WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday designated the ultranationalist Russian Imperial Movement (RIM) group as a terrorist organization, in what the State Department called the first such move against a white supremacist group.
"These designations are unprecedented," Nathan Sales, Coordinator for U.S. Counter Terrorism, said in a statement.
"RIM is still very much in the business of providing training to like-minded Neo-Nazis and white supremacists across Europe. We know that they have recruited individuals from other countries in Europe and continue to do so," he said in a teleconference with reporters.
The move freezes any assets that RIM may have in the United States and it denies it any access to the U.S. financial system, Sales said and added that the measure would not be just a symbolic one even if the group may not have any assets in the U.S. because these measures have a 'significant crippling effect' on such groups' ability to move money internationally.
Monday's measure comes after the State Department in its latest annual terrorism report last November said ethnically and racially driven terrorism had risen alarmingly in 2018 both worldwide and in the United States.
Russian Imperial Movement's members cast themselves as Russian Orthodox nationalists who favor restoring the monarchy and privileging the interests of ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Belarussians.
Russian Imperial Movement, Sales said, had "innocent blood on its hands" and cited a series of attacks from late 2016 in the Swedish city of Gothenburg carried out by two members of RIM who Sales said had received paramilitary-style training in Russia.
Swedish authorities arrested, tried and convicted the attackers, Sales said. "The prosecutor who handled their case blamed RIM for radicalizing them and providing the training that enabled the attacks," he said.
Sales declined to say whether or not Monday's designation was communicated to the Russian government ahead of time. He also did not say whether or not Washington believes the Russian government is linked to the group.
"We encourage the Russian federation to live up to the commitments it has made to countering terrorism," he said.
The State Department was aware of public reports that RIM was among the forces that fought in Ukraine on behalf of pro-Russian separatists, Sales said, but did not elaborate further apart from repeating the U.S. stance that Washington has supported Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The State Department is also specifically blacklisting three people - Stanislav Anatolyevich Vorobyev, Denis Valliullovich Gariev and Denis Valliullovich Gariev - deemed as leaders of the group.