War against Ukraine: situation in Belgorod remains opaque

Status: 05/23/2023 3:19 p.m

Residents of the Russian border region of Belgorod are not yet expected to return to their homes. It is possible that fighting will continue, although Moscow is already reporting that it has “destroyed 70 terrorists”.

By Frank Aischmann, ARD Studio Moscow, currently Berlin

The governor of Belgorod had no reassuring news for the residents of the Russian towns directly on the Ukrainian border this morning. “The Ministry of Defense and security forces are continuing to clean up the territory,” said Vyacheslav Gladkov.

He asks the citizens of Graivoron district not to return to their homes just yet. “We are waiting for the completion of the anti-terrorist operation announced yesterday. I will try to inform you as soon as possible,” he said.

On Monday morning, numerous well-armed people with armored vehicles from the Ukraine are said to have penetrated into Russian towns – although the border installations in the sparsely populated area are said to have been expanded with investments in the billions of rubles.

Russian volunteer corps claimed responsibility for the alleged attacks, and Kiev has denied involvement.

Injured and at least one dead

In the afternoon, helicopters and fighter planes circled the area, shots and grenades could be heard. Twelve civilians were injured, according to Governor Gladkow. An elderly woman died in a subsequent evacuation.

The Ministry of Defence, FSB and border guards reported to the President about the situation, according to news on Russian state television in the evening. The government press office was quoted as saying: “The official spokesman for the Kremlin said about the attempted attack by Ukrainian divers on the Belgorod region that there were enough forces and means on site to destroy the group and drive it out of Russian territory.”

Volunteer Corps banned in Russia

Ukraine officially denied any responsibility. Only Russian citizens were fighting on Russian territory, it said. Ukrainian military intelligence called the “Legion of Freedom of Russia” and the “Russian Volunteer Corps”.

Volunteers and former defected prisoners of war fight in the “Legion of Freedom of Russia” as part of the international volunteer corps of the Ukrainian army. They are said to be Russian citizens – well trained and armed.

In a video recorded before the attack and distributed via social media, several uniformed soldiers of this legion – which is banned in Russia and classified as a terrorist – can be seen. “It’s time to put an end to the Kremlin’s dictatorship,” it says. And: “Russia will be free.”

conflicting parties as a source

Information on the course of the war, shelling and casualties provided by official bodies of the Russian and Ukrainian conflict parties cannot be directly checked by an independent body in the current situation.

information lock for affected area

The second group, the “Russian Volunteer Corps”, which is considered right-wing extremist, made headlines a few months ago – founded by a Russian neo-Nazi who was born in Moscow, grew up in Cologne and is now supposed to be fighting Russia in Ukraine.

In early March, members of the “Russian Volunteer Corps” attacked a border town in the Bryansk region, a good 300 kilometers north of Belgorod, killing two civilians. At the time, President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of an act of terrorism, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky spoke of a provocation. There is still no official confirmation that the “Russian Volunteer Corps” is part of the Ukrainian army.

The current situation in the Belgorod region is currently unclear. An official information blackout is part of the anti-terror measures imposed by the governor on Monday evening. The information cannot be independently checked – not even the most recent statements by the Russian side.

Moscow: More than 70 “Ukrainian terrorists” killed

Accordingly, the Russian army claims to have pushed back and “eliminated” the fighters who had penetrated the border region of Belgorod.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the nationalist groups were “stopped and destroyed” during an “anti-terrorist operation” with airstrikes and artillery fire. The remaining “nationalists” were “pushed back into the territory of Ukraine,” where the “destructive strikes” of the Russian army continued until the fighters were “completely annihilated.” The Russian army killed more than 70 “Ukrainian terrorists,” it said.

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