Russian troops and security forces fought for a second day Tuesday against an alleged cross-border raid that Moscow blamed on Ukrainian military saboteurs but which Kyiv portrayed as an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region on the Ukraine border, said forces continued to sweep the rural area around the town of Graivoron, where the alleged attack on Monday took place. Ten civilians were wounded in the attack, he said, and one died during evacuation.
Gladkov urged residents of the area who evacuated on Monday to stay put and not come back to their homes just yet. “We will let you know immediately … when it is safe,” Gladkov said. “Security agencies are carrying out all the necessary actions. We’re waiting for the counterterrorism operation to be over.”
It was impossible to independently verify who was behind the attack or what its aims were, and disinformation has been one of the weapons of the almost 15-month war.
While it is not the first time Russia has alleged an incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs, it is the first time the operation to counter the raid has continued for a second day, highlighting the struggles Moscow is facing amid its bogged-down invasion of Ukraine and embarrassing the Kremlin.
The British Defense Ministry said Russian security forces “highly likely” clashed with partisans in at least three locations within Belgorod.
“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,” it said in a tweet on Tuesday.
In addition to the alleged incursion, Gladkov reported multiple drone attacks on Graivoron and other settlements of the Belgorod region on Monday night. The attacks resulted in no casualties, but damaged buildings and caused a fire. On Tuesday morning, two more drones were shot down by the region’s air defense systems.
According to Gladkov, an elderly woman died during evacuation, and two more people were wounded “in the settlements the enemy entered.” That brought the total number of those wounded during the attack to 10.
Gladkov first reported on Monday afternoon that a Ukrainian Armed Forces saboteur group entered Graivoron, a town about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border with Ukraine. The town also came under Ukrainian artillery fire, he said.
He later announced a counterterrorist operation in the area, and said that authorities were imposing special controls, including personal document checks, and stopping the work of companies that use “explosives, radioactive, chemically and biologically hazardous substances.”
Ukrainian officials blamed the incident on Russian guerrilla groups bent on changes at the Kremlin. Ukraine intelligence representative Andrii Cherniak said Russian citizens belonging to murky groups calling themselves the Russian Volunteer Corps and the “Freedom of Russia” Legion were behind the assault.
The Russian Volunteer Corps claimed in a Telegram post it had crossed the border into Russia again, after claiming to have breached the border in early March.
The Russian Volunteer Corps describes itself as “a volunteer formation fighting on Ukraine’s side.” Little is known about the group, and it is not clear if it has any ties with the Ukrainian military. The same is true for the “Freedom of Russia” Legion.
The Belgorod region in southwest Russia, just like its neighboring Bryansk region and several others, has witnessed sporadic spillover from the 15-month war, with its border towns and villages regularly coming under shelling and drone attacks.