Russians Or Ukrainians — Or Both? Attacks Inside Russia Are A Major Escalation
While military attention was focused on the harshly contested city of Bakhmut, fights were reported on the other side of the border in Russian territory. But it was Russian groups that claimed responsibility.
Moscow is accusing Ukrainian commando units of crossing the border and attacking Russian targets, but the raid was claimed by two anti-Putin Russian organizations. They posted videos, impossible to verify, showing Russians in uniforms riding in captured armored vehicles, or of themselves bragging about having taken down a helicopter.
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It’s not the first time that such incursions have happened: In March, fighting had occurred in villages a few hundred meters away from the border. They were claimed by the same organizations. What is new is the announcement of the capture of a locality and the intention to create a controlled zone in Russia － an objective that still seems beyond their capacities.
These fighters belong to two organizations that are regularly in the news. The first one is the “Russian Volunteer Corps” and the other is the “Freedom of Russia Legion”. The first is reputed to be on the far-right, led by Dmitriy Nikitin, a former martial arts teacher. The second is without known affiliation. Both were once incorporated in the Ukrainian army, but now declare to be acting independently.
Members of the "Freedom of Russia Legion"
Conquering or creating a diversion?
Despite Kyiv’s denial, it seems impossible that these rather marginal groups were able to set up such an operation without the support and green light of the army or of Ukrainian secret services. In fact, Kyiv reproduces methods used by Russians since the beginning of the war in Donbass in 2014: so-called independent forces that are equipped and armed by Moscow.
Ukrainians have been hinting for weeks that they will launch a counter-offensive.
The real question is the goal of this operation. Is it really about conquering a “freed zone” in Russian territory, which would require significant support from Ukraine? Or is it simply to create a diversion?
Ukrainians have been hinting for weeks that they will launch a counter-offensive to try to break through the Russian defensive wall. This wall, covering hundreds of kilometers, has been considerably strengthened in recent months.
Russia just claimed a military victory with the total capture of Bakhmut, after months of fighting and thousands of deaths. Ukraine says there are still pockets of resistance, but Putin needed a win: Bakhmut comes at just the right time.
By attacking Russian territory through rebels, Ukraine is mitigating the impact of the capture of Bakhmut. It forces Russia to deploy troops to protect the rear, when the clash could happen at the front.
Finally, it’s a rare circumstance in which Russian civilians are in turn subjected to the wrath of war, which Ukrainians have been experiencing unrelentingly for 15 months. The Kremlin’s revenge, as at every stage, is likely to be brutal. The escalation continues.
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