A group of anti-Putin Russian nationals – who are aligned with the Ukrainian military – claimed responsibility for an attack in the southwestern Russian region of Belgorod, as Moscow said it was fighting a group of saboteurs.
The 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 Legion of Russia” and the “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 that 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 the defense and security forces” when in Ukraine, but independent of Kyiv when not: “In Russia they act as ‘independent entities’.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Kremlin forces were working to repel 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 ground operation against Russian targets”, according to CNN’s Sam Kiley.
“It’s large-scale, and clearly intended to cause considerable consternation among local authorities at the very least, if not at the Kremlin level,” Kiley told CNN’s Lynda Kinkade on Connect the World.
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