War in Ukraine spills over into Russia
The clashes in Ukraine spilled over into Russia for the first time this week. Paramilitary groups have caused confusion by temporarily capturing a handful of Russian villages in the name of a “free Russia”. Kiev was quick to distance itself from this spectacular military operation carried out by right-wing militias.
Journalists were invited to an unusual press conference in northern Ukraine on Wednesday. Dozens of microphones reached the spokesmen of two Russian battalions: “Freedom for Russia Legion” and “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 the “Russian Volunteer Corps” and “Caesar” from the “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 to liberate… pic.twitter.com/Xt0Td6vkOU
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) 24 May 2023
This bluster is based on few documented facts. A pair of short videos showing armored vehicles with their flags atop and allegedly driving through Russian territory have circulated on the internet, as have photos of soldiers posing with the signs marking the Russian-Ukrainian border.
This attempt at destabilization nevertheless had the effect of alarming the Russian authorities. The latter expressed their “deep concern” regarding this uprising and then, a few days later, described everything as a “normal situation”.
“About 70 Ukrainian terrorists have been eliminated. According to the latest data, no civilians were killed as a result of the sabotage group’s actions, and 12 people were injured,” said exact Kremlin in a statement.
It is “highly probable” that three Russian villages were temporarily occupied, according to a public note British intelligence service.
Either way, the damage was done in this “effort to discredit the Russian government by showing that it is unable to defend its territory,” notes University of Ottawa Russian military affairs specialist Paul Robinson. Because, “military, [cette capture momentanée] is not important”.
There was an “information bomb”, which detonated as planned, welcomed the leader of the Freedom Legion for Russia, who introduces himself under the name “Caesar”.
Explosions have rocked Russian border regions regularly since the beginning of the war, but this is the first incursion of pro-Ukrainian soldiers into Russia.
The Russian population’s support for these small groups will nevertheless remain “minimal, so small that statistically it does not constitute a measurable part”, emphasizes Paul Robinson, author of the work Conservatism in Russia.
right-wing extremist groups
kyiv quickly broke out of this operation carried out by russian citizens. “Ukraine is following with interest the events in the Belgorod region of Russia and is studying the situation. However, it has no direct connection with them,” tweeted Mykhaïlo Podoliak, an adviser to the president Volodymyr Zelenskyfrom the first hours of the attack.
These soldiers, armed to the teeth, have nevertheless received help from the Ukrainians, the spokesman for the Freedom Legion for Russia admitted. Thus, the Yellow and Blue Army would have provided “light weapons, artillery weapons, heavy vehicles, everything [ils avaient] need “.
Photos of American armored vehicles stuck during this expedition have also been published by the Russian side, without their authenticity being proven. If Ukraine has received more than 500 tanks from Washington, “Caesar” assured to have bought them “in war shops”.
The US General Staff has always insisted that its weapons should not be used on Russian territory. A US spokesman on Wednesday expressed his “skepticism” about these images.
Especially since the neo-Nazi ideology runs through these paramilitary groups. Members of the Freedom for Russia Legion “miss the tsarist era that preceded the Soviet Union” while being “right-wing conservatives and traditionalists,” its spokesman told reporters. A report from 2018 by Guardian on the other leader, Denis Kapustin (also known as Denis Nikitin), qualified him of “Russian neo-Nazi who claims to have kept a framed photograph of Joseph Goebbels in his room once”.
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 government’s credibility [russe], but on the other hand, it may have the effect of justifying state propaganda that Ukrainians are neo-Nazis. »
While the Russian army expects a broad Ukrainian response, creating a diversion is another “successful” goal, “Caesar” admitted with a smile at a news conference as he vowed to start over.
With Agence France-Presse
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