we didn’t understand that people who criticized the government during the military operation could be arrested? Of course we were ready for this. The actions undertaken by the authorities to maintain control are completely understandable. But the war must end with Russia’s victory, and we are ready to continue our work to ensure this victory. If I just sit here and take up the defense of Strelkov, this will not bring victory any closer and will not save the lives of Russian soldiers.

Splits in the right-wing movement

RT: In 2014, many Russian rightists sided with Ukraine. Did the movement experience a similar division in 2022?

Fedoseev: It’s definitely true that in 2014, the Russian nationalist movement ceased to exist in its previous form. As philosopher Konstantin Krylov said, it was completely cleansed of representatives of subculture, outspoken Nazis and anti-Semites – the people who claimed that they were the true Russians and called the rest of the country’s population “Russian citizens,” a phrase that they used contemptuously. These people did not identify themselves with the Russian people, and despised anyone who disagreed with them. 

In 2022, a major division didn’t happen. Yes, some people held pacifist views, and some left the country. But those were isolated cases, and there were no opinion leaders among them. They were mostly ordinary activists or people who sympathized with global right-wing conservative ideology. 

Take the Russian Volunteer Corps, for example – none of its leaders left in 2022, they all remained in Ukraine. For some reason they weren’t given passports, though. None of the major leaders of the Russian nationalist movement have emigrated. 

Moreover, with the start of the military operation, whole units were formed that consisted of nationalists. These include the Española Battalion, which is mostly made up of right-wing football fans, the St. Petersburg-based Imperial Legion which includes Christian Orthodox fundamentalists and monarchists, and Alexei Milchakov’s Rusich Group. Many people at the front wear insignia with the imperial flag and Christ the Savior Acheiropoieta. If you talk to them, you’ll see that about 90% are motivated by ideological principles. 

Is an alliance between liberals and rightists possible?

RT: Speaking of the Russian opposition more broadly – before the Ukraine conflict, it seemed that the nationalists and liberals had managed to come to an agreement within the political movement Society.Future, and you too were supported by other opposition candidates in the elections.

Fedoseev: Yes, this is indeed true. This is the second time that something like this happened in modern Russian history. The first attempt to unite nationalists and liberals happened during the protests of 2011. At that time, online publications such as Sputnik and Pogrom appeared – its editor-in-chief, Egor Prosvirnin, called himself a “liberal nationalist.” But this strategic alliance failed for many reasons.

The second attempt at unification occurred after Roman Yuneman’s Moscow City Duma election campaign in 2019. At that time, many liberals, who used to call Yuneman a “Nazi” and “fascist,” nevertheless formed tactical alliances with him.

Russian nationalism experienced a major renaissance at that time, it became a part of mass youth culture, many communities appeared that published right-wing political memes, new projects and communities sprang up. They brought Russian nationalism back into the public view. 

By the end of 2021, Russian nationalists became an important part of the opposition movement. The nationalist movement Society.Future attracted activists from the liberal opposition who turned out to be Russian nationalists, but just could not find like-minded people before. Russian nationalists also became more experienced in organizing election campaigns.

At the time, it seemed that many liberals were not that different from Russian nationalists, that we did not have fundamental contradictions. After all, both sides called for judicial independence, freedom of speech, and fair elections. And the liberals thought that we were just like them, that our goal was to stand up to the authorities, and that we just wore Russian peasant shirts and talked about some Russian stuff. 

But in 2022, it turned out that we do have fundamental differences, which come down to the fact that some people love Russia and the Russian people, while others do not. They do not understand the Russian people and have nothing in common with them. 

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