Russia says it fought off attempted incursions from Ukraine

By Thomson Reuters Mar 12, 2024 | 5:48 AM

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said its forces prevented incursions from Ukraine on Tuesday and inflicted heavy losses on the attackers, after Ukraine-based armed groups said they had launched cross-border raids.

The Russian defence ministry said Ukrainian “terrorist formations” backed by tanks and armoured combat vehicles tried to invade in three separate directions in Russia’s Belgorod region at about 3 a.m. Moscow time (0000 GMT).

It said that four more attacks by Ukrainian “sabotage and reconnaissance groups” were repulsed around five hours later in Russia’s Kursk region.

Responsibility for the raids was claimed by at least two Ukraine-based armed groups – the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Siberian Battalion – which purport to be made up of Russians opposed to the Kremlin.

“We will take our land from the regime centimetre by centimetre,” the Legion said in a Telegram post.

Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence, told Ukraine’s 24 Channel the groups were conducting the operation on Russian territory independently of Ukraine. He said a third group, the Russian Volunteer Corps, was also participating in the operation.

Reuters could not independently confirm any of the parties’ accounts or how many people had been killed or wounded. Russia said it had used aviation, missile forces and artillery to repel the attacks.

The incidents took place three days before the start of voting in a Russian presidential election in which Vladimir Putin is set to extend his rule by six more years.

In a reference to the vote, the Freedom of Russia Legion posted on social media: “The people will vote for whom they want, not for whom they have to. Russians will live freely.”

Ukraine separately pounded targets across Russia on Tuesday with at least 25 drones and nine rockets, setting a major oil refinery on fire.

Asked about those attacks and the border incidents, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Our military is doing everything necessary, the air defence systems are working.”

The Freedom of Russia legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps have previously claimed responsibility for other cross-border raids into Russia from Ukraine.

In the past, Russian officials have cast the groups as puppets of the Ukrainian military and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, which Moscow says is trying to foment chaos in Russia.

Russia’s FSB security service said separately on Tuesday it had detained a man in Crimea who had called for violence against Russian people, the TASS state news agency reported.

(Reporting by Reuters in Moscow and Max Hunder in Kyiv; Writing by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Alison Williams)