On Monday, Ukraine’s Directorate of Intelligence told Suspline Media that volunteer elements of the pro-Ukrainian Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps launched cross-border operations against Belgorod, Russia, to “liberate” areas around the border and “create a certain security zone to protect the Ukrainian civilian population.”
Initial reports and footage showed that a column of at least eight vehicles crossed into Russia from Ukraine. According to the Russian mil-blogger Rybar, the column consisted of two tanks, one armored personnel carrier and nine armored vehicles.
Geolocated drone footage at (50.43005° N, 35.59057° E) shows that Ukrainian forces have attacked the Grayvoron border checkpoint and have established a presence over the area. Volunteer forces have claimed to have captured the nearby village of Kozinka as fighting has been reported in Grayvoron, Glotovo, and Gora-Podol, although the extent of Ukrainian penetration into the region is still unclear.
Meanwhile, Russian sources have reported the mass evacuation of Russian civilians from the area towards the main city of Belgorod.
Mi-28 attack helicopters spotted over Belgorod, accompanied by Mi-8 transport helicopters, flying at extremely low altitude. pic.twitter.com/RElkSoXEE3
— Clash Report (@clashreport) May 22, 2023
The Kremlin has acknowledged the operations, dismissing them as distraction from the loss of Bakhmut over the weekend. While specific details on the situation were not provided, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said that Russian forces are working to eliminate the Ukrainian forces.
Back in March, elements of the Russian Volunteer Corps carried out limited operations in Bryansk, which Russia denounced as an act of terrorism. The Russian Volunteer Corps denied Russian claims that it attacked civilians, stating that it was in Bryansk to call on Russians to fight against Putin. Light clashes were reported during the incident before the Ukrainian forces withdrew back over the border.
— Noobieshunta (@Noobieshunta_) March 2, 2023
At the time, Ukrainian officials denied involvement in the incident, with presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeting out “The story about [Ukrainian] sabotage group in RF is a classic deliberate provocation. RF wants to scare its people to justify the attack on another country & the growing poverty after the year of war,” adding that “The partisan movement in RF is getting stronger & more aggressive. Fear your partisans…” In this most recent incident in Belgorod, Ukraine’s Directorate of Intelligence stressed that the operation was carried out exclusively by Russian volunteers, likely in an effort for deniability and saying that the volunteer forces carried out this operation on their own without directive from Ukraine’s military.