There were more red faces in provincial west Russia when cross-border attackers, whom Kremlin officials promised would be ‘liquidated immediately’ started digging in.
May 23, 2023
Kremlin officials on Tuesday said local defense forces had contained an armed border incursion from Ukraine but had failed to eject them from Russian territory. In response, “freedom fighters” still operating in Russia announced they were partisans fighting to liberate their country from the authoritarian Kremlin regime and had no intention of leaving.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, the site of border fighting between Russian local defense forces and armed groups allegedly entering from Ukraine’s north-eastern Kharkiv region on Monday, said that “mopping up is in progress… but unfortunately, it’s not possible [for Russian government officials] to go into the two villages on the border.”
Some Russian official sources on Tuesday claimed it wiped out militants and military hardware in the southern Belgorod region, according to a Russian defense ministry statement with the assistance of air strikes and artillery. Video published by the state-controlled Ria Novosti television channel showed an apparent nighttime artillery strike on four vehicles the official Russian news source said were “enemy”.
Independent news websites, Telegram channels and the Belgorod governor himself on Tuesday contradicted that Moscow official line.
Fourteen villages in the Graivoronsk region are completely without power, and renewed electricity deliveries are impossible because “of the situation in the area”, governor Gladkov said in a mid-afternoon Tuesday statement.
Audio reportedly recorded in the Grayvoron region in the early afternoon seemed to show small arms firefights were still in progress. The independent Russian news platform Astra reported firing and explosions audible in the vicinity for the last 24 hours “and still continuing”
Images and text reports published by pro-Ukrainian military channels said that ethnic Russian fighters operating in the Russian border villages of Grayvoron, Kozinka and Borisovka were constructing battle fortifications on Tuesday to take on Russian government troops sent by Moscow.
During the night, explosive-toting drones operated by Ukrainian or “partisan” forces dropped grenades on at least two private homes, and a substantial force of “enemy” remains at large in the Belgorod region, Gladkov said.
“All necessary responses by state agencies [to the incursion] are in progress, and we are waiting for their completion, and an end to the anti-terrorist operation,” he said.
A direct appointee of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gladkov on Monday in official statements said the “situation was under control” and that the cross-border attackers would be “liquidated immediately,” only to learn that the “insurgents” stayed put all night, firing fiercely on Russian army patrols coming close.
The night of Monday-Tuesday also saw drone strikes in the regional capital Belgorod, Gladkov said.
According to news reports and statements by the fighters themselves, fighters from the anti-Kremlin groups Freedom of Russia and Russian Volunteer Corps were responsible for the incursion and drone strikes.
The anti-Kremlin fighters – widely considered supported by Ukraine despite flat Kyiv denials of any involvement – were backing the defenses with a pair of captured Russian army BTR-82 armored personnel carriers, the news platform Voenny Osvedomitel reported.
Other anti-government fighters also had occupied fortifications near the village Gory-Podol, built in recent months by Moscow to prevent border incursions, The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported.
“Russians have come to their land by right. One day, we will come to stay. At the same time, the partisan movement is not bound by the framework of traditional combat operations,” said a Tuesday declaration from the Russian Volunteer Corps, one of two groups participating in the attack.
“The time for change has come to our country. The country is ready for liberation. And most of all, territories bordering the combat zone will be liberated: Kursk, Bryansk and Belgorod.”
Kremlin critic and pundit Igor Girkin, a leading participant in Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region, in a Tuesday Telegram post, confirmed armed groups were still operating in the Belgorod region and that local authorities were unable to deal with them.
Kremlin officials were trying to cover up the scale of the incursion and refusing to hand out weapons to local civilians for self-defense, Girkin claimed.
Aleksei Baranovsky, a representative of the Russian Armed Opposition Political Center, an information platform closely linked to groups opposing the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, confirmed to Kyiv Post the anti-government fighters that drove into Russia were still in place.
“Liberation forces are present on the territory of the Gayvoron district in the Belgorod region. For now, they are staying there. We will see what happens today,” Baranovsky said.
“There will be more news. No one was prepared for this in Russia.”
Baranovsky predicted tighter restrictions on the Russian populace will follow the cross-border attack, but that anti-regime attacks will inevitably continue.
“The phase of Russia’s liberation from Putin’s tyranny has begun. As always, the reaction [by Moscow] is likely to strengthen the dictatorship – to deepen it, to clamp down on those who oppose it,” he said.
“Putin does not fully understand how serious everything is.”
God speed, brave free Russian soldiers!
I hope that they will get help with their mission, or that they can retreat, when required, with everyone in one piece.