Russia claims it ‘completely liquidated’ pro-kyiv militias who crossed the border
Russia has claimed its army “completely eliminated” pro-Ukrainian militias that made a two-day raid on its territory, an embarrassing episode that points to broader failures more than a year after President Vladimir Putin’s invasion.
The apparent ease with which two Ukraine-based far-right Russian citizen groups penetrated Russia’s border and temporarily “liberated” a village drew rare public criticism from local authorities, prompting the Kremlin to downplay the concerns.
Russia had “blocked and defeated nationalist groups, [then] defeat [them] back to Ukrainian territory,” Sergei Shoigu, Russia’s defense minister, said in a public broadcast on Wednesday, adding that “more than 70 Ukrainian terrorists have been destroyed.” He promised that Moscow would “react in a timely and extremely cruel manner to similar acts by Ukrainian fighters in the future.”
A Ukrainian military intelligence official admitted on Tuesday that he cooperated with the groups behind the raid, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Free Russian Legion, which claimed responsibility for the Belgorod raid and a series of similar incidents this spring.
Ukraine has hailed the attacks as evidence both of an uprising against Putin among Russian citizens and of Moscow’s weak control over border regions.
The Russian military has wanted to downplay the apparent shortcomings exposed by the attacks.
On Tuesday, bloggers close to the Defense Ministry published two videos showing Alexander Lapin, a senior Russian general and head of the army’s ground forces, urging a small group of soldiers: “Forward, guys, for the fatherland!” . down a bucolic street in a town as part of what they said was the fight against the militias.
But no signs of fighting were heard or seen in the clips, which were filmed 5 km away from where the fighting took place, according to the independent Russian news outlet Agentstvo.
The Defense Ministry also drew rare criticism from Viacheslav Gladkov, the governor of Belgorod, in a late-night webcast after a local resident complained that the border was “full of holes.”
Gladkov told the resident that he agreed and had “even more questions for the Ministry of Defense than you do.” “We need to draw conclusions from the mistakes that were made,” Gladkov added.
When asked about Gladkov’s comments, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the war with Ukraine required “very difficult and tense work” that “constantly creates questions that are being asked and answered.”
The regional governor’s voice added to the growing criticism of the Russian Defense Ministry by hardliners grouped around Yevgeny Prigozhin, founder of the Wagner paramilitary group.
Russian forces are poised to capture the eastern Ukrainian town of Bakhmut, a symbolic triumph after the army failed to make significant gains since early last summer.
But the huge losses of men and materiel the invading forces suffered at Bakhmut, coupled with the failure to make progress on other parts of the front, have raised fears that Russia may find itself at a disadvantage after a long-awaited Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Prigozhin said in an interview published late Tuesday that between 15,000 and 16,000 of Wagner’s forces, mostly convicts released from prison to fight in Ukraine, had been killed, and the same number had suffered serious injuries.
Those apparent casualty figures are the biggest admission any senior Russian figure has made to Moscow’s losses during the conflict.
Prigozhin has assumed an outsized role in Russia’s war effort as the regular army offensive continues to fail.
Although Putin specifically thanked Wagner for his role in the advance through Bakhmut last week, Prigozhin remains embroiled in a public conflict with the army leadership, which he accuses of deliberately depriving paramilitaries of ammunition.
In the interview, Prigozhin said Russia’s military had “ripped the bed” during the initial invasion and claimed “things still aren’t getting fixed” more than a year later.
The war “was made to ‘denazify’ Ukraine, and we made it a nation famous all over the world,” Prigozhin said. “How do we demilitarize them? We have militarized them in some way. They have one of the strongest armies.”
Prigozhin said that Russia needed to declare martial law, mobilize more men in the army and divert all the resources of the economy towards the production of munitions. “We are at the point where we could screw Russia,” he added.