A group of anti-Putin Russian nationals — who are aligned with the Ukrainian army — has claimed responsibility for an attack in Russian’s southwestern region of Belgorod, as Moscow said it was fighting a group of saboteurs there.
Shelling damaged an administrative building, several residential buildings, and a kindergarten in the area, according to regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, who said there were no fatalities.
In a Telegram post, groups calling themselves the “Freedom of Russia Legion” and “Russian Volunteer Corps” said they had “liberated” a settlement in the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine.
A Ukrainian official acknowledged that the units had carried out an operation in the area but insisted they were acting independently.
“We can confirm that this operation was carried out by Russian citizens,” Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine’s defense intelligence agency, told CNN.
He said the units were “part of defense and security forces” when they were in Ukraine, but were independent from Kyiv when they were not: “In Russia they are acting as independent entities.”
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the Kremlin’s forces were working to push out a “sabotage and reconnaissance group,” according to state media TASS.
The situation in Belgorod marks “the first time” that Ukrainian-aligned forces have launched “a cross-border land operation against Russian targets,” according to CNN’s Sam Kiley.
“This is on a significant scale, and clearly intended to cause considerable consternation among the local authorities at the very least, if not at the level of the Kremlin,” Kiley told CNN’s Lynda Kinkade on Connect the World.
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