Wednesday, 19 Jun 2024

‘Biden did not encourage attack on Russian city’ as military equipment recovered

Ukraine: Smoke rises from Russian border post in Kozinka

Joe Biden’s administration was forced to distance itself from reports US military equipment had been used in the alleged incursion of Ukrainian military forces into the Russian city of Belgorod.

Russia’s military said Tuesday it quashed what appeared to be one of the most serious cross-border attacks from Ukraine since the war began.

Moscow blamed the raid that began Monday on Ukrainian military saboteurs.

But as images appeared on social media of damaged Western military vehicles, including US-made Humvees, the US insisted it did not “encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia”.

A state department spokesman acknowledged they saw images “circulating on social media and elsewhere” of US supplied weapons but added they remained “sceptical at this time of the veracity of these reports”.

In a news briefing on Tuesday, Matthew Miller added: “It is up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war.”

Ukraine also denied any involvement in the skirmishes Monday and Tuesday, instead blaming two Russian groups that claim to be volunteers fighting alongside Kyiv’s forces in an uprising against the government of President Vladimir Putin.

While neither version could be independently verified, whatever happened appears to have sent Moscow scrambling to respond to one of the most serious border incursions since Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said an elderly woman died in the chaotic evacuation, and 12 people were wounded in the attack and shelling. As fighting there apparently continued into Tuesday morning, he urged residents not to return to their homes, and only in the late afternoon declared that the operation was over.

Two groups — the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps – claimed responsibility for the attack and announced an ambitious goal of “liberating” the Belgorod region. Little is known about them beyond what they say about themselves.

The website of the Freedom of Russia Legion says it was formed last spring “out of Russians’ desire to fight against Putin’s armed gang” and is “officially recognised” by Kyiv’s military. “We are fighting in full cooperation with the Armed Forces of Ukraine and under the leadership of the Ukrainian command,” the website says.

The website said it fought last summer in “small battle groups”, and now was involved in the battle for the eastern city of Bakhmut.

The Russian Volunteer Corps’ page in the messaging app Telegram used to say it was a formation within the Armed Forces of Ukraine. It now describes itself as merely fighting on the Ukrainian side.

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In August 2022, an announcement posted there said: “We, Russian volunteers living in Ukraine, decided to take up arms and create a military formation, the Russian Volunteer Corps, in order to together with our Ukrainian comrades defend their homeland which gave us shelter, and then continue the fight against the criminal Putin regime and his henchmen.”

Other posts claimed the group was fighting in southeastern Ukraine, or as volunteers serving elsewhere in the country, including in Kyiv’s suburbs of Bucha and Irpin.

In March, the Russian Volunteer Corps claimed responsibility for an incursion in Russia’s Bryansk region, another border area. Media reports at the time identified some of its members as Russian nationalists.

In a post Tuesday, the Russian Volunteer Corps described its political views as “right-wing conservative and traditionalist.”

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