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‘The Legion is returning home’ What we know about the latest reported incursion into Russia by pro-Ukrainian ‘partisans’
Update: Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov has announced the imposition of a “counterterrorism operation regime” in the region, a step that he said will allow him to take “special measures” and impose “temporary restrictions.”
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, announced on Monday that a “Ukrainian military sabotage and reconnaissance group” had entered the region’s Grayvoron district from Ukraine. “Russian military forces as well as the border service, the Russian National Guard, and the FSB, are taking the necessary steps to eliminate the enemy,” he wrote on Telegram.
Before Gladkov’s statement, Russia and Ukrainian Telegram channels reported that Ukrainian troops invaded the region’s Grayvoron district on Monday morning and that fighting had broken out in the villages of Dronovka, Glotovo, Kozinka, and Gora-Podol as a result. One channel reported that a Ukrainian tank had entered the territory of the Russian border service checkpoint in Kozinka, but this information has not been confirmed by other sources. Citing a source close to the Gora-Podol village administration, RT reported that “saboteurs” had captured the local House of Culture but that they were “surrounded” by Russian forces. According to the Telegram channel Mash, a border checkpoint and multiple other buildings in Kozinka were partially destroyed.
Initially, Gladkov denied the reports of “saboteurs” entering the region’s border villages, calling them the result of a “large-scale information attack” that was being carried out amid “massive shelling in the Grayvoron district.” He also initially said that no civilians had been killed or injured, but he later reported that two local residents had been injured as the result of shelling in Glotovo. In addition, the governor denied reports of an organized evacuation from the affected villages, though eyewitnesses said that residents were attempting to leave on their own.
At 9:43 a.m. local time, the Freedom of Russia Legion, a unit of the Ukrainian Armed Forces that purportedly consists of Russian volunteers, posted a video statement to Russians titled “The Legion is returning home.” “Residents of the border regions! Stay home, don’t resist, and don’t be afraid: we’re not your enemy,” they said in the clip. The group also published a photo of a white-blue-white flag, writing that it had been hung “over the liberated towns.”
At about 2:00 p.m., the legion reported that it, along with the Russian Volunteer Corps, had fully liberated the village of Kozinka and that its forward detachments had entered the town of Grayvoron. It later reported that “Gora-Podol has been traversed.”
The Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate confirmed that fighters from the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion had entered the Belgorod region, saying the goal of the operation was to “create safety zones for the protection of Ukrainian civilians.”
“The events in the Belgorod region and other border territories are a consequence of Putinist Russia’s full-scale invasion and aggressive war against Ukraine. Yes, Russian citizens, namely Russian Volunteer Corps and Freedom of Russia forces, have assumed responsibility for these events. In my view, we can only commend the decisive actions of the opposition-minded citizens of Russia who are prepared for armed conflict against the criminal Putin regime,” Ukrainian Military Intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov said.
Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said that the Ukrainian authorities had no direct connection to the events in the Belgorod region, writing on Twitter:
The only real political power in an airtight totalitarian state will inevitably devolve to armed partisan movements. Ukraine is observing the events in Russia’s Belgorod region with interest and studying the situation but has no direct connection. As we know, tanks are sold in every Russian army supply store, and the underground partisan units consist of citizens of Russia.
State news agency TASS named one of the participants in the armed incursion as Russian nationalist Alexey Levkin. Levkin is on Russia’s federal Wanted list. It’s unclear how long he has been wanted by the Russian authorities, but in 2018 he was charged in absentia with “creating an extremist group” and “inciting hatred or enmity.” Levkin has called himself a member of the Russian Volunteer Corps, and he appeared in a video the Russian Volunteer Corps released on May 22, which was allegedly shot “in a Belgorod field.” His current whereabouts are unknown.
Russian Presidential Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov said that Vladimir Putin is aware of the attempted invasion of the Belgorod region. “The Defense Ministry, the FSB, and the Border Service have informed the Russian president and commander-in-chief of the attempt by the Ukrainian sabotage group to breach the Belgorod region. Work is being carried out to expel them from Russia territory and destroy this sabotage group. There are plenty of forces and assets at the scene,” he said. “We understand the goal of these operations perfectly well: they aim to distract attention from the Bakhmut area and to minimize the political effect of Ukraine’s loss of Artemovsk.”
This is a developing story.
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