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New Delhi: In a first, the Donald Trump administration Monday labelled a Russian white supremacist group — the Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) — a foreign terrorist organisation.

The US State Department officially called the RIM and three of its leaders, Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Nikolay Nikolayevich Trushchalov, “specially designated global terrorists”, saying the US was not immune to the threat of white supremacist terrorism.

During a briefing Monday, the State Department envoy on counterterrorism, Nathan Sales, said, “These designations are unprecedented. This is the first time the United States has ever designated foreign white supremacist terrorists, illustrating how seriously this administration takes the threat.”

He added, “This Administration isn’t just talking the talk. We’re walking the walk. We’re taking decisive actions to counter this threat.”

By designating RIM as a foreign terrorist organisation (a label most frequently used for Islamist extremist groups), the US government can block Americans from engaging in financial dealings or providing material support to the group. It further gives the Treasury Department authority to block any American assets of the group and can ban its members from entering the US.

What is the Russian Imperial Movement?

The RIM is an ultra-nationalist paramilitary group based in St Petersburg, where it has training camps, with alleged links to other white supremacist organisations. According to the US State Department, it is a terrorist group that provides paramilitary-style training to neo-Nazis and white supremacists.

In his statement, Sales noted, “This group has innocent blood on its hands.”

He also goes on to explain that in August 2016, two Swedish men underwent 11 days of training by the RIM in St Petersburg and a few months later, conducted a series of terrorist attacks in Gothenburg in Sweden. He noted, “In November 2016, they detonated a bomb outside a café. Two months later, they bombed a migrant center, gravely injuring one person. And three weeks after that, they placed another bomb at a campsite used to house refugees. Thankfully, that device failed to detonate.”


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Advantage Trump

There is a perception that this designation of the RIM as a terrorist organisation could counter any criticism that Donald Trump has down played the threat of white supremacist extremism.

According to Alina Polyakova, the head of the Center for European Policy Analysis, the designation of RIM could help Trump deflect criticism that he is too soft on Russia or not doing enough to counter white supremacist extremism. “From the administration’s point of view, this kills two birds with one stone,” she said.

In his statement, Sales also underscored the designation of RIM as a terrorist organisation was only possible because of an order Trump signed in September 2019. As per the order, the State Department can designate groups and individuals that participate in training to commit acts of terrorism. “We can also designate the leaders of terrorist groups, without needing to show that they were involved in particular attacks”, said Sales.

Last year, Trump also designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps as a foreign terrorist group, the first time the US declared another nation’s military a terrorist entity.

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