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Russia says Belgorod secured as Kremlin vents 'deep concern'

May 23, 2023

Russia has opened a terrorism investigation into the alleged cross-border attack, but Ukraine has denied any involvement and said it does not fight on foreign territory.

A car drives by bullet and shrapnel riddled road sign on the road to the Russian city of Belgorod
Belgorod is a Russian city about 40 kilometers north of the Ukrainian borderImage: Vadim Ghirda/AP Photo/picture alliance

Russia's Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that it had put down an attack in the Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine.

The ministry said Russian forces killed 70 attackers in the region and pushed the remnants of their units into Ukraine.

"In the course of the counter-terrorist operation, the nationalist formations were blocked and destroyed by air strikes and artillery fire," the ministry added.

The reports could not be independently verified.

What we know about the Belgorod attack

It comes a day after Russian authorities claimed a "sabotage" group from Ukraine had crossed the border to launch the attack in the Belgorod region.

The raid is the largest attack of its kind since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, but Kyiv has denied any involvement and blamed the fighting on Russian guerrilla groups.

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Tuesday that drones stuck several buildings overnight but did not result in any casualties.

However, he said one elderly woman died while civilians were being evacuated from border towns.

"I now appeal to the residents of the Graivoron district, who ... temporarily left their homes, it is not possible to return yet," he added.

Gladkov later said Tuesday that anti-terrorism measures introducted after the Belgorod attack have been lifted. 

Moscow ramps up defense in border regions

The Russian government responded to the incident by calling for tougher defense measures.

"What happened yesterday is a cause for deep concern and once again confirms that Ukrainian militants continue their activities against our country," Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

"This requires more effort from us and these efforts continue — the special military operation is continuing — so that this does not happen again," he added, using Moscow's official name for the invasion of Ukraine.

Russian authorities have also launched a terrorism probe into the alleged cross-border attack.

"Residential and administrative buildings were shelled by mine launchers and with artillery. Because of these criminal acts, several civilians were injured," the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation said in a press release on Tuesday.

Ukraine denies involvement

Russian authorities initially blamed the attack on "a sabotage and reconnaissance group" from Ukraine.

However, Ukraine's deputy defense minister, Ganna Malyar, said "we are not waging war on foreign territories."

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak also said on Monday Kyiv was not responsible for the attack but "is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and studying the situation."

Ukrainian military intelligence has blamed the attack on Russian citizens belonging to two paramilitary groups: the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps.

"I think we all can only welcome the decisive actions of opposition-minded Russian citizens, who are ready for an armed struggle against the criminal regime of Vladimir Putin," Ukrainian military intelligence spokesperson Andriy Yusov told local media.

On Tuesday, the Freedom of Russia Legion posted on Telegram: "Good morning everybody, except Putin's henchmen. We have met the dawn on liberated territory, and are moving further on."

The British Defence Ministry also said it was "highly likely" that Russian security forces clashed with partisans in at least three locations in the Belgorod region.

"Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action," the ministry said in its daily intelligence briefing.

zc/nm (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)