May 14, 2022
Early in the war, we heard about some Russian troops who had crossed over to the Ukrainians and offered to fight against the invasion and Putin’s regime. At the time, they were being trained by the Ukrainians in the use of the weapons of the Ukrainian armed forces, and now we have some more information about them.
There are at least 500 of them already, fighting on the front lines in Donbas. (And, according to the Ukrainians, fighting extraordinarily well.) It started when an entire company crossed over to the Ukrainian side at the start of the “special operation”. Their commander told the Ukrainians that they had been misled, and that when they had seen the reality of the invasion, the company mutinied and decided to join the fight against Putin. Seeing that they did this on February 27, way before it was clear that Kyiv would hold, this was an insanely brave act. This company is the core of the legion now.
By the end of April, their training complete, they printed leaflets calling on Russian soldiers to join the legion. The instructions describe how to surrender with arms forming the letter ‘L’ so that they could be recognized as volunteers. Meanwhile, Ukraine has offered citizenship and $10,000 to every Russian who surrenders with heavy equipment. The EU is currently discussing offering asylum to Russian soldiers who refuse to fight against Ukraine.
There has been at least one confirmed instance of surrender using the instructions in the leaflet. One must understand that surrendering in modern warfare is actually quite perilous, and an individual soldier probably has less than 10% chance of surviving the attempt. The front lines are 4-5 km from each other, and crossing this no-man’s land under bombardment and heavy watch for potential incursions is fraught with danger. The soldier might also be spotted by his own troops, who are just as likely to shoot him as the enemy.
The Legion is also recruiting inside Russia — there are YouTube videos about joining — and it has begun to develop its own underground resistance network. It is my understanding that some of the anti-war activities carried out in Russia these days, especially in regions far from the front line, are the result. The words “Freedom for Russia” or just the letter “L” (which stands both for Liberty and Legion) or just the legion’s colors (white-blue-white — the Russian flag but without the “blood” red) are appearing on walls around the country.
There is a similar legion from Belorussian volunteers, who are also in touch with the anti-Lukashenko resistance in Belarus. (This has been quite effective in stymying transport of reinforcements and ammunition for the Russians.)
Both legions claim that their activities in Russia and Belarus are not directed by the Ukrainian government, for obvious reasons. They might cause some sleepless nights for the two ageing dictators there.