Who Are the Soldiers Behind the Free Russia Legion?

The fighters who’ve claimed duty for a uncommon assault simply over the Ukrainian border in Russia’s Belgorod area are members of a volunteer unit made up of Russian residents who’ve been combating with Ukraine’s forces in opposition to their very own nation.

The Free Russia Legion, because the volunteer unit is named, was created final August to supply a method for Russians against the Kremlin’s struggle in Ukraine to take up arms and battle alongside Ukrainians. Combating by these anti-Kremlin Russian volunteers has been confined largely to the entrance traces in Ukraine, largely in and round Bakhmut.

That modified this week, when the group introduced that its fighters, along with Russians from one other group referred to as the Russian Volunteer Corps, had crossed the border and “liberated” a number of settlements inside Russia. On Tuesday, the Free Russia Legion mentioned that the combating within the Belgorod area was persevering with, though Russia’s Ministry of Protection mentioned all of the fighters who had not been killed had been pushed again into Ukraine.

“That is the primary operation of the Legion on Russian territory, and sooner or later, the size of our actions will solely enhance,” one Russian fighter, who goes by the decision signal Caesar and took half within the operation, mentioned in a textual content message.

Caesar, who’s 50 and is a non-public with the Free Russia Legion, was responding to questions despatched via a press officer for the group. The Russian Volunteer Corps, which claimed to have joined the Free Russia Legion on this week’s operation, took duty for a earlier, extra restricted incursion into Russia in March.

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The Ukrainian army’s involvement within the operation isn’t clear. The Free Russian Legion operates beneath the umbrella of Ukraine’s Worldwide Legion, a combating power that features models made up of American and British volunteers, in addition to Belarusians, Georgians and others. It’s overseen by Ukraine’s Armed Forces and commanded by Ukrainian officers.

A senior Ukrainian official, who spoke on situation of anonymity to disclose particulars concerning the mission inside Russia, mentioned that Ukraine’s army was performing largely in a help function, defending Ukraine’s border within the space in case of a Russian counterattack. No Ukrainian fighters entered Russian territory, the official mentioned.

There have been losses within the models that took half within the operation, the official mentioned, however not sufficient to have an effect on their fight readiness. The official would offer no additional particulars.

Till lately, the Free Russia Legion had obtained little consideration, partially to guard the troopers and their households from reprisals by Russia, but additionally due to Ukraine’s reluctance to spotlight the exploits of troopers whose dwelling nation had killed so many Ukrainians.

A number of hundred Russians have been deployed to the entrance traces in japanese Ukraine, officers mentioned, however Ukraine’s army has not divulged precisely what number of Russians are combating on the Ukrainian facet.

The motivations of Russians combating for Ukraine fluctuate. In interviews earlier this 12 months, some mentioned that they had already been dwelling in Ukraine when the struggle began and felt a must defend their adopted homeland. Others, typically with no army expertise, crossed into Ukraine after the struggle began and signed as much as battle.

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Becoming a member of isn’t simple, the Russian troopers mentioned. After filling out an in depth utility, they bear a number of rounds of background checks and take a polygraph. Mistrust amongst Ukrainians is excessive. There have been a number of makes an attempt by Russian intelligence operatives to infiltrate the Free Russia Legion, Ukrainian officers mentioned.

A Russian protection ministry spokesman mentioned on Tuesday that the fighters had been pushed again and that scores had been killed.

However Caesar mentioned that combating continued all through the day on Tuesday and {that a} Russian infantry firm had been worn out. His claims couldn’t be independently confirmed. The senior Ukrainian official mentioned the army was awaiting affirmation, together with video from drones, concerning the destiny of the Russian infantry firm.

“The purpose of the operation begun yesterday was the creation of a demilitarized zone between Russia and Ukraine, the elimination of fighters who serve the Putin regime and an illustration to the folks of Russia that it’s potential to create resistance and battle in opposition to the Putin regime inside Russia,” Caesar wrote. “These targets have been efficiently achieved.”

Jean Nicholas

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