Elements of pro-Ukrainian groups Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and the Russian Freedom Legion (LSR) have recently carried out a raid on Belgorod Oblast, a region located along the Russian-Ukrainian border, according to Sunday’s report from the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War (ISW). The raid caused dissonance in the responses of the Russian authorities.
Geolocated images showed LSR and RDK personnel advancing towards the border settlement of Novaya Tavolzhanka3.5 kilometers from the border.
While the Russian Defense Ministry claimed to have repelled a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group, the governor of Belgorod Oblast, Vyacheslav Gladkov, confirmed the existence of fighting inside Novaya Tavolzhanka. Conflicting reports from official Russian sources and the governor’s acknowledgment point to a lack of coordination in dealing with these incursions, leaving Russian leaders undecided about their reaction.
Amid the escalation of tensions, Governor Gladkov found himself embroiled in negotiations on the exchange of captured Russian prisoners of war. The RDK and LSR released a video showing two Russian POWs they claimed to have captured near Novaya Tavolzhanka. They demanded the presence of Governor Gladkov to negotiate his release.
Initially, Gladkov agreed to meet them at the Shebekino checkpoint, but later backed out., suspecting that the POWs might have been shot. In response, the RDK and LSR released another video featuring 12 Russian POWs, criticizing Gladkov for his lack of courage and threatening to send the prisoners to Ukraine.
The new incursion of pro-Ukrainian forces into Russian territory came shortly after Russia attacked central Ukraine from the air. In one of those attacks, a two-year-old girl was killed on Saturday night and 22 others were injured in the city of Dnipro. In another attack, on Sunday, an airfield near the city of Kropivnitskii in the center of the country was hit, according to Ukrainian authorities.
Kiev has said for months that it is preparing a major counteroffensive against Moscow forces to retake territory lost since Russia launched its military operation in February 2022. Much of Donetsk has been controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014. It is one of the four Ukrainian territories that Russia annexed last September, along with Lugansk, Zaporizhia and Kherson.
Ukraine has never claimed responsibility for the attacks on Russian soil, although presidential adviser Mikhailo Podoliak declared on Sunday that the situation in the border areas should be considered “as the future of Russia.”
In their attempt to assuage public anxiety, the Russian authorities have focused mainly on informational effects, presenting the war in Ukraine as an existential threat to Moscow, the ISW reported. However, a broader policy to prevent future incursions has not yet been established. Furthermore, the response to evacuation measures in the affected area remains unclear, with reports suggesting a state of semi-abandonment in some settlements.
The limited incursions and border shelling in Belgorod Oblast have become a major point of criticism against the Russian military leadership. In parallel, Russian forces have continued to attack Ukraine with Iranian-made drones and cruise missiles for the fourth day in a row.
The head of the Wagner Group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, suggested that Ukrainian forces might have recaptured positions in the south-west of Bakhmut, supporting repeated Ukrainian reports of their presence on the outskirts of the city. Furthermore, both Ukrainian and Russian forces claim to have made limited territorial gains on the Kupyansk-Svatove line, while fighting continues in Bakhmut and Marinka. Ukrainian forces have also carried out local ground attacks and have reportedly made limited tactical gains in western Donetsk Oblast and eastern Zaporizhia Oblast.
For his part, Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky blamed Russia for the attack in Dnipro on Saturday, and claimed that five children were injured in that incident. In a tweet published this Sunday, he stated that since the beginning of the conflict, in February 2022, 500 Ukrainian children have died.
(With information from AFP)
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