They are Russians, but they are fighting against their country’s troops with the aim of taking down Vladimir Putin.
In recent days, groups like Legion for the Independence of Russia and Russian Volunteer Forces They hit the Ukrainian war headlines for their alleged acts of sabotage in the Belgorod region, 45 kilometers from Ukraine’s border, where clashes with Russian troops have taken place.
It was one of the largest incursions into Russian territory since Moscow launched its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
There is some confusion over how the clashes began on Monday, which left at least 13 people injured, one dead and several buildings damaged, leading the Kremlin to issue a statement. “Counter-Terrorism” Granting regional authorities special powers to control communications and movements in Belgorod and neighboring countries. Russian authorities also asked residents to stay away from the area.
The operations were lifted on Tuesday afternoon, when Moscow announced that the infiltration had been defeated and that the attackers had been “thrown back into Ukrainian territory” and that 70 of them had been killed.
Russian officials say the groups behind the attacks are Ukrainian, and the Russian government has gone so far as to accuse the Ukrainian military of being behind the televised clashes.
However, Kiev denies all responsibility and claims that paramilitary groups crossed the border Made exclusively by Russians.
It said that the US had withdrawn from the incursion “Not encourage or facilitate attacks within Russia”.
The BBC verification team was able to analyze several images shared on social networks, including a video shot by a drone, showing several armored vehicles near a border crossing south of Belgorod.
The BBC was also able to locate images showing helicopters operating in the area, and a building used by a key Russian defense agency. Federal Security Service (FSB)It was unclear what caused the damage to one of the affected buildings.
According to his analysis, the images are recent, although it is difficult to tell with certainty from the videos what the exact sequence of events is.
But who are these groups? Two paramilitary organizations have claimed responsibility for the attacks: the Russian Liberation Army and the Russian Volunteer Army.
The Legion for the Independence of RussiaRussian militias based in Ukraine, which say they are operating inside Russia to oust President Vladimir Putin, said on Twitter on Monday that they had “completely liberated” the border town of Kosinka, and that a unit had managed to reach Kryvoron. East.
The group was created in 2022 “based on the desire for Russians to fight alongside the Ukrainian armed forces against Putin’s armed gangs,” the Legion says on its website.
He assures that it is a Russian unit officially recognized by the Ukrainian army and that it operates under Ukrainian command. Legion, which says it is fighting in eastern Ukraine, has claimed responsibility for the Belgorod attack.
In several videos posted on their social networks and which the BBC could not verify, the group attributed various vandalism to railways in Russia. The organization is banned by Moscow, which it considers a “terrorist group”.
He Russian Volunteer Corps (CVR) was founded last August by a Russian nationalist far-right group.
Founded by Denis Nikitin, a former martial arts fighter linked to Western neo-Nazi groups, the CVR is made up mainly of far-right Russian fighters opposed to Putin and those associated with similar groups in Ukraine.
The group operated on the other side of the Russian borderIt claimed responsibility for an attack in Russia’s Bryansk region last March that killed two civilians, and also for an attack in Belgorod.
Nikitin has said in the past that his unit has nothing to do with the Russian Freedom Legion, but in mid-May a message appeared on the channel. telegram In CVR, despite their differences, The groups agreed to “merge their efforts and fight the war together”..
Recently circulated telegram Photo of Nikitin with Maximilian Andronnikov (“Caesar”), said to be a representative of the Russian Liberation Army.
The picture was taken around the corner from the building that houses the headquarters of the Main Intelligence Directorate of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine.
According to Andrei Goriano of the BBC Russian Service, many of these groups that took part in the recent attack in Belgorod left Russia long ago for various reasons. They are united by their differences with Vladimir Putin’s government.
Some of them are former employees of Russia’s own Federal Security Service.
One of them is Ilya Bogdanov, a former senior lieutenant in the Vladivostok FSP border department, who moved to Ukraine in 2014 and now belongs to the CVR.
In pictures published on social networks on May 22, the media identified several people who allegedly participated in the raid on Belgorod, one of whom was Bogdanov.
While Kyiv authorities have been following these events with interest, they have not officially announced or admitted their involvement.
“Behind these attacks are Russian citizens who are fed up with the actions of their terrorist regime,” Yuriy Zach, an adviser to the Ukrainian defense minister, told the program. The world is tonightFrom BBC Radio 4.
The adviser asserted that there was a “growing trend of Russian separatist movements,” but neither denied nor confirmed whether his country was harboring or supporting these groups.
Putin initially denied that the Russian military was involved, according to a BBC correspondent in Kyiv, recalling what happened in Crimea in 2014.
A statement issued by the Russian Liberation Army on Tuesday afternoon said:
“Goal of peacekeeping operation in Belgorod region Create a demilitarized zone between Russia and Ukraine, destroy the security forces that serve Putin’s regime, create pockets of resistance, and demonstrate to the people of Russia that it is possible to successfully fight Putin’s regime. The objectives of this operation were successfully achieved.
Representatives of the agency said the FSB and the Russian military had suffered losses, but this claim could not be verified.
According to Andrey Koriano, “it is too early to assess the effectiveness of this operation”, which undoubtedly has a symbolic impact and reveals the porosity of the Russian border.
“The incident reveals the vulnerability of the Russian border“Calls into question the effectiveness of expensive defense lines and will undoubtedly lead to the dispersal of Russian forces, which will be forced to defend not only the front line, but also areas that have been considered safe until now,” analyzes the BBC Russian journalist Service.
Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told Russian news agencies that the attack was aimed at “reducing the political impact” of the Ukrainian city of Pakhmut and distracting attention from its loss to Ukrainian forces. .
The Wagner mercenary group claims to have taken control of the city of Baghmut after months of heavy fighting, although Kiev still controls parts of the city.
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