Rusich, a neo-Nazi paramilitary organization that has reportedly fought alongside Russian troops in Ukraine, issued an ultimatum to Russian President Vladimir Putin after its leader Yan Igorevich Petrovsky was captured in Finland earlier this week, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) in its Saturday assessment.
Finnish authorities detained Petrovsky “at the request of” Ukraine, which also asked for his extradition in relation to terrorism charges, Finland’s MTV3 reported on Friday. Petrovsky has been sanctioned by the European Union (EU) and the United States. The U.S. Treasury Department, which sanctioned him in September 2022, described him as a “lead military trainer” of Rusich. The sanctions came amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Putin launched in February 2022, sparking global condemnation over an apparent lack of justification and alleged human rights abuses.
Petrovsky’s arrest comes after Finland joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance between the U.S., Canada and Europe, in April. The move strengthened ties between Finland and the rest of the continent amid concerns that Russia could seek to exert greater influence over its European neighbors.
Rusich, which Reuters has noted was founded as an “explicitly neo-Nazi unit,” began fighting alongside Russia-backed proxies in the Donbas region of Ukraine as far back as 2014, and has played a role in the Ukraine invasion.
However, the organization has reportedly threatened to pull out of Ukraine if the Russian government is unable to secure the release of Petrovsky, according to the ISW, a U.S.-based think tank.
“The ‘Rusich’ Sabotage and Reconnaissance Group, a far-right Russian irregular paramilitary unit, announced on August 25 that the group will refuse to conduct combat missions in Ukraine until the Russian government secures the release of Rusich commander and founding member Yan Petrovsky, who is currently in Finnish custody,” the ISW’s assessment reads.
The organization accused Russia of failing to meet its obligations to protect Russians abroad, questioning why they “should protect Russia if the Russian government will not protect Russians,” according to the think tank’s assessment.
Rusich is also believed to have ties to the Wagner Group, another paramilitary group that has fought alongside Russia in Ukraine, but is in turmoil after its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in a plane crash last week. In June, Wagner launched a failed mutiny against Moscow’s military leadership due to the stagnant nature of the invasion, souring relations between Putin and Prigozhin.
John E. Herbst, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and senior director of the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center, told Newsweek on Sunday that Rusich’s ultimatum is “another challenge to his authority” after the attempted Wagner rebellion and “demonstrates the absence of full Kremlin control over its own politics and its own policies.”
“It means the Prigozhin problem is not dead even if he is,” he said. “If Putin were even to try to do this, he would be submitting himself to the pressure of an organization with no official ranking and is not necessarily all that powerful.”
Herbst said it remains unknown how Putin will react, pointing to his reaction to Wagner’s attempted mutiny. Still, he noted that there will likely be a level of caution in dealing with this.
“We saw Putin in dealing with Prigozhin’s mutiny, first call his actions treacherous, and then in the same day cut a deal with him. So we’ve not seen exactly a profile in courage by the Russian strongman,” Herbst said.
Meanwhile, the ISW reported that Rusich abandoning Ukraine could leave a vulnerable critical spot on Russia’s frontline in the Eastern European nation as it aims to repel a counteroffensive launched by Kyiv earlier in the summer that has struggled to gain traction despite past successes.
“The Rusich Group indicated that it is likely operating on the Robotyne-Verbove line in western Zaporizhia Oblast, a critical area of the frontline where the Russian military command likely cannot afford for any units to rebel and refuse to conduct combat missions,” ISW’s assessment reads.
Newsweek reached out to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment via email.
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