Anti-Kremlin groups, Russia’s Freedom Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, claim responsibility for the incursion and attack on Russian territory.
Russia says more than 70 assailants were killed in its operation to repel cross-border raids that entered the Belgorod region from Ukraine and fought Russian forces for about 24 hours before withdrawing from Russian territory .
Russia said it deployed jets and artillery on Tuesday to destroy armed groups that entered the border region in the boldest attack on Russian territory since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine l ‘last year.
Authorities said 13 people were injured by artillery and mortar fire during the fighting and one woman died during Monday’s evacuations. A second civilian was reportedly killed in the village of Kozinka.
Nine border villages were evacuated during the fighting, according to Russian officials.
“In total, more than 70 militants, four armored vehicles and five vans were destroyed. Today the (counter-terrorist) operation was called off in the Belgorod region,” Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported on Wednesday, calling the attackers a “Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group.” .
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said local troops, airstrikes and artillery routed the attackers and what was left of the force was pushed back “to the territory of Ukraine, where they continued to be hit by fire until they were completely eliminated”. .
Members of two anti-Kremlin groups, the Russian Freedom Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), claimed responsibility while kyiv denied any involvement in the raid.
“We are not waging war on foreign territories,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Ganna Malyar said on Tuesday.
In a video purportedly released by the Russian Freedom Legion on Monday, a camouflaged spokesman, surrounded by armed men in fatigues, said: “Russia will be free!” – a slogan frequently used by Russian opposition activists.
Little is known about the two groups or their ties to the Ukrainian military. The RVC was founded last August and is believed to consist mainly of anti-Putin far-right Russian fighters who have ties to Ukrainian far-right groups.
Moscow-based journalist Yulia Shapovalova told Al Jazeera the Kremlin believed all the attackers were “Ukrainian militants”.
‘Everything is under control’
Belgorod in southwestern Russia is located about 80 km (45 miles) north of the city of Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine. The area is known to house Russian military assets, including fuel and ammunition depots. Belgorod was included in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s order last year to increase attack readiness and improve defenses.
Similar to the neighboring Russian region of Bryansk and other border areas, Belgorod has witnessed sporadic fallout from the war in Ukraine.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say Tuesday how many attackers were involved in the assault or comment on why efforts to suppress the attackers took so long.
Belgorod Region Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the raid targeted the rural area around Graivoron, a town about 5 km (3 miles) from the border.
The regional governor complained in a video late Tuesday that claims by federal authorities over the past year that “everything is under control” did not ring true in light of the cross-border incursion and previous attacks. He again appealed to the Kremlin to strengthen the region’s defenses.
On Wednesday, Gladkov reported on his Telegram channel that a drone dropped an explosive device on a road in Belgorod damaging a car, although no one was injured in the attack, according to initial reports.
A Russian demining team and rescue workers were at the scene of the attack, Russian news agency TASS reported, citing the governor’s Telegram channel. In a separate article, the governor reported that a drone was shot down over Belgorod, although it is unclear if this drone was responsible for the attack on the road or if it was a a different drone, TASS reported.
Russian news portal RBK, citing unidentified sources in Russia’s Interior Ministry and Territorial Police, said that during the cross-border incursion, Graivoron was shelled from around five o’clock early Monday. After that, tanks fired at the Graivoron border checkpoint while the nearby village of Kozinka came under mortar and rocket fire, RBK said, citing the same sources.
The attack force consisted of 10 armored vehicles and an unknown number of soldiers, RBK said.
Gladkov also reported that fires on the Ukrainian side of the border affected the Borisovka region on Tuesday, about 20 km (20 miles) northeast of Graivoron. No casualties were reported, he said without giving details of the incident.
The attack on Belgorod in Russia precedes a widely expected Ukrainian offensive and Russia reinforces hundreds of kilometers of front lines with tank barriers, trenches and troops.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Tuesday visited Ukrainian frontline troops in the eastern region of Donetsk, where Russian forces have been concentrating their efforts to seize territory.
“Every day on the battlefield, the Ukrainian marines prove that they are a powerful force that destroys the enemy, liberates Ukrainian land and performs the most difficult tasks in the most difficult conditions,” Zelenskyy said, announcing the creation of a Ukrainian marine corps.