There is still widespread confusion over reports of an armed raid across the Ukrainian border into Russia, with claims of pro-Ukrainian fighters capturing a town and using a tank.
Russia says more than 70 attackers were killed in the Belgorod region and the remnants of their units were pushed back into Ukrainian territory after two days of fighting.
Moscow blamed “Ukrainian militants”, but kyiv described the alleged incursion as an uprising by Russian partisans and said it had nothing to do with it.
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What happened in the Belgorod region?
Russian troops and security forces spent a second day fighting the reported incursion since Ukrainewhich concentrated around the town of Graivoron.
On Monday afternoon, Belgorod regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported that a group of Ukrainian Armed Forces saboteurs had entered the town, which is about five kilometers inside the Russian border.
Graivoron was also attacked by Ukrainian drones and artillery fire, he said.
Russia’s Freedom Legion, a militia made up of Russian volunteers, claimed to have been involved in an attack in Belgorod.
He said on Twitter that he had “completely liberated” the town of Kozinka and advanced units had reached the center of Graivoron district.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Russian Defense Ministry said remnants of the units it blamed for the incursion had been pushed back into Ukrainian territory.
Sky News was unable to verify the information from Belgorod.
Who was behind the alleged attack?
It’s a complicated picture. Russia has blamed Ukrainian armed forces for the reported border incursion, but kyiv has denied any involvement.
“Ukraine is watching the events in Russia’s Belgorod region with interest and studying the situation, but it has nothing to do with it,” Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Twitter.
“As you know, tanks are sold in any Russian military store, and underground guerrilla groups are made up of Russian citizens,” he added.
Defense expert Professor Michael Clarke said it was still unclear who was behind the attack – and who knew about it.
“The big question is whether Ukraine was behind all this, and if not, did they know,” he told Sky News.
“Or was it as much of a surprise to them as it was to the Kremlin?
“I think the Zelenskyy government is too smart to do this,” he added.
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Who are the Russian partisans accused of looting Belgorod?
Two groups – the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and Russia’s Freedom Legion – have claimed responsibility.
The Legion for the Freedom of Russia says it was formed in the spring of 2022 “by the will of Russians to fight in the ranks of the Ukrainian Armed Forces against Putin’s armed gang”.
It claims to cooperate with the Ukrainian Armed Forces and to operate under Ukrainian command.
The spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said on Monday that the attacks in Belgorod only involved Russian citizens and created a “safe zone” to protect Ukrainian civilians. He neither confirmed nor denied that the forces operating there are a Ukrainian unit.
Video released Monday by the RVC showed two men claiming to have captured a Russian armored personnel carrier.
Reuters news agency said it was able to identify one of the men as Ilya Bogdanov, a Russian national who received Ukrainian citizenship in 2015 after fighting for Kyiv against Russian-backed forces in the east of Ukraine.
Is the alleged attack significant?
Professor Clarke says the reported incursion into Russia is not significant in the wider war, but has potential propaganda value.
It says in a way that it’s similar to the drone attack on Moscow – “It’s humiliating”.
“On the other hand, they kind of have the advantage of saying, look, this is how we are attacked by the Ukrainians and they want to destroy Russia.”