Freedom of Russia Legion, Siberian Battalion Claim Raids into Russia’s Belgorod and Kursk

What to Know:

The ethnic-Russian paramilitary units Freedom of Russia Legion and Siberian Battalion, which serve under the Ukrainian Foreign Legion, have claimed responsibility for a series of raids launched into border areas of Russia’s Belgorod and Kursk Oblasts.

So far, the groups have claimed that some areas along the border are under their control, while the Russian media and officials have claimed that their attacks have been repelled.

The Raids:

In a video statement released by the Freedom of Russia Legion addressed to Russian citizens, the group said “When KABs (guided Russian bomb) flew from Belgorod to the once friendly Kharkiv, Moscow cheered. When border regions were shelled in response to Putin’s Policies, Moscow was silent. When you were taken as meat to the frontline far from home loaded into autozaks, Moscow laughed.”

“We are not coming to kill, to erase, to destroy, to punish. We come to free you from poverty, from misery, from uncertainty. From the dictatorship of a terrorist organization that has seized power,” the statement added.

The statement went on to say “We are Russians like you. We too have the right to express our will. And our will is not to recognize a bloody dictator as president of Russia.”

“The Legion is going to the elections. Wait for us,” the statement concluded.

Over the past several hours, fighting has been reported in multiple locations in Belgorod and Kursk.

According to Russian milblogger and war-corrspondent Semyon Pegov, Legion forces, backed by armor and limited artillery, began “an attempt to break through the border [in Belgorod] was made from the village of Odnorobovka, Kharkov region” at approximately 0300 local time and that fighting in Kursk began at approximately 0800 when the “the enemy tried to break through the border from three sides.”

The Legion has released footage of operations, also claiming that the village of Tetkino, which sits directly on the border with Ukraine in Kursk, “is fully under the control of the Russian liberation forces. Putin’s army is rapidly leaving the village, leaving behind positions and abandoning heavy equipment.”

Fighting, however, appears to have ceased for now as Legion forces likely withdrew back into Ukraine, as seen in previous assaults over the border. Pegov noted that as of 1400 local time that the incursion was “Most likely this was reconnaissance in force, and new attacks on our positions are not excluded. At the moment, there have been no further offensive attempts by the Ukrainian Armed Forces in this direction.”

Russian sources claim to have inflicted heavy losses to Legion forces, however, casualty assessments are unknown at this time.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s Main Intelligence Directorate, denied any official Ukrainian military involvement, stating that the groups involved “act absolutely autonomously, independently” while operating inside of Russia.

Previous Attacks:

In May 2023,the 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.” The assault primarily targeted the Grayvoron border checkpoint, in which Legion forces temporarily captured the area and surrounding villages, but were eventually driven back following heavy shelling. 

Likewise, pro-Ukrainian Russian groups have carried out multiple operations across the border into Russia, however, they have never established (nor even aimed to establish) a lasting presence in Russian territory.

While these groups are ethnic-Russian volunteer units within Ukraine’s international legion, Ukrainian officials have denied direct involvement, arguing that the groups involved are independent from the Armed Forces of Ukraine while operating outside of the country. Equipment used during these operations, however, are carried out using weapons and vehicles supplied by the Ukrainian military. The 2023 assault on Belgorod used American-supplied HMMWVs, which Russia denounced as the use of western-supplied weapons for offensive operations into Russia has been prohibited by the United States.

What’s the Point?

While these operations often lack tactical objectives in the sense of seeking out and destroying targets or opening a front into Russia, they play a powerful role for propaganda and morale.

While missile attacks persist, the northern Ukrainian border with Russia has not seen active ground fighting since the collapse of Russia’s northern campaign that saw withdrawals from Kyiv, Sumy, and Chernihiv in April 2022 and the Fall 2022 Ukrainian counter offensive which pushed Russian forces out of Kharkiv. These operations showcase how little defended some of these areas are and are often framed as security failures by the Russian military to secure its own border with a warring country.

These operations may also have a psychological impact with Russian forces stationed in the area that an attack could happen at any time and that resources to respond to a larger threat will likely be limited as the Russian military focuses on objectives in the Donbas and along the Zaporizhzhia front. Likewise, these could also be done in an attempt to redirect Russian resources away from active frontlines to help Ukrainian operations.

Russia, on the other hand, has framed these operations as being distractions from Ukrainian losses. The 2023 assault on Belgorod came amidst the fall of Bakhmut. This latest attack tails the recent fall of Avdiivka to Russian forces.

These attacks will continue to persist, although they will not likely be used in any capacity to establish any lasting front inside of Russia as the Ukrainian military focuses on other operations with limited supplies

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