Meet the Russian separatists fighting against Putin in Russia

By Devvrat Pandey, Dipti Yadav: On Thursday, fighting in Russia’s western Belgorod region entered its fourth day after a military incursion from Ukraine. Russia blamed the incursion on Ukrainian armed groups and launched a terrorism investigation. Kyiv denied any involvement and said the attackers were Russian citizens. Two groups, the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and the Freedom of Russia Legion, claimed responsibility.

Earlier on May 22, a Ukrainian “sabotage” group allegedly crossed into Russian territory and attacked the town of Belgorod. The attack injured at least eight Russian soldiers while killing two in total. The Russian governor of Belgorod claimed that a Ukrainian “sabotage group” had entered Russian territory and that a “counter-terrorism operation” in the region was ongoing. Buildings, including those housing Russia’s Interior Ministry and the FSB security service, were reportedly attacked in the region’s main town of Belgorod.

Image shows government building under attack (Source: Twitter and Google Earth)

Image shows government building under attack (Source: Twitter and Google Earth)

The conflict has been ongoing for some time with increasing clashes along the border in recent weeks. Russian nationalist paramilitary units based in Ukraine, whereas the Liberty of Russia Legion – a Ukraine-based Russian militia which says it is working inside Russia to overthrow President Vladimir Putin – said on Twitter on Monday it had “completely liberated” the border town of Kozinka. It said forward units had reached the town of Grayvoron, further east.

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The Freedom of Russia Legion, also known as Free Russia Legion, Liberty of Russia Legion, Legion “Svoboda Rossii” is a unit within the Armed Forces of Ukraine, that claimed responsibility for launching a cross-border raid from Ukraine. It is a unit within the Armed Forces of Ukraine established in March 2022 to combat the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The unit comprises defectors from the Russian Armed Forces and other Russian volunteers who had not previously served in military units.

Apparently, a new video from two Free Russia Legion fighters. They say the border is broken, Putin is unable to respond. One is wearing the Free Russia Legion insignia on his chest.
— Dmitri (@wartranslated) May 22, 2023

The Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) is another group involved in the recent fighting in the Belgorod region. The RVC was founded by a far-right Russian national last August and comprises Russians who have been fighting in and for Ukraine against their own country. The group has also been active over the border in Russian territory and claimed responsibility for a raid there in March, as well as the incursion into Belgorod.

The Russian government declared the Freedom of Russia Legion a terrorist organization and banned its activities on Russian territory. The Russian Supreme Court granted a motion made by Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov to recognize the legion as a terrorist organization and not support the legion.

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Some of the major characters fighting against Russian armed forces in the Russia-Ukraine war:

According to the Bellingcat report, Alexey Levkin is a neo-nazi who glorifies Hitler. He is a Russian nationalist who is a participant in the armed incursion into Russia by pro-Ukrainian ‘partisans’ according to the TASS news agency. He is also on Russia’s federal wanted list.

Aleksandr Skachkov, who the SBU arrested in 2020 during a raid on people selling translated versions of the Christchurch Shooter’s Manifesto.

Image shows defectors from the Russian Armed Forces

Image shows defectors from the Russian Armed Forces

Here are some other Russian nationals, former military officers, activists, journalists, and other volunteers who are alleged to be taking part in the Ukrainian International Legion, a group fighting against the Russian armed forces in the Russia-Ukraine war.

    Ilya Bogdanov: A former member of the Wotanjugend community and a former FSB officer, left for Ukraine in 2014. He received Ukrainian citizenship in 2015 after fighting for Kyiv against Russian-backed forces in Ukraine’s east.
    Kirill Belousov: A 22-year-old resident of the Saratov region who was convicted for joining the Freedom of Russia Legion.
    Yevgeny Osipov: Osipov is a former Russian soldier who deserted the army in March 2022. He is now a member of the Freedom of Russia Legion and has been fighting in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
    Dmitry Bykov: Bykov is a Russian journalist who fled Russia in 2014 after criticizing the Putin regime. He is now a member of the Freedom of Russia Legion and has been writing about the war in Ukraine.
    Nadezhda Tolokonnikova: Tolokonnikova is a Russian activist who was imprisoned for her role in the Pussy Riot punk band. She is now a member of the Freedom of Russia Legion and has been speaking out against the Putin regime.
    Pyotr Verzilov: Verzilov is a Russian artist who was also imprisoned for his role in the Pussy Riot punk band. He is now a member of the Freedom of Russia Legion and has been using his art to raise awareness about the war in Ukraine.

Belgorod, an important city in southwestern Russia on the border with Ukraine, is a major transportation hub with rail and road links to Moscow, Kyiv, and other major cities in Russia and Ukraine. It is also home to several military bases and facilities, making it an important strategic location for the Russian military. This makes it an important staging ground for Russian forces and a key logistics centre for the Russian military. The loss of Belgorod would significantly disrupt Russian military operations.

Belgorod has been a key target for Ukrainian forces since the start of the war in 2022. In April 2022, Ukrainian helicopters attacked a fuel depot in Belgorod, setting it on fire. In May 2022, Ukrainian forces reportedly launched a cross-border raid into Belgorod, killing several Russian soldiers. These attacks have highlighted the importance of Belgorod to the Russian military and have raised concerns about the possibility of further attacks in the future. The Russian military is likely to take steps to protect Belgorod from further attacks, and this could lead to increased tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

Russia captured Bakhmut (Source: Institute for the Study of War)

Russia captured Bakhmut (Source: Institute for the Study of War)

On the second day of fighting in Russia, Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that efforts were underway to eliminate the sabotage group, and said its purpose was to draw attention away from the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut – which a Russian mercenary group claims to have taken control of after months of intense and bloody fighting.

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