A power station in Russia’s Belgorod city was set ablaze on Friday after a Ukrainian strike, the regional governor said – Copyright AFP SAUL LOEB
This is one of the most ambiguous bits of news you could wish to see. Freedom for Russia is a group of Russian citizens. They’re anti-Putin and against the war in Ukraine. Information about this group isn’t very helpful. Whoever they are, they’re actively attacking areas around Belgorod, on the Ukrainian border.
Russia calls them a “sabotage group”, acting for Ukraine, but it’s not that simple. As Russian citizens, acting inside Russia, they’re legally free agents. It’s unlikely that Ukraine, supportive or not, encouraged this activity. The diplomatic and military situation is quite complex enough without a “third front”.
Freedom for Russia has become talkative on their Telegram site. They have been quite reticent until now. Apparently, that’s changed and they’re cranking up the volume.
Their presence may explain a few incidents inside Russia in the last year or so. The many recent sabotage, explosions, and similar events would be quite likely signs of active resistance. If that’s the case, they have a long geographic reach across Russia.
Until now, as far as anyone knows, they haven’t been fighting on the ground in Russia. The Belgorod attacks, with not much visual evidence, point to armed troops on the ground, rather than saboteurs.
Ukraine’s rather minimalist statement that they’re not involved is probably true. Supporting a group in Russia would be very demanding, and not necessarily rewarding for Ukraine.
For the Russians, it’s a real problem. Diverting forces and maintaining security on the border will be costly and time-consuming. Russia doesn’t have a good record with security in defending its own military bases, let alone large areas of western Russia.
The serious issue for the Kremlin is that Freedom for Russia is obviously feeling confident enough to conduct military attacks. They could set off other groups, snowballing Russian resistance to the point of becoming a national issue.
Disaffected groups in Russia are known, but only to the extent of protests and various “offenses” against Russian laws relating to the Ukraine war. It doesn’t necessarily follow that there’s a solid organized opposition.
On the other hand, Russian revolutions tend to be local events that grow to become national. The 1917 revolution was at best semi-organized, then hijacked by the Bolsheviks leading to the communist takeover.
The Russian military may not be too helpful. Their many problems are well-known. They’re in bad shape. Many Russian officers have been heard complaining long and loud about the conduct of the war. If they’re asked to fight Russians inside Russia, they may not try too hard, or even join the resistance.
Another issue for the Russian military is that Freedom for Russia is operating across their supply lines. That could be a bit more than they can manage. How do you guard thousands of miles of road and rail against your own people?
For Putin, things have just got a lot worse. Protests are one thing. Armed Russians attacking Russian towns are another matter. This can’t be merely brushed off with yet another aloof, out-of-touch press statement.
If Freedom for Russia is a bit blurry as a group, they have also been pretty vocal about their resistance to the Russian regime for a long time. They’ve supported Ukraine since the start of the war.
They ARE real, visible, undeniable opposition for Putin. That visibility could be the match that sparks the inferno. 140 million Russians may well now have to make up their minds about who to support.
The opinions expressed in this Op-Ed are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of the Digital Journal or its members.
Op-Ed: Freedom for Russia group stages attacks inside Russia
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