Foreign Fighters in the War in Ukraine

Mon 22 Mar 2021
Time: 09:30 Location: Microsoft Teams Language: English Available seats: 96

During the last decade at least 17 000 individuals, mostly Russians but also up to 1000 Westerners, joined the war in Ukraine. Many came from extremist settings, predominantly far-right (brown) but also far-left (red). This seminar will look into where these fighters are now, and what they have done after Ukraine.

Watch the webinar here:

This seminar is arranged by the Consortium for Research on Terrorism and International Crime, led by UiO-professor Tore Bjørgo and NUPI-researcher Rita Augestad Knudsen.

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During the last decade most discussion on the issue of the foreign (terrorist) fighters have been dominated by the issue of Westerners joining ISIS in Syria/Iraq. At the same time, however, another foreign fighter mobilization was taking place in Europe as at least 17 000 individuals (mostly Russians but also up to 1000 Westerners) joined the war in Ukraine. Many of the fighters came from extremist settings, predominantly far-right (brown) but also far-left (red).

These ideological divisions did not stop them from becoming brothers in arms as, in the words of one fighter, “communists and Nazis alike” fought together on both sides of this war. This created a truly post-modern brown-red cocktail in which both political extremes were seemingly eager to project their socio-political fantasies onto a European conflict.

As the ingredients of the cocktail (i.e. individual fighters) have now mostly moved on from Ukraine, it is important to take stock of their post-conflict trajectories and see if they morphed into e.g. career foreign fighters, mercenaries or proponents of anti-state violence at home. This will have implications for the future policy options vis-à-vis the other, non-jihadi or non-terrorist, foreign fighters.

Speakers bio:

Kacper Rekawek, PhD, has 15 years of experience in counter terrorism and countering violent extremism from academia (Queen’s University Belfast, Handa Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews), think tanks (Polish Institute of International Affairs, PISM) and the third sector (GLOBSEC, Counter Extremism Project). Since 2014 he has been studying and published on the Western extremist foreign fighters in the war in Ukraine and is now finishing a book on the topic which will be published by Routledge. In the Summer of 2021 he will be joining the Center for Research on Extremism (C-REX) at UiO as a postdoctoral fellow.

Discussant bio:

Thomas Hegghammer is currently senior research fellow at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) and adjunct professor of political science at the University of Oslo. He has published widely in academic journals, including the American Political Science Review and International Security. Hegghammer has also written several books, on topics such as foreign fighters, recruitment and jihadist ideology. His latest book is "The Caravan: Abdallah Azzam and the Rise of Global Jihad (Cambridge University Press, 2020)".