Invasion of Russian border town puts Kremlin in dire straits

A brief armed incursion into a Russian border village by partisans claiming to be fighting for Ukraine sparked an emergency response from the Kremlin on Thursday, prompting President Vladimir V Putin to cancel a trip and inform his Security Council over a rare known case of one to convene a raid inside Russia.

What actually happened was immediately obscured by conflicting claims from pro-Kremlin voices and their opponents, although by the end of the day Russian authorities had claimed that the incursion had ended and the group had been driven back into Ukraine.

Mr Putin, who canceled a trip to the Caucasus region to be briefed, condemned the incident as a “terrorist” attack, a label Russia often applies to military backlash in the war in Ukraine and to the regular blasts on Russian territory during Ukrainian strikes be.

In a televised address, Mr Putin said without providing any evidence that the group opened fire on civilians. Bryansk Governor Aleksandr V. Bogomaz said via messaging app Telegram that the group shot at a vehicle. two civilians killed And injure a child.

The Russian Volunteer Corps, a group directed against Mr Putin and led by a Nationalist-in-exile claimed Thursday he briefly took control of the small village of Lyubichane in Russia’s Bryansk region, near the border with northeastern Ukraine.

The group posted a video online by two armed men in front of what appears to be a medical building in Lyubichane. This footage could not be immediately verified, but the group also released another video, which New York Times analysis says was shot in Shushany, a village about 10 miles south in the same region.

It’s unclear if the group is operating with the approval of the Ukrainian government, as it claims, despite having fought Russian forces. The group said on Telegram that they “came to the Bryansk region to show compatriots that there is hope that free Russians can fight the regime with guns in their hands.”

Russian state news agencies published conflicting reports about the episode throughout the day. They initially claimed that saboteurs took up to six people hostage, but later denied this and reported that local officials had no information about any hostage-taking.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry S. Peskov told reporters that “all measures are currently being taken to liquidate these terrorists.” Russian state news agency Tass said the group left Russia as early as Thursday afternoon.

Ukraine has made no secret of its attacks on Russian positions in Russian-held areas of Ukraine. But when it comes to cross-border attacks, it has maintained a policy of strategic ambiguity, with officials being willfully vague or making cryptic statements about explosions or incidents within Russia’s borders.

Ukraine is believed to have struck inside Russia several times, including in December when a drone launched from Russian soil hit a military base in the city of Ryazan. Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that its forces thwarted an attack by 10 drones on targets in Crimea, but on Thursday it made no mention of explosions in Crimea in its daily bulletin.

On Thursday, Ukrainian officials tried to paint the Bryansk incident as a symptom of internal Russian divisions.

“This is a sign that Russia can no longer function normally, and this is leading to internal destruction,” Andriy Cherniak, a representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, said in a telephone interview.

Oleksiy Danilov, the head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in a statement that Moscow faces “a movement of Russian anti-fascist militias.”

But there is broad support for the Kremlin among the Russian public, and there is no evidence that the Russian Volunteer Corps or other armed groups fighting the Kremlin have broad appeal in Russia.

“This raid appears to have benefited only one group of people, and that’s the Russian Volunteer Corps,” said Michael Colborne, a researcher at news organization Bellingcat who focuses on the far right and who believes the group’s membership is low at most hundreds. “Telegram is their primary means of communication, and they more than doubled their subscriber count from 16,000 to 33,000 in one day.”

Mr Putin has used the war to further assert his dominance over Russian life, to evict citizens who opposed the invasion, and to promote a romanticized view of the military despite its heavy casualties and bumpy battlefield performance over the past year cultivate.

Russia’s recent offensive in eastern Ukraine – like its entire war effort over months – has struggled to gain ground, losing significant numbers of tanks, armored personnel carriers and troops to Ukrainian ambushes, minefields and artillery attacks. But, aided by the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of men, Russia’s military has continued to attack and advance further into the town of Bakhmut, which has been virtually wiped out by months of fighting.

The Russian military has continued to fire long-range missiles and drones at Ukraine’s cities and energy grids. A Russian missile struck an apartment building in the city of Zaporizhia early Thursday, killing four people, Ukrainian officials said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy condemned Russia for the attack and told Telegram that “the terror state wants to turn every day into a day of terror for our people”.

Some Russian supporters of the war – including Konstantin Malofeev, an ultra-nationalist tycoon – cited the Bryansk incursion to call for an escalation of the war.

“The last red lines were erased today in the Bryansk region,” he wrote on Telegram. “Now anyone who even whispers about peace becomes an accomplice of terrorists.”

Fighting is expected to intensify in the coming months. Senior Ukrainian officials have recently hinted that Kiev may soon launch a counter-offensive, possibly in the Zaporizhia region, noting that Russia has increased its troop presence there.

Daniel Victor contributed reporting. Invasion of Russian border town puts Kremlin in dire straits

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