The force that carried out the attack on Russian territory earlier this week were two militia groups with mysterious movements, one of which had far-right ideology.
A military convoy with many armed men on the night of May 22 suddenly departed from Kharkov province, northeastern Ukraine, crossed the Russian border, entered Belgorod province and attacked the Kozinka border post, causing the death of an officer here. . They then advanced deep into Belgorod Province, engaging Russian forces for two days, before being pushed back over the border.
“Residential buildings, administration and civilian infrastructure were targeted by mortar and artillery fire. As a result of these criminal acts, several civilians were injured,” the Investigative Committee said. Russia announced the attack on Telegram.
Location of areas in the Russian province of Belgorod attacked by armed groups from Ukraine. Graphics: FT
This was the most direct and largest-scale attack by ground forces carried out from Ukrainian territory across the Russian border, causing the greatest disruption to civilians in Belgorod as hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes in the villages of Glotovo and Kozinka.
Russia initially accused Ukrainian forces of sending troops across the border to “distract public opinion” from the defeat in the town of Bakhmut in the Donetsk region. Kiev quickly denied this, insisting it was not directly involved in the attack and only Russian citizens took part in this daring attack.
Two pro-Ukraine Russian armed militia groups, including the Russian Volunteer Army (RVC) and the Russian Freedom Corps (FRL), later claimed responsibility for the attack, drawing public attention to the actions of the Russian Federation.
The FRL and RVC are two armed groups formed last year after Russia launched hostilities in Ukraine, but under unclear circumstances. Both groups were previously described as part of an international body involved in the defense of Ukrainian territory.
Although born at the same time, the two forces differ in organization and ideology. The FRL is more chaotic and is said to be linked to the General Intelligence Service of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense. The RVC is more disciplined, but has an extreme right-wing bias.
The RVC surfaced in March while participating in a cross-border attack on the city of Bryansk, about 400 km southwest of Moscow, Russia.
Members of the Russian Volunteer Army (RVC) pose for a photo in Kozinka. Photo: Reuters
Russian media said the RVC opened fire, causing casualties and taking hostages in this attack. But the group said it only crossed the border to urge Russians to oppose the war in Ukraine, not to take hostages, and then safely retreated to Ukraine.
The leader of the RVC is believed to be Denis Nikitin, a Russian nationalist, and the group openly advocates a monoethnic Russian state.
Fortuna, a member of the group, told Ukrainian media last November that the RVC has around 120 members. “We are a volunteer unit, we are not conscripts or contract soldiers like Ukrainian citizens,” this person said.
According to Michael Colborne, an expert on the Ukrainian far right, members of the RVC can be traced back to the Russian neo-Nazi movement. Russian media also suggested that “neo-fascist” elements were involved in the attack.
An RVC commander nicknamed White Rex admitted that his group was far-right but not fascist.
According to White Rex, the RVC’s objective in launching the cross-border offensive operation is to support Ukraine in its war with Russia while at the same time inciting a movement to cause disorder in Russia. “We don’t care how Russia vilifies us,” said White Rex.
The commander said that the Ukrainian military knew in advance about the group’s intention to attack, helped them plan and supply vehicles and treated the wounded, but did not take a direct part in the operation.
“Everything we do inside the Ukrainian border is coordinated with the Ukrainian military,” he said. “But when it comes to crossing the border, all actions are taken by us.”
According to White Rex, the Ukrainian military “wished us good luck” but did not cross the border into Russia. Ukrainian officials had already confirmed this.
Andrei Chernak, spokesman for Ukraine’s Directorate of Military Intelligence, said they “can’t be too picky” on who to cooperate with when faced with the threat from Russia. “Ukraine’s survival is the only concern. We are ready to work with anyone,” he said.
The other armed group that Ukrainian intelligence is working with is the FRL, an armed organization very different from the RVC.
Members of the Free Russian Army (FRL). Photo: Russian Freedom Legion
The Russian Freedom Legion (FRL) was created in March 2022 after Ukrainian President Zelensky called on foreign volunteers to fight in the country.
“The FRL is like any other unit in the international corps fighting for Ukraine, except they are all Russians,” said Glen Grant, an analyst at the Baltic Security Foundation.
The FRL initially had around 100 members, but gradually expanded in size with more members, notably Igor Volobuev, former vice-president of Russia’s Gazprombank. “Currently, the FRL has about two battalions with a strength of nearly 2,000 people,” said Stephen Hall, a Russia expert at the University of Bath in the UK.
FRL activities are always kept secret. Members wore military uniforms and armbands in white, blue and white Russian opposition stripes, as well as blue and yellow Ukrainian armbands.
“Most FRL members are not military, but they are well trained and have combat experience because they fought in Donbass and around Bkhmut,” said Huseyn Aliyev, a security expert. Russia and Ukraine at the University of Glasgow, Scotland.
According to the FRL website, the force claims to have “combined combat with the Ukrainian armed forces, under the direction of the Ukrainian Command”.
An FRL commander named Caesar, arguably the corps’ most famous marksman, emphasized that “no members of the force were forced to join” and that they were all contract soldiers of the national corps. Ukraine’s economy.
Exiled Russian MP Ilya Ponomarev said last August that the FRL, RVC and another group called the National Republican Army signed a joint statement on their aim to free Russia from Russia’s influence.
Caesar said that during the cross-border attack, FRL members wore US-manufactured armor, but they purchased it themselves from an undisclosed source, not the Ukrainian army. The commander acknowledged that the FRL had suffered casualties in the attack, but declined to say how many gunmen were killed or wounded.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced on May 23 that the Russian army repelled the attacking forces towards Ukraine, killing 70 “terrorists”, destroying many armored vehicles and pickup trucks of the armed group.
During a press conference on May 24 in a forest in northern Ukraine, representatives of the two groups FRL and RVC confirmed that the attack was over, but warned that they would continue to carry out attacks on the border. “The Russian-Ukrainian border is very long,” said White Rex. “There will be places where it will be very hot.”
British defense analyst Michael Clarke said the Belgorod attack had not had a significant impact on the Russia-Ukraine conflict but had brought propaganda value to Kiev.
Ukraine can use this as proof that it still has the capability to strike on Russian soil, Clarke said. “But from Moscow’s side they can also claim that the country is being attacked by the Ukrainians and that they want to destroy Russia.”
Vu Hoang (According to CNN, BBC, Economist)