Belgorod region hit by drone strikes after attack by pro-Ukraine Russian Volunteer Corps
Russian authorities have ordered residents of nine villages in the Belgorod region bordering Ukraine to evacuate their homes after anti-Putin rebel groups began capturing territory on Russian soil.
The Kremlin order comes hours after two explosions sounded in the city of Belgorod overnight amid drone attacks on the FSB security service building and Interior Ministry offices.
Regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov confirmed that the aerial bombardment had caused fires in government buildings and urged citizens to take shelter amid rebel attacks.
Ukrainian military intelligence says two armed Russian opposition groups, the Legion for Freedom of Russia and the Russian Volunteer Corps, were behind the first armed incursion into Russian territory since the invasion of his neighbor by Putin on February 24, 2022 – recognized as a “serious cause for concern”. by the Kremlin.
The attack was apparently unexpected, as the rebels were able to take control of several Russian cities within hours.
A volunteer anti-Kremlin fighter is pictured alongside a captured Russian armored personnel carrier
Fire trucks and emergency service vehicles responded to burning government buildings in Belgorod following a drone attack (left), while Russian rebels commandeered FSB armored vehicles (right )
A line of armored vehicles piloted by Russian rebel forces fighting on behalf of Ukraine
Fire trucks, ambulances and police cars are seen outside government offices in Belgorod following a drone attack
The US think tank Institute for the Study of War, which tracks the conflict, said: “A detachment [of Russian rebels] consisting of two tanks, an armored personnel carrier and nine other armored vehicles crossed the international border and captured Kozinka, a settlement in the Graivoron region of Belgorod Oblast.
“Several Russian sources claimed that the group had then captured the settlements of Glotovo and Gora Podol (respectively 3 km and 5 km from the border).
“While the majority of [Russian military commentators] responded with relatively varied concern, concern and anger, the news space did not coalesce around a cohesive response, which above all indicates that the attack took Russian commentators by surprise.
The Legion for the Freedom of Russia is a Russian militia based in Ukraine led by Russian opposition figure Ilya Ponomarev who says it is working inside Russia for the overthrow of Putin.
He said on Twitter that he had “completely liberated” the border town of Kozinka and advanced units had reached the center of the Graivoron district further east.
‘Let’s move on. Russia will be free! he wrote.
The group shared a video on social media yesterday in which a handful of soldiers vowed to liberate their homeland from Putin’s autocratic rule, while other clips showed anti-Putin rebels posing with flags in front of signs. Russian signage, calling for an end to the ‘Kremlin dictatorship’.
Another video claimed to show a Putin’s FSB “Trophy 82A armored personnel carrier” that had been seized by the insurgents.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said Kyiv was not involved, but confirmed the government was “monitoring events in the Belgorod region”, before adding: “The Russian liberation movement can become something that will contribute to the proper end of the war in Ukraine.”
Andrii Yusov – a representative of the Main Intelligence Directorate of Ukraine – claimed that the Russian authorities had ordered an immediate evacuation of the Belgorod-22 ammunition storage facility.
He claimed the facility housed tactical nuclear weapons, although this has not been verified.
The armed incursion into Belgorod of anti-Putin Russian volunteer units triggered panic and a mass exodus of residents.
Gladkov late last night told those who had fled not to return home until further notice due to safety fears.
“In Graivoron district, the Ministry of Defense and security forces continue to clear the area,” he said.
“But I now appeal to the inhabitants of the Graivoron district who, thank you very much, have temporarily left their homes.
‘Don’t come back yet. We will let you know right away [when it is safe].’
Gladkov said yesterday that at least eight people were injured and an 82-year-old woman died during the evacuations.
He added that he had imposed an “anti-terrorist regime”, giving authorities greater powers to suppress people’s movements and communications.
This photograph taken and released by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service on May 23, 2023 shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (C) posing for a photo with two servicemen he decorated during his visit to Ukrainian Armed Forces forward positions in the Vugledar-Maryinka Defense Zone
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (R) decorating a serviceman during his visit to Ukrainian Armed Forces forward positions
In a video posted online (pictured), Russian Volunteer Corps fighters said they were in Russia in the early hours of Monday morning
Pictured: A still from video allegedly showing smoke rising over Russia’s Belgorod region on Sunday amid reports of an incursion by Russian anti-Kremlin fighters
In a statement on Telegram, Governor Gladkov (pictured) said the Russian military and security forces were taking steps to repel the incursion
Pro-Russian sources have made a series of claims in light of the uprising in Belgorod.
The Rybar Telegram channel, close to the Russian Ministry of Defense, claimed today that the incursion had been choreographed by the British SAS.
“British specialists are in charge of this,” he wrote.
“We wrote in May 2022 that … sorties and sabotage operations in the border area with Russia were entrusted to British Special Air Service (SAS) officers.
“In fact, the ‘Russian Volunteer Corps’ and the ‘Russian Freedom Legion’ are created by British advisers, whose primary aim is to sow division and confusion in the territory of the Russian Federation. Russia.”
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the leader of the Russian Wagner mercenary group deployed to Ukraine’s front lines, claimed the rebel incursion into Belgorod was another sign of the Russian Defense Ministry’s incompetence.
Prigozhin has hammered Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Army Chief Valery Gerasimov in recent weeks, accusing them of starving his mercenaries of ammunition and allowing regular Russian army troops to retreat, leaving his men exposed.
“There is a lack of management… Instead of taking care of ensuring the security of the state, they are playing dumb. There is no governance, no will and no individuals ready to defend their country,” he said in a statement.
Elsewhere in Russia, a military factory in the Bryansk region bordering Belarus suffered multiple explosions in a suspected Ukrainian strike.
Smoke was seen billowing from the Dyatkovo facility owned by a company called LLC NPP Alexander – a contractor to Vladimir Putin’s Defense Ministry, according to reports.
It is not known whether the facility was hit by a drone attack, missile or sabotage.