Anti-Putin militia claims to have overrun Russian border village | Russia

Fighting has broken out along the Russian border with Ukraine after self-described Russian partisan forces launched a cross-border raid and claimed to have overrun a border village for the first time in the war.

The Freedom of Russia Legion, which describes itself as an anti-Kremlin militia seeking to liberate Russia from Vladimir Putin, claimed to have crossed the border and overrun the settlement of Kozinka, while sending units into the town of Grayvoron in Russia’s Belgorod region.

It is not yet clear how many people have been injured in the fighting, which continued into the evening. Footage of the raid, purportedly from a border checkpoint in Grayvoron, has shown casualties, including video of a Russian officer lying facedown in a pool of blood next to Russian passports and other documents scattered on the floor. The video also showed armoured vehicles appearing to overrun the post.

Another anti-Kremlin militia, the Russian Volunteer Corps, which is led by a prominent Russian nationalist, also said it had taken part in the raid. Late on Monday, it released video footage showing what it said was a fighter inspecting a captured armoured vehicle.

Smoke was also reportedly seen after unconfirmed reports that a drone had been used to drop explosives on an office of the FSB security service.

The growing chaos in Belgorod region, where local authorities announced a “counterterrorist regime” on Monday evening, was a rare case where Russian villages have come face-to-face with a conflict that the country’s army has unleashed across Ukraine. Both Russia and Ukrainian officials have confirmed fighting at the border.

Any capture of territory has not been independently confirmed by journalists on the ground. The Freedom of Russia Legion is not known to have participated in any major battles during the war.

“We are the same Russians as you,” said a statement put out by the Freedom of Russia Legion on social media. “We are distinguished only by the fact that we no longer wanted to justify the actions of criminals in power and took up arms to defend our and your freedom. But today it’s time for everyone to take responsibility for their future. It’s time to put an end to the Kremlin’s dictatorship.”

Video posted to social media showed a Russian Mi-8 helicopter trailing flares over Kozinka and videos of smoke rising from the settlement with the sounds of emergency sirens clearly audible. Hundreds of cars were filmed evacuating the area. “Something terrifying is happening,” said one woman filming from her window as a helicopter over Kozinka dropped flares meant to divert surface-to-air missiles.

The governor of the Belgorod region confirmed an attack on Monday, writing that “sabotage and reconnaissance group of the armed forces of Ukraine have entered the territory of the Grayvoron district. The armed forces of the Russian Federation, together with the border service, Rosgvardiya and the FSB, are taking the necessary measures to eliminate the enemy.”

The Kremlin said Putin had been informed of the cross-border incursion, adding Moscow believed the attack was designed to “divert attention” from Bakhmut, the Ukrainian city where Russia is tightening its grip.

Ukraine has disavowed connection to the Russian partisan fighters, saying that they act independently and are not subject to military control.

“Yes, today the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion, which consist of citizens of the Russian Federation, have launched an operation to liberate these territories of the Belgorod region from the so-called Putin regime and push back the enemy in order to create a certain security zone to protect the Ukrainian civilian population,” Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence, told Ukrainian media.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser wrote that Kyiv had nothing to do with the attacks but then wryly compared them to Russia’s past use of proxy forces to fight in Ukraine. “As you know, tanks are sold at any Russian military store, and underground guerrilla groups are composed of Russian citizens,” wrote Mykhailo Podolyak, the adviser.

The US and other western powers have supplied weapons to Ukraine with the caveat that they not be used to strike targets inside Russia. Ukraine has denied any connection to past attacks on Russian territory, including strikes that have hit Russian airfields, energy infrastructure, and even the drone attack on the Kremlin earlier this month.

It is not clear whether the raid is part of a sustained military strategy or meant as a diversionary strike, as expectations remain that Ukraine is preparing to launch a summer counteroffensive to retake territory occupied by Russia.

But clashes are increasing along the border in the Belgorod and Bryansk regions. Earlier this month, four Russian military aircraft, including two jets and two helicopters, were shot down in one of the worst single-day losses of the war.

In March, the Moscow-born far-right militia leader Denis Nikitin claimed to have led a raid into a town in Bryansk.

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