Drones hit Russia's Belgorod region after incursion by pro-Ukraine forces

Moscow says it is conducting counter-terrorism operation against sabotage group that entered from Ukraine

Rockets are launched towards Ukraine from Russia's Belgorod region earlier in May. AP
Powered by automated translation

Drones struck a border region of Russia overnight, as Moscow forces pressed on with a “counter-terrorism operation” following one of the biggest cross-border incursions from Ukraine of the 15-month war.

The drones struck houses and a government building in Belgorod but did not result in any deaths or injuries, Vyacheslav Gladkov, the region’s governor, wrote on Telegram.

It came after Russia said its troops were battling a “sabotage” group that entered the region from Ukraine on Monday.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser said on Twitter on Monday that Kyiv was watching the situation but “has nothing to do with it”.

Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske cited Ukrainian military intelligence as saying two armed Russian opposition groups, the Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, both consisting of Russian citizens, were responsible.

At least eight people were wounded and several buildings were damaged. Many residents left following the attack.

Russia introduced an “anti-terror regime” in Belgorod in response, a first since the start of Moscow's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Mr Gladkov, who restricted movements and communications, said the anti-terrorist operation was continuing on Tuesday.

“Law enforcement forces are doing everything necessary,” he wrote.

The Russia Volunteer Corps published video footage late on Monday showing what it said was a fighter inspecting a captured armoured vehicle.

Another video showed what it said were fighters operating an armoured vehicle on a country road.

Other videos posted on Russian and Ukrainian social media channels showed pictures and video of what were described as captured Russian servicemen and their identity documents.

The Liberty of Russia Legion said on Twitter it had “completely liberated” the border town of Kozinka. It said forward units had reached the district centre of Graivoron, further east.

“Moving on. Russia will be free,” it wrote.

Since the start of the war, the Belgorod region has been repeatedly shelled in attacks that have killed dozens of people.

In April, a Russian jet accidentally dropped munitions on Belgorod city, causing a 20 metre-wide crater.

The raid is the second cross-border attack in Russia in two months, after officials accused Ukraine in March of a sabotage operation in a village in the Byransk region that killed two civilians and wounded a 10-year-old boy. Kyiv denied the claim, calling it an attempt by Russia to boost public support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

It also comes after Russia averted a strike by two drones on the Kremlin earlier this month, which it blamed on Ukraine without providing evidence. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy denied his government was involved.

“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 UK Defence Ministry said on Twitter.

The Kremlin said the incursion by a “Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group” was aimed at distracting attention from the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces say they captured in its entirety after more than nine months of fighting.

Russia says capturing Bakhmut opens the way to further advances in the Donbas eastern industrial region.

Ukraine says its advance on the Russian forces' flanks is more meaningful than its withdrawal from Bakhmut itself, and Russia would have to weaken its lines elsewhere to send reinforcements to hold the shattered city.

There were more than 30 clashes in the main sectors of the front line, with the centre of fighting remaining Bakhmut and Maryinka further south, the Ukrainian military said on Tuesday.

“Battles for the city of Bakhmut continue,” it said.

Updated: May 23, 2023, 10:19 AM

View from London

Your weekly update from the UK and Europe

View from London