In the few last months the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR), two anti-Putin Russian militias based in Ukraine, launched raids into Russia. The two militias are not identical. The LSR began when about a hundred Russian soldiers defected mostly as a single group in early 2022. The RDK was formed around Russians living and working in Ukraine when the invasion began. Both groups are almost entirely composed of Russians who oppose Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The raids are meant to embarrass Putin, not kill Russian soldiers and civilians. Some of the Russian responses to the raids did that, notably by doing the same things they did in Ukraine, like bombing and using thermobaric weapons in civilian areas, looting (of Russian instead of Ukrainian civilians), etc.. Most of the responses against the Ukrainian-backed Russian militias were ineffectual, which is typical of the Russian Army Putin has created to fight in Ukraine. These raiding operations took place in the Russian province of Belgorod, which is on the border north of the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Initially these raids faced no armed opposition and when Russian security forces showed during more recent raids, the Russian troops either retreated or surrendered. This was not unexpected because Russian troops in Ukraine have performed poorly from the beginning. Worse, the raiders were all Russians who, unlike most Russian army personnel in Ukraine, were competent and effective fighters whose motivation was to discredit Vladimir Putin and his war in Ukraine.
It was also a mystery, at first, where these anti-Putin Russians came from. The LSR was formed in early 2022 from a company of Russian soldiers who defected to the Ukrainians in March 2022 and became part of the International Legion Ukraine formed from the many foreign veterans who went to Ukraine to fight the invaders. The RDK consisted of Russians living in Russia and Ukraine who were fed up with Putin and also joined the International Legion but later left that to form the RDK
While the International Legion was formed to defend Ukraine, the RDK and LSR were formed to embarrass, discredit and oust Putin from power. Since the invasion began in February 2022, there have been a growing number of Russians who oppose the war. This is one reason why some of the raids are carried out deep (over 50 kilometers) inside Russia. The Russian armed response to these raids has been embarrassingly ineffective.
Before these raids began, the Ukrainian border was lightly guarded, on both sides, by border guards and conscripts. Once these raids by Ukrainian-backed Russian militias began and the border was revealed to be vulnerable, Russia tried to reinforce border security along the entire 540-kilometer border. This proved to be difficult without withdrawing a substantial number of Russian troops from Ukraine along with artillery, armored vehicles and air support. This led some Russian media critics to describe this as an easy, for Ukraine, way to divert forces from the fighting in Ukraine. Russian media was ordered to downplay the fact that the raiders were Russian. The reality of the situation eventually reached most Russians. This is what RDK and LSR wanted, to show that Russians were fighting against Putin. Russia described the raiders as Ukrainian terrorists, playing down the fact that the raiders were Russians. Media coverage of the raids made it obvious that Russian security forces were no better at defending the border than they were at defeating Ukrainians inside Ukraine. Russia also has to worry about the imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive in southern Ukraine. If that offensive has any obvious success, it will demonstrate that the poor security on the Belgorod border was part of a pattern of Russian military failures in Ukraine. Putin is ignoring this and his close associates are not supposed to tell Putin how bad the situation is in Ukraine. This is not a strategy for victory, but for ignoring defeats and hoping for the best.
Inside Russia the media cannot report the problems on the border or inside Ukraine. Russians who are curious have other ways, usually via the Internet, to find out what is really going on. As the economic sanctions on Russia continue and are increased, that means more economic privation for Russian civilians. Putin is confident that the traditional Russian willingness to tolerate the shortages and higher unemployment will prevent any protests inside Russia. That has generally been the case. But because this is not a war where Russia has been invaded and is defending itself, Russian military losses and economic losses are harder to justify. Russia is the invader of a neighbor that was not attacking Russia. This reduces the Russian people’s willingness to tolerate the cost of the war. And now Russia is facing armed Russians fighting inside Russia to protest the Putin policies.