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Could Russia’s 50 thousand-strong Donbas veterans organization become a Russian Freikorps?

One of the groups of Russian special forces and mercenaries that started the Russian invasion in Donbas, Ukraine
One of the groups of Russian special forces and mercenaries that started the Russian invasion in Donbas, Ukraine
Could Russia’s 50 thousand-strong Donbas veterans organization become a Russian Freikorps?

Aleksandr Boroday, the former prime minister of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk Peoples Republic,” says he is seeking official registration in Moscow for an organization that would speak for the 30,000 to 50,000 Russian “volunteers” who have fought in Ukraine.


Some undoubtedly will see this as yet another indication that far more people have gone from Russia to fight in Ukraine. Others will view it as a propaganda effort to cover the presence of regular Russian troops in Ukraine. And still a third group will view this step as a way of controlling these people and preventing them from setting off a crime wave.

But there is a more sinister possibility, one that should not be discounted, and that is this: such a group could become the basis for the formation of paramilitary groups like the Freikorps in Germany at the end of World War I, contributed to the destabilization and neighboring countries, and from which emerged some of Hitler’s most ardent supporters.

At a Moscow press conference yesterday, Boroday said that he had filed documents with the Russian justice ministry seeking registration already on July 2. And he said that his group would “defend the volunteers and help the families of those who died and the people of the Donbas.”

“Russian volunteers,” he continued, “are socially active people, they are united by the idea of Russian patriotism and are ready as fighters for the Russian world. But they have no social defense.” Consequently, they must unite “and help one another.” The Union of Volunteers of the Donbas does not plan to have anything to do with the Committee of Salvation of Ukraine.

In addition, the former “DNR” leader said, “the organization will have exclusively a social direction without any political goals, does not plan any political activities, does not seek election to the Duma … and counts on the patriotic attitudes of representatives of business, as there is no state support.”

Boroday’s words, however, are not as reassuring as he would perhaps like them to be. First, the “socially active” and military experienced Donbas volunteers are unlikely to be satisfied with becoming some sort of mutual assistance organization. At least some of them are likely to act more boldly than that.

Second, such an organization whatever its leader says is inevitably going to help ensure that its members stay in touch with one another, something that means in Russia now, the authorities are going to have to deal with not individual Donbas veterans as they earlier had to cope with Afgantsy but with a group. [“Afgantsy” is a Russian slang name for veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan – Ed.]

And third, Boroday’s reference to the notion that businesses are going to fund his group should set off alarm bells: that is exactly how some of the Freikorps groups were financed in Germany and neighboring countries at the end and immediately after World War I when some business leaders used them for their own narrow interests.

But there is a still more ominous possibility: Vladimir Putin might be quite pleased to use such groups to attack his opponents giving him the kind of plausible deniability he has used so successfully in the past. If that happens, then no one in Russia is safe given that there may be as many as 50,000 of these people spread across the country.

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