Pro-Ukrainian Volunteers Mounted Invasion of Russia:
Nearly 15 months after Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, an undisclosed number of Russian volunteers reportedly fighting for Ukraine crossed into Russia with tanks and other armored vehicles.
They claimed to have captured a cluster of villages.
This cross-border assault is the most significant effort by Ukraine-back forces on Russian territory.
The incident, which occurred early on Monday, was carried out by anti-Kremlin fighters from the so-called Russian Freedom Legion (RFL) and Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), each claiming to be among the foreign fighters supporting Kyiv.
The RFL has sought to liberate Russia from Putinism. It was declared a terrorist organization by Russia’s Supreme Court in March.
Footage of the raid, purportedly from a border checkpoint in Graivoron, west of the Russian city of Belgorod, was shared on social media.
A number of casualties could be seen in the footage. Some footage shows large numbers of cars on packed roads trying to leave the area.
19FortyFive can’t confirm the authenticity of such videos.
Invasion of Russia?
The claims of an “invasion” have not been independently verified.
However, Ilya Ponomarev, an exiled Russian politician – who was the only member of the Russian parliament to vote against Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 – and political representative of the FRL, told Newsweek on Monday that the legion and RVC had “liberated” the villages of Kozinka and Graivoron.
A Ukrainian official did acknowledge that the units carried out an operation, but said they acted independently and without input or assistance from Kyiv.
“We can confirm that this operation was carried out by Russian citizens,” said Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency, per CNN.
Yusov also said in a statement, “The events in the Belgorod region and other border areas are the result of a full-scale invasion and aggressive war of Putin’s Russia against Ukraine. Yes, citizens of the Russian Federation, namely the forces of the [RVC] and the Legion took responsibility for these events. I think that we can only congratulate the decisive actions of the opposition-minded citizens of Russia, who are ready for an armed struggle against the criminal regime of Putin.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Russian forces were working to drive out the “sabotage and reconnaissance group” that had entered Belgorod, according to state media Tass.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, the Belgorod Regional governor, also posted on the social media platform Telegram, “The armed forces of the Russian Federation, together with the border service, the Russian Guard and [Russia’s Federal Security Service] the FSB, are taking the necessary measures to eliminate the enemy. I will report the details.”
A Russian Civil War?
As previously reported, the Freedom of Russia Legion was formed in March of last year. It is made up of defectors of the Russian military, as well as other Russian and Belarusian volunteers, and reportedly consists of two battalions, and its members have called for the preservation of a united and indivisible Russia within the borders of 1991.
The FRL fights under a white-blue-white tricolor flag, while its members claim to stand for democracy, individual liberty, and against separatism within Russia, according to its Telegram posts. Moscow has claimed that the Freedom of Russia Legion doesn’t actually exist, and is instead a Ukrainian PR project.
Based on the actions the unit has confirmed its existence, but also its dedication to its cause. The significance of this first raid into Russian territory can’t be overstated.
“This is on a significant scale, and clearly intended to cause considerable consternation among the local authorities at the very least, if not at the level of the Kremlin,” CNN’s international correspondent Sam Kiley told CNN anchor Lynda Kinkade on Connect the World on Monday morning.
Earlier this month, the FRL had conducted a raid that damaged a Sukhoi Su-24 (NATO reporting name: Fencer) tactical bomber at the Sukhoi Superjet Company’s aviation plant in Novosibirsk, in the south of Siberia.
The FRL’s latest actions were even more brazen, and could be a sign that some Russians are looking to bring the fight home.
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Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.