The Russian Free Corps, another group that has claimed involvement, has also portrayed itself as Russians fighting for Ukraine and Putin.
legion on it says website It was formed last spring “out of the Russians’ own desire to fight Putin’s armed gangs in the Ukrainian armed forces.”
The group called on Russian soldiers and officers to join them in fighting for a “Free Russia”.
It claims to be officially recognized by the Ukrainian army and operates “under the Ukrainian command”.
In March this year, the organization was banned by the Russian Supreme Court as a terrorist organization.
The group’s website did not share specific names of leaders or people associated with the corps. But a man nicknamed “Caesar” appeared in the video as its de facto spokesman.
“We are Russians, just like you,” he said in a video before the raid on Monday, denouncing corruption and Putin’s crackdown on civil liberties. “We’re going home,” he said.
The Legion said in March that Russia had opened criminal proceedings against “Caesar,” without disclosing his real name.
The Legion also has a presence on Telegram, with more than 250,000 subscribers, and they describe themselves as “free citizens of Russia.”
Earlier this month, the RVC vowed to fight alongside the Legion “albeit on a different ideological basis”. It is unclear how many fighters were in the two groups.
Mark Galeotti, principal of Mayak Intelligence, a Russia-focused consulting firm, told NBC News: “The Russian Volunteer Army does seem to come in particularly large numbers from Russian nationalists and neo-Nazis, and the Legion seems to be politically incompatible. Too consistent.”
“They all want to see the Putin regime fall and believe that victory in Ukraine is the best way to achieve that,” Galeotti said.
What is their motivation?
Kapustin, the RVC’s commander, told media near the Russian border on Wednesday that his group made no secret of the right-wing views of some of its members, but he did not consider being called a neo-Nazi an insult.
“You’ll never find me waving a flag with the swastika, you’ll never find me, I don’t know, raising my hand to Hitler,” he said.
Wearing a goatee and an all-black military uniform, Kapustin bragged about the success of the Belgorod raid and said there would be a wider operation is being planned.
The group said it fully recognized Ukraine’s territorial integrity and considered Putin’s war in Ukraine a “criminal act”. It lists “overthrowing the ruling regime in Russia” among its goals.
Meanwhile, Alexey Baranovsky, spokesman for the Legion’s political faction, told Reuters the incursion was “the first step in the main goal of overthrowing Putin’s regime by force”.
In a post on the group’s Telegram channel on Wednesday, Legion vowed to return soon. “Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Voronezh, Rostov, Moscow — wait for us,” the post said.
The group’s manifesto calls Putin’s regime “dictatorial” and says they are fighting him and “fighting for true freedom for every Russian”. It also called on ethnic Russians and minorities in the country to rise up against Russian leaders.
“It is clear that both the Free Russian Corps and the Russian Volunteer Corps are major Russian groups – self-styled ‘partisans’ seeking to overthrow Putin’s government, who range from football thug neo-Nazis to would-be celebrities, and even some semi-serious political reformer,” said Michael Clarke, visiting professor of war studies at King’s College London.
“They’re not ‘liberals,’ they’re hardline Russian nationalists — just not the Putin kind,” Clark added.
NBC News reached out to both organizations for comment, but they did not immediately respond.
What do they have to do with Ukraine?
Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin did not deny that some of the fighters involved in this week’s incursion could be Russian, but saw them as “Ukrainian militants from Ukraine.”
Ukraine denies it has any link to the actions of either group, labeling them “Russian patriots” determined to rise up against the Kremlin.
The extreme views and evidence from these groups suggest that the fighters involved in this week’s raid appear to have used American armored vehicles. question to washingtonwhich sought to ensure that equipment sent to Kiev was not used in attacks on Russian territory.
Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence service, told NBC News that the intrusion was carried out “entirely by citizens of the Russian Federation” who acted “in full autonomy” and that Ukraine did not coordinate with them.
The Legion’s Baranovsky said the force was part of Ukraine’s International Brigade, but denied that the incursion was coordinated with Ukrainian authorities.
But RVC Commander Kapustin said Ukraine “encouraged” the group’s actions in Belgorod and that they “consulted” with the Ukrainian military for their actions, despite what he said they did outside the country. Everything “is our own decision”.
Experts also questioned Kiev’s claim that it was a purely Russian incident.
“There is no doubt that the Russian Volunteer Force is armed and controlled by Ukraine,” Galeotti said.
“While it is reasonable for Kiev to pretend that this is just an adventure by Russian patriots, it will only be carried out on the orders of the GUR, or at least with its approval,” he added, referring to the intelligence service of Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense.
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