Russia said security forces are continuing a second day of operations against attackers who crossed the border from Ukraine in what’s become the most serious incursion into Russian territory since the start of the war 15 months ago.
“We are working to wrap up the anti-terrorist operation, security forces are doing all they can,” Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said Tuesday on his Telegram channel.
It wasn’t safe for residents evacuated from the area to return home yet, Gladkov said. Twelve people had been injured in the attacks that included artillery and mortar fire as well as explosives dropped from drones.
The incursion in the Belgorod region was carried out by Russian volunteer militias, Andriy Yusov, Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman, told Ukraine’s Suspilne broadcaster in an interview Monday. The “Freedom of Russia Legion” and the “Russian Volunteer Corps” were attempting to create a “security strip” to protect Ukrainian civilians, he said.
“These are patriots of Russia as far as we understand,” Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Malyar said in televised comments Tuesday. “People in fact rebelled against Putin’s regime.”
Residential and administrative buildings as well as local infrastructure were damaged by mortar and artillery fire, Russia’s Investigative Committee said in a statement that blamed the attack on “Ukrainian armed formations.”
Geolocated footage shows the attackers struck a border post near the village of Kozinka before advancing into Russia with at least one tank, the Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based research institute, said in a report. The assault underlined the weakness of Russian border fortifications in the area, it said.
President Vladimir Putin was informed about the incident in reports from the Defense Ministry and security officials, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian media. There were sufficient defense forces in the region to repel and destroy the assailants, he said.
The raid is the second cross-border attack in Russia in two months, after officials accused Ukraine in March of a sabotage operation in a village in the Byransk region that killed two civilians and wounded a 10-year-old boy. Kyiv denied the claim, calling it an attempt by Russia to boost public support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
It also comes after Russia averted a strike by two drones on the Kremlin earlier this month, which it blamed on Ukraine without providing evidence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied his government was involved.
“Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action,” the UK Defence Ministry said on Twitter.