MOSCOW – A Kremlin official involved in what international prosecutors call the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia was associated online as a teenager with white supremacist and neo-Nazi movements, Reuters has found.
The material posted online by Alexei Petrov between 2011 and 2014 remained on his social media account until late July this year when, following questions posed by Reuters, he deleted some videos, unsubscribed from two far-right online groups, and made one of his accounts private.
Mr Petrov is a 27-year-old adviser in the office of Ms Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights.
In March, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Ms Lvova-Belova, along with Russian President Vladimir Putin, on charges of committing a war crime by forcibly deporting hundreds of children from Ukraine and taking them to Russia.
Ms Lvova-Belova has denied committing any war crime. She has said vulnerable children were taken to Russia to shelter them from violence and protect them from a leadership in Ukraine that she has described as “fascists” who have allowed “the virus of Nazism” to make a comeback.
Reuters found that when Mr Petrov was aged between 16 and 19 he made at least three posts on social media containing videos, images or messages from a far-right organisation that originated in Russia and promotes white racial supremacy, as well as three images and slogans associated with neo-Nazism.
Mr Petrov’s Skype handle incorporates the name of the white supremacist organisation, Wotanjugend, and his Instagram handle contains a coded reference to Adolf Hitler widely used in far-right circles.
He had not changed his Skype handle as of July 31 this year. His Instagram account was disabled but Reuters was able to discern the handle because Mr Petrov linked to it from his account on the VKontakte social media app. He deleted that link the day Reuters submitted its questions about his online activity to his employer.
A London-based private intelligence service called Molfar disclosed publicly in a Jan 3, 2023, report about Russia’s removal of children from Ukraine that Mr Petrov’s Skype handle is wotan_jugend8989. His other online associations to far-right and white supremacist movements have not previously been reported.
While Mr Petrov posted content from or related to white supremacist and far-right groups, in none of the posts seen by Reuters did Mr Petrov explicitly endorse them.
In a statement responding to Reuters questions, Mr Petrov said: “Unequivocally, I never had, nor do I have, any links to neo-Nazi organisations. I have never been a member of, and did not have social network accounts linked to or relating to, Nazi organisations.”
He said it was impossible for him to remember what he reposted years ago, and since then groups on social networks could have changed their names, their activities, and their orientation. He did not specifically address any of the online posts or account handles that Reuters found.
The office of Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights did not respond to Reuters questions.
A Kremlin spokesman also did not respond.
A Dec 16, 2022, European Union decision imposing sanctions on Mr Petrov said he is “involved in the illegal transportation of Ukrainian children to Russia and their adoption by Russian families.”
Mr Petrov did not reply to Reuters’ questions about the sanctions. He said in his statement he was helping children in need.
When Russia gave a presentation on April 5 this year to the United Nations Security Council to rebut allegations about its treatment of Ukrainian children, Mr Petrov was among the speakers.