T:he fighters were fired up after their cross-border mission, displaying captured BRT armored vehicles and machine guns in battle trophies, while promising further attacks during the long campaign and predicting the fall of Vladimir Putin.
They did not invade Russia on behalf of Ukraine, but started a war of liberation, said Denis Kapustin, the head of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RUSC) at a camp in northeastern Ukraine. “We returned to our homeland. There were no Ukrainian soldiers with us, they will not appear on the territory of the Russian Federation. This is our internal problem,” he claims.
The group and another anti-Putin militia, the Legion of Freedom Russia, claim they were responding to a cry for help from residents of Belgorod, the region where they seized several villages amid much publicity. The deputy commander of the “Freedom for Russia Legion”, Colonel Kesar said. “Not so long ago, as you know, the Russian Su-35s [warplanes] dropped two bombs on Belgorod. After that, we started receiving letters from local residents asking them to demilitarize the region. Our goal is to create a demilitarized zone in all neighboring regions of Ukraine. The armed forces of Russia pose a threat not only to the population of Ukraine, but also to Russians.
“Our next plan is to expand deeper into Russian territory, please wait a little, just a few days and you will hear from us again. After completing this task, we will begin to liberate Russia.”
Whatever the long-term plan for liberation, the reality is that the current incursions by fighters are part of Ukraine’s “formation operations” ahead of a spring counteroffensive that is due to begin in the near future.
The goal is to push the Russian troops out of their positions and keep them moving with various attacks. Similar investigations are being conducted in connection with airstrikes in Zaporozhye, Donbas and Crimea.
The Kremlin was forced to send new units to the Belgorod region in response to the attacks, putting Colonel-General Alexander Lapin, who was appointed chief of staff of the Russian ground forces four months ago, on the border. Those troops must now remain in the area as Russian exile militias threaten further attacks while a Ukrainian offensive unfolds elsewhere.
Asserting that the exiles have autonomy of action, Kapustin admitted that there was “help and encouragement from friends” in Ukraine. He said that Ukrainians are asked. “What do you think about our plans, is it possible? What information can you give us? And we have to ask whether such an action will help or make things difficult for Ukraine.”
Caesar added: “We all have Russian passports or are ethnic Russians who came to defend Ukraine. Of course, we coordinate our activities with certain structures of Ukraine, it would be strange if it were otherwise.”
The principle of the Ukrainian government is that they are not involved in the actions carried out by opposition groups inside Russia. Following the recent drone attack on the Kremlin and the bombings inside Russia, Vladimir Zelensky said: “Ukraine defends our country on the territory of Ukraine, we are not in a foreign country.”
Members of the Russian volunteer corps have expressed far-right, neo-fascist views, which the Kremlin has tried to exploit. Ukrainian officials have tried with some difficulty to explain the links to such groups. A senior officer of the Ukrainian intelligence service SBU said. “Look, of course, we ourselves do not support extremist views. But “the enemy of our enemy is our friend”, isn’t that the English expression? As far as our activities are concerned, there are things we certainly can’t talk about, like your MI6 and the SAS. But we find that there are many Russians who are against Putin and this war and are ready to help, whether it’s on the border or in St. Petersburg or in Moscow.”
The Liberty Legion has more moderate political views than their paramilitary counterparts. Caesar said differences between the armed groups must be buried and wanted to contrast their unity with Russia’s “divided” political opposition.
“The fact that we are more central and the Volunteers are more right-wing doesn’t change anything. Our goal is to protect Ukraine and liberate Russia. We are determined to fight and die for our cause. This is different from the political opposition, which constantly throws mud at each other. This only helps the Putin regime,” he emphasized.
“If someone thinks that there is another way to end Putin’s regime, he is either a scumbag or a fool. It is clear that mass peaceful demonstrations in Russian will not change anything. People will be rolled into the asphalt with tanks in the squares. With battles like Belgorod, we showed that the only way to change power in the country is by force of arms.”
After more than a day of gunfire, the Kremlin announced that “70 Ukrainian nationalists” had been “eliminated.” Militants say two of their fighters were killed and ten wounded. The Russians also captured images of American Humvees and MRAPs believed to have been abandoned by the militants and captured.
The US administration has tried to distance itself from the attacks. US Air Force Brigadier General Patrick Ryder said at the Pentagon. “The United States has not approved third-party transfers of equipment to paramilitary organizations, nor has the Ukrainian government requested such transfers. We will follow the issue closely.” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said. “We do not encourage or allow strikes inside Russia. But, as we also said, Ukraine must decide how to conduct this war.”
Answering the question about American weapons, Kapustin answered: Caesar added: “Yes, we used Humvees, we buy them in international stores, war stores, anyone with money can do it.”
The armed forces are small in number and it is not clear that they can carry out deep penetration missions inside Russia. But the border raids have provided more ammunition to Russia’s powerful figures, who have attacked the military high command over the war.
Yevgeny Prigogine, whose mercenaries were heavily involved on the front lines, especially in the battle for Bakhmut, was one of the most vocal critics. “Subversive-reconnaissance forces are quietly invading Russia and marching, uploading videos, driving their tanks, armored infantry vehicles. Where is the guarantee that they will not enter Moscow? Wagner’s boss seduced. “As far as I understand, no one is talking about the residents of Belgorod region. I say to the elite of the Russian Federation, you sons, gather your children, send them to war. When you come to the funeral and start burying them, and people will say, everything is fair now.’