On April 24 Russian Army Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov announced a successful strike using an Iskander ballistic missile system on the positions of the Georgian Legion foreign fighters group in the Ukrainian region of Donetsk. The territory is currently an epicentre of fighting in the country and has been recognised by Moscow as a Russian territory since September 2022. Losses among the Georgian Legion fro the attack included up to 60 personnel killed and 15 vehicles destroyed, with 20 more reportedly seriously wounded. The Iskander system has been used sparingly in Ukraine to avoid depleting stocks, with the bulk of the arsenal conserved for a potential war with NATO members while lower end munitions are generally used in the current conflict. Its employment against the Georgian Legion could thus indicate a high priority allocated to neutralising the unit. The Iskander forms the backbone of Russian tactical strike capabilities and is prized for its very high precision, its missiles’ ability to be retargeted during flight, and their unique low trajectories and high terminal speeds which make interception extremely difficult. These capabilities, however, also result in a greater costs compared to more basic ballistic missile designs such as the preceding OTR-21 Tochka used by both Russian and Ukrainian forces, although the system is still considered highly cost effective compared to other kinds of precision strike assets.
Although consistently referred to by Russian government and state media sources as mercenaries, interviews with the Georgian Legion indicate it is largely comprised of ideologically motivated volunteers. The unit has been active since 2014 comprised largely of Western nationals and has been particularly effective at recruiting Americans. The Legion is an elite paramilitary unit of approximately 1000 personnel – referred to by Sky News as operating “with one aim, the destruction of Vladimir Putin.” Sky interviews with the Legion’s members provided important indications of their motivations and views on the war with Russia. “Russians aren’t human,” one member of the unit told a Sky reporter, while another asserted that “Russia is a terrorist state.” “We have fewer of them here, it means less to kill at home,” one Georgian militiaman stated in reference to the need to maximise Russian casualties on the Ukrainian front. The group’s leader Mamuka Mamulashvili stressed, despite dissuasion from his interviewers, that when fighting Russians “there is no difference between so-called civilians and the government, they are the same occupiers.”
Far from out of line with the views expressed in recent interviews, the Georgian unit has been accused of war crimes in the theatre, with one such incident evidenced by video footage showing captured Russian personnel being executed. It was in line with these findings that Russian Army General Konashenkov reported regarding the targeting of personnel from the unit: “the eliminated militants of the Georgian Legion were involved in the brutal torture and murder of Russian servicemen near Kiev in March last year.” The legion’s record and Konashenkov’s statement indicate that the allocation of a prized Iskander for use against the unit could have partially been motivated by a need for retribution, and to send a message to other units committing war crimes against Russian personnel, alongside the need to neutralise the fighting force near the frontlines.