“Take our house, live in it, drown in it and we will rebuild it” sang the well-known Russian rapper of Jewish origin Oxxxymiron, who, in his own words, killed “the empire” itself before fleeing abroad. Since then he has given charity concerts and supported Ukraine. Five years before the invasion, in the album that put him on the Olympus map of Russian entertainment, his lyrical hero, a writer who resembles Oxxxymiron himself, who studied Literature at Oxford University, declared that in power they are all clowns and their vocation is “to stain the paper, the rest doesn’t matter to them”.
At the beginning of the war, the Ukrainians did not lose hope that their neighboring country would take to the streets to protest against the regime of Vladimir Putin. Thousands of dead later, these illusions disappeared. Many Ukrainians express outrage at the Russian liberal opposition which, instead of taking action in their own nation, fled to European countries and express their solidarity with the war victims and their suffering from a safe distance. “Between us there is an abyss because, with each attempt to abuse power, we take to the streets,” goes the argument of the generation of the Maidan.
Ukrainians believe that the very slow evolution of political positions and the very neat protests of the Russian liberal opposition, which, reflected in the absence of protests against the annexation of Crimea, led to a great tragedy for the Ukrainian people. While the opposition ceded its home to Putin and is waiting for him to drown in it to rebuild it, Ukraine is struggling with the consequences of years of indifference and fear in the neighboring country. The Russian opposition shows in the EU the conditions in which the prisoners of the regime are, explaining the cost that they should pay for protesting within the country, and some even declare that the Ukrainians “they don’t owe them anything.”
The events in Belgorod after two militias, the Russian Volunteer Corps (DRC) and the Russian Freedom Legion, crossed the border into the Russian Federation have put on the map an armed opposition that is willing to “rebuild the country”, but with other methods. Ilya Ponomarev, the spokesman for the Russian Freedom Legion, the only former deputy of the Russian Parliament who voted against the annexation of Crimea in 2014, criticized “the impotence” of Russian liberals. The Legion, as well as the Russian Volunteer Corps, have positioned themselves with Kyiv and are participating in the fighting in the hottest areas of the war front.
While some Ukrainians support this participation in the Armed Forces, others view it with some caution. Ponomarev acknowledges that one of the accusations the fighters hear was “the alleged influence of the FSB [servicios secretos rusos]».
For his part, when commenting on the statements of the soldiers of the Russian Volunteer Corps about the process of inclusion in the Ukrainian Army, the representative of the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence, Andriy Chernyakstated in a comment to Radio Liberty that all fighters go through a process of investigation by Ukrainian intelligence structures.
According to Ponomarev, one third are prisoners of war, who were disappointed in their commanders and what they saw in the Ukraine and decided to switch sides. The rest are Russians who lived on Ukrainian territory and political activists critical of Putin. As for the Russian Volunteer Corps, its core is made up of soldiers who already fought in Ukraine before the invasion, especially in the Azov battalion.
When the first videos of an armored vehicle with the Ukrainian flag passing through the checkpoint filled social networks, Kyiv marked some distance between them and the responsible forces. In a statement, the Office of Volodymyr Zelensky and the Intelligence spokesman stressed that the forces fighting in Belgorod are represented exclusively by Russians, although Ponomarev in several interviews mentioned approval of their activity in Belgorod.
After “finishing the operation”, the soldiers of the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Russian Freedom Legion explained that in order not to implicate Ukraine they asked for a vacation in the Armed Forces and reaffirmed that none of the Ukrainian soldiers had set foot on Russian territory.
In military terms, this operation helps the future counteroffensive. Ukraine has been launching small interventions along the front line for a long time and is gradually trying to provoke Russia and regain some positions. Furthermore, attacks on Russian territory itself by Russian guerrillas have a certain cumulative effect and create a feeling of insecurity.
As for political goals, here the situation is even more complicated. The Legion claims that Belgorodians perceived them as Putin’s liberators, that each attack shows citizens that the regime is not as strong as it seems, that these operations bring more people to the cause, sowing unease among the silent majority. But, according to an opposition source in Moscow, the inhabitants of the capital do not care. “I was walking down the street, through the parks trying to listen to the conversations in case someone was at least talking about what is happening in Belgorod,” she says before adding that during the days of the invasion for her the main source was the Russian-speaking Ukrainian chain Freedom . Although she has a rather skeptical attitude, she hopes that the regime will fall and “the homeland” can be rebuilt.