Putin resorting to ‘Española’ private army of neo-Nazis and football hooligans run by warlord dubbed ‘The Spaniard’

Putin resorting to ‘Española’ private army of neo-Nazis and football hooligans run by warlord dubbed ‘The Spaniard’

PUTIN has resorted to recruiting Neo-Nazis and football hooligans to form his own private army – the ruthless Española group.

By gathering die-hard football fans across Russia, the group’s leader Orlov Stanislav – dubbed “The Spaniard” – has created a military unit that has fought in some of the most intense battles of the Ukraine war.

AFPThe Española group was formed after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022[/caption]

ESPAÑOLA’S TELEGRAM CHANNELThe group consists of football fans from different teams across Russia[/caption]

East2WestThe Spaniard, a well-known CSKA fan claimed he fought in the second Chechen War[/caption]

AFPThe group has fought in the most intense battles of the war[/caption]

East2WestIt is estimated to have around 1,000 members today[/caption]

AFPThe Española group are recruited through Telegram and then trained in sites near Moscow[/caption]

Ukraine‘s Defence Intelligence confirmed last month that Putin’s United Russia had officially granted the group the status of private military company (PMC).

The unit recruits football thugs, particularly those closer to the Nazi ideology, as well as civilians from poor parts of Russia and occupied territories.

As it gained popularity following the invasion of Ukraine, the battalion ended up fighting in major battles, including in Mariupol, Bakhmut, Soledar, and Vuhledar, according to Lucas Webber, co-founder of the Militant Wire research network.

With “hundreds” of fighters, the volunteer brigade “operates with some degree of independence” from the Russian Armed Forces, he said.

He told The Sun: “Española plays an important role in its outreach to Russia’s ultra/hooligan communities and in drawing recruits and support from these population segments for the war in Ukraine.

“Española appeals to a unique subset of Russia’s far-right militarist ecosystem and is distinct from the neo-Nazi Rusich organisation and the hard-line Orthodox Russian Imperialist Movement.

“Española is a volunteer brigade that operates with some degree of independence from the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.

“The group has historical ties to the Donetsk People’s Republic forces and has hundreds of fighters.

“Its propaganda describes how it is multifaceted and has artillery, anti-aircraft weapons, sniper teams, drone operators, and more.”

While various rogue mercenary groups have emerged since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Española has gradually started to form since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The group – previously associated with the militant group Vostok Battalion – was operating mainly in the Russian-held region of Donetsk.

The group’s leader is Stanislav Orlov, 43, is a prominent figure among CSKA fans.

A radical member of the team’s ultras Red-Blue Warriors, Orlov claims to have joined the Russian army in 1999 and fought in the Second Chechen War.

He is said to have fought Donbas in 2014 alongside other ultras and earned his nickname “The Spaniard” thanks to his language skills as he was able to recruit foreign mercenaries.

Following the invasion of Ukraine in 2022, Orlov created the Española group as Putin was desperately trying to boost ranks in the frontline – with even ex-international footballer Andrey Solomatin, 47, signing up.

Webber said one of the most visible members of the group is former MMA fighter and Zenit hooligan Mikhail “Pitbull” Turkanov.

Turkanov – who has tattoos of the swastika – has been wounded in combat and has received awards from the Russian military.

East2WestOrlov was a hardcore member of the CSKA ultras Red-Blue Warriors[/caption]

AFPThe recruits come from Dynamo, Lokomotiv, Spartak, Zenit and other hooligans[/caption]

East2WestStanislav Orlov also known as the Spaniard has been fighting in Donbas since 2014[/caption]

You Tube/FIGHT NIGHTS GLOBAL TVMikhail “Pitbull” Turkanov is also a member of the private army unit[/caption]

AFPOther members are hooligans from Moscow-based football teams[/caption]

Dr Stephen Hall Lecturer in Russian and Post-Soviet Politics at the University of Bath estimates the elite army unit has roughly 1,000 members and has been actively supported by Russia throughout the war.

He told The Sun: “Orlov probably has close links to someone in the Ministry of Defence.

“He’s been fighting since 2014 in the Donbas and he’s been there for a long time.

“He certainly has a past of being a football thug and he created the Española mercenary group in February 2022 just after the war began – so clearly someone had been preparing.

“They’ve relied heavily on football thugs across the Moscow-based football teams such as Dynamo, Lokomotiv and Spartak.

“They seem to be well prepared, well trained and well equipped by the Russian army.

“The Russian Army has given them a lot of support as they are the ones fighting against Azov the group that Russian state propaganda has stated they’re Nazis and the ones behind the Ukrainian regime.”

Dr Hall notes the “shady” group does not have a strong social media presence – unlike Wagner- but explains how they use Telegram to target recruits.

He added: “It’s quite a shady group whereas in Wagner they very ran their social media campaign Espanola doesn’t have a social media footprint.

“That always leads to the question of who is behind them, and who is protecting them and I say the Ministry of Defence.”

They seem to be well prepared, well trained and well equipped by the Russian army

Dr Stephen Hall

Telegram is widely used across Russia and is “a more effective way of getting the people you want to join,” he adds.

The potential candidates are interviewed through the platform and if successful they are taken for training in Moscow and St Petersburg. 

Volunteers are offered a salary of £1,900 a month for at least six months at the frontline, according to Ukrainian intelligence.

Russia is also using “insurance payments” to lure civilians into battle – that can vary from £8,700 to £43,500 depending on the severity of the injury.

But Ukraine’s intelligence notes that for most civilians the first battle is a “one-way ticket” as they are used as cannon fodder.

The dead and those seriously injured are registered as “missing” so Russia avoids paying the families.

Russian ultras: The ‘Battle of Marseille’

The notorious Battle of Marseille happened during England’s opening match for Euro 2016.

The massive brawl erupted when Russian football fans attacked England supporters leaving many of them with serious injuries following a 1-1 draw.

14 England fans were left in hospital – including two with life-threatening injuries.

Dad-of-three Stewart Gray was left fighting for his life after being ambushed by hooligans.

His brother Duncan described the scenes as “like a war zone, the worst violence I have ever seen.”

Dr Hall told The Sun: “This is the “beauty” of East European football.

“As we know from 2016 when Russian and English football fans met one another in Marseille – it was definitely eye-opening what Russian fans were doing

“They had these football wars and battles so they were versed in that.”

Lucas Webber added: “Española both leverages its online propaganda apparatus and real-world domestic networks.

“It runs several channels on Telegram and VK. Its propaganda campaign also involves community initiatives and humanitarian work inside occupied regions in Ukraine to boost its profile and grow its ranks.

“One example is the founding of a youth football team in occupied Ukraine.

“This was apparent during the Wagner Group’s mutiny, for instance.”

“In its propaganda, Española presents a patriotic message of soccer ultras overcoming previous divisions to unite over a nationalistic cause.

“The group has sometimes voiced criticisms of the Russian government and military establishment.”

The Española group is one of a long list of units operating in Ukraine.

Apart from Wagner which was hit by the death of its leader Yevgeny Prigozhin last summer, other smaller paramilitary forces include Ptok, by energy giant Gazprom, Redut, the Patriot, the Orthodox Brotherhood, ENOT.

They all operate around the world and recruit all types of soldiers – seemingly with Russia’s support.

AFPVolunteers earn a salary of £1,900 – pictured volunteer Chernika (Blueberry)[/caption]

Hudson.orgLucas Webber says the unit is equipped with weapons, sniper teams and drone operators[/caption]

AFPThe group also offers insurance payments for those injured on the battlefield[/caption]

AFPUkrainian intelligence suggests that volunteers are used as cannon fodder in battle[/caption]

Dr Stephen Hall estimates the group has about 1,000 membersLinkedin

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