Putin’s Deserters Poised to Fight Against Him on Front Lines


Ukrainian soldiers drive a tank down a street outside the town of Siversk on January 21, 2023. In inset, Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during an event at the State Kremlin Palace, on February 9, 2023, in Moscow, Russia. A new report suggests defectors from Russia will soon be fighting on Ukraine’s front lines against their own nation.PHOTOS BY SPENCER PLATT/GETTY IMAGES

A group of Russian defectors is training in the Kyiv region to soon be sent to Ukraine’s front lines to fight Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s forces, according to a new report.

The New York Times on Sunday wrote that the Free Russia Legion is a combat group made up of Russian fighters so opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine that they have been willing to take up arms against their own country.

The story said that while several hundred Legion members are fighting against Russia around Bakhmut, another group is near the end of three-month basic training and will soon be deployed to the front lines.

Special Operations Forces Report (SOFREP) described the Legion as a force that has mainly existed in the shadows—even though some battalions of the Free Russia Legion have already “participated in some of the most intense combat in the conflict”—but this stands to change.

Along with the Legion’s profile likely to rise after the fighters training near Kyiv see combat, the Russian prosecutor general’s office filed a lawsuit last week with Russia’s top court to have the Legion designated a terrorist organization.

The Free Russia Legion operates under Ukraine’s International Legion. Also reportedly part of the this fighting force are volunteers from the United Sates, United Kingdom, Belarus, Georgia and others countries.

Last week, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty wrote about the Free Russia Legion and noted that it was formed last March, soon after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine began on February 24. The outlet wrote that Ukrainian sources have said the first members of the Legion were soldiers who had defected directly from Russia’s army.

“February 24 came as a shock,” a Free Russia Legion member who goes by the call sign Tsezar told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “My children were looking at me with tears and asking: ‘Papa, how can this be? How could Russia attack Ukraine?’ I told them not to worry because Ukraine would win in the end.”

Though precise numbers for how many members are in the Legion are kept secret, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty said media reports have reached tallies as high as 4,000.

In its manifesto, the Free Russia Legion describe itself as “free citizens of Russia who take responsibility for themselves and are beginning to fight for a New Russia.” The manifesto was reflected in Tsezar’s rationale for joining Ukraine’s fight.

“I couldn’t just stand by,” he told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. “I tried to volunteer for the international legion, but they weren’t taking Russians then. When Free Russia was formed, I applied, went through some background checks, and ended up here.”

Newsweek reached out to the Free Russia Legion for comment.


Enter comments here: