Russian “Systema” martial arts instructors trained Hungarian soldiers and policemen
Previously considered a national security risk by the Hungarian intelligence services, ‘Systema’ martial arts schools connected with the Russian special forces were invited to train members of the Hungarian armed forces. Russian instructors such as Denis Ryauzov, a member of the pro-Putin Night Wolves movement appears on the website of Hungarian Defense Forces training soldiers.
At the end of October, we reported about the Foundation for Understandable Security (KBA). Partially made up of former secret service members, KBA sought cooperation with the defense and interior ministries and offered intelligence training to civilians. In the story, we mentioned the Russian martial arts named Systema, because the founder of KBA, József Győrffy-Kiss was an instructor of the martial arts system and was involved in the creation of a Systema training group in Hungary.
His group has been disbanded, while other Russian martial arts groups are still operating in Hungary and were often involved in training members of the armed forces. Systema has multiple links to the Russian special forces: its founders are largely military officers, and many analysts believe that Russian intelligence has been able to gain influence in the Western armed services through some martial arts schools.
NGO with former spies and Russian connections targets state agencies, offers intelligence trainings
An NGO named Foundation for Understandable Security (Közérthető Biztonságért Alapítvány, KBA) cooperates with the Hungarian Ministry of Interior, organises conferences and internal training. All this despite the fact that its founder is an instructor of a Russian martial arts school, which is considered to be a front for the Russian secret services.
As a martial art, Systema can basically be divided into two main branches, according to experts interviewed by Atlatszo. The first, ‘Systema Ryabko’ can be described as the civilian branch (although its founder, Mikhail Ryabko is also a Russian military officer), and its practitioners describe it as more of a sport than a military training system. The other main branch has been developed for military and law enforcement members: this includes the so-called traditional Cossack martial arts school, and the Spezpodgotovka school, which is known as ‘Centra Volk’ in Hungary.
The head of a Budapest club practicing Systema Ryabko distanced himself from the more military-oriented schools as well as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. He told Atlatszo that while they did host Mikhail Ryabko in Budapest, they do not have strong connections with the Russian center. He claimed that in foreign Systema events, he has not seen any political or ideological messaging. At the same time, the Russian Orthodox Church holds a significant influence in the Ryabko branch. “At international events, we have met people who, converted to the Orthodox religion after they started practicing Systema. We have met priests at training sessions, and the Master himself also carries a rosary every time.”
Investigated as a national security risk
Another Systema school present in Hungary is the so-called Traditional Cossack Martial Arts System, also known as Systema R.M.A. The original Systema Siberian Cossack School was founded by masters Andrei Karimov and Geniyis Ryazov. According to Karimov’s official biography, he is originally a psychologist, while Ryazov is a reserve officer of the VDV airborne troops. Ryauzov later left the organisation and set up his own school, which became known as Spezpodgotovka.
The official representative of the Cossack system in Hungary is Sándor Sinkovics. He told Átlátszó that he started teaching martial arts in Hungary in 2010, after learning it in Syberia. Over the years, Karimov and Ryauzov held several seminars in Hungary, and they trained 14 Hungarian instructors. However, by the mid-2000s, the Systema network entered an “organizational crisis” and became fractured. This was when József Győrffy-Kiss’s ‘Scouts’ Systema group was founded.
Sinkovics also said that “certain people” investigated his training seminars as a national security threat. Despite this, his club was attended by members of the Hungarian armed forces.
In December 2015, Sinkovics’s Systema Club was a participant of the “Hungarian Hussar – Russian Cossack Meeting and Conference”, alongside a Colonel of the Hungarian Defense Forces (Honvédség),
Barnabás Ádám, Commander of the 32nd National Guard Honor Unit of the Budapest Brigade. The officer can be seen giving a presentation alongside Sándor Sinkovics on pictures taken at the event.
The conference was sponsored by the Embassy of the Russian Federation, and the main patron was an MP named Roland Mengyi. Mengyi later became a key figure in a massive corruption scandal, which landed him in prison for two years. Before his political career, Mengyi was also a member of a security forces unit, the Republican Guard Regiment, a now defunct unit trusted with guarding government members and buildings.
The Night Wolves connection
The Spezpodgotovka branch is the largest Russian martial arts school in Hungary, offering trainings in several cities. The branch was founded by Denis Ryauzov, who is also a co-founder of Karimov’s Cossack school. Ryauzov is also a member of Putin’s favourite motorcyclist club, the Night Wolves. The Night Wolves is a typical institution of the Putin regime, where special forces, business interest, organized crime and pro-Kremlin activism intersect.
The group, which started as an illegal motorcycle gang in Moscow, became increasingly involved with Russian nationalist ideology from the 2000s onwards, and developed close ties with the Moscow leadership, even making Vladimir Putin an honorary member.
The Night Wolves came to the attention of the Western public in 2014, during the Russian invasion of Crimea. Members of the group were involved in the preparations for the invasion, and took part in a joint operation alongside Russian Spetsnaz units.
Abroad, the local branches of the motorcycle club organised demonstrations in support of aggression against Ukraine, which were banned in Poland and club members were denied visas. Members, including Ryauzov were sanctioned by the United States.
The connection between the Night Wolves and Spezpodgotovka is shown by the name and iconography, but also by organisational links. Deutschlandfunk.de reported in 2016 that the martial arts academy “Systema Wolf” in Germany shares the same address as the headquarters of the German association of the Night Wolves (Russlanddeutsche Wölfe) and that the two organisations were led by the same person, Dmitri Zaiser.
Financially, the Night Wolf is backed by a security firm named Wolf Holding of Security Structures. The holding’s website is no longer online but has been archived by the Wayback Machine. There, it lists the international network of Spezpodgotovka schools as official partners of the Night Wolves.
Involvement with the Hungarian Defence Forces
In Hungary, the school operates under the name Centra Volk (Wolf Centre), led by Tibor Támcsu. In 2015, Átlátszó’s Education blog reported that Centra Volk organized training sessions for police cadets at the National University of Public Service, some lead by Denis Ryauzov. As a minor scandal developed, Tibor Támcsu told hvg.hu at the time that “ideologically they are not committed to any political direction”, and that what the Night Wolves do is “none of his business.”
Despite the scandal, Ryauzov became a frequent guest in Hungary: in 2016, he even appeared on the Hungarian Defense force’s website. There a news report described:
“Soldiers, police officers, prison guards, members of the Parliamentary Guard and civilians participated together in the summer camp of the self-defence and survival school organised by Systema Spezpodgotovka Hungary (…) On the first day of the camp, Master Denis Ryauzov, chief instructor of Systema Spezpodgotovka, held a shooting and field training session for the national instructors.”
According to a Facebook post by Centra Volk, Ryauzov also planned to visit Hungary in April this year, however, his visit had to be cancelled, presumably due to the war in Ukraine.
Written and translated by Zalán Zubor. Hungarian version of this story. Cover photo: honvedelem.hu