Clashes in Ukraine spilled over to Russia for the first time this week. Paramilitary groups have caused confusion by momentarily capturing a handful of Russian villages in the name of a “free Russia”. kyiv was quick to distance itself from this spectacular military operation carried out by far-right militias.
Journalists were invited to an unusual press conference in northern Ukraine on Wednesday. Dozens of microphones reached out to the spokespersons of two Russian battalions: the “Free Russia Legion” and the “Russian Volunteer Corps”. Both were proud of the “success” of a joint operation aimed at “liberating” Russia from the yoke of Vladimir Putin.
“White Rex” from “Russian Volunteer Corps” and “Caesar” from “Freedom for Russia Legion” gave an interview to more than 100 media representatives from Ukraine and the West in an undisclosed area near the border.
They stated that their organizations will continue liberating… pic.twitter.com/Xt0Td6vkOU
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) May 24, 2023
This bluster is based on few proven facts. A few short videos have circulated on the Internet showing armored vehicles bearing their flags and allegedly driving through Russian territory, as well as photos of soldiers displaying signs marking the Russian-Ukrainian border.
This attempt at destabilization nevertheless had the effect of alerting the Russian authorities. The latter expressed their “deep concern” about this uprising and then, a few days later, described everything as a “normal situation”.
“Some 70 Ukrainian terrorists have been eliminated. According to the latest data, no civilians were killed as a result of the actions of the sabotage group and 12 people were injured,” the Kremlin said in a statement.
It is “highly probable” that three Russian villages have temporarily occupied, according to a public note British intelligence.
No matter, the damage was done in this “effort to discredit the Russian government by showing that it is incapable of defending its territory”, observes the specialist in the Russian military question at the University of Ottawa, Paul Robinson. Because, “militarily [cette capture momentanée] is not important”.
There was an “information bomb” there which detonated as planned, welcomed the head of the Legion for Free Russia, who presents himself under the name of “Caesar”.
Explosions have rocked Russian border regions regularly since the start of the war, but this is the first incursion of pro-Ukrainian soldiers into Russia.
The support of the Russian population for these small groups will nevertheless remain “minimal, so small that it does not statistically constitute a measurable part”, underlines Paul Robinson, author of the book “Conservatism in Russia”.
Ukraine quickly broke away from this operation carried out by Russian citizens. “Ukraine watches with interest the events in the Belgorod region of Russia and studies the situation, however, it has no direct connection with it,” tweeted Mykhaïlo Podoliak, an adviser to President Zelensky, from the first hours of the incursion.
These soldiers, armed to the teeth, have nevertheless received help from the Ukrainians, conceded the spokesman for the Legion for a free Russia. The yellow and blue army would thus have provided “light weapons, artillery weapons, heavy vehicles, everything [ils avaient] need “.
Photos of American armored vehicles bogged down during this expedition have also been published by the Russian side, without their authenticity having been able to be demonstrated. If Ukraine received more than 500 from Washington, “Caesar” assured to have bought those “in stores of war”.
The American General Staff has always insisted that their weapons should not be used on Russian territory. An American spokesperson on Wednesday displayed his “skepticism” about these images.
Especially since the neo-Nazi ideology runs through these paramilitary groups. Members of the Legion for a Free Russia “miss the tsarist era that preceded the Soviet Union” while being “right-wing conservatives and traditionalists,” its spokesperson told reporters. A 2018 Guardian report on fellow leader Denis Kapustin called him “a Russian neo-Nazi who claims he once kept a framed photograph of Joseph Goebbels in his bedroom.”
The exposure of these warlords to the world’s cameras is a double-edged sword for Ukrainians, notes Paul Robinson. “On the one hand, it can undermine the credibility of the government, but on the other hand, it can have the effect of justifying state propaganda that says Ukrainians are neo-Nazis. »
While the Russian army anticipates a broad Ukrainian response, creating a diversion is another “successful” objective, “Caesar” admitted with a smirk at a press conference, while promising to start again.
With Agence France-Presse
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