Valentin Fedichev, the head of the Ukrainian defense ministry’s department for social and humanitarian policy, says that the Russian military is “forming a third army corps and staffing it “exclusively with Ukrainian citizens.” To date, he adds, some 5,000 have signed up.
Such a unit, if it is actually being formed and there is as yet no confirmation, could introduce a troubling new element in the Ukrainian conflict, possibly allowing Moscow to launch a larger invasion of Ukraine but portraying it in a way that some might find plausible as the actions not of the Russian military but of a “Ukrainian” unit instead.
And such a strategy might be employed by the Kremlin against other former Soviet republics, a possibility that gives new meaning to Vladimir Putin’s 2014 decision to allow foreigners to serve in the Russian army, a decision most analysts suggested was the result of demographic problems inside Russia.
Fedichev made this statement on Kyiv’s Hromads’ke television station, and one Russian commentator has suggested that Ukraine has only itself to blame for such a development, noting that the Ukrainian defense ministry has dismissed “thousands” of soldiers it deems unreliable and that many of these may still want to fight.
While Fedichev’s remarks are unconfirmed and certain to be denied by Russian officials who would find it easy to hide the formation of such a unit or units at least in the initial stages, the formation of such “a corps” would be consistent with what Moscow is already doing in Belarus.
There, Russian activists are working to form pro-Moscow paramilitary groups that could be used against Mensk at some point. Like similar forces in the Donbas, these groups are armed and promote a mix of Soviet, Orthodox Christian, and Russian imperialist ideology. (For an extensive new report on these groups see here).