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Russian fighters in Ukraine’s ranks predict bloody end for Putin regime

Far-right-led volunteer unit says ‘dozens’ of cross-border raids show Kremlin’s weakness

Alexander, who goes by the military call-sign “Fortuna”, hails from Novosibirsk in Siberia, a city 4,000km east of the bar where he is sitting with other Russian fighters in Kyiv, the capital of a country that his homeland has been trying to occupy for two years.

He says he is too busy in Ukraine to miss anything about Russia and does not expect to live there again anytime soon. “And anyway,” he adds, “we pop back there pretty often”.

Fortuna (40) is chief of staff of the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), which has gained prominence with armed raids from Ukraine that it says pull Moscow’s troops away from the front line and expose weaknesses in the autocratic regime of president Vladimir Putin.

“There are always two aims,” he says of the cross-border attacks.


“The first you could call political: to show the failure of the Russian Federation’s border guards, and show Russian citizens – who at some point swapped their freedom for ‘stability’ – that they don’t actually have stability or security; that no one cares about them, that their borders are totally open and can easily be crossed, and that they can’t rely on the ‘security shield’ that they were promised,” he says.

“The military element involves specific local tasks ... perhaps attacking a [military] position or destroying a convoy that’s carrying a valuable cargo. More broadly, the aim is to force [Russia] to move troops from the front in eastern Ukraine to defend its own borders.”

The RDK infiltrated the Russian border regions of Belgorod and Bryansk several times last year, spending hours and in one case two days on Russian territory and posting extensive footage online before crossing back into Ukraine. Russia claimed the RDK killed and injured civilians and suffered heavy losses in the raids, which the group denied.

“We’ve actually been across a few dozen times,” Fortuna says.

“Some missions we publicise but most we don’t. They may involve small groups scouting a certain route in preparation for a bigger future operation. There are usually no firefights on these operations, they’re more about reconnaissance, and they’re happening all the time.”

On some bigger raids the RDK has worked alongside the Freedom of Russia Legion, another group of Russians fighting for Ukraine and intent on overthrowing Putin. A third Russian volunteer unit, the Sibir (Siberian) Battalion, is also now operating on Kyiv’s side.

The Freedom of Russia Legion has links to former Russian deputy Ilya Ponomarev, who told The Irish Times last August that the RDK was “pretty far right ... They are just radicals who want to fight. They’re always in the front lines. They’re a small number and are not well-managed by the overall command.”

The RDK was founded after Russia’s full invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 by Moscow-born Denis Kapustin, also known as Denis Nikitin or White Rex, who has been a prominent figure in Russian and German football hooligan and far-right mixed martial arts communities.

Fortuna, who says he was a leading member of the skinhead movement in Novosibirsk in the late 1990s and early 2000s, describes Kapustin as “a nationalist, not a Nazi”.

“It’s a cliché that the RDK is made up of fascists and Nazis. The corps includes hundreds of people with different beliefs from across political spectrum – nationalists and centrists and liberals and libertarians and democrats,” he says.

“I can’t say we have a very clear ideology and select people on that basis. We are glad to see any person who is ready to fight with a weapon in his hand. Of course, we have our own internal rules and traditions, but we are open to everyone,” he adds.

“The ideology of the RDK today is to win this war, do as much as we can to overthrow the current Kremlin regime and try to help the Russian population of the Russian Federation get out of the bestial condition that it’s in now.”

However, the RDK was founded specifically for ethnic Russians in Ukraine, and its members have expressed support for a future “Russia for the Russians”, and for the vast Russian Federation’s many other nations to be free to form their own independent states.

“We’re not talking about only removing Putin and his closest circle,” Fortuna says.

“We think the way the Russian Federation is now run is untenable and should be totally dismantled. And whether it will remain as one state, or a few, or many different states will be decided by the people living in those current subjects [regions] of the Russian Federation.”

Russia’s forces in Ukraine include tens of thousands of convicts, a disproportionate number of troops from its poorest ethnic minorities – such as Tuvans and Buryats from Siberia – and several far-right units, the best known of which is probably Rusich.

Ukraine’s military is bolstered by other groups of foreign volunteers, including a large international legion and battalions founded by Georgians, Belarusians and Chechens.

Kyiv is coy about its relationship with the RDK, and describes the frontier raids as the independent initiatives of free-thinking Russians; yet the operations would be impossible without approval, and perhaps even drone and artillery cover, from Ukraine.

The incursions show a significant level of preparation and professionalism, and Fortuna dismisses any suggestion that the RDK is a marginal band of reckless radicals.

“We also operate in eastern Ukraine as a standard infantry assault unit ... attacking [enemy] fortifications, positions and lines,” he says, listing areas of Kharkiv, Kherson, Zaporizhzhia and other partly occupied areas where the RDK has fought – including Avdiivka in Donetsk, as the Ukrainian military withdrew from the shattered town last week.

“When a new team appears and shows good results, really fights and takes on tough tasks and fulfils them with honour, then the Ukrainian military community is happy about that,” Fortuna says, adding that the RDK operates under the command of the armed forces.

“In my view we are now an integral part of this community, and that’s very valuable and very important for us. We’re not just some mercenaries or wild men ... Sometimes even people from respected units of the Ukrainian armed forces want to join us.”

Most of the RDK’s volunteers connect with the group online and, if their request to join is approved, they are advised on how best to reach Ukraine, usually via Europe.

“Very rarely someone, at their own risk, tries to cross the border directly from Russia. If they make it, then they tell the Ukrainian border guards that they want to join us. But I wouldn’t advise it because it’s extremely dangerous,” Fortuna says.

Some Russian soldiers who have surrendered through a Ukrainian hotline called “I want to live” have joined the RDK, while other sympathisers remain undercover, he says.

“They can sometimes be much more useful by staying where they are and giving us information. There are people like that in the FSB [Russian security service] and the army – everywhere, in fact.”

Most of the RDK’s funding comes from Russians who have left their homeland. It is not clear if the death in an Arctic jail last week of opposition leader Alexei Navalny will boost donations to the group or the number of Russians willing to take up arms against Putin.

“Navalny’s death is undoubtedly a tragedy, but a predictable tragedy. It underlines again that this Kremlin regime will always go after its real opponents,” Fortuna says.

He predicts that Russians will eventually remove the man who has ruled them since 2000 in the same way as Iraqis, Libyans and Romanians deposed and killed their ageing dictators in recent decades.

“I think the Putin regime will end same way ... as [Saddam] Hussein and [Muammar] Gadafy and [Nicolae] Ceausescu,” Fortuna says. “Very suddenly, very quickly, very bloodily and very painfully for Russia.”

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