“Concerned Russian Citizens Decided to Participate in Presidential Elections.” Interview with Freedom of Russia Legion Volunteer

Yana Sliemzina - 13 March 2024 | 19:32

On the morning of March 12, Russian volunteer paramilitary units Freedom of Russia Legion, Russian Volunteer Corps, and Siberian Battalion stated they had crossed the Russian-Ukrainian border. They reported they moved into the Kursk and Belgorod Oblasts of the Russian Federation to “free the territory of the country from Putin’s regime.” The spokesman for GUR (Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine) Andrii Yusov told Radio Svoboda, a Ukrainian media outlet, that [these] voluntary units can do what they think is necessary on the territory of Russia. When journalists asked where militias get arms, Yusov said they have trophy weapons. 

Gwara Media journalists talked to a volunteer of Freedom of Russia, Aleksey Baranovskyi, call sign “Lyutic.”  

Volunteer of Freedom of Russia, call sign Lyutic / Screenshot from the video 

What units are you cooperating with within this operation, and why have you started it now? 

Special liberating operation continues from yesterday [March 12, 2024 — ed.]. It’s being conducted in the territories of Kursk and Belgorod Oblasts. Three voluntary units are participating: the Freedom of Russia Legion, the Russian Volunteer Corps, and the Siberian Battalion. For the Siberian Battalion, this is the first [operation] in Russia. Before this, they only participated in defense operations on the territory of Ukraine. 

This is the biggest raid of Russian volunteers on the Russian territory since the beginning of the full-scale war. It’s timed to coincide with the so-called election in Russia [dated March 17, 2024 — ed.] This is not an actual election. This is another stage of Vladimir Putin usurping power. As responsible Russian citizens, we decided to express our will about this election and tell what we think about Vladimir Putin. We believe he has to be tried by an international tribunal. The reboot of the entire political system in the Russian Federation has to happen. 

What is the combat situation? What have you managed to achieve during this time? 

The main efforts of the Freedom of Russia Legion are focused on the Tetkino settlement in the Kursk Oblast of RF. It became the main theater. The combat engagements continue; they fade out and then restart again. We’re holding certain positions, [we] caused damage to the Armed Forces of the RF. During one day, two units of armed equipment were destroyed: an armored personnel carrier (APC) and an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). Another few units of Russian armed military equipment were damaged. We haven’t verified the [number of] killed [soldiers] as of now. Several mortars and howitzers on the positions of Russian armed forces were destroyed. At least two mortar and two artillery fire teams were destroyed, too. Several artillery units were damaged. 

Legion’s attack at the command center of Russian armed forces / Photo: t.me/legionoffreedom

Apart from that, a command center of Russian armed forces was destroyed yesterday. If you saw a video in Legion’s telegram channel, [they have] a high-rise elevator building with a mesh of different antennas on the roof. Our FPV drone pilots hit them several times, and their connection have been disrupted. After that, the Legion’s mortar fire teams were able to destroy the Command Center located nearby. It’s not bad for the first day. The Legion, as before, has initiative. We’ll observe how the situation will develop. 

What’s the situation in Tetkino? Did you manage to hold your positions or move further in? 

Tetkino isn’t under Putin authorities’ control, [to say the least]. But we don’t establish our authority there, too. We’re preparing to move further. In a political sense, Tetkino will be under our control when we seize the city council and police department and raise a flag of free Russia there. Then, it will be under our control. That is, by the way, one of the ways of how we’ll liberate Russia from Putin’s regime, step by step. But for now we’re only talking about the military situation. In this sense, we’re staying in Tetkino and considering different options for moving further. I think we’ll see the situation develop soon, today or tomorrow. 

Have you already talked to the locals? 

The only interactions with locals [we had] for now is our shouting, “Hide!” to them. But they do that without our advice. That’s the correct reaction of the civilian population: when you hear the noise of a battle and shooting, hide in the basements. Yesterday, we were facing [the fact] that Putin’s army in Russia acts exactly the same as on Ukrainian territories. They don’t take civilian safety into consideration. If they assume the Legion units are on some street, they start shooting from every weapon they have. But we’re not there anymore. The civilian population suffers, buildings are getting destroyed. First, Ukrainian civilians faced Putin’s army, and now, Russian civilians face it. 

What’s the situation in Belgorod Oblast? Were you able to move further [there]? 

The situation is similar there. Because I am now near Tetkino — last night, we transported ammunition for our frontline groups, which is why I know a lot about the situation in Kursk oblast. The situation is close to the same in Belgorod: there, [our] UAV units are actively working, causing damage.  

Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) raid into Kursk Oblast (March 12, 2024, 3:00 PM ET) / Source: Institute for the Study of War

How did the Russian army meet you? 

First, Russian armed forces reacted with retreat; [our actions] were very sudden to them. We used the element of surprise to our advantage. We don’t have trophy weapons yet, the combat engagement isn’t that close yet. Yet. Basically, we’re currently making conclusions about our first day. I think, today will be the continuation of the “celebration.”

Are Russians the only ones participating in this operation? 

Correct. Concerned Russian citizens decided to participate in elections. Participating in a way we can. 

What is your prognosis for the operation? Do you think you’ll succeed in affecting this election? 

We’re already affecting elections, but we’ll build up upon [our] success. We have several tasks apart from that. In particular, our units distract the attention of Russian reserves. Because [of us], they have to keep a significant number of troops in Kursk and Belgorod oblast instead of sending them to occupied territories of Ukraine. We’re also sending particular messages to two audiences. 

Legion “Freedom of Russia” / Photo: t.me/legionoffreedom

The first audience is the Russian opposition, anti-Putin activists that still remain in Russia. It’s not a secret that, after the murder of Aleksei Navalny, the opposition is very demoralized. We want to say to these people, “You are not alone. Volunteers who have taken up the arms and prepared to fight with Putin’s regime exist. We’re showing with our actions, not words, that we’re already close by. It’s not that far to Moscow from Kursk if [we’re] making a line on the map. So, not all is bad: fight, contact the Legion. We need information about the movement of Putin’s army on Russian territory and temporary military bases. Become our eyes and ears on the RF’s territory. This is your contribution to victory.” 

The second audience is the West. We talk to top world media and American and European outlets. Our message is simple: “Dear Europe and America, you shouldn’t recognize this election. You shouldn’t recognize Vladimir Putin as the legitimate president of Russia. He’s a war criminal and should be treated accordingly. We’re Russian citizens against Putin and for freedom and democracy. We fight for our freedom, for Ukraine’s independence, for Russian freedom. We want the Western countries to notice us, too, [for them] to express their support [for us]. Only through decisive methods can we [close the chapter] with Vladimir Putin; otherwise, the war will continue for a long time.” 

On May 22, 2023, the Russian Volunteer Corps and Legion “Freedom of Russia” reported combat engagement, shelling, and seizing settlements in Belgorod Oblast of the Russian Federation. 

Institute for the Study of War analysts couldn’t confirm all reported movement of the Russian paramilitary units from March 12 in their recent report. Gwara Media, too, couldn’t corroborate all of their reported movements. 

Interviewer: Denys Klymenko 

Transcribed to Ukrainian: Polina Kulish

Watch the video version of the interview with English subtitles on our YouTube channel.

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