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Ukraine-Aligned Fighters Assault Russian Region of Belgorod for 2nd Day

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A rare cross-border offensive in southern Russia by anti-Kremlin fighters allied with Ukraine was extended to a second day on Tuesday, with reports of explosions at a defense factory and skirmishes at a crossroads, as the country moved into Russian territory. became one of the most brazen invasions of the since the war started.

Russia’s Defense Ministry announced on Tuesday that all pro-Ukrainian fighters had been pushed back across the border from the Belgorod region, killing a number of “saboteurs”. This claim could not be verified, and representatives of the anti-Kremlin fighters claimed that the attacks continued.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov called the attackers “Ukrainian extremists” whose violence justified Moscow’s war against its neighbor. “This confirms once again that Ukrainian extremists continue to operate against our country,” Peskov told reporters on Tuesday.

Drone footage seen by The New York Times said plumes of smoke from the explosion could be seen as the break-in began on Monday. Another video showed Ukrainian-marked soldiers and armored vehicles entering about three miles into Russian territory. In the northern Russian border city of Bryansk on Tuesday, a fire broke out in a warehouse of a munitions factory near the town of Dyatkovo, local media reported.

Some pro-Russian analysts feared the attack would create new battlefield problems for Moscow.

Ukraine denies direct involvement in the aggression and says the border strike is a sign of internal division in Russia. Ukraine’s Deputy Defense Minister Hannah Marial described the fighters as “Russian patriots” who rebelled against the government of President Vladimir V. Putin.

A group called the Free Russian Legion, made up of Russians who took up arms for Ukraine, claimed responsibility for bringing the war into Russian territory. The volunteer unit operates under the umbrella of the Ukrainian International Corps supervised by Ukrainian officers.

Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian parliamentarian in exile who has identified himself as the corps’ political representative, said by phone on Tuesday that the raid would force Moscow’s military to divert troops fighting in Ukraine and disempower Putin’s government. He said it was an attempt to stabilize. He has shown that he is incapable of defending the long border with Ukraine.

“We now think they need to reconsider and deploy more troops across the Ukrainian border,” Ponomarev said. He added that the group had detained about a dozen Russian border guards, but the claim could not be verified.

He also said Ukrainian officers were aware of the operation but did not direct it.

A senior Ukrainian official said Ukrainian forces were working to support cross-border fighters and protect Ukraine’s borders in case of a Russian counterattack. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, provided details of the mission in Russia and said the Ukrainian fighter jets did not enter Russian territory.

Andriy Zagorodnyuk, a former Ukrainian defense minister and current adviser to the Kiev government, said the border invasion was a milestone because of the involvement of militants, which would force Russia to deploy more forces along its borders rather than on the front lines. said it was possible.

“Russians will find that there are problems among their own people, so the idea of ​​a united Russia will be seriously undermined,” Zagorodnyuk said.

British Defense Intelligence Agency statement On Tuesday, it admitted that it was “very likely” that fighting had broken out in three locations in the Belgorod region. The newspaper said Russia had evacuated several villages, noting small arms fighting and drone attacks near Greyboron, about nine miles from the border.

The report said Russia faces growing security threats at its borders due to “loss of fighter planes, improvised explosive device attacks on railway lines and now direct partisan action”. . It also said the Russian government would likely use the attack to “support its official claims of being victims of war.”

The Free Russian Corps announced on Monday that it had “liberated” the border village of Kozinka along with another pro-Ukrainian group called the Russian Militia. Those claims could not be confirmed.

Alexei Baranovsky, spokesman for the political wing of the Free Russian Corps, said on Tuesday that the fighters had captured two more villages, Gorkovsky and Shchechinovka, and overran about 7.7 square miles of the country. I could not confirm those claims either.

A senior Ukrainian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity about the events on the battlefield, confirmed that the Free Russian Corps had suffered losses.

It is not the first time pro-Ukrainian fighters have attacked villages across the Russian border. In March, Russian militias announced a brief invasion of villages in the Bryansk region of Russia, prompting the Kremlin’s Security Council to call an emergency meeting. The corps is led by a Russian nationalist in exile and is part of a motley group of Russians who oppose Mr Putin’s rule.

Residents of the Belgorod region have long lived with the sounds of war and explosions, but the attacks could deepen fear in Russia and make Mr Putin less popular, said the Washington-based European policy group. said Ivan Fomin, a Russian analyst at the Analytics Center. .

“Some hawkish segments of Russian society will see this attack as another sign of the Kremlin’s weakness and incompetence,” he said. “Thus, Putin may lose some of his popularity among those who strongly support the war.”

But the invasion could also have the effect of rallies over flags, he said.

“If we can depict the invasion of Russian territory by Ukrainian subversive groups, it might be easier to sell the story of Russia being attacked and defending itself,” Fomin said.

Russian military blogger Igor Gilkin, also known as Igor Strelkov, said that if the news of the border attack were true, “it would be inevitable that a continuous front would form along this border. We’ll have to fill it with joint forces and joint forces from somewhere,” he wrote. The formation of the Russian army is on the agenda. “

Placing more soldiers along the border would make the Russian army even thinner, which would benefit Ukraine, he concluded.

Even before Monday’s attack, Belgorod residents had shared a video (the location was not immediately confirmed) urging the Russian government to arm themselves to prevent a possible invasion.

A man standing in front reading a newspaper said: “We are well aware that our army will not fully protect us in the face of an attack by Ukrainian forces. The front line is huge.”

When the raids began on Monday, Russian Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the Moscow military, border guards and intelligence services were “taking the necessary steps to eliminate the enemy.”

Gladkov has put a foothold in the region against terrorism, imposing temporary restrictions on movement and suspending activities involving hazardous substances.

he Said The area said 15 shelling hits Tuesday morning killed one civilian. He then lifted the anti-terrorism measures.

Photos and video reviewed by The Times appear to show pro-Ukrainian fighters used at least three US-made armored vehicles during Monday’s invasion of Russia. It is unclear how they got access to American equipment. Russian forces captured at least two of the vehicles, according to visual evidence.

“We are skeptical of the veracity of these reports at this time,” said State Department spokesman Matthew Miller. He added that the United States “does not encourage or authorize attacks within Russia.”

Russia’s borders in the region are well fortified with mines, trenches and barriers. Since the war began, authorities have spent about $125 million to strengthen the defenses of the Belgorod region, according to the sources. statement by the Minister of Regional Construction in February.

But Russia has suffered several blows during the war, even though it scored a key military victory in the ruined city of Bakhmut this week after nine months of heavy fighting. These included an explosion that damaged a bridge connecting occupied Crimea with mainland Russia and the sinking of the Black Sea Fleet’s flagship cruiser Moskva.

After years of denying any military intervention in eastern Ukraine, Ukraine is now doing the same in southern Russia, said Yuri Kalin, an analyst at the Russian Propaganda Debunking Group. said it was possible.

Kalin said “this reflects the situation Russia created in Crimea and Donbass” in 2014, when Russia sent soldiers in unmarked uniforms and the Kremlin denied ties to the fighters. .

Report contributors: Oleksandr Chubko, Milana Mazaeva, Oleg Matznev, Oleksandr Chubko, Julian E. Burns, Riley Mellen, Christoph Kettle and Dmitry Kabin.

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