He stands out, shows that he is the leader. In the few photos the press has of him, Denis Kapustin, his real name Nikitin, appears in black combat gear, while his comrades, still lined up behind him, wear a military print. On his head, always the same cap, stamped with the word “Rex” (king, in Latin). Since the incursion of Russian groups into the Belgorod region on May 22, departing from Ukraine, Denis Kapustin has presented himself as the founder of the Russian Volunteer Corps (GRU). This group of mostly Russian citizens – Kapustin being himself – decided to take up arms alongside the Ukrainians in order to fight against the invading forces led by the Kremlin.
Their objective: to overthrow the Putin regime and allow Ukraine to recover the territories hitherto under occupation. “He oversaw the creation of this group and commands it,” confirms Adrien Nonjon, doctoral student at the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations (Inalco), and specialist in Ukraine and the post-Soviet far right.
However, this is the first time that Denis Kapustin, 39, has taken up arms on a front line. Without apparent military training, he had rather made himself known until now for his closeness to hooligan circles and the Russian far right. Or for the organization of combat sports tournaments, more specifically MMA (mixed martial arts).
MMA, selling t-shirts and hooliganism
If Denis Kapustin was born in Moscow, he nevertheless lived for more than ten years in Germany, in the Cologne region. According to the research of the very serious German investigative magazine Spiegel, Denis Kapustin and his family reportedly traveled from Russia to Germany in 2001 “as refugees from the Jewish contingent”. Paradoxically, he is today a very influential neo-Nazi figure in Russia and Ukraine. “Very young, as a teenager, he was immersed in the German hooligan and skinned countercultures”, recalls Adrien Nonjon, specifying that he rubbed shoulders with the ultras of FC Cologne, but also of CSKA Moscow.
Once his football period was over, Denis Kapustin became heavily involved in the MMA scene in Russia, Ukraine, Germany and Switzerland. “He made a significant contribution to the professionalization of the neo-Nazi martial arts scene”, according to the Ministry of the Interior of North Rhine-Westphalia, questioned by the Spiegel. “We know that he has been in contact with many far-right parties to sell them training in combat sports, including the NPD in Germany and CasaPound in Italy”, adds Adrien Nojon.
Also in Russia, Kapustin’s name is widely associated with sporting events around MMA. He himself is a fighter, in the light-heavyweight category, if we are to believe the detailed description of his corpulence (1.88 meters for 106 kilos) made by the Spiegel. And the tournaments of which he was the main organizer have regularly hit the headlines for their neo-Nazi connotations. “Some of them were, for example, reserved for white people,” notes Adrien Nonjon.
“A Confirmed Neo-Nazi”
In the military field, in Ukraine and on the Russian border territories, Denis Kapustin is better known by the alias of “White Rex” (white king, in French). A reference to his clothing brand, of the same name, which promotes neo-Nazi ideology on t-shirts. “This brand was founded by Kapustin on August 14, 2008, specifies researcher Adrien Nonjon. Lane: ‘We must preserve the existence of our people and the future of white children.’ Moreover, in this founding date, there are two eights (the month of August and the year 2008). to the eighth letter of the alphabet, the H, which in this ideology refers to “Heil Hitler” (Editor’s note: Salut à Hitler)”, deciphers Adrien Nonjon. These are very common codes in this environment, specifies the Inalco researcher.
The latter depicts Kapustin as “a confirmed and convinced neo-Nazi”, but at the same time “a neo-Nazi businessman, above all guided by his own interests, particularly financial ones”. Between 2008 and 2017, the year of his departure for Ukraine, Kasputin was indeed fully devoted to the organization of MMA tournaments and the development of his brand.
Watched by the FBI and stripped of his German residence permit
Between 2017 and 2018, shortly after his departure for Ukraine – for which his motives remain unclear – Denis Kasputin was the subject of an FBI investigation. “While he had established links with American supremacists and was getting closer to certain hooligan figures in the United States, they launched a preventive investigation”, indicates Adrien Nonjon.
According to site information on visas for the Schengen area, Denis Kapustin would also have been banned from entering the Schengen area. “German authorities have imposed a Europe-wide entry ban on Russian hooligan, neo-Nazi and martial artist Denis Kapustin, also known as ‘Denis Nikitin’,” the site wrote in September 2019.
As for his desires concerning the fight he is leading alongside the Ukrainian forces against the Russian army, the man is very clear in his statements. “It is a question of bringing down Putin’s Russia to bring the borders of the Russian state back to only white Slavic communities, without a multiethnic and multiconfessional group in Russia. Russia, of course, but white and Slavic Russia”, explains Adrien Nonjon . In a recent interview (in English) given to journalists, Denis Kapustin declared that he did not believe that being called “extreme right” was an “accusation”. “We have never hidden our opinions,” he added. “We are a right-wing, conservative, military and semi-political organization.” Lately, more military than the rest.