Russia says it has “completely liquidated” pro-Kiev militias crossing the border

Russia has claimed its military has “completely eliminated” pro-Ukraine militias who carried out a two-day incursion into its territory, an embarrassing episode that points to more than a year of failures by President Vladimir Putin.

The apparent ease with which two Ukraine-based groups of far-right Russian nationals crossed the border into Russia and temporarily “liberated” a village prompted rare public criticism from local authorities, prompting the Kremlin to play down its concerns.

Russia “blocked and crushed nationalist groups, [then] beat [them] back to the territory of Ukraine,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a public broadcast on Wednesday, adding that “more than 70 Ukrainian terrorists have been destroyed.” He vowed that Moscow would respond “in a timely and extremely vicious manner to similar actions by Ukrainian fighters in the future.”

A Ukrainian military intelligence official acknowledged on Tuesday that he was working with the groups behind the raid, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Free Russian Legion, which claimed responsibility for the Belgorod incursion and a series of similar incidents this spring.

Ukraine assessed the attacks as evidence of an anti-Putin uprising by Russian citizens on the one hand, and as evidence of Moscow’s weak control over the border regions on the other.

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The Russian army tried to downplay the obvious shortcomings revealed by the attacks.

On Tuesday, bloggers close to the Defense Ministry released two videos showing Alexander Lapin, a senior Russian general and head of the army’s ground forces, exhorting a small group of soldiers: “Forward, boys, for the motherland!” in a bucolic village street, as part of the fight against the militias.

However, independent Russian news agency Agentstvo said no signs of a fight could be heard or seen in the clips, which were recorded 5 km from the scene of the fight.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Defense said that a Russian warship repelled an attack by three Ukrainian naval drones in Turkish economic waters in the Black Sea.

The Ministry of Defense suggested that the drones were planning to attack two Russian gas pipelines, suggesting that Ukraine was also responsible for the explosions at the Nord Stream pipelines in the Baltic Sea last September.

Russia has not presented any evidence to support the claim, other than a grainy video showing three small drones coming under fire at sea. Ukraine, which blamed Russia for the Nord Stream attacks, and Turkey did not immediately comment.

The Russian Defense Ministry also received rare criticism from Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov in a late-night webcast after a local resident complained that the border was “full of holes.”

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Gladkov told the resident that he agreed and had “even more questions for the Defense Ministry than you do.” “We have to draw conclusions from the mistakes we made,” Gladkov added.

Asked about Gladkov’s comments, Putin’s spokesman Dimitry Peskov said the war with Ukraine required “very difficult and tense work” that “constantly raises questions that are asked and answered.”

The voice of the region’s governor further intensified the criticism of the Russian Defense Ministry by the hardliners grouped around Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner paramilitary group.

Russian forces are on the verge of capturing the eastern Ukrainian town of Bahmut, a symbolic victory after the army failed to make significant progress since early last summer.

But the heavy losses of men and material suffered by the occupying forces in Bahmut and the failure to advance elsewhere on the front line have raised fears that Russia will find itself in the rear after the much-anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive. assailant.

In an interview released late Tuesday, Prigozhin said that some 15,000 to 16,000 of Wagner’s forces had been killed, mostly convicts released from prison because of the fighting in Ukraine, and about the same number had been seriously injured.

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These apparent casualty figures are the biggest admissions made by leading Russian figures about Moscow’s losses during the conflict.

Prigozhin assumed an outsized role in Russia’s war effort as the regular army offensive continued to explode.

Although Putin specifically thanked Wagner for his role in the advance on Bahmut last week, Prigozhin remains in public conflict with the army leadership, which he accuses of deliberately starving paramilitary troops of ammunition.

In the interview, Prigozhin said the Russian military had “broken the bed” during the initial invasion and claimed that more than a year later, “things are still not coming together”.

The war was waged “to ‘debase’ Ukraine, and we made them famous all over the world,” Prigozhin said. “How did we demilitarize them? We kind of militarized them. They have one of the strongest armies.”

According to Prigozhin, Russia should declare martial law, mobilize more people into the army and devote all the resources of the economy to the production of munitions. “We’re at the point where we can just screw Russia,” he added.