Ukraine claims to have formed an entire military battalion of Russian citizens who have revolted against Putin’s government and desire to fight on behalf of Kiev. Bloomberg and others this week have reported on the establishment of the ‘Sibir’ (or Siberia) battalion, made up primarily of Russians who’ve left their homeland and made it to Ukraine via third countries.
“There are many representatives of the Russian Federation, Russian minorities who are categorically opposed to the Putin regime […] and they are helping us in this fight,” National Security and Defense Council (NSDC) secretary Oleksiy Danilov explained. He claimed that in the future there will “not just one such battalion.”
“I can say that it exists in the ranks of the armed forces. This is something completely different, this is a completely different situation,” he added.
However, even though this is being touted as an entire “battalion” – which for most militaries ranges in size from multiple hundreds to around 1,000 troops – the reality is that press reports out of Ukraine speak of merely “dozens” of Russians who’ve been the first to join.
This has the appearance of a propaganda ploy aimed at humiliating Moscow by generating some headlines, and which seeks to continue theme of Russians “uprising” against their own government, akin to the Wagner mutiny as well as prior cross-border raids by a Russian neo-Nazi paramilitary organization last spring.
Danilov further touted that a lot of Russians are on Ukraine’s side and that these “are not isolated cases.” But the idea that Russians are fleeing their homeland to go to Ukraine in order to take the extreme risk of joining (what is at the moment) the ‘losing’ side of a brutal high casualty battle seems far fetched.
Ukrainian media has alluded to the possibility that some could be spies wishing to infiltrate behind Ukrainian lines to gather intelligence. Kiev says it’s taken that possibility into consideration:
Ukrainian officials said they expect to attract more Russian citizens, particularly from the country’s minorities, to join the war against Putin. Those in the Sibir battalion underwent thorough security checks to verify they were supporters of Ukraine then signed a military contract, adopting army call signs to protect their identities, military officials stated.
All the members of the 60-strong battalion are volunteers, and none are recruited from among Russian prisoners of war, another official elaborated. The military plans to speed up background checks — which can take upwards of a year — in order to encourage more Russians to join their ranks, he said.
It remains that some or most might actually more simply be Russian-language only pro-Ukraine fighters from the Donbas region or perhaps Crimea. While certainly the majority of the Crimean and Donbass populations have remained pro-Moscow, there have also long been some pro-Kiev minorities within these contested regions as well, or also in the diaspora.