Ukraine Counter-Invades Russia With Anti-Putin ‘Liberation Fighters’

Russian citizens fighting for Ukraine counter-invaded Russia on Tuesday morning, Ukrainian state media claimed, saying they were fighting to liberate Russia from “Putin’s dictatorship”. Both sides have so far claimed combat success in the clashes.

Kyiv-loyal units of Russian citizens have performed several incursions into Russia proper in the past year, but Tuesday morning’s attack which is alleged to have involved the coordination of several units including tanks across the borders of two Russian regions appears to be the biggest of the war so far. Units including the Russian Legion, the Siberia Battalion and the Russian Volunteer Corps are said to have crossed the border into the Russian provinces of Belgorod and Kursk on Tuesday morning, a day that also saw a large coordinated airstrike by Ukraine deep into the Russian interior.

Russia acknowledged an attempt on their border had been made, but said they repelled all assaults and claimed to have inflicted heavy losses on the rebels. By Wednesday, Ukraine reported Russian forces were increasing the deployment of landmines along the Belgorod border, suggesting they did not welcome further incursions.

Footage shared, allegedly of the assault, shows tanks flying the blue and white flags of the Russian resistance apparently moving into combat. Ukrainian state media meanwhile claims the Kyiv-armed Russian paramilitaries — what they call “liberation forces — have captured the border village of Tiotkino in the Kursk Oblast and the border town of Lozova Rudka in Belgorod. Ukraine cites a report from the fighting by the Russian anti-Putin units which claim following the capture of a settlement: “Putin’s army is rapidly withdrawing from the village, leaving their positions behind and abandoning heavy military equipment.”

Spokesman for the Russian Legion Alexei Baranovsky gave his perspective on the fighting, telling Ukrainian television that the counter-invasion was timed for the Russian national elections that are taking place this week, but given the state of Russian democracy, they were having to ‘vote’ with guns. He said: “We decided to exercise our constitutional right to vote… We are casting our vote for a Russia without Putin; for the liberation of Russia from Putin…. We are going home to liberate our homeland from Putin’s dictatorship.”

Baranovsky said Russian border forces had been taken by surprise by the assault and he called on more Russians to join the anti-Putin paramilitaries. He continued: “there are combat clashes, and developments are unfolding as we speak… we are still in full control of the initiative – the Russian army is retreating. We will see how the situation develops further.”

Tuesday is not the first time the Russian paramilitaries have staged border incursions into Russia proper. One attack last spring that saw a column of anti-Putin volunteers push into Belgorod and briefly capture a town became controversial after it emerged the group may have used American-donated vehicles for the attack, a purpose for which the United States had not given permission for its equipment to be used. The Pentagon said as Russia released images of American military equipment they claimed had been used in the assault: “I will say that we can confirm the U.S. government has not approved any third-party transfers of equipment to paramilitary organisations outside the Ukrainian armed forces. Nor has the Ukrainian government requested any such transfers.”

Ukraine followed up the strikes by shelling the areas in the subsequent days, sparking protests from the Kremlin that Ukraine was launching ‘terrorist’ attacks against it. Russia responded to the incursions by issuing hunting rifles and SUVs to local defence volunteers.

The attack also brought scrutiny to the Russian resistance groups, as while they are helpfully anti-Putin and fighting on Ukraine’s side, they have also been accused of harbouring “far-right extremists”. Indeed, the degree to which the West can hold its nose over the involvement of neo-Nazis in combat in order to see off Putin has been the matter of some debate, with the U.S. government-adjacent New York Times acknowledging that exposing neo-Nazis in the Ukraine war can play into the hands of Russian propagandists, while ignoring them legitimises extremism.

Responding to Tuesday’s counter-attack on Russian territory, the Kremlin was typically dismissive, saying the “Ukrainian military got a firm rebuff” from their border guards and that the situation “is under control”. Russia claimed to have “destroyed” 234 soldiers, seven tanks, and three armoured fighting vehicles during the fighting, but such numbers are notoriously unreliable. Russia also denies the claim by the rebels that they held the village of Tiotkino, claiming to have repulsed the assault and “several” others.

The Kremlin also did not make reference to the nationality of the attacking forces, referring to them only as Ukrainians, possibly a move to suppress discussion of any indigenous resistance to President Putin in the country.


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