Belgorod, the mysterious attack: who are Russian Volunteers and Legionaries

The militias claim action on the border with Ukraine

The Russian Volunteer Corps which today claimed a second incursion into Russia’s Belgorod Oblast after the one in March was formed in July 2022 and is made up of far-right Russian nationalists opposed to Vladimir Putin’s regime.

According to the Financial Times, the group is led by 38-year-old Denis Nikitin, also known as Denis Kapustin, a martial arts MMA enthusiast, creator of the White Rex clothing line with neo-Nazi and white supremacist symbols. Known in the circles of the European extreme right, he lived in Germany. In 2019, he was banned for ten years from the Schengen area for his extremism. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he released a video in which he said he hated Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, but now the priority was to fight on Ukraine’s side against Putin. The group also has ties to Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian MP in exile since 2014.

Today’s raid is also jointly claimed by the Legion for Russia’s Freedom, a legion of Russian opponents and defectors fighting within the Ukrainian Forces, created in March 2022.

It is not clear how many members of the Volunteer Corps there are, nor what exactly are their relations with Ukraine. In April, Novaya gazeta contacted the City Council, an organization that recruits fighters for the Russian Volunteer Corps and other formations of Russians ready to fight Putin. The idea, it is explained, is to create a base from which to form a Russian liberation army with nuclei fighting in Ukraine and others acting in Russia, also linked to the formation of ethnic groups in the Caucasus. The organizers say they are people of different orientations, but who believe in the European Convention on Human Rights, the right of peoples to self-determination and of societies to self-government.