Shelling hits Russia’s Belgorod area as militias mount cross-border assault

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KYIV, Ukraine — Anti-Russian fighters attacked at the very least 10 villages in Russia’s Belgorod area on Monday with heavy shelling, its governor mentioned, within the newest signal of escalating cross-border preventing, as Moscow claimed to dam the start of a large-scale Ukrainian counteroffensive.

A spokesman for the Russian Protection Ministry, Lt. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, mentioned Ukrainian forces had began a much-awaited counteroffensive by attempting to pus by way of 5 areas of the entrance line in Ukraine’s Donetsk area however that Russian forces had repelled the assaults.

Konashenkov’s assertion, in a video revealed by Russian state-owned RIA Novosti information company, couldn’t be verified and was swiftly denied by Ukraine. Serhiy Cherevatyi, a spokesman for the Ukrainian military’s jap command, referred to as the Russian declare “delusional.”

Kyiv’s forces have been making ready new offensive operations, anticipated to start quickly, to oust Russian troops from occupied Ukrainian territory. Ukrainian officers in latest days have mentioned that there could be no official announcement that the counteroffensive had began, and a few have mentioned that it might already be underway.

However in response to the Russian claims, Cherevatyi mentioned the massive counterattack had but to start. “In actuality, when this begins, everybody will find out about it,” he mentioned, noting that the operation would hinge on a component of shock similar to a counteroffensive final fall that pushed Russian forces out of positions within the northeast Kharkiv area. “Will probably be like Kharkiv,” he mentioned, “quick, efficient and apparent to them and everybody else.”

Earlier than the lightning push by way of Kharkiv final September, Ukraine had maneuvered its forces to boost heavy hypothesis about an assault in Kherson area to the south. Kyiv later admitted purposely making a distraction. A counterattack in Kherson then adopted in November.

Ukraine has not given any indication of the place or when the brand new offensive will begin. However in maybe a little bit of psychological operations, its navy on Sunday launched a video of troopers placing fingers to their lips, vowing to stay silent.

Amid anticipation of the brand new floor operations, cities in Russia’s western Belgorod area have come beneath heavy shelling and different assaults. Belgorod’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, blamed the assaults on Ukraine’s navy, however two anti-Putin paramilitary teams have claimed credit score for them.

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The preventing appeared to accentuate on Monday, as an influence facility caught fireplace following a drone assault. The city of Shebekino, situated about 4 miles from the Ukrainian border, was additionally beneath heavy shelling, in line with residents interviewed by Radio Europe.

The professional-Ukrainian militias, which claimed to have carried out a sequence of cross-border incursions in latest days, mentioned their forces had mounted one other assault on authorities services and brought Russian troopers prisoner over the weekend.

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On Sunday, Gladkov mentioned he was prepared to satisfy an opposition group that had taken prisoners from the area. However the governor skipped the assembly, in line with the Russian Volunteer Corps, one among two anti-Kremlin militia teams working on Russian soil in assist of Ukraine.

Kyiv has denied any involvement within the assaults on Russian soil and sought to distance itself from the teams.

In a jab at Moscow, Andriy Yusov, a spokesman for Ukraine’s navy intelligence, which has admitted to cooperating with the militia teams up to now, instructed Ukrainian nationwide tv on Saturday that Russia had been unable to quash the cross-border assaults as a result of its safety forces have been solely “skilled to beat the individuals of peaceable protests.”

Ilya Ponomarev, a founding father of the Free Russia Legion, the second militia group, claimed that anti-Putin forces now management a couple of dozen settlements in Belgorod area.

In accordance with Ponomarev, the Free Russia Legion is working in Shebekino. Russian authorities have mentioned that the city is being hit by Ukrainian armed forces from throughout the border, however haven’t confirmed if the militias are current on the bottom

Ponomarev mentioned the objective of the assault was to grab Shebekino and maintain it.

Final week, the identical teams carried out a raid in a distinct a part of Belgorod area to check Russia’s defenses, he mentioned.

“It reveals that the breakdown of Russia’s state defenses as a result of they’ve despatched all that they need to Ukraine, and now they’ve completely no reserves,” Ponomarev mentioned.

Ponomarev denied that the anti-Putin forces had shelled Russian settlements and cities, laying the blame on Russia’s military. His claims couldn’t be verified.

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The assaults in Belgorod area, together with statements by Ukrainian officers in latest days that Ukraine is “prepared” for its counteroffensive, have heightened the sense {that a} new section of the 15-month battle could also be about to start.

Cherevatyi, the Ukraine jap command spokesman, claimed Russian troopers have been “scaring one another” and spreading rumors. He despatched The Washington Submit a navy discover given to Russian troopers which he mentioned was taken from a Russian prisoner of battle captured two weeks in the past. The discover mentioned: “The counteroffensive will occur unexpectedly, and it’s 100% seemingly it is going to occur at evening, similar to the Nazis did in 1941.”

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The Russian Volunteer Corps posted a video on Monday afternoon supposed as proof that their unit was current in Novaya Tavolzhanka, an space situated between the border and Shebekino.

“Regardless of the [Russia] authorities’ assurances, the RVC fighters proceed to manage Novaya Tavolzhanka,” a caption on the video mentioned.

Early this morning, the Russian Protection Ministry mentioned its forces had stopped an try on Sunday by “Ukrainian terrorists” to enter Novaya Tavolzhanka by way of the close by Seversky Donets River which crosses into Russia from Ukraine. The ministry mentioned Russia had killed 10 of the attackers.

The Russian ranks, nevertheless, gave the impression to be in disarray.

After the latest incursions into Belgorod area, some pro-war Russian bloggers dubbed the realm “Belgorod entrance line,” underscoring the blowback of Moscow’s stalling invasion of Ukraine, with energetic preventing underway on Russian soil.

Not less than 4,000 folks, roughly 10 % of Shebekino’s inhabitants, have evacuated in latest days, with a lot of them now housed in shelters within the regional capital of Belgorod metropolis, Gladkov mentioned.

Not less than 10 have folks died, and dozens have been hospitalized with blast accidents final week, in line with native media.

In Belgorod and two different border areas, native radio stations broadcast a pretend announcement from President Vladimir Putin, urging residents to evacuate “deeper into the nation instantly” and asserting a common mobilization “to defeat the crafty and harmful enemy.”

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“The aim of the message is to sow panic amongst peaceable Belgorod residents,” native authorities mentioned.

The Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, mentioned on Monday that the radio stations have been hacked, however broadcasters have since “regained management.”

In one other weird flip, the months-long feud between Wagner mercenary boss Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s and Russia’s Protection Ministry appeared to have moved past rhetoric, into an precise confrontation.

Prigozhin accused the common navy of inserting explosives on roads utilized by mercenaries to retreat from Bakhmut, the jap Ukrainian metropolis just lately captured by Russia after a months-long siege led by Wagner.

On Sunday, Prigozhin posted an announcement saying that Russian troopers shelled his Wagner fighters who have been demining the roads. He claimed the alleged assault was repelled, and Wagner detained Lt. Col. Roman Venevitin of Russia’s 72nd Motorized Rifle Brigade.

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Shortly after, Prigozhin’s press service posted what gave the impression to be Venevitin’s making a confession on video, wherein he mentioned he had ordered his troops to shoot at Wagner mercenaries “in a state of intoxication and out of private enmity.”

Prigozhin’s claims couldn’t be independently verified, and the Russian Protection Ministry didn’t publicly touch upon the accusations.

Russian information retailers the Insider and Sirena have recognized the person within the video as energetic obligation serviceman, 45-year-old Roman Venevitin.

Prigozhin doubled down his criticism of the nation’s navy management, accusing Protection Minister Sergei Shoigu of failing to guard the Belgorod area, and vowing to ship his personal military there as an alternative.

“If the Ministry of Protection doesn’t cease this outrage that is occurring when the Russian lands are being seized, we are going to come to the Belgorod area and shield our Russian folks,” he mentioned. Prigozhin additionally supplied to take part in negotiations with the anti-Kremlin militias who had captured Russian troops in Belgorod, saying that he would personally attend negotiations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Koshiw and Schmidt reported from Kyiv, Ukraine and Ilyushina from Riga, Latvia.

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