The United States has distanced itself from the recent incursion into Russia, as Moscow claims that armed insurgents from Ukraine were defeated in the operation. On Monday, parts of the border region of Belgorod came under attack in one of the largest cross-border raids since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year. Russia has released images of abandoned or damaged Western military vehicles, including US-made Humvees.
The US has stated that it did not encourage or enable strikes inside Russia. A spokesperson from the State Department acknowledged reports circulating on social media and elsewhere regarding the use of US-supplied weapons but expressed skepticism about the veracity of these reports at the moment. During a news briefing, Matthew Miller stated that it was up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct the war.
The authenticity of the images of US vehicles in Belgorod released by Russia has not been verified by the BBC. Villages near the border in Belgorod were evacuated after coming under fire. Russia claims that 70 attackers were killed and insists that they were Ukrainian fighters. However, Kyiv denies involvement, and two Russian paramilitary groups opposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin have claimed responsibility for the incursion.
Following the raid, Moscow declared a counter-terrorism operation, granting authorities special powers to restrict communications and people’s movements. The measures were lifted the next day, but one of the paramilitary groups claimed to still control a small piece of Russian territory.
According to regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, one civilian died during the violence, and several others were injured. He also reported a “large” number of drone attacks overnight on Tuesday, damaging private vehicles, houses, offices, and a gas pipeline. The claims made by the conflicting sides have not been independently verified, although it was confirmed that a building used by Russia’s main security agency, the FSB, was among those hit during the violence. The cause of the damage remains unclear.
Russia’s defense ministry stated that a “unit of the Ukrainian nationalist formation” invaded its territory to carry out attacks. One of their photos showed a wrecked vehicle with the words “for Bakhmut” written in Russian, referring to the Ukrainian city that Russia claims to have recently captured, a claim disputed by Kyiv.
The Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), the two paramilitary groups involved, confirmed their participation through social media posts. They also informed Ukraine’s public broadcaster that they were creating a demilitarized zone on the border with Russia, from which they would not be able to shell Ukraine.
This cross-border incursion may be embarrassing for Moscow and counterbalance the negative perception for Ukraine regarding the loss of control over Bakhmut after months of intense fighting. However, it is also likely part of Ukraine’s preparations for an upcoming counter-offensive, aiming to divert Russian troops away from the south where Kyiv plans to attack.
While leaders in the NATO military alliance may be concerned about assaults on Russian soil, the incursion could present a mixed blessing for Kyiv. The involvement of far-right extremist elements among the participants reinforces Moscow’s claim that it is combating neo-Nazis in Ukraine and plays into the Kremlin’s narrative of Russia’s sovereign security being under attack from Western-backed forces.
The West is unlikely to welcome this development, as the long-range weapons provided to Ukraine come with the condition that they are not to be used to strike targets inside Russia. Despite Kyiv’s official denials, it is difficult to believe that this raid was launched without assistance from Ukrainian military intelligence.