(Reuters) – The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said on Monday that a Ukrainian “subversive group” had entered Russian territory in the Grivoron region bordering Ukraine, and was repelled by Russian forces.
However, Ukraine’s Hromadske quoted Ukraine’s military intelligence as saying that two Russian armed opposition groups, the Russian Freedom Corps and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), both composed of Russian citizens, carried out the attack.
Telegram channel Baza, which has links to the Russian security services, published aerial footage apparently showing a Ukrainian armored vehicle advancing on the Graivoron border checkpoint.
The RIA Novosti news agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov as saying that Russian President Vladimir Putin had been informed and work was underway to expel the “saboteurs”.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram that the Russian military, border guards, presidential guard and the FSB security service were involved in the operation. He said no civilians were hurt, and there was no evacuation under way.
Baza said there were indications of fighting in three settlements along the main road to Russia. The “Open Belgorod” channel on Telegram said that electricity and water were cut off in several villages.
Reuters could not verify the reports and the Ukrainian military could not be reached for comment.
A group calling itself the Liberty of Russia Legion — a Ukraine-based Russian militia led by Russian dissident Ilya Ponomarev that says it operates inside Russia to overthrow Putin — said on Twitter it had “completely liberated” the border town of Kozynka. It added that forward units had reached the center of the easternmost district of Grayvoron.
“Go ahead. Russia will be free!” books.
The group also released a video showing five heavily armed fighters.
One of them said, facing the camera, “We are Russians like you. We are people like you. We want our children to grow up in peace.” It’s time to put an end to the Kremlin dictatorship.
Hromadsk quoted Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andrei Yusov as saying that the Belgorod operation would create a “security zone” to protect Ukrainians from cross-border attacks by Russia.
The Kremlin said the incursion was intended to divert attention from the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, which Russian forces claim they have fully captured after more than nine months of attritional fighting.
“We understand very well the purpose of such a diversion – to divert attention from Bakhmut’s direction and to reduce the political impact of Bakhmut’s loss on the Ukrainian side,” Peskov was quoted as saying.
In early March, the FSB reported the incursion of an “armed group of Ukrainian nationalists” from Ukraine into Russia’s Bryansk region.
In videos circulating online at the time, militants who say they belong to the RVC describe themselves as Russian “liberators” and say they crossed borders to fight what they called “Putin’s bloody regime and the Kremlin”.
RVC was founded last August by Denis Kapustin, a Russian nationalist based in Ukraine, and announced on May 17 on its Telegram channel that it was joining the Russia Freedom Corps.
The Rwandan Armed Forces have fought on various fronts in Ukraine’s war alongside Ukrainian forces and say they have carried out at least three incursions into the Bryansk region since March.
Reporting by Reuters. Editing by Kevin Levy
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