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Paramilitary Groups Cross-border Incursions from Ukraine in Belgorod Region

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Written by Valentina Ruaro

Edited by Michele Puggia

Supervised by Mariana Fagotti

On the 22nd of May, there was a two-day incursion in the Western Russian borderlands led by two paramilitary groups in opposition to the Russian regime, namely the Liberty of Russia Legion (LSR) and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), whose aim is to dismantle Putin’s government and claims (BBC, 2023). The two legions were set up during Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. They attracted Russian volunteer fighters willing to fight against their own country alongside Ukraine and topple Putin’s regime (EURACTIV, 2023). The two groups differ from one another. However, each group is characterised by supremacist and extremist fighters. For example, Denis Kapustin is the RDK’s leader, a Russian nationalist, and his group openly states its willingness to establish a mono-ethnic Russian state (Watts, 2023).

Armed clashes characterised the incursion. Nonetheless, no casualties among the civilian population were registered (Il Post). White Rex, the leader of the LSR, said his group managed to seize “some weapons”, including armoured personnel carriers, and take prisoners during the operation before leaving the Russian territory after twenty-four hours. Additionally, he stated that only two fighters had been injured, denying the claims by the Russian military about heavy casualties inflicted on the saboteurs (Reuters, 2023). In response, the authorities mobilised the army and enacted measures granting “special powers” to restrict communications and people’s movement. However, these measures have already been lifted (BBC, 2023).

Ukraine deliberately denied its raid involvement (BBC, 2023). Russia describes RDK and the LSR as Ukrainian militants, while Kyiv says they come from two anti-Kremlin paramilitaries, casting it as a homegrown, internal Russian strife. The two groups, however, are not military-independent forces but cooperate and are controlled by Ukrainian intelligence and are part of its strategy to defeat Putin. The strategy includes drone attacks, targeted killings, and incursions in Russia and Crimea (controlled by Russia since 2014), giving Kyiv an advantage over Russia and pushing back the enemy (Reuters, 2023).

Finally, the outcomes of the raid carry both symbolic and material significance. Symbolically, the raid aims to boost morale in Ukraine and put Putin at a disadvantage in the ongoing war while giving Ukraine the initiative. It demonstrates the perceived weakness in the Russian defence and seeks to instil panic among Russian citizens. The paramilitary groups have deliberately chosen terminology in defining their operation that directly echoes Putin’s language in his conduct of the war in Ukraine. For instance, the Freedom of Russia Legion referred to its operation as a “peace-keeping mission,” mirroring Putin’s description of his peacekeeping operations in Donbas (Watts, 2023). Regarding material gains, the raid enables the fighters to seize Russian weaponry. And additionally it forces Putin to redirect troops from the Ukrainian front to protect their homeland, leading to a possible weakening of Putin’s position in Ukraine (EURACTIV, 2023).


BBC (2023, 25 May). Belgorod: Russian paramilitary group vows more incursions. BBC.

EURACTIV (2023, 24 May). Cross-border Incursions from Ukraine Take a Stab at Russian Defences. EURACTIV.

Reuters (2023, 22 May). Ukrainian Military Intelligence: Russian Groups Behind Incursion. Reuters.

Watts M. (2023, 25 May). Paramilitary Group Behind Raid from Ukraine into Russia Vows More Incursions. Evening Standard.