HomeWorldRussian military response called into question after rare attack inside borders

Russian military response called into question after rare attack inside borders

As attacks by Ukraine-aligned insurgents on Russian soil dragged on for a third day on Wednesday, concern grew in Russia that the rare border incursion could create new battlefield problems, and calls have grown for the Armed forces spend more resources defending against such attacks. .

A group made up of anti-Kremlin Russian fighters, the Free Russian Legionclaimed responsibility for the attack launched on Monday, which has produced the most intense fighting on Russian soil since the war began.

The Russian Defense Ministry said tuesday that the attackers had been pushed across the border into Ukraine. But violence in the Russian border region, Belgorod, continued overnight, with “a large number of strikes” by drones and an attack that damaged a gas pipeline and started a small fire, according to the regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov.

“The night was not entirely calm,” Gladkov wrote on Telegram on Wednesday morning, adding that houses, cars and office buildings in the city of Belgorod and other settlements had been damaged.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitri S. Peskov said on Tuesday that Moscow was “deeply concerned” by the attack, while using violence to try to further justify Russia’s 15-month invasion of Ukraine. However, he said that President Vladimir V. Putin would not convene an emergency session of the Security Council for him.

Images released by the Russian Defense Ministry purporting to show destroyed armored vehicles in the Belgorod region near the border with Ukraine on Tuesday.Credit…Russian Defense Ministry/EPA, via Shutterstock

The Security Council met after a shorter bout of border violence in Bryansk in March, when soldiers led by the same group briefly seized control of a Russian village before being pushed back into Ukraine.

But some fervently pro-Russian voices openly expressed fear that the attacks on Belgorod would create new battlefield challenges for Russia, whose only significant military victory in the past nine months came in recent days, reclaiming control of the ruins of the city of Bakhmut.

Igor Girkin, military blogger and former Russian paramilitary commander in Ukraine, wrote thatif the news of the border attacks were true, “then the inevitable creation of a continuous front along this border, which will have to be filled from somewhere with combined arms units and formations of the Russian Armed Forces, is in the offing.” diary”.

The need to station more soldiers along the border, further reducing Russian forces, would be favorable for Ukraine, concluded Girkin, who goes by Igor Strelkov.

Even before the attack that began on Monday, a group of Belgorod residents shared a video asking the government to provide them with weapons to defend themselves against a possible incursion. The location of the video could not immediately be independently confirmed.

“Our city and our region have long ceased to be defended,” read a man from a newspaper, his hands shaking slightly as he stood in front of a group of other men. “We fully understand that before the offensive led by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, our forces will not fully protect us. The front line is huge.”

While residents of the Belgorod region they have been living for a long time With the sounds of nearby war-caused explosions, the attack of the past two days may deepen broader Russian fears and possibly even dent Putin’s popularity, said Ivan Fomin, a Russian analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis with headquarters in Washington.

“Some of the most aggressive segments of Russian society will see these attacks as another sign of the Kremlin’s weakness and incompetence,” he said. “So Putin can potentially lose some popularity among those who strongly support the war.”

However, depending on how the Kremlin and Russian state media portray the attacks, the raid could also have a widespread effect, Fomin said.

“For now, Putin has had a hard time explaining why this war started, what its goals are, and why the Russians should risk their lives in Ukraine,” he said. “But if he can illustrate the infiltration of Russian territory by Ukrainian sabotage groups, he might make it easier for him to sell a narrative that Russia is being attacked and defending itself.”

Peskov tried to quell rumors that the Russians took up arms against their fellow citizens, saying the fighters were Ukrainians, not Russians. But the group that claimed responsibility for the attack said it was made up of Russians who “have finally returned home,” as they put it on Telegram.

Yuriy Karin, an analyst with Information Resistance, a group that debunks Russian propaganda, said Russia’s hesitant official response to the attack showed “shock” that an incursion had taken place.

“Russian propaganda was in denial,” he said.

Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting.

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