Freedom of Russia Legion

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Freedom of Russia Legion
Russian: Легион «Свобода России»
Ukrainian: Легіон «Свобода Росії»
Legion "Svoboda Rosiji"
Founded10 March 2022; 20 months ago (2022-03-10)
Country Ukraine
Allegiance Irpin Declaration
BranchTerritorial Defense Forces (Ukraine)
TypeForeign volunteer legion
SizeTwo battalions (as claimed by the Legion)[1][2]
Motto(s)"For Russia! For freedom!" (Russian: За Россию! За свободу!) and "Russia will be free!" (Russian: Россия будет свободной!)[3]
ColorsWhite and azure
March"Patrioticheskaya Pesnya"[4]

The Freedom of Russia Legion[i] (FRL, Russian: Легион «Свобода России», romanizedLegion "Svoboda Rossii"; Ukrainian: Легіон «Свобода Росії», romanizedLehion "Svoboda Rosiji"; abbr. ЛСР, romanized: LSR), also called the Free Russia Legion,[11][12] is a Ukrainian-based paramilitary group of Russian citizens, which opposes the Russian regime of Vladimir Putin and its invasion of Ukraine.[13] It was formed in March 2022 and is reportedly part of Ukraine's International Legion.[1][14] It consists of defectors from the Russian Armed Forces, and other Russian volunteers, some of whom had emigrated to Ukraine.[15][16] It is one of several such units participating in the Russo-Ukrainian War on behalf of Ukraine.[17]

Since 22 May 2023, the Legion has launched cross-border raids into the Belgorod region of Russia, alongside the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC).[9][18]


"Caesar", the spokesman and deputy commander of the Legion in an interview

According to UNIAN, the Freedom of Russia Legion was formed from a company of the Russian army who voluntarily defected to the Ukrainian side. According to the company commander, they crossed to the Ukrainian side with the help of the Security Service of Ukraine on 27 February 2022, to "protect Ukrainians from real fascists". He called on his compatriots, soldiers of the Russian army, to join the Freedom of Russia Legion in order to save their own people and the country "from humiliation and destruction".[19] The Legion's stated goals are to repel the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ultimately depose the silovik regime of Vladimir Putin.[20] The group claims to be made up of two battalions.[1]

Soldiers of the Freedom of Russia Legion in May 2022

The Legion's official Telegram channel was created on 10 March 2022, and its first post called on people to join the armed struggle against the "war criminal Putin". On 5 April, three men wearing military fatigues and black balaclavas held a press conference in Kyiv, announcing that the Freedom of Russia Legion had been formed. They said it was made up wholly of Russian citizens, including former POWs. One of the men said the Putin regime had tricked them into going to Ukraine to carry out "genocide", saying he had seen war crimes by the Russian army.[20]

The Freedom of Russia Legion is reportedly part of Ukraine's International Legion.[1][16]

On 1 June 2022, the Legion's official Telegram (and YouTube) channel posted a video claiming to show a Russian tank being captured by the Legion. On 29 June, they said they captured a Russian POW in the Lysychansk area.[21]

On 11 June, it became known that Igor Volobuyev [uk], the Ukrainian-born ex-vice-chairman of Gazprombank, who left Russia at the outbreak of the invasion, had joined the Freedom of Russia Legion.[22][23]

On 13 July, the Legion allegedly made a statement that it had withdrawn from active fighting, to "restore combat capability".[21]

In December 2022, the Legion's spokesman said that it operated under Ukrainian command and were mainly involved in artillery and propaganda[24]

Some Legion fighters reportedly fought in the battle of Bakhmut.[24]

In May 2023, the Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps launched a raid into Russia, in Grayvoronsky District, Belgorod Oblast.[25][26] They claimed to aim at creating a demilitarised zone along the border, to stop Russian artillery firing at Ukraine from Russian territory.[9][18] The two groups launched another raid on 1 June into the Shebekino area of Belgorod Oblast. A spokesman for the Legion said their goals were to draw Russian troops away from other parts of the front, and to encourage rebellion against the Russian government.[27]

Symbols, ideology, and leadership[edit]

A patch set of the Freedom of Russia Legion with the clenched fist and the white-blue-white flag

The Legion uses the white-blue-white flag instead of the official white-blue-red flag of Russia.[7][15] The letter L, the first letter of the words Legion and Liberty, is also used by the Legion as one of its symbols. On the right sleeve, the Legion wears the flag of Ukraine, like other Ukrainian foreign legions.[28][21]

The Legion has not publicly identified its leaders.[29] The Legion's spokesperson, who uses "Caesar" (Tsezar) as a nom de guerre,[30][31] has emerged as the group's de facto public face.[29] He identifies himself as the Legion's deputy commander,[32] and a former physiotherapist from Saint Petersburg.[24] He said in December 2022: "I am not fighting my motherland. I am fighting against Putin's regime, against evil. I'm not a traitor. I'm a true Russian patriot who thinks about the future of my country."[24]

The Legion's manifesto describes itself as a group of "free citizens of Russia who take responsibility for themselves and are beginning to fight for a New Russia."[31] It criticizes Putin's government for its corruption and suppression of civil liberties.[29] The group believes that Putin's regime can be toppled only by armed struggle,[24] and calls upon Russian officers and soldiers to defect.[29] Caesar, former member of the ultranationalist Russian Imperial Movement,[30] described himself as a right-wing nationalist,[24] but said that "we adhere to moderate centrist views."[33]

Relationship to other armed anti-Putin units in Russia[edit]

The far-right, neo-Nazi Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), a separate anti-Putin group,[33][29] has said it has "a different ideological base" than the Legion.[29] Caesar declined to condemn the RVC, saying: "I do not discuss other units, especially Russian volunteers."[33]

In August 2022, the Freedom of Russia Legion and National Republican Army signed the Irpin Declaration, a declaration of cooperation among armed anti-Putin Russian forces. The organizations also agreed to create a political wing, to represent their interests and organize a joint information policy, led by Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian MP.[34][35] However, the existence of the National Republican Army as an organization is unconfirmed, and representatives of the RVC attended the signing ceremony in Irpin. Ponomarev said that the RVC had signed the declaration,[34][35] but the RVC denied that it had signed on.[36]

Michael Clarke, a visiting professor of war studies at King's College London, said in May 2023: "It's clear that Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps are both predominantly Russian groups — self-styled 'partisans' trying to bring the Putin government down and that they range from the soccer-thug neo-Nazis to the wannabe celebrities and even to some semi-serious political reformers. They are not 'liberals' but rather hard-line Russian nationalists — just not of the Putin variety."[29][33]

Estimated strength and training[edit]

The Legion's spokesperson Caesar said in December 2022 that the Legion had "several hundred" members.[24] He said the unit's recruitment process involves multiple rounds of interviews, psychological testing, a polygraph test, and two months of training.[24] He claimed in February 2023 that the legion consisted of two battalions and was raising two more.[31]


The Russian government has responded to the Legion both legally and with propaganda. On 22 June 2022, Nikolay Okhlopkov, a Russian anti-war activist from Yakutsk, was arrested because the authorities accused him of "wanting to join the Legion". The Legion denied any link with Okhlopkov. On 14 July 2022, Putin signed a new law, under which Russian citizens can be imprisoned for up to 20 years if they "defect to the side of the enemy during an armed conflict or hostilities".[21][37][38]

In March 2023 the Supreme Court of Russia declared the Legion a terrorist group, meaning citizens who join can face up to 20 years in jail.[39]

Russian state media has rarely mentioned "Freedom of Russia" during 2022. For example, as of July 2022, RT had only one video which mentioned the Legion.[21]

State-controlled Russian media and pro-Kremlin Telegram channels have promoted claims calling the Legion fake or alleging it was created by Ukrainian intelligence. Illia Ponomarenko, defense and security reporter at The Kyiv Independent, commented to The Moscow Times: "There might be some [Russian] fighters, but whether it is organized in the way it is presented remains an open question ... It's clearer with the International Legion – there is a large number [of foreign soldiers] and they did take part in combat, for example, in Irpin, Sievierodonetsk and Lysychansk. But little is known about the [Freedom of Russia] legion." The Moscow Times also cited the report in Harper's Magazine which "described how Ukraine did not have the capacity to process and deploy foreign fighters who flocked to the country in the weeks after the invasion, and suggested foreign units were more PR than reality".[40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ also translated as the Liberty of Russia Legion,[5][6] Freedom for Russia Legion[7][8] or Legion of Freedom of Russia[9][10]


  1. ^ a b c d "Switching Sides: The Elusive 'Russian Legion' Fighting With Ukraine". The Moscow Times. 8 August 2022. Archived from the original on 13 August 2022. Retrieved 10 August 2022.
  2. ^ NEXTA [@nexta_tv] (31 July 2022). "Legion Freedom of #Russia declared that its unit now consists of two battalions." (Tweet). Archived from the original on 26 October 2022. Retrieved 20 December 2022 – via Twitter.
  3. ^ "Белгородская область | Легион Свобода России". Archived from the original on 2023-06-01. Retrieved 2023-06-01 – via
  4. ^ Поднятие флага [Raising the flag]. Легион "Свобода России". 21 December 2022. Archived from the original on 21 December 2022. Retrieved 21 December 2022 – via YouTube.
  5. ^ Davis, Charles R. "Russian opposition group posts video of what appears to be an antiwar flag above Moscow following purported cross-border raid". Business Insider. Archived from the original on 2023-05-23. Retrieved 2023-05-24.
  6. ^ Hodge, Rob Picheta, Nathan (2023-05-23). "Anti-Putin Russians say they launched a cross-border attack from Ukraine. Here's what we know". CNN. Archived from the original on 2023-05-23. Retrieved 2023-05-24.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  7. ^ a b Coles, Isabel; Trofimov, Yaroslav (7 April 2022). "Belarusians, Russians Join Ukraine's Military, Hoping for Freedom at Home". Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on 10 April 2022. Retrieved 10 April 2022. While the Belarusian opposition has long been inspired by Ukraine's resistance to Russia and attempts to impose authoritarian rule, the arrival of Russians willing to fight against their own compatriots is relatively new. The uniforms of the Freedom for Russia unit have the white-blue-white patch, in the colors of a new Russian flag favored by some opponents of Mr. Putin.
  8. ^ Johnson, Sabrina (9 April 2022). "Russians 'who want to fight Putin in Ukraine' given own battalion". Metro (British newspaper). Archived from the original on 9 April 2022. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  9. ^ a b c Melkozerova, Veronika (22 May 2023). "Pro-Ukraine Russian soldiers storm border region, claim 'liberation' of villages". Politico Europe. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  10. ^ "Ukrainian "sabotage" units engage Russian troops in the Belgorod Oblast". Georgia Today. 22 May 2023. Archived from the original on 23 May 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  11. ^ "Putin's Deserters Poised to Fight Against Him on Front Lines". Newsweek. 13 February 2023. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  12. ^ "Has Ukraine launched a 'special military operation' in Russia?". The Spectator. 22 May 2023. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  13. ^ Cole, Brendan (30 March 2022). "Former Russian Soldiers Join Ukraine Against Putin's Invasion, Kyiv Says". Newsweek. Archived from the original on 3 April 2022. Retrieved 7 April 2022.
  14. ^ "International Legion fights for Ukraine, democratic values". Kyiv Post. 5 July 2022. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  15. ^ a b "Охочих вступити до легіону "Свобода Росії" багато — представник легіону" [Many people want to join the Freedom of Russia Legion – a representative of the Legion]. Інтерфакс-Україна (Interfax-Ukraine) (in Ukrainian). Archived from the original on 2022-12-21. Retrieved 2022-04-06.
  16. ^ a b Schwirtz, Michael (12 February 2023). "They Are Russians Fighting Against Their Homeland. Here's Why". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 2023-02-26.
  17. ^
  18. ^ a b "Freedom of Russia Legion says they are creating a 'demilitarised zone' in Russia". Yahoo! News. 22 May 2023. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  19. ^ "Російські військові з легіону 'Вільна Росія', які воюють за Україну, дали брифінг (відео)" [Russian servicemen from the Free Russia Legion, who are fighting for Ukraine, gave a briefing (video)]. Ukrainian Independent Information Agency (UNIAN) (in Ukrainian). Archived from the original on 2023-05-26. Retrieved 2022-04-06.
  20. ^ a b "The Russians Fighting Putin in Ukraine". Time. 2022. Archived from the original on 2022-04-08. Retrieved 10 April 2022.
  21. ^ a b c d e "Правда ли на стороне Украины воюют россияне?". 24 July 2022. Archived from the original on 3 August 2022. Retrieved 7 August 2022.
  22. ^ "Former Gazprombank executive Igor Volobuev joins the Freedom to Russia Legion within the Ukrainian Armed Forces". Novaya Gazeta. 11 June 2022. Archived from the original on 11 June 2022. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
  23. ^ "'I could not be part of this crime': the Russians fighting for Ukraine". The Guardian. 14 June 2022. Archived from the original on 27 June 2022. Retrieved 14 June 2022.
  24. ^ a b c d e f g h "'Not a traitor': The Russians fighting alongside Ukraine's forces". Agence France-Presse. 2022-12-28. Archived from the original on 2023-03-06. Retrieved 2023-05-22.
  25. ^ "Russian regional governor says Ukrainian 'sabotage group' crossed border". Reuters. 22 May 2023. Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  26. ^ "Pro-Ukrainian Russian partisans advance into Russia's Belgorod region in surprise raid". Yahoo! News. 22 May 2023. Archived from the original on 30 May 2023. Retrieved 23 May 2023.
  27. ^ "Pro-Kyiv group reports second day of fighting in Russia's Belgorod". Reuters. 2 June 2023. Archived from the original on 2023-06-05. Retrieved 2023-06-05.
  28. ^ Легион «L» — россияне, воюющие на стороне Украины. (in Russian). Archived from the original on 2022-06-04. Retrieved 2022-05-09.
  29. ^ a b c d e f g Yuliya Talmazan, Who are the anti-Putin groups behind the dramatic raid into Russia?, NBC News (May 26, 2023).
  30. ^ a b Roth, Andrew (24 May 2023). "'We are Russians just like you': anti-Putin militias enter the spotlight". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 30 May 2023. Retrieved 29 May 2023.
  31. ^ a b c "'I Couldn't Just Stand By': Russian Fighters Explain Why They Took Up Arms Against The Kremlin". Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. 7 February 2023. Archived from the original on 24 May 2023. Retrieved 16 May 2023.
  32. ^ The Russians out for revenge on Putin, Independent (May 25, 2023).
  33. ^ a b c d Steve Cannane, Prigozhin is not the Kremlin's only problem. Meet the Russian partisans trying to help Ukraine win the war and bring Putin down, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (June 26, 2023).
  34. ^ a b Rémy Ourdan (March 15, 2023). "The Russian rebels fighting alongside Ukraine". Le Monde.
  35. ^ a b ""Irpin Declaration" on the Cooperation of the Russian opposition against Putin's regime". Kyiv Post. September 1, 2022.
  36. ^ Соловьев, Богдан (September 2022). "Экс-депутат Госдумы создал в Украине ячейку для борьбы с Путиным: что не так с организацией". Focus (Фокус). Archived from the original on 22 May 2023. Retrieved 22 May 2023.
  37. ^ "Russian Duma toughens laws, classifies information on luxury real estate and goes on vacation". The Insider. 7 July 2022. Archived from the original on 8 April 2023. Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  38. ^ "Vladimir Putin enacted more than 100 new laws today. Here are the ones you need to know". Meduza. July 14, 2022. Archived from the original on 9 June 2023. Retrieved 31 May 2023.
  39. ^ "Russian Supreme Court Deems Freedom of Russia Legion Terrorist Organisation". The Moscow Times. March 16, 2023. Archived from the original on May 28, 2023. Retrieved April 19, 2023.
  40. ^ "Switching Sides: The Elusive 'Russian Legion' Fighting with Ukraine". The Moscow Times. 8 August 2022. Archived from the original on 13 August 2022.

External links[edit]