Speed Reads

Panic at the Kremlin

Anti-Kremlin Russians fighting for Ukraine stage 'extraordinary' attack inside Russian border region

Two anti-Kremlin Russian groups fighting with Ukraine crossed over into Russia's southern Belgorod region on Monday and captured at least one town, according to Russian and Ukrainian officials and videos posted by the groups, the Freedom for Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps. The Kremlin called the fighters part of a sabotage and reconnaissance group working for Ukraine, but Kyiv said the two units acted on their own. 

"Russia is facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions, with losses of combat aircraft, improvised explosive device attacks on rail lines, and now direct partisan action," Britain's Ministry of Defense reported early Tuesday. Partisans derailing trains is one thing, but "today they carried out an extraordinary armored advance into Russian territory and actually seized land inside Russia from the Russian state," CNN's Matthew Chance reported Monday night. 

"We can confirm that this operation was carried out by Russian citizens," Ukrainian military intelligence spokesman Andriy Yusov told CNN. They are "part of defense and security forces" when inside Ukraine, but "in Russia they are acting as independent entities." Kyiv is watching the incursion "with interest and studying the situation, but it has nothing to do with it," said Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

As Kyiv gears up for a counteroffensive, "military strategists say Ukraine is likely to pursue operations that would knock Russia off balance and force them to divert forces that would otherwise be used to man defensive lines in Ukraine.," The Wall Street Journal reports. Analysts also said the cross-border assault struck a psychological blow to Russia and aimed to create a security zone to stop Russia from shelling Ukrainian civilians across the border.

Russian officials, commentators, and war bloggers responded to Monday's incursion with a "degree of panic, factionalism and incoherency" that suggests they were taken by surprise, the Institute for the Study of War think tank assessed. Some Russian officials and bloggers claimed the attack was meant to distract from Russian success in Bakhmut, but others warned that the anti-Kremlin partisans appeared to easily penetrate Russia's first line of defensive fortifications.

"Russia's border in the area is well fortified with mines, trenches and barriers," The New York Times reports. Russian authorities say they "have spent about 10 billion rubles — about $125 million — to strengthen the defenses of the Belgorod region" since invading Ukraine.