Anti-Kremlin Russian volunteer units have carried out an orchestrated attack in the border region of Belgorod, according to Ukrainian military intelligence.
Groups of fighters from two units opposed to President Vladimir Putin shared footage appearing to show them operating inside Russia and vowing to ‘free’ the country from underneath the autocrat’s rule.
Uniformed soldiers claiming to be from the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps shared separate videos of themselves posing with flags and in front of Russian road signs, calling for an end to the ‘Kremlin’s dictatorship‘.
The clips came amid reports of a drone attack on Russia’s Golovchino district, in Belgorod Oblast, around 35 miles from the region’s main city with the same name. Reports said the drone dropped an explosive on an administrative building.
The Putin-appointed regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov issued an appeal for residents not to panic amid the reports of multiple attacks across the border area.
Ukraine’s military intelligence service blamed the armed operation in Russia’s Belgorod region on Russian citizens belonging to two paramilitary groups, Ukrainian media outlet Hromadske said.
It quoted military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov as saying the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps were responsible for the operation.
‘Responsibility for these events was taken by citizens of (Russia), particularly the RDK and the ‘Freedom of Russia’ Legion,’ Hromadske quoted military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov, 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.
Ukraine denied any involvement in the attack, but presidential adviser Mikhaylo Podolyak said: ‘Ukraine is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and is studying the situation,’ adding Kyiv ‘has nothing to do with it.’
Ukraine has previously denied responsibility for several reported sabotage attacks on Russian territory.
Podolyak suggested that Russian ‘guerrilla groups’ could be responsible.
‘The only driving political force in a totalitarian country of tightened screws is always an armed guerrilla movement,’ he said.
‘As you know, tanks are sold at any Russian military store, and underground guerrilla groups are composed of Russian citizens.’
Russia has said the incursion was designed by Ukraine to ‘divert attention from Bakhmut’, after Moscow claimed to have captured the city over the weekend, but Kyiv denied this.
The reported incursion came ahead of a widely expected counteroffensive by Kyiv.
In a video released online, fighters from the Russian Volunteer Corps said they were in Russia in the early hours of Monday morning.
They published a night-time video, with some standing in front of Russian road signs while holding their flag, with features a sword and shield on the front.
The footage showed road signs in the Belgorod region.
‘This is the Russian Volunteer Battalion,’ the group of four soldiers said. ‘We have again crossed the border of the Russian Federation. Russia will still be free.’
A second clip heard them say: ‘So the Russian Volunteer is back in the motherland. We are home. The time to fight for the freedom of Russia has come.’
Another group, said to be the Freedom of Russia Legion, also said they were operating inside Ukraine.
In a statement to the Russian people, the leader of the unit said Putin’s Russia is ‘rotten from corruption, lies, censorship, restrictions on freedoms, repressions.’
In a statement on Telegram, Governor Gladkov said the Russian army and security forces were taking measures to repel the incursion.
‘A sabotage and reconnaissance group of the Ukrainian armed forces’ crossed into Russia’s Belgorod region,’ governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.
He added that troops and the FSB security service were ‘taking the necessary measures to eliminate the enemy.’
In its video message, the so-called Russian Volunteers Corps – an anti-Putin group operating from Ukraine that has claimed in the past to have crossed the border into Russia, said: ‘Russia will be free soon.’
Earlier, the Telegram channel Baza, which is linked to Russia’s security services, had published footage apparently showing a Ukrainian tank attacking a Russian border post. News agencies were unable to immediately verify the reports.
In a separate video shared online, the inside of a border checkpoint was was seen with the body of a uniformed soldier sprawled across the floor.
The Russian Volunteer Corps, who posted the video, said the body was that of a slain Russian border guard. ‘We came in almost unopposed,’ they said in the footage.
However, there was no independent confirmation of the attack on the border post.
Meanwhile a Russian report said there had been ‘no casualties’ among border guards and an enemy attack had been repulsed.
Governor Gladkov had earlier said up to six villages had been attacked by drones and mortar fire. Footage purportedly showed smoke rising over the region, while one video was claimed to show a roof in flames
There is a mass information attack and calls for panic against the backdrop of the massive shelling of Graivoronsky district,’ said the governor.
‘I repeat: not a single civilian there was injured or killed.
‘I also see the mass spreading of calls for evacuation, shared on behalf of Shebekinsky district. This is a lie,’ he said.
‘If things get worse, or better, we will inform you immediately. I am at work, I am with you. We will solve all our problems if we stay calm and do not listen to our enemies.’
Reports said Golovchino district was hit by a drone attack.
‘A quadcopter dropped an explosive device on the village administration building in Golovchino,’ said the governor. ‘The roof caught fire. According to the preliminary information, there are no casualties.’
Gladkov said he would release more details later.
After Russian President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine in February 2022, the border region of Belgorod in the country’s south has been repeatedly shelled, and dozens of people have been killed.
Authorities have also reported a series of incidents involving members of ‘sabotage’ groups crossing over from Ukraine.
In April, the city of Belgorod was bombed by a Russian fighter jet which dropped ammunition over the city by accident.
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