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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How The Belgorod Incursion Exposes Deep Vulnerability Inside Russia's Military

Russia failed to respond in time to an attack in the Belgorod region, close to the Ukraine border. Now, independent Russian news outlet Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories reveals hears from Russian security forces and military analysts about what this week's brazen incursion reveals about the vulnerability country's defenses.

Burnt vehicules with white graffiti sit on a dirt road

Burned armored vehicles that Russia says belonged to the insurgents that entered Belgorod, Russia

Important Stories


BELGOROD — On Monday morning, units of the Russian Freedom Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps, which consist of Russians fighting on the side of Ukraine, entered the Belgorod region, 40 kilometers north of the Ukraine border. About 100 men, using armored vehicles, seized a checkpoint and then several villages.

By Tuesday afternoon, the Russian Defense Ministry reported that the attackers were "blocked and defeated," and local authorities announced the end of what they called anti-terrorist operation.

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The first reports of shelling of settlements in the Belgorod region appeared around 11:00 a.m. on Monday. Soon, Ukrainian telegram channels began posting videos from the Grayvoron border crossing point. The Russian Volunteer Corps published a video showing its fighters riding on a Russian armored personnel carrier seized at the checkpoint. In the afternoon, the Russian Freedom Legion told the Russian publication Vazhnyye Istorii/Important Stories that the Russian military tried to cover the fighters with artillery and air strikes.

On Tuesday morning, the Russian Freedom Legion reported that the fighters were still on Russian territory. Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region, wrote about the "mopping up" of the area.

According to Novaya Gazeta, Europe, the Russian military command brought more than 4,000 people and some 100 vehicles to the Belgorod region.

By Tuesday evening, the governor of the Belgorod Region reported the gradual return of civilians to the border regions and the beginning of restoring the power supply. According to the authorities, 13 civilians were injured by the shelling, and two were killed — a resident and an older woman who died of a heart attack.

Though the current situation on the ground is not clear, Ukrainian formations continue to publish videos from Russian territories.

Contacted by Vazhnyye Istorii, source close to the Federal Security Service, believes that the action of Ukrainian units near Russia's borders showed the helplessness of the Russian state at this stage. "It's a failure; I don't understand how this could have happened," he says.

"The next step — men will start to collect their guns and defend themselves, and this will be the collapse of the state."

A grey monument stands among the greenery at an entrance to Belgorod

A stele at an entrance to the city of Belgorod.


Russian intel breakdown

Military analyst Yury Fedorov agrees. He assesses the readiness of Russian security services to cope with such attacks as zero. "The Border Guard Service, part of the FSB [Federal Security Service], is responsible for border security. Foremost, of course, this is a failure of the FSB," the expert says.

Russians need to have additional forces, which will have to be taken from the front.

Given that the number of attackers is about a hundred people, one or two battalions could have handled them. According to Fedorov, it was impossible to do it quickly, not because of the lack of reserves but because of the inability to conduct such operations.

Even Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, responding to citizens' questions about the "porous border", said: "I have even more questions than you do about the Ministry of Defense, so I don't want to comment.

Analyst Kirill Mikhailov believes that responsibility also lies with Russian intelligence, which overlooked the preparations for the attack.

"The attackers had tanks plus an infantry company. That's quite a serious force, and the Russians had to notice all this at the border," he said.

However, Mikhailov considers the main problem to be the low data transmission and response speed: "It is the bane of the Russian army. As we can see now, there are at least certain areas where the border is covered exceptionally poorly. And to change this situation somehow, the Russians need to have additional forces, which will have to be taken from the front, which is most likely what the Ukrainian command is trying to do with such measures."

Two armoured vehicles with white graffiti abandoned in a muddy ditch infront of some buildings

Armored vehicles said to have belonged to the group that crossed into Belgorod, Russia.


Preparations for a counteroffensive?

Sources for Vazhnyye Istorii close to the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces and the FSB also believe that one goal of the action was hype as well as an attempt to draw additional Russian army forces from the front to pull reserves. "The Belgorod operation could have been an attempt to confuse and divert Russian forces and resources as part of Ukraine's preparations for a large-scale offensive. But it did not work. No one paid much attention to it," commented the source.

Many of these measures were for show — a kind of security theater.

All Russian experts point out that the defenses created along the border with Ukraine, the so-called "siege line" (that cost 10 billion rubles), proved useless. "Many of these measures were for show — a kind of security theater to demonstrate to the local population the seriousness of the situation," Mikhailov says.

On Monday, Andrei Yusov, a spokesman for the central intelligence directorate of the Ukrainian military forces, stressed that only Russian citizens were involved in the operation. Later, Mikhail Podolyak, advisor to the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, wrote that Ukraine was not directly involved in the attack, which was organized by "underground guerrilla units" consisting of Russian citizens.

A source close to the FSB told Vazhnyye Istorii that the quality of Ukraine's intelligence actions is highly regarded in the security services. "They circumvent Western bans on strikes against Russia with the help of this unit, which allegedly includes only Russians," he said. The Russian state security agencies consider such methods effective for Ukraine.

Former Ukrainian army officer and analyst Roman Svitan is confident that the Russian command will now have to redeploy forces from Ukrainian territory to the border areas.

"So far, for Ukrainian troops, the development of events is going in the right direction," he says. "The density of Russian troops in the supposed directions of our strike is decreasing."

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