As Russia struggles to secure its borders in areas bordering Ukraine, Moscow acknowledged on Monday that a group of "saboteurs" had entered its territory. On the Ukrainian side, the authorities indicated that they had suffered a large-scale Russian attack during the night, notably causing a brief power cut in a nuclear power plant.
The incursion comes as Russian forces claimed over the weekend the capture of the devastated town of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the scene of the longest and deadliest battle in the conflict that began in February 2022. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied the loss of Bakhmout where his army said it still held a small area, while continuing to push through the Russian flanks north and south of the city.
On Monday, Russian authorities reported "the entry of a sabotage and reconnaissance group of the Ukrainian army into the Grayvoron district", in the Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine. "The Russian armed forces, together with the border guards, the National Guard and the security services are taking all necessary measures to eliminate the enemy," regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on Telegram.
President Vladimir Putin was briefed on the incursion, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, calling it an attempt by Ukraine to "distract" from the fall of Bakhmout. The Ukrainian presidency assured that kyiv had "nothing to do" with this incursion, claiming to follow the situation with "interest".
Russia on Monday placed the Belgorod region, bordering Ukraine and the scene of an armed incursion by "saboteurs", under the "legal regime of an anti-terrorist operation zone", Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov announced on Monday. This regime, decided by the security services (FSB), grants special powers to the police and armed forces, according to a press release issued by the governor. Thus, it makes it possible to evacuate civilians from the areas concerned, increased control of telecommunications, facilitated interventions by "anti-terrorist" forces or even identity checks and reinforced vehicles.
The authorities "call on citizens to be vigilant, to follow the orders of law enforcement representatives and not to interfere in the action of law enforcement," the statement said. This "anti-terrorist" regime has been in force for years in the Russian Caucasus, particularly in Chechnya, where Russia fought an independence rebellion that later morphed into an armed jihadist force. This is the first time that a Russian region has been placed under this regime because of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, launched by Vladimir Putin on February 24, 2022.
The operation was claimed on a Telegram channel which presents itself as belonging to the "Freedom for Russia Legion", a group of Russians fighting on the Ukrainian side, which had already claimed to be behind previous incursions in the same region. .
"The time has come to put an end to the Kremlin dictatorship," a man who was introduced to AFP in December as "Caesar", spokesman for the group, said in a video broadcast by this channel. identified by the press as a former Russian neo-Nazi who crossed over to the Ukrainian side in 2014. According to the channel, the group "completely liberated" a village in the Belgorod region and attacked a second locality.
On the Ukrainian side, the authorities said they had repelled during the night strikes of an unprecedented scale on the city of Dnipro, in the center-east of the country, with missiles and explosive drones. Seven people were injured in Dnipro and seven others in its region in the attack, which was carried out using "missiles of various types" and Iranian-made Shahed drones, according to the Ukrainian army. According to the mayor of this large city of one million inhabitants 125 kilometers from the front, Borys Filatov, "there has never been such a large bombardment [on Dnipro]" since the start of the offensive Russian.
This Russian attack also caused, according to the Ukrainian authorities, a temporary power cut at the nuclear power plant in Zaporizhia, the largest in Europe, occupied since the beginning of the conflict by Russia. Targeted repeatedly by bombings and already previously cut six times from the Ukrainian network, the plant has disconnected its six reactors but still requires electricity for its own needs.
In recent months, as a major Ukrainian counter-offensive looms, Russian territory has been the target of an increasing number of sabotages, bombings and drone attacks blamed on Kiev. On the front, Russia claimed on Saturday to have taken the entire city of Bakhmout, the epicenter of the fighting since the summer. If confirmed, this capture would represent the first Russian success after a series of humiliating reverses for more than a year. The boss of the Russian paramilitary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigojine, said Monday that his men, in the front line, would leave the city by June 1 and transfer their positions to regular troops of the Russian army.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who spent the weekend at the G7 summit in Japan where he garnered pledges of support, denied that his army had lost the city in ambiguous remarks. The Ukrainian command claimed to still control an "insignificant" part of Bakhmout and to continue its attempts to surround the Russian troops by pressing on the flanks of the city.
Consult our file: War in Ukraine