Russia said on Monday Ukrainian sabotage units crossed into its Belgorod region and that the Russian military is working on neutralizing the infiltrators. Even as Moscow said "a sabotage and reconnaissance group" of the Ukrainian army entered the Russian territory, Kyiv confirmed the incident, adding that the unit comprised Russians.
According to Belgorod officials, the sabotage unit entered the territory of the Graivoronsky district, which is close to Ukraine's border with Russia. "The armed forces of the Russian Federation, together with the border service, the National Guard and the FSB (Russia's security service), are taking the necessary measures to eliminate the enemy," the authorities said, according to CNN.
Russian Opposition Groups
Ukrainian media said the attack units were manned by two Russian opposition groups -- the Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC). Ukrainian outlet Hromadske cited Ukrainian military intelligence as saying that the units were manned by Russian nationals. Meanwhile, according to Reuters, a Telegram channel showed a Ukrainian armoured vehicle advancing on the Graivoron border checkpoint.
Belgorod governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said no civilians had been harmed and that he was not planning an evacuation for citizens.
Moscow said the incursion was planned by Ukraine in the aftermath of the loss of Bakhmut in Donbas late last week. According to the Kremlin, the ploy is intended to distract the international attention on the loss of the key city to the Russians.
"We understand perfectly well the goal of such a diversion - to divert attention from the Bakhmut direction and minimise the political effect of Bakhmut's loss for the Ukrainian side," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.
Ukraine, however, insists that the operation was carried out by the Russians. "We can confirm that this operation was carried out by Russian citizens. These actions are the consequences of intensified Russian cross border attacks, which have led to victims and destruction," said Andriy Yusov, a representative of Ukraine's defense intelligence agency, according to CNN.
Fall of Bakhmut
On Saturday, Russian President Vladimir Putin formally declared the capture of Bakhmut and congratulated the Russian soldiers. The declaration came hours after Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said his mercenaries had taken complete control of the key battleground.
"As a result of offensive actions of the Wagner assault units, with the support of artillery and aviation of the 'Southern' unit, the liberation of the city of Artemovsk was completed ... Vladimir Putin congratulated the assault units of Wagner as well as all servicemen of units of the Russian armed forces who provided them with the necessary support and flank cover, on the completion of the operation to liberate the city," Russia's defence ministry said.