Russia’s armed forces fought for two days on Russian soil against two resistance groups opposed to President Vladimir Putin before the rebels were defeated in the Belgorod region on Tuesday.
Russian state media claimed more than 70 resistance fighters from the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps were killed in Belgorod after the revolutionary groups marched into several regional towns on Monday.
Members of both armed resistance groups are made up of defecting Russians who have fought for Ukraine since last year against the Russian army. Moscow calls the fighters saboteurs of the Ukrainian military.
Here’s what we know about the Free Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps.
Free Russia Legion
In a video that went viral this week, a group of unidentified soldiers of the Free Russia Legion decried what they called widespread corruption in the Kremlin.
“We are Russians like you, we are people like you,” one of the group’s members said. “We want our children to grow up in peace and be free people, that they could travel, study and simply be happy in a free country. But that has no place in today’s Putin’s Russia.”
The Free Russia Legion was formed in March 2022, made up of Russians who defected from the Russian military shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, according to Radio Free Europe.
By some estimates, there are up to 4,000 troops in the militia unit.
One Russian soldier with the resistance group, who goes by the call sign Caesar, has made multiple public statements on behalf of the Free Russia Legion.
Caesar said there were just two soldiers of the Free Russia Legion who died in the fighting and claimed the raid was successful, with fighters taking equipment and prisoners. The Hill has not been able to independently verify casualty estimates.
Caesar hinted the militia group would take action against Russia in the future.
“We will not betray the idea of a Free Russia, the hope of Russians, we will return truth and justice to Russia,” Caesar said in a statement posted to Telegram.
Russian Volunteer Corps
The Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) is a more radical group made up of far-right Russian extremists.
Formed in August 2022 by Denis Kapustin, the paramilitary unit is pushing to overthrow Putin and Russian elites.
Kapustin, who also goes by the pseudonym Denis Nikitin, is a Russian citizen and far-right extremist who has organized fighting rings and tournaments across Europe.
The European Union banned Kapustin in 2019 for his neo-Nazi activism, citing him as a public safety threat, according to several European newspapers.
Before founding the RDK, Kapustin had ties with a far-right unit of Ukraine’s military, the Azov regiment.
The RDK took responsibility for a brief raid into Russia’s Bryansk territory in March, which Russian officials said left at least two civilians dead.
RDK militants also claimed to have launched another small raid in Bryansk in April.
While these groups did not march into Russian territory, there is an international coalition of fighters in Ukraine.
A few hundred Belarusians have coalesced into a unit called the Kastus Kalinouski regiment that has been fighting for Ukraine since last year.
Those fighters are also acting in opposition to Belarusian President Aleksander Lukashenko, a close ally of Putin.
Georgians have been fighting for Kyiv since 2014, when Russian-backed separatists launched an armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine, in a regiment called the Georgian National Legion.
Other fighters from nations across the world have entered the fight against Russia with Ukraine’s International Legion.
These soldiers have joined the fray without the official backing of their government, including those from the U.S., Canada and countries in western Europe.
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