The “Freedom of Russia” Legion is a phenomenon of this war, since it includes former members of the Russian Armed Forces who disagree with Putin’s policies and advocate for an immediate end to the bloody war against fraternal Ukraine. Their goal is to overthrow Putin’s regime and build a new, free Russian state.
ZMiST had an opportunity to ask several questions to the fighters of the “Freedom of Russia” Legion.
On April 5 three representatives of the Legion held a press conference at the Interfax-Ukraine headquarters in Kyiv, where they first revealed the unit’s existence. Have there been any changes to the Legion’s objectives and structure since then?
Yes, there were indeed massive changes to the structure and objectives of the Legion. Today, the Legion has grown to such a size that it had to be reorganized. As a result, the Legion has a military component, embedded into the Foreign Legion, and a civilian component. The military component is based in Ukraine and takes part in the fighting against the Russian occupation forces. The civilian component is based in Russia, and, partially, in the western countries.
To manage such an extensive organization, an appropriate command structure is required that can effectively coordinate and direct the actions of the Legion to achieve its mission objectives. Can you tell us about these command centers, how they function and interact with the relevant Ukrainian command structure?
Unfortunately, we cannot reveal any specifics. But such a headquarters does exist, and its structure and function are dictated by the missions assigned to the Legion.
The well-coordinated and efficient work of such a headquarters requires appropriate personnel with extensive experience in management. One of the well-known representatives of top management in the Legion is the former vice president of Gazprombank, Igor Volobuev. But besides him, is there anyone else in the Legion who held similar top positions in Russia’s public or private structures?
Of course, there is, but they prefer not to reveal themselves for security reasons. Believe me, today the Legion has grown significantly compared to the time when it was mainly formed from the captured Russian military personnel who realized their crimes and expressed a desire to atone for them through a selfless struggle against the Putin regime and its occupying forces in Ukraine. Our ranks include people from all walks of Russian society, from different regions of Russia. All of them are united by the desire to overthrow the Putin regime, which is responsible for unleashing the war in Ukraine, and the usurpation of power in Russia. We all want, first of all, to protect Ukraine, to force Putin to stop the war and withdraw Russian troops from all occupied Ukrainian territories without exception. We are fighting for the revival of Russia with a new constitution based on democratic principles, which will live in accordance with international law, will ensure a fair distribution of revenues from the use of Russia’s natural resources among the entire population, a transparent electoral system, and turnover of power based on the will of citizens, whose civil rights and freedoms will be ensured and protected.
Do you have connections to, or maybe even financial, material support from the Russian opposition, primarily those who are outside of Russia and have significant financial resources?
The Legion receives significant financial support from the citizens of Russia. To enable this, financial details for donations to the needs of the Legion are provided on our Telegram channel. We would like to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who support us financially and morally, who sometimes share a large part of their small income in order to bring the collapse of Putin’s regime closer. As for the participation of other Russians, who have openly declared their opposition to the Kremlin’s policy and live in the West, in the activities of the Legion, we will not disclose such information for security reasons.
Do you have the opportunity to spread your ideas to the Russians in the Russian Federation, to expand the number of those who could join your ranks in the future?
These are the tasks of the civilian wing of the Legion, which works among the population of Russia and those Russians who live abroad. First of all, it is about spreading true information about the Legion’s existence and its tasks as the nucleus of the Russian society’s resistance to the totalitarianism of Putin’s regime. Our supporters, to the best of their ability, report the truth about the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine, the large-scale crimes of the Russian occupation forces on the Ukrainian territory, and the strength and unity of the Ukrainian society through leaflets, social networks, and “word of mouth”.
Is there a special mechanism that would allow people from Russia who share your views to come to Ukraine and join the Legion?
Such a mechanism exists, of course, but it is tailored for each potential candidate, depending on his place of residence, opportunities to leave Russia, and other factors. The decision to use this mechanism is made after examining and verifying the applicant’s background information.
In addition to the abovementioned tasks, can you confirm the involvement of your supporters in the numerous explosions and fires that occur throughout Russia at military facilities and oil depots?
We adhere to the official position of Ukraine on this matter.
But official Kyiv neither confirms nor denies this information. Despite this, many Ukrainians believe that the fires on Russian military installations, commissariats, and oil depots are the result of operations by our special forces. Can you strengthen the hopes of Ukrainians that the aggressor will no longer feel impunity, regardless of the location of his military-technical facilities?
We can assure you that Legion personnel, in cooperation with other units, are ready to conduct our mission and will do everything possible to weaken the Kremlin’s ability to continue the war against Ukraine.
Let’s get back to the military component of the Legion. How do you rate its combat power? Are you equipped with only small arms or do you have other types of weapons? Do the Legion soldiers have the opportunity to master Western weapons that are provided to Ukraine?
Each soldier of the Legion, regardless of his previous military specialty, undergoes retraining in accordance with his new assignment and his combat role. The types of weapons that a soldier must master are selected based on these criteria. Mostly we’re talking small arms. In general, the Legion servicemen note a big difference in the system of combat training in the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which is based on NATO standards, compared to what they were used to in the Russian Armed Forces – it is far superior.
Could you name the most significant combat successes of the Legion, and in which operations did it take part?
Unfortunately, my answer will be limited to the information that is already available on our Telegram channel. There are some episodes there, but they only reflect a small portion of our combat deployments. We can’t add anything else yet.
But we know for sure that the activity of the Legion causes fear among the leadership of Russian military units. The duties of the commanders and their deputies for military-political work officially include tracking down and suppressing the spread of information about the Legion, and the immediate destruction of leaflets that detail how to avoid participation in war crimes, surrender and join the Legion.
In general, all soldiers of the Legion adhere to the military regulations of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, have the same rights and obligations as military servicemen, and receive a salary, like the Ukrainian military personnel.
It is obvious that some part of the Legion is formed from among Russian prisoners of war. How, in this case, is the issue of the safety of the recruit’s family and relatives, that are still in Russia, solved? After all, he needs to somehow notify his relatives, say that he is alive, what he is doing, and, as an option, inform them that he decided to confront those with whom he recently invaded Ukraine?
Each serviceman decides this question individually, based on how much his family, relatives, and friends are brainwashed by Kremlin propaganda, how much understanding and support he can expect, and how dangerous this information could be.
The other day, Sergei Galkin, one of those who participated in one of the first press conferences of captured Russian servicemen, and was later identified by journalists as a participant in the April press conference of the Legion soldiers, was shown on Ukrainian television but was identified as a prisoner. Does this mean he was expelled from the Legion?
No, the term prisoner of war can be applied to some members of the Legion. But they admitted their guilt for participating in the invasion of Ukraine, volunteered, and got the opportunity to atone for the crimes through a selfless struggle against the Russian occupation forces.
Could you tell us about Legion’s traditions?
They are only being formed, forged in training and combat missions on the battlefield. We will be ready to talk about this in more detail in the next interview.
How do you see the future of the Legion, if, for example, the invaders will be pushed back to February 24 borders and the territorial integrity of Ukraine will be restored through future peaceful negotiations?
We act strictly in the tactics and strategy paradigm of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. If what you say happens, then the decision on the further actions of the military component of the Legion will be made by the leadership of the Legion, based on the situation that will develop at that time.
Do you consider the possibility that the Legion may eventually develop into a political party that will pursue democratic changes in Russia?
Not many of us think about political careers right now, but one of our main goals is to increase the protest activity of Russians in order to stop the war, restore the territorial integrity of Ukraine and carry out democratic reforms in Russia. But we cannot rule out that the Legion will form a core of those who will lead the democratic processes in post-Putin Russia and receive a mandate of popular support.
If you had the opportunity to speak for one minute on the Russian federal channels, what would you say?
We would urge ordinary Russians to take a closer look at Russian internal problems: roads, houses, pensions, salaries, and think about why the Russian government is so concerned about something that is happening somewhere outside Russia but is absolutely indifferent to how their own people live, all the while Russia has the greatest natural resources on the planet.
At the same time, it is important to think about what the passivity of the Russians has led to, that naive assumption that the people in power, who have not been replaced for decades, know best how to govern the country, how to live, who to befriend and who to wage war against.
We would urge to think about who specifically began to live better in Russia from the fact that Russia occupied 20% of the territory of Ukraine, paid for it with more than 30 thousand dead Russians, broke the lives of millions of Ukrainians, and covered itself with the shame of aggression.
Based on this, we would call to stand up to defend our homeland from the Putin regime and stop Russia’s aggression against Ukraine by any means.