Here's what we know about images of an allegedly foiled neo-Nazi assassination plot ‘ordered by Ukraine’
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On April 25, Russia announced that its intelligence service, the FSB, had prevented an attempted assassination of pro-government TV presenter Vladimir Solovyov by a Russian neo-Nazi group, ordered by Ukrainian authorities. A video of the arrest filmed by the FSB was released in the aftermath by Russian media. But people on social media were quick to mock the video, saying the scene was staged. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to specialists on the Russian far right to decipher the images.
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that the FSB had foiled a plot by neo-Nazi group NS/WP ("National Socialism/White Power") to assassinate pro-Kremlin star journalist Vladimir Solovyov. The plot was allegedly sponsored by the SBU, Ukraine's intelligence service.
Shortly afterwards, Russian state television broadcast a video purporting to show the arrest, reportedly sent to them by the FSB. The Russian intelligence service also announced on its website that it had arrested members of the neo-Nazi group and had seized equipment and weapons, adding that the members of the group had confessed to the plot. In total, six people were arrested.
In the video, we see FSB agents bursting into an apartment and arresting several men inside. Then they search the place and seize various objects.
Some of the men who were arrested have tattoos with known neo-Nazi symbols (seen in the video at 5:57).
Towards the end of the video (at 5:21) a series of photos are shown, including one that shows a t-shirt with a swastika, guns and a neo-fascist manifesto written by Aleksey Dobrovolsky, a neo-Nazi ideologue.
Guns (1:23), a picture of Adolf Hitler (5:50), Nazi symbols (4:08) and what appear to be bags containing drugs (5:40) also show up in the video.
On Twitter, some users were quick to raise suspicions about these images, suggesting they were staged. They argued that the number of Nazi symbols reportedly found in the home was questionable, and that some of the items seemed to be irrelevant, such as several "Sims 3" video games.
To find out more about this video, we spoke to two specialists on the far right in Russia and Ukraine.
'A few things stand out for me that make it very odd, to say the least'
Michael Colborne, a journalist and researcher at Bellingcat, is an expert on far-right movements in Ukraine.
I bet this is a real group, or some real individuals, but not a real plot.
I've seen a lot of paraphernalia, from clothing to books to pictures to propaganda, from far-right and neo-Nazi groups from across Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and indeed across central and eastern Europe. Everything about the photos released from this apparent bust looks too fake, too superficial, as if one was trying to make up evidence of a neo-Nazi group.
In my opinion, it is safe to assume that this is likeliest some false flag operation, and a particularly incompetent one. There is a t-shirt [at 4:10] from a Ukraine-based, Russian-led neo-Nazi band (moloth, or m8l8th). The leader is an Azov veteran originally from Russia. It's a t-shirt not difficult to buy online.
Notice that it has a crease through the middle and looks very fresh ... it looks brand new, like it's just come in the mail or never worn.
A few things stand out for me that make it very odd, to say the least. There's some frankly silly things [...], the green wig, the three copies of the Sims video game, for example.
A 'reenacted' arrest?
For Adrien Nojon, a researcher at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (INALCO), and a specialist on Ukraine, the far right and Ukrainian nationalism, the arrest looks like a reenactment.
Everything is clean in this arrest. The way they enter the apartment is not natural: The person opens the door without looking through the peephole [Editor's note: The resident opens the door immediately after the FSB knocks, at 0:08]. The FSB forces come in quite slowly, even though these are supposed to be dangerous people, armed. Hence the idea of reenactment.
In Russia, even before the war, neo-Nazism is punishable by sanctions. In order to arrest members of these groups and give them a speedy trial, officials brandish the terrorist threat and add incriminating objects to the crime scene, such as items from these ultranationalist circles.
Nojon also remarked that the FSB had filmed what appeared to be drugs found at the scene. However, the neo-Nazi group in question is known to advocate against drug use.
The t-shirt has a pretty straight edge style [Editor's note: A musical subgenre of hardcore punk whose adherents do not use drugs]. Finally the green book on the bed [at 5:31] is a neopagan eco-fascist manifesto by a priest who condemned drug use. Strange clothes and readings for someone who would take hard drugs. It's even weirder because these are alleged to be Russian members of NS/WP whose agenda is anti-drug.
NS/WP is a Russian neo-Nazi group, established in 2009 and considered one of the most violent neo-Nazi gangs in the country. In 2014, the group had been convicted of 10 murders.
The FRANCE 24 Observers team contacted NS/WP through their Telegram channel. The group did not wish to comment on the arrest, but confirmed that those arrested were part of their group.
Watch out for this supposed 'proof' that the video is fake
Since the video emerged, people online have highlighted certain aspects of it to prove that it is fake or edited. And while some of these items are surprising, they don't offer such proof.
For example, some people on social media and online investigators have pointed out the strange fact that several "Sims 3" games were presented alongside the other seized objects.
Others noticed that a book, whose cover isn't visible in the video, bears the words "illegible signature" in Russian. People argued that this proved an FSB agent made a mistake, taking an instruction to write an "illegible signature" literally.
Russian FSB has fabricated a "plot" to kill Russian TV propagandist Solovyov. Allegedly by Ukrainian SBU and Nazis. One of the "evidences" is neonazi inscription on a book. Signed by "Signature unclear". Yes, FSB got an order to sign it with a "signature unclear" - and did so! pic.twitter.com/P1vnDOXOIB— Sergej Sumlenny (@sumlenny) April 25, 2022
Aric Toler, a researcher at Bellingcat, rejects this theory. Indeed, if one searches on Google for "illegible signature", it's possible to see that it is a standard way for the neo-Nazi group NS/WP to sign its posts on social networks.
The SBU, the Ukrainian intelligence service, denies having ordered such an operation. In an April 25 statement, the intelligence service said it "has no intention to assassinate V. Solovyov" and "does not intend to comment seriously on the new fantasies of the Russian intelligence services, which invent operations for a Russian audience".