The all-Russian, anti-Kremlin, pro-Ukraine paramilitary group that claimed responsibility for the cross-border attack on Russia's Belgorod last week is recruiting “thousands” and will continue raiding the Russian border regions until its force is large enough to mount an attack on Moscow, The Times reported on Wednesday.
“We have serious capabilities… We have mortars, armored vehicles, stinger manpads, portable anti-tank systems and a highly effective drone reconnaissance unit,” the commander of the “Freedom of Russia Legion” (LSR) identified as Caesar told The Times.
Caesar said his unit is approximately the size of a battalion – typically consists of about 500 to 1,000 troops – but the group was expanding as they have “thousands” of applicants. “We have a steady flow of incoming recruits and it grows,” he said.
He added: “We will keep performing these harassment raids to the point we have our own piece of Russian territory, so that real Russian sons and daughters, real patriots, will be able to join us. Once that happens we will quickly grow our force and numbers and it will end with the Kremlin campaign.”
The commander also distinguished between his group and the Russian mercenary Wagner group. “We are not a band of criminals or a private military company like Wagner. We fight within the structure of Ukrainian forces,” Caesar said. “Our main goal and task is the defense of Ukraine and de-occupation of its territories. After that we will go to free our home.”
He highlighted a primary long-term objective for his group: “We aren’t saying we will get to Moscow tomorrow. This will happen when the Ukrainian armed forces liberate Crimea. Putin’s political system will be paralyzed by defeat in Crimea. This is when we will need to strike a devastating blow against Moscow. This is what we are preparing for”.
Who are the ‘Freedom of Russia Legion’ and what did they do?
Russia announced on May 22 that dozens described as Ukrainian militant “saboteurs” who launched an attack after crossing into its Belgorod region. The incident serves as the most serious incursions into Russian borders so far since President Vladimir Putin launched Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Moscow later said that more than 70 militants were killed or pushed out as part of what it labelled a “counter-terrorism” operation.
Ukraine denied any direct involvement in the Belgorod attack and pointed the finger at two Russian groups, the “Russian Volunteer Corps” and the “Freedom of Russia Legion” (LSR). The two groups which claimed responsibility for the incursion identified themselves as Russian volunteers fighting alongside Kyiv’s forces in an uprising against Putin’s government.
At the time of the cross-border raid, Ukrainian military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov highlighted that the paramilitary groups were comprised exclusively of Russian citizens and said that they launched the incursion to “liberate” territories of Belgorod from Putin’s rule and create a “security zone” by the border to protect Ukrainian civilians from Russian cross-border attacks.
The “Freedom of Russia Legion” (LSR) identifies itself as a unit of volunteer Russians “created in the spring of 2022 based on the desire of the Russians themselves to fight against Putin's armed gang in the ranks of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” The group says it is “fighting in full cooperation with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and under the leadership of the Ukrainian command.”
Ukrainian newspaper Ukrayinska Pravda described the LSR as “a military unit within the Armed Forces of Ukraine, and consists allegedly of Russian prisoners of war, defectors of the Russian Armed Forces, as well as other Russian volunteers who have sided with Ukraine.”