Ukraine: Russian soldier surrenders to drone in Bakhmut

The Freedom of Russia Legion has a seen a huge surge in recruits following its recent attacks in Belgorod region, according to a representative of the rebel fighters. He also said that and his regime must be "liquidated" to prevent a and ensure lasting peace and security in Europe. Towards the end of May, the Kremlin was rocked after fighters from the Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps staged daring cross-border raids in the Belgorod region.

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The anti-Putin militias are believed to have at one stage captured around ten population centres, forcing the Kremlin to deploy its last military reserves inside Russia, as well as some units from the Luhansk front in Ukraine, to put down the insurgency.

The rebels' attacks have galvanised support for the Legion inside Russia, leading to an overwhelming flood of applications from aspiring fighters.

Alexey Baranovsky, a representative of the Political Centre for the Russian anti-Putin opposition in Kyiv, which has close ties to the Legion and partisan networks, told the Express: "In the last one-and-a half to two weeks, we have been getting hundreds of applications a day.

"But it is not possible to process them quickly. We have to check them all - organise a meeting, transfer them to a safe place for the meeting.

"Then a military psychologist interviews them and they have to take a polygraph test.

"This is all done so as to filter out any Putin spies. It's a very slow process."


Alexey Baranovsky is an anti-Putin activist (Image: Утро Февраля)

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The Legion currently numbers four battalions and consists of three distinct social groups, according to Mr Baranovsky.

The first and most numerous is comprised of former Russian soldiers, who have Ukrainian relatives and for whom the invasion was one step too far.

"Many of those soldiers considered the invasion unacceptable," he explained.

"Everyone thought that Putin was sending troops to the border so as to scare Ukraine, as he had done previously in April 2021.

"So when the order came to cross over the border and begin the war, they said 'no' and considered it right to switch sides and fight for Ukraine."

The second group is primarily made up of Russians who were living in Ukraine at the time hostilities began. Estimates suggest some 200,000 to 300,000 Russians had made Ukraine their home prior to the war.

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Ukraine has started its counteroffensive (Image: Ukraine General Staff)

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Ilya Ponomarev called Putin a "terrorist" (Image: Congress of People's Deputies)

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The majority were either married to Ukrainians, had opened businesses or were working in the country.

The third and probably smallest category are those who were in Russia or living elsewhere in Europe, when Putin ordered his troops into Ukraine.

"They were basically political activists - they had either long been against Putin and had to leave because of their opposition, or were still in Russia at the time of the invasion but were part of the opposition," he said.

Mr Baranovsky, who covered the Maidan protests in 2013 for the newspaper Kommersant, warned that military victory for Kyiv had to be followed by regime change in Moscow, so as to prevent another armed conflict that could involve not just Ukraine but other countries bordering Russia and ignite a world war.

"If we stop the war without the destruction and liquidation of Putin's Russia, then Moscow will strengthen and rearm and once again will attack.


Russian rebels have called for the 'liquidation' of Putin's regime (Image: Getty)


    "If we don't change the political foundations in Moscow, then there is no strategic long term security for Russia's neighbouring countries.

    "So as part of the counteroffensive, Ukraine has to eviscerate Putin's army, liberate all its territory and then we and the Legion must go to Moscow and sort things out because the Ukrainians aren't going to do our dirty work for us."

    It's an opinion shared by Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian MP and strident Putin critic, who is the inspiration behind the creation of the Congress of People's Deputies - a forum of Russian opposition politicians, who are seeking to overthrow Putin's regime and restore democracy to their country.

    Choosing not to mince his words, he said there was no chance of any peaceful or diplomatic solution to the war while the "terrorist Putin" was still alive.

    "Putin will not go away on his own and while he is still in power we can stop this nightmare in only one way - by inflicting a final military defeat on him and carrying out the death sentence."

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