Russian football hooligans are notorious for violence – and President Vladimir Putin has decided to capitalise on that by forming a hooligan army to join the Ukraine invasion.
Called the First Battalion of Football Hooligans, the group involve angry blokes (and the odd female) who used to fight inside football grounds to defend the honours of top clubs such as CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg and Spartak Moscow – all now banned from competing in European competition.
But the gangs, who used to tear each other apart, have joined forces to fight as a paramilitary force in Donetsk – which Ukraine is hoping to take back sooner rather than later.
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Despite it being just four years since Russia vowed to banish its notorious hooligans as Putin hosted the 2018 FIFA World Cup finals, he has appointed a leader of the group in Commanding Officer Stanislav Orlov, 41, who joined separatists in 2014 when he was the head of the Skull & Bones reconnaissance company.
The hooligan unit – known as Espanola and part of the Vostok battalion – is among those fighting against the Ukrainians, as are notorious Orel Butchers.
Their main mascot is a lion cub they “found” during fighting in Mariupol, but they have an adopted dog too.
“Disputes among fans of different clubs are prohibited,” Orlov told Russia's AIF media.
“All this must be left somewhere out there, far away, just like alcohol.”
The hooligans have lost one fighter in the war, but there was no exodus, he said.
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CSKA Moscow fan Maxim Shmanin, 44, was given a hero’s send off at his funeral last month – as reported by the Daily Star.
He explained: “The motivation to stay and fight has only intensified.
“They confidently declared: ‘Our comrade died here, and now this is our place’.
“The combat part of the detachment are people who have military experience or have served in the army.
“After a short training course, they directly fight in the zone of the special operation.
“Russian fans form small infantry reconnaissance and assault groups or send them to sapper and engineering works.
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“On the basis of the Vostok detachment, newcomers train to shoot automatic and large-caliber weapons, train in sapper work, conduct reconnaissance and combat drone flights, and hone tactical training from morning to evening.”
He claims to have “hundreds” wanting to join and a large operation in the “rear” providing supplies for the fighters.
The group also trains snipers, as well as how to use drones and air defence.
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Russian 1st channel state TV reporter Maryana Naumova – a famous powerlifter – recently visited them and said they were all “very active, motivated, athletic”.
One told her: “We have agreed that we are not rocking the boat inside Russia, and we have transferred all the hooliganism to the front line.
“You can blow up a tank in the interests of Russia – if you are loyal to your club, you will be loyal to your country.
“It's not scary to die for your idea, it's scary to live a useless life.
“And if this happens, then to die with a weapon in your hands is a reward.”
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