Russian officials said Monday that a Ukrainian sabotage group launched a cross-border raid in Russia’s Belgorod Oblast, and the governor of the region said eight people were injured.
According to Ukrainian officials and media outlets, the attack was carried out by Russian citizens who have volunteered to fight for Kyiv, groups known as the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps.
Both groups claimed on Telegram that they “liberated” a settlement inside Russia. According to Russia’s TASS news agency, the “Russian military and security forces are taking measures to eliminate the enemy and are driving it away from the Russian territory.” The Kremlin said the attack was launched to distract from Ukraine’s loss of Bakhmut.
According to The Times of London, documents that surfaced on Discord, allegedly leaked by US Airman Jack Teixeira, showed that Ukraine had been planning to support Russian volunteer attacks on Russian territory and that the groups are armed with NATO equipment.
“Ukraine provides comprehensive support to Russian volunteers ready to liberate Russian territories from President Putin’s tyranny by armed means. Such detachments are equipped with various qualitative types of NATO weapons; the personnel has passed respective training for usage of such weapons and has successful combat experience from various parts of the front line in Ukraine,” a document read, according to the Times.
The Washington Post reported earlier this month that Discord leaks show Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky proposed cross-border attacks inside Russia to seize villages during conversations in January, but it didn’t say he planned on using Russian volunteers.
A Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman told CNN that the Russian volunteers were part of the Ukrainian armed forces while they were in Ukraine but claimed they were acting independently in the raid. But the assault coincided with the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov, releasing a video calling on Russian soldiers to surrender.
The Russian Volunteer Corps had previously taken credit for a cross-border attack in Russia’s Bryansk region that took place in March. The Russian Volunteer Corps is made up of Russian citizens who enlisted to fight for Ukraine in 2014 and includes veterans of the Azov Battalion. According to UnHerd, elements of the group are “overtly sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology and praise Hitler on Telegram.” According to Financial Times, the group’s founder, Denis Nikitin, is considered an extremist and has “ties to neo-Nazis and white nationalists across the Western world.”