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Russian resistance leader warns Putin as militia raids over border: 'This war ends in Moscow'

22 May 2023, 19:29 | Updated: 23 May 2023, 02:02

Ilya Ponomarev spoke to Andrew Marr as footage emerged of a clash in the Belgorod region
Ilya Ponomarev spoke to Andrew Marr as footage emerged of a clash in the Belgorod region. Picture: LBC/Social media

By Will Taylor

A leader of a Russian resistance movement said to be seizing territory from Vladimir Putin has told LBC "this war can only end in Moscow".

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Ilya Ponomarev, the political leader of the Freedom of Russia Legion, told Tonight With Andrew Marr that his group is one of two regiments that have taken part in an operation that seized a village near the Ukrainian border during a cross border raid.

The anti-Putin forces say they have overrun Kozinka and has units on the way to Grayvoron, a town in the Belgorod region.

Footage of armoured vehicles purportedly moving around that area has been posted online, while Russian authorities declared a "counterterrorist regime".

Russian and Ukrainian officials both said there was fighting at the border, though claims of taking territory have not been verified.

Mr Ponomarev, a former opposition deputy in Russia’s parliament, exclusively told LBC: "This war will not end in Ukraine, this war can only end in Moscow… when Putin's regime is replaced.

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Political Leader of the Freedom of Russia Legion: 'This war can end only in Moscow.'

"Obviously it will not be done by Ukrainians or by Nato forces, British forces, whatever, it will be done by Russians."

He said his group's fighters are made up of Russian army defectors who have been trained by Ukraine's GUR military intelligence agency.

"But it's our job. It's not fair if Ukrainians would spill their blood for our freedom," he added.

Read more: Defiant Zelenskyy insists Bakhmut 'not occupied' by Russia after Putin-backed mercenary group claims control

No Ukrainian troops were involved in the operation, he claimed. He said the other regiment was a right-wing militia but his group is considered centrist.

It follows escalating activity in Russia that looks directed against prominent war supporters and the regime.

A war blogger was blown up in a St Petersburg café in April, while the daughter of a far-right thinker who was once dubbed "Putin's brain" was killed in a car bombing last year.

Earlier this month, a drone exploded over the Kremlin. Mr Ponomarev said that was done by "people we know".

Asked about the size of the anti-Putin resistance, in a country that has appeared firmly under his control, Mr Ponomarev said: "My estimate is it’s approximately 1,000 people, maybe. A lot of people are taking non-violent actions, there are people who help those partisans but the number of people actually doing things is small."

Earlier, footage posted to social media showed a Russian helicopter flying over Kozinka and firing off flares, designed to distract anti-air weapons.

A stream of cars was seen fleeing the area.

Belgorod's governor described it as sabotage by Ukrainian forces, and said the military, the Russian border guard and national guard, and the FSB security service was responding.

Moscow claimed it was an attempt to direct attention from its claimed capture of Bakhmut, an eastern town described as strategically insignificant, which it took months to conquer. Ukraine has disputed that it has fallen.

The Freedom of Russia Legion said in a statement: "We are the same Russians as you. We are distinguished only by the fact that we no longer wanted to justify the actions of criminals in power and took up arms to defend our and your freedom.

"But today it's time for everyone to take responsibility for their future. It's time to put an end to the Kremlin’s dictatorship."

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