MOSCOW, July 22 (JTA) — They wear black shirts and berets and greet each other with the stiff-armed salute and a battle cry “Slava Rossii,” or Glory to Russia. Their symbol is a swastika combined with a cross, which they claim is a traditional Russian symbol. They are the members of Russian National Unity, or RNE, the country’s most prominent ultra-nationalist group. And their claim that they have penetrated high echelons of power has generated front-page news. The Stavropol branch of RNE claims about 2,000 followers, who, according to a recent report in the Moscow newspaper Izvestiya, are ready to start “cleaning Holy Russia of all the filth” if called upon to do so by the group’s leader, Alexander Barkashov. “We have a huge number of supporters. Our people are everywhere,” the head of the Stavropol branch of the RNE, Andrey Dudinov, told Izvestiya. Dudinov said that RNE supporters can be found in the region’s administration, in the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, in the police departments and in the army. The RNE members “do not advertise themselves, but they are doing useful and important work,” he added. Founded in 1990, the paramilitary Russian National Unity group claims to have 25,000 members, though independent observers estimate that membership is much lower. Last year, the Panorama Information Expert Group, an independent monitoring organization, published a volume titled “Political Extremism in Russia,” the first-ever detailed study of 47 ultra-nationalist, neo-Nazi and radical leftist groups active in Russia, as well as dozens of extremist publications. The study estimated that RNE has no more than 5,000 followers. While the RNE’s numbers are disputed, Maxim Balutenko of Panorama, who co-authored the book’s chapter on RNE, agrees with the group’s claims that it maintains positive relations with local authorities, army, police and state security officials. “While power structures in the provinces often suffer from a lack of funds, RNE is ready to offer its services to the police and the army,” Balutenko said. “Police and military might not share the group’s ideology, but in many cases they turn a blind eye to the ideology.” The RNE generally keeps a low profile and has not participated in most federal and local elections. The group’s activists, who spend much of their time in military training, organize paramilitary clubs where they prepare teen-agers for military service. This summer, for example, about 700 young men will attend two RNE-sponsored camps in the Stavropol area. A two- to three-year military service is obligatory for men in Russia. The RNE-sponsored “military-patriotic” clubs and summer camps keep hundreds of teen-agers out of the streets and train youth for the military, Balutenko said. In an interview last year, Barkashov, the group’s leader, said that when a significant portion of Russians accepts the ultra-nationalist ideology and the party based on this ideology becomes big enough, the “national forces will seize the power through elections or other means.” Experts agree that the RNE, although small, is one of the best- organized groups among Russia’s ultra-nationalists. Now that Russians are witnessing widespread economic and social crisis in the country, the RNE wants to impose “Russian order,” according to a recent article in Izvestiya. The RNE publishes a 12-page tabloid newspaper, Russkii Poryadok, or Russian Order, that is printed in five Russian cities across Russia and can be purchased openly across the country. In places like Stavropol, the RNE is popular with local military officers and military school students. According to the Izvestiya report, the RNE is especially popular with soldiers and officers who were in the war in Chechnya. Among other things, RNE has been calling for a ban on interracial marriages. Those who do not like the new “Russian order” will have to move to other countries, according to their plans. Ultra-nationalists also offer their “solution ” to the “Jewish question” in Russia. In an interview with Izvestiya, one of the active members of the RNE Stavropol branch said that those Jews who would be “loyal to Russia” will continue a “normal life” under the “Russian order.” “But majority will leave anyway for America and Israel. So nothing terrible is going to happen.”
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