A Blog by Jonathan Low


May 23, 2023

Russian Border Incursion Update: Still There, Digging In - And Trolling the Kremlin

The Kremlin's claims of eliminating the threat are being disproven by time-stamped photos and videos, including some of the anti-Putin Russians using armored personnel carriers they captured from fleeing loyalist Russian troops. 

The anti-Putinists appear to be expanding their 'freed' territory as the Kremlin tries to find troops it can send to quell the insurrection while Ukrainian and anti-Putin trolls are having a field day mocking the Russian military. JL  

Stefan Korshak and Aleksandra Klitina report in the Kyiv Post:

Kremlin officials Tuesday said local defense forces had failed to eject anti-government fighters from Russian territory. "Freedom fighters” still operating in Russia announced they were partisans fighting to liberate their country from the authoritarian Kremlin regime and had no intention of leaving. 14 villages in the Graivoronsk region are completely without power, and renewed deliveries are impossible because "of the situation." Fighters operating in the Russian border villages of Grayvoron, Kozinka and Borisovka were constructing battle fortifications to take on Russian government troops sent by Moscow. Russian propagandists were struggling to cope with an epic embarrassment for the Kremlin.

Kremlin officials on Tuesday said local defense forces had contained an armed border incursion from Ukraine but had failed to eject them from Russian territory. In response, “freedom fighters” still operating in Russia announced they were partisans fighting to liberate their country from the authoritarian Kremlin regime and had no intention of leaving.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, the site of border fighting between Russian local defense forces and armed groups allegedly entering from Ukraine’s north-eastern Kharkiv region on Monday, said that “mopping up is in progress… but unfortunately, it’s not possible [for Russian government officials] to go into the two villages on the border.”

Some Russian official sources on Tuesday claimed it wiped out militants and military hardware in the southern Belgorod region, according to a Russian defense ministry statement with the assistance of air strikes and artillery. Video published by the state-controlled Ria Novosti television channel showed an apparent nighttime artillery strike on four vehicles the official Russian news source said were "enemy". Independent news websites, Telegram channels and the Belgorod governor himself on Tuesday contradicted that Moscow official line.

Fourteen villages in the Graivoronsk region are completely without power, and renewed electricity deliveries are impossible because "of the situation in the area", governor Gladkov said in a mid-afternoon Tuesday statement. Audio reportedly recorded in the Grayvoron region in the early afternoon seemed to show small arms firefights were still in progress. The independent Russian news platform Astra reported firing and explosions audible in the vicinity for the last 24 hours "and still continuing"

Images and text reports published by pro-Ukrainian military channels said that ethnic Russian fighters operating in the Russian border villages of Grayvoron, Kozinka and Borisovka were constructing battle fortifications on Tuesday to take on Russian government troops sent by Moscow.

During the night, explosive-toting drones operated by Ukrainian or “partisan” forces dropped grenades on at least two private homes, and a substantial force of “enemy” remains at large in the Belgorod region, Gladkov said.

“All necessary responses by state agencies [to the incursion] are in progress, and we are waiting for their completion, and an end to the anti-terrorist operation,” he said.

A direct appointee of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Gladkov on Monday in official statements said the “situation was under control” and that the cross-border attackers would be “liquidated immediately,” only to learn that the “insurgents” stayed put all night, firing fiercely on Russian army patrols coming close.

The night of Monday-Tuesday also saw drone strikes in the regional capital Belgorod, Gladkov said.

According to news reports and statements by the fighters themselves, fighters from the anti-Kremlin groups Freedom of Russia and Russian Volunteer Corps were responsible for the incursion and drone strikes.

The anti-Kremlin fighters – widely considered supported by Ukraine despite flat Kyiv denials of any involvement – were backing the defenses with a pair of captured Russian army BTR-82 armored personnel carriers, the news platform Voenny Osvedomitel reported.

Other anti-government fighters also had occupied fortifications near the village Gory-Podol, built in recent months by Moscow to prevent border incursions, The Ukrainian news agency UNIAN reported.

“Russians have come to their land by right. One day, we will come to stay. At the same time, the partisan movement is not bound by the framework of traditional combat operations,” said a Tuesday declaration from the Russian Volunteer Corps, one of two groups participating in the attack.

“The time for change has come to our country. The country is ready for liberation. And most of all, territories bordering the combat zone will be liberated: Kursk, Bryansk and Belgorod.”

Kremlin critic and pundit Igor Girkin, a leading participant in Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine’s Donbas region, in a Tuesday Telegram post, confirmed armed groups were still operating in the Belgorod region and that local authorities were unable to deal with them.


Kremlin officials were trying to cover up the scale of the incursion and refusing to hand out weapons to local civilians for self-defense, Girkin claimed.

Aleksei Baranovsky, a representative of the Russian Armed Opposition Political Center, an information platform closely linked to groups opposing the regime of Russian President Vladimir Putin, confirmed to Kyiv Post the anti-government fighters that drove into Russia were still in place.

“Liberation forces are present on the territory of the Gayvoron district in the Belgorod region. For now, they are staying there. We will see what happens today,” Baranovsky said.

“There will be more news. No one was prepared for this in Russia.”

Baranovsky predicted tighter restrictions on the Russian populace will follow the cross-border attack, but that anti-regime attacks will inevitably continue.

“The phase of Russia’s liberation from Putin’s tyranny has begun. As always, the reaction [by Moscow] is likely to strengthen the dictatorship – to deepen it, to clamp down on those who oppose it,” he said.

“Putin does not fully understand how serious everything is.”

As the pro-Ukraine incursion into the Belgorod region continues into its second day, Russian propagandists and their public are struggling to cope with what is an epic embarrassment for the Kremlin.

What’s more, Ukrainian officials appear to be enjoying the proceedings, even ironically echoing lines used by the Kremlin itself back in 2014 when “little green men” invaded Crimea and then bussed-in “locals” appeared in the Donbas.

Russian state-controlled “news” media covered the border incursion and the official denial of involvement by Kyiv with visible emotion and frustration.

Olga Skabeyeva, a senior Kremlin propagandist and television moderator, during a Tuesday evening broadcast of the top-rated Vesti news talk show, attacked Ukrainian national leadership’s denial of involvement in the cross-border raid, describing it as “lying and, you [Russian television viewers] must agree, absolutely cowardly.” She added: “They [senior Ukrainian officials] are saying that the tanks and weapons used in the attack were probably bought in military surplus stores, and that they had nothing to do with it.”

A few hours previously, in viral Telegram comments, Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, used the same narrative of non-involvement and local armed groups rising up against a hostile state that the Kremlin pushed through its propaganda outlets during Moscow’s 2014 invasion.

Experts Discuss Ukraine Demining at Ukrainian-American Forum

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“Ukraine is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and is studying the situation, but it has no direct relation to it. As you know, tanks are sold at any Russian military surplus store, and underground guerrilla groups still consist of Russian citizens,” Podolyak said.

“In a totalitarian country whose only political tool is repression, a partisan movement with weapons in hand is inevitable. Ukraine is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and studying the situation, however, it has no direct relationship with it.”

Podolyak’s choice of language regarding the source of heavy weapons used in the Monday Belgorod cross-border raid – “military surplus store” – were identical to justifications offered by Russian state media outlets, led by Skabeyeva herself, that the men armed with tanks, artillery and armored personnel carriers attacking Ukrainian troops and taking over Ukrainian towns and villages adjacent to Russia, were Ukrainian citizens who had armed themselves privately, without any Moscow support.


The main news website of the Ukrainian military on Tuesday commented on Skabeyeva’s anger at Podolyak’s narrative: “What goes around comes around!”

Russian citizens on social media were just as incensed at the news coming out of Belgorod, using far more colorful language to express their fury.

“It’s high time Kyiv was turned into a fu*king ruin,” said one. “I don’t know what they’re waiting for – strangle the scum in its nest.”

There was widespread anger at those who were supposed to defend Belgorod, with some people accusing Russian forces there of fleeing instead of fighting.

“ Did we just give them [Russian Volunteer Corps] an armored vehicle? There were no casualties among our border guards, only one prisoner?” asked one person.

There were also calls for punishment for those who allowed the situation to happen. “We will know the results from the investigation; then we will say who should be punished for this,” wrote one person.

Predictably, there was also blame placed on the US

“For some reason, nothing has changed, and the US has remained a threatening hegemon,” one person wrote. “It was not Ukraine that attacked Russia; it was the USA that forced Ukraine to give up Russia.”

Meanwhile in the Kremlin, authorities were trying to put a brave and calm face on events.

“What happened yesterday is a cause for deep concern and once again confirms that Ukrainian militants continue their activities against our country,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

“This requires more effort from us and these efforts continue – the special military operation is continuing – so that this does not happen again,” he added, using the Kremlin’s term for Moscow’s war in Ukraine.

Elsewhere on Monday, the head of Ukraine’s Military Intelligence Directorate (HUR) Kyrylo Budanov, had a far more serious message for Russian soldiers.

In a recorded address, he said: “You have a choice: die or save your life.” Budanov referred them to the state project called “I want to live,” a call-in service that explains to RF soldiers how to surrender.


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