Russia said on Monday it was battling a cross-border incursion by saboteurs who burst through the frontier from Ukraine, in what appeared to be one of the biggest attacks of its kind since the war began.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s Belgorod region adjacent to northeastern Ukraine, said the Russian army, border guards, presidential guards and FSB security service were taking measures to repel the raid.
No civilians had been harmed, and there was no evacuation under way, he said, describing reports of an evacuation as “lies”. “Do not listen to our enemies,” he said.
Russia alleges cross-border attack by Ukrainian saboteursMay 23, 202300:41
Earlier, the Telegram channel Baza, which is linked to Russia’s security services, published footage apparently showing a Ukrainian armored vehicle advancing on the border checkpoint. Though there have been other reports of cross-border raids, an infiltration using armored vehicles would appear to be unprecedented since the war began.
Baza said there were indications of fighting in three settlements on the main road leading from Ukraine into Russia.
A group calling itself the Liberty of Russia Legion, which claims to be made up of Russians cooperating with Ukraine’s forces, said on Twitter it had “completely liberated” the border town of Kozinka and reached district center Graivoron.
“Moving on. Russia will be free!” it wrote.
Earlier on Monday, it released a video showing five heavily armed fighters: “We are Russians, like you. We are people like you,” one said facing the camera. “It is time to put an end to the dictatorship of the Kremlin.”
NBC News could not verify the situation in the border towns.
Ukraine’s military intelligence service blamed the incident on “opposition-minded Russian citizens” from two paramilitary groups, Ukrainian media outlet Hromadske said.
Hromadske quoted military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov as saying the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps were responsible for the incursion. It did not make clear whether he provided any evidence for the assertion.
“Responsibility for these events was taken by citizens of (Russia), particularly the RDK and the ‘Freedom of Russia’ Legion,” he said, using the acronym for the Russian Volunteer Corps.
“I think we all can only welcome the decisive actions of opposition-minded Russian citizens, who are ready for an armed struggle against the criminal regime of (President) Vladimir Putin.”
Yusov said the Belgorod operation would create a “security zone” to protect Ukrainians from cross-border attacks by Russia.
The reported incursion comes two days after Russia said it it had captured the final few blocks of the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, Moscow’s first substantial claim of victory since last summer after the bloodiest land battle in Europe since World War Two.
Kyiv said its troops were still fighting in the city and that it was pushing to encircle Russian forces after making gains on the flanks.