May 25, 2024

Athens News

News in English from Greece

Russians against Russians: who are they fighting in Ukraine against their fellow citizens

It is known that there are Russian units in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, with a total number of approximately several hundred. What is known about them? Who are they, what are they?

At the moment, it is known about two units formed from Russian citizens – the Legion “Freedom of Russia” and the “Russian Volunteer Corps”. Their political representatives are the new organization “Civil Council” and ex-deputy of the State Duma of the Russian Federation of the 5th and 6th convocations, a member of the Just Russia faction Ilya Ponomarev, who has been living outside his homeland since 2014. Edition DW tried to figure out how these units differ from each other and how they motivate the fighters. Although there is not much open information.

In March-April, it became known about the existence of the “Freedom of Russia” legion – allegedly, captured Russian soldiers who decided to go over to the side of Ukraine, as well as volunteers with Russian citizenship, are fighting in it. Officially, or rather, publicly, the unit is represented by former State Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who told the publication that it consists of about 500 people (officially, like many data in wartime, this information has not been confirmed).

During the six months of the existence of the legion, some fighters revealed their data. For example, Igor Volobuev, a former vice-president of Gazprombank, who announced: “Dreams come true! I am now in the Freedom of Russia Legion. The data of some other military personnel can be found in the Legion’s Telegram channel.

According to the founders of the second association – the “Russian Volunteer Corps” – the official registration of the unit took place in August, but the idea of ​​​​creating it appeared literally immediately after the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

RDK co-founder businessman Denis Kapustin (pseudonym Denis Nikitin) claims that the unit has been fighting as part of the Armed Forces of Ukraine for more than a month. The number of fighters is classified, but one of the servicemen with the call sign “Cardinal” (correspondents got acquainted with his military ID) assured that the RDK can perform company-level tasks (as a rule, a company can include from 30 to 150 fighters).

In its social networks, the “Russian Volunteer Corps” reports on the right-wing conservative views of all its members. The Cardinal notes: “During the eight years of the war, no unit has appeared that would consist of citizens of the Russian Federation who are ethnically Russian.” He sees the future of Russia as a state for Russians and explains:

“We want a truly national state of Russians in those territories that are primordially Russian, taking into account the territorial integrity of Ukraine, Belarus and neighboring countries. Moreover, we want to build a state for Russians who want to live in peace with all the surrounding peoples.”

Members of Svoboda Rossii do not declare their political views, at least not publicly. Ilya Ponomarev says that there is no prevailing ideology in the unit and, in his opinion, it is the prototype of the future Russian army. Its advantage is that it is neither left nor right, neither liberal nor conservative, but united only by the idea of ​​counteracting aggression. Who finances these divisions?

Both the Russian Volunteer Corps and Freedom of Russia have political representation. RDK entered the so-called “Civil Council” (CS). This is a new organization whose international secretary, Anastasia Sergeeva, until recently led the Polish Foundation For a Free Russia. The “cardinal”, who represents the RDK in the “Civil Council”, calls both organizations “two pieces of the same puzzle.”

Anastasia Sergeeva notes that the SG includes activists from the national regions of the Russian Federation who support the right of peoples to self-determination. On the GS YouTube channel, you can watch video messages from Saikhan Muzaev from Chechnya and Ibragim Yaganov from Circassia. They call on Chechens and Circassians to fight for Ukraine and advocate for the independence of their republics. Sergeeva plans to receive funding for the work of the Civil Council, recruiting and training new fighters from private investors.

As Ilya Ponomarev, a spokesman for Freedom of Russia, explains, he is busy with political negotiations with representatives of different countries and interacting with the media in the interests of the legion. In contrast to the RDC, which allows for the separation of regions from the Russian Federation, Freedom of Russia declares its goal “to preserve a single and indivisible Russia within the borders of 1991”, with the transfer of broad powers to the regions and the preservation of the identity of national republics. For current activities, the division collects money in cryptocurrency.

Before the cooperation between the RDC and the “Civil Council” began, it accepted into its ranks only Russians who were already abroad. Many of them after 2014 took part in the fighting on the side of Ukraine as part of the Azov volunteer regiment. Now the GC plans to recruit those who are now in Russia, Sergeeva says. Potential volunteers are offered to fill out a questionnaire in a Google form or contact the encrypted Proton Mail. Sergeeva clarifies: “Further, in fact, through the secure systems that we propose to use, communication is already taking place.”

At the first contact, volunteers are required to send by mail to Proton Mail not only biographies, including military experience and access to state secrets, but also photographs of a whole package of documents – a passport of a citizen of the Russian Federation, a foreign passport, SNILS and TIN. Later, candidates allegedly undergo a polygraph test, a psychological and attestation commission, as reported in April at a Legion press conference.

In August, the RDK and Svoboda Rossii tried to unite politically, but the attempt was unsuccessful, and they are now critical of each other. In the RDK, for example, they look with distrust at Ponomarev’s leadership ambitions. Left-wing in his views, he admits that he does not sympathize with the “Russian Liberation Army” (ROA) of General Vlasov, the symbols of which are used by the RDK fighters. Although both one and the other refuse to criticize each other in public, the newspaper notes.

Meanwhile, the name of the Russian opposition politician, permanently residing in Kyiv, appeared in the search database of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Russian Federation. Earlier, Ponomarev had already been arrested twice in absentia: “Ponomarev Ilya Vladimirovich, born on August 6, 1975, the birthplace of the Russian Federation, the city of Moscow. Wanted under the article of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation.” However, under which criminal article the case against the oppositionist was opened, it is not specified.

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