Jul 27, 2023

Ukraine denies Russian accusations of attacking border region of Belgorod

Russian forces targeted the eastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro overnight with missiles and attack drones, wounding at least eight people, Ukraine's army said on Monday. Kyiv has denied involvement in an attack in the Russian border region of Belgorod that Moscow blamed on Ukrainian "sabotage". Read our live blog for the latest developments in the war in Ukraine. All times are Paris time (GMT+2).

Issued on: 22/05/2023 - 08:09

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Russian militias who say they are opposed to the rule of Vladimir Putin have claimed responsibility for the cross-border incursions in Russia on Monday.

The far-right Russia Volunteer Corps published video footage late on Monday which showed what it said was a fighter inspecting a captured armoured vehicle. Other videos posted on Russian and Ukrainian social media channels, which could not be independently verified, showed pictures and video of what were described as captured Russian servicemen and their identity documents.

A group calling itself the Liberty of Russia Legion – a Ukraine-based Russian militia led by Russian opposition figure Ilya Ponomarev that says it is working inside Russia for Putin's overthrow – said on Twitter it had "completely liberated" the border town of Kozinka. It said forward units had reached the district centre of Graivoron, further east.

Allegedly made up of Russian deserters and far-right extremists, the groups say they have "liberated" at least three settlements in the Belgorod and Bryansk regions. The nationalist Russia Volunteers Corps claimed in March to have crossed the border into the Bryansk region to take the fight to the Russian government.

While denying any direct involvement, Kyiv appears well-informed about the recent activities on the Russian-Ukrainian border, said FRANCE 24's correspondent Gulliver Cragg.

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The US State Department on Monday said Russian mercenary force Wagner Group is trying to obscure its efforts to acquire military equipment for use in Ukraine, adding that Washington has been informed that Wagner is seeking to transit material acquisitions to aid Russia in the war through Mali.

"There are indications that Wagner has been attempting to purchase military systems from foreign suppliers and route these weapons through Mali as a third party. We have not seen as of yet any indications that these acquisitions have been finalised or executed, but we are monitoring the situation closely," State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters.

The spokesperson did not provide a source for these reports.

As Russia claims that it has taken full control of the embattled city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces continue to fight on in its outskirts.

Seeking to concentrate Russian fire on Bakhmut in order to spare other frontline cities, Ukrainian soldiers vowed to unleash as much firepower as they can on the city.

The battle of Bakhmut has been described as "the most intense battle" since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, said FRANCE 24's senior correspondent Catherine Norris-Trent.

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Russian authorities on Monday introduced a counterterrorism operation in the southern region of Belgorod after Moscow accused a "sabotage" group of crossing over from Ukraine.

"In order to ensure the safety of citizens in the Belgorod region, the legal counter-terror regime has been introduced today," governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said in a statement.

This gives special powers to security services and entails the enforcement of a number of restrictions and measures including beefed-up security, identity verification, and communications surveillance.

Authorities can also displace people living in an affected area.

An "anti-terror regime" was in force in Chechnya between 1999 and 2009 when Russian authorities battled insurgents during Moscow's second military campaign in the mountainous region.

As Russia claims that it has won control of Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut, Ukrainian forces say they are continuing to fight in the city's western suburbs. FRANCE 24's correspondent Gulliver Cragg said Ukrainian forces have admitted that they control only "a small amount of territory" and they have steadily lost ground within the city.

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Russian authorities said that at least six people were injured on Monday in the southern region of Belgorod, where Moscow says Russian troops fended off an incursion by Ukrainian saboteurs.

Two people were admitted to hospital after the village of Glotovo was shelled, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

Three more people were treated in hospital for shrapnel wounds in the town of Graivoron, he said, adding that a local woman also received an arm injury.

The attack also damaged three houses as well as a local administrative building according to local authorities.

A senior aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Kyiv had nothing to do with an armed operation in Russia's Belgorod region on Monday.

"Ukraine is watching the events in the Belgorod region of Russia with interest and studying the situation, but it has nothing to do with it," presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted.

"As you know, tanks are sold at any Russian military store, and underground guerrilla groups are composed of Russian citizens," he said.

The only driving political force in a totalitarian country of tightened screws is always an armed guerrilla movement. #Ukraine is watching the events in the #Belgorod region of #Russia with interest and studying the situation, but it has nothing to do with it. As you know, tanks…

Earlier in the day, the governor of Russia's Belgorod region accused a Ukrainian army 'sabotage group' of crossing the border into Russian territory.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been informed of attacks by a "Ukrainian sabotage group" in Russia's southern Belgorod region, the RIA news agency cited Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov as saying on Monday.

Peskov was cited as saying that Russian forces were working to eject and eliminate the group, RIA reported.

However, the Ukrainian outlet Hromadske cited Ukrainian military intelligence as saying two armed Russian opposition groups, the Liberty of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, both consisting of Russian citizens, had carried out the attack.

The governor of Russia's Belgorod region said on Monday that a Ukrainian army 'sabotage group' had entered Russian territory in the Graivoron district, which borders Ukraine.

In a statement on Telegram, Vyacheslav Gladkov said that the Russian army and security forces were taking measures to repel the incursion.

Earlier, the Telegram channel Baza, which is linked to Russia's security services, had published footage apparently showing a Ukrainian tank attacking a Russian border post.

The Kremlin said on Monday that the European Union's reluctance to reconnect Russia's state agricultural bank to the SWIFT international payment network showed the bloc's "non-constructive stance" on the Black Sea grain deal.

Moscow has previously said Rosselkhozbank's return to SWIFT is a condition for its future renewal of the deal, which permits Ukraine to export grain safely from its Black Sea ports.

The Russian newspaper Izvestia had quoted EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano as saying that Rosselkhozbank could only be readmitted to SWIFT once the conflict in Ukraine was over.

Defence ministers and senior defence officials from 12 northern European countries are meeting in Poland Monday to discuss stepping up deterrence and security on NATO's eastern flank and strengthening Ukraine's defences, ahead of NATO's summer summit.

They are meeting at military facilities in Legionowo, near Warsaw, as part of the so-called Northern Group — a platform for developing security initiatives for NATO and European Union members.

Officials will also discuss preparation for the July NATO summit in Vilnius, Lithuania, according to Denmark's Acting Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen.

Ukrainian national grid operator Ukrenergo said on Monday that external power had been restored to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant after a brief outage following a reported fire at an electricity facility in the city of Zaporizhzhia city.

"'Ukrenergo' restored the power transmission line that supplies the Zaporizhzhia NPP. The station is switching to power supply from the Ukrainian power system," the company said in a statement.

A group of Ukrainian volunteers are spending days and nights in Ukraine's hardest-hit areas along Ukraine's frontlines. The team has been setting up a shelter in Huliaipole, a devastated town in the Zaporizhzhia region. With food, electricity from a generator and even washing machines, the shelter is one of the many "invincibility points" in Ukraine. FRANCE 24 senior correspondent Catherine Norris-Trent provides this report from eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops are still advancing on the flanks of the devastated city of Bakhmut, although the "intensity" of their movement has decreased and Russia is bringing in more forces, Ukrainian Deputy Defence Minister Hanna Maliar said on Monday.

In televised comments, she said Ukraine had a small foothold inside the city itself, again denying Russia's assertion that it has established full control over Bakhmut.

The head of Russia's Wagner mercenary group said on Monday his fighters would leave Bakhmut by June 1 and transfer control to the Russian army, after claiming to have fully captured the city.

Both Wagner and the regular Russian army have said Bakhmut had fallen to them but Kyiv denies this, saying it is hanging on to a corner of the eastern Ukrainian city and that battles are ongoing.

"Wagner will leave Artemovsk from May 25 to June 1," Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin said in an audio recording on Telegram.

Bakhmut was previously known as Artemovsk, in honour of a Soviet revolutionary, before Ukraine renamed it.

The secretary of Russia's Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, said on Monday that development and deepening of ties with China is a strategic course for Russia, state-owned news agency TASS reported on Monday.

Interfax cited Patrushev as saying that Russian-Chinese cooperation is not directed against other countries.

Ukraine's state-owned power generating company Energoatom said on Monday that there was a power outage at the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Plant after a Russia-installed official said the plant was switched to standby and emergency power supply.

"Yes, we have the seventh blackout since the start of the (Russian) occupation," Energoatom told Reuters. Yuriy Malashko, governor of the Zaporizhzhia region in Ukraine said that there was a fire at one of the facilities in Zaporizhzhia city due to an overload in the power system.

"Problems with electricity supply that arose in the city of Zaporizhzhia are not related to shelling," Malashko said on the Telegram messaging app.

The Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant was switched to standby and emergency power supply generators, a Russia-installed local official in the Moscow-controlled part of the region said on Monday.

Vladimir Rogov said the plant was "completely" disconnected from external power supply after Ukraine disconnected a power line it controls.

There was no immediate comment from Ukraine, but Anatoliy Kurtev, Zaporizhzhia city council's secretary in Ukraine, said that work was ongoing since early Monday to restore power to the city.

Russia launched an overnight air attack on the southeastern Ukrainian city of Dnipro, officials said early on Monday, with media reporting a series of blasts.

It was not immediately known whether the blasts were air defence systems destroying their targets or Russian missiles or drones hitting their targets but the governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region, of which Dnipro is the administrative centre, praised defenders.

"Thanks to the defence forces, we withstood the attack. Details will come in due time," the governor Serhiy Lysak, said on his Telegram messaging app, referring to Russian forces as "terrorists".

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday he was "upset" he and Volodymyr Zelensky did not meet at the G7 summit, adding his Ukrainian counterpart seemed uninterested in negotiating peace with Russia.

Zelensky, who emerged from the summit in Hiroshima with fresh diplomatic support and pledges of more military aid, had sought a one-on-one meeting with Lula, who has faced accusations of being soft on Russia over its invasion.

Both leaders said scheduling conflicts had prevented them from meeting -- which Zelensky quipped had likely left his Brazilian counterpart "disappointed".

The transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine would raise the question of NATO's involvement in the conflict, Russia's Ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov said in remarks published early on Monday.

Antonov also said in remarks published on the embassy's Telegram messaging channel that any Ukrainian strike on Crimea would be considered a strike on Russia.

"It is important that the United States be fully aware of the Russian response" (to such strikes), Antonov said.

Although Russia claims it has won control of Ukraine's eastern city of Bakhmut, after a grinding nine-month conflict in which tens of thousands of fighters have died, top Ukrainian military leaders say the battle is not over.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky compared Bakhmut's "total destruction" after months of continuous battles and shelling to the Japanese city of Hiroshima after the nuclear strike of 1945. This comes following conflicting reports on the status of Bakhmut, as Russia claimed to have taken the city.

Read yesterday's live blog to see how the day's events unfolded.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP & Reuters)

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