“It’s time to end the Kremlin dictatorship”: what we know about the ongoing sabotage operation in Russia

Real operation or communication stunt? The authorities of the Russian region of Belgorod, located on the Ukrainian border, alerted on Monday about an incursion of “saboteurs” from Ukraine on their ground. kyiv claimed in the process to have “nothing to do” with this operation.

Where does it take place ?

The “saboteurs” were spotted in the Russian region of Belgorod, bordering Ukraine, which has already been several times the target of attacks imputed by Moscow to Kyiv but never claimed by the Ukrainian authorities. “A sabotage and reconnaissance group of the Ukrainian army entered the Graivoron district”, bordering Ukraine and located about 65 km west of the city of Belgorod, said regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov, who reported eight injuries.

According to the Russian official, two people were injured in the shelling of the village of Glotovo, three others in the district of Graivoron and a final one in the village of Zamostie. All these localities are located near the Ukrainian border and in the area where the incursion of fighters is underway, according to the Russian authorities.

“The Russian armed forces, alongside the border guards, the Rosgvardia (national guard) and the FSB (security services) are taking all necessary measures to eliminate the enemy,” he added, in a message on Telegram. The governor of Belgorod indicated that the civilians were leaving the affected area. “We are completing a door-to-door (…) A large part of the population has left the territory concerned, we are helping those who do not have it with our means of transport”, declared Viatchelsav Gladkov, on Telegram.

Who are these saboteurs?

The operation was claimed on a telegram channel which presents itself as belonging to the “Freedom Legion for Russia”, a group of Russians fighting on the Ukrainian side, which had already claimed to be at the origin of previous incursions into the same region. “The time has come to put an end to the Kremlin dictatorship”, says in a video broadcast by this channel an armed man dressed in fatigues, in front of comrades in arms. This man would call himself “Caesar” and would be a spokesperson for this unit, which is essentially made up of defectors from the Russian army and which fights in the Donb. “Caesar” was interviewed last January by the Russian media “Radio Svoboda”, Russian branch of Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty, while he was fighting alongside the Ukrainians in the Bakhmout sector. International mail, which published a summary of the interview, describes him as “a former political activist, who gravitated around a lot of right-wing, nationalist and monarchist groups, before turning away from them”. He would have moved to the Ukrainian side in 2014.

According to the channel, the “Freedom Legion for Russia” would have “completely liberated” a village in the Belgorod region and attacked a second locality. The group accurate on Telegram act in concert with the “RDK”, another group of Russian volunteers fighting on the Ukrainian side, formed in 2022 by an ex-neo-Nazi hooligan. According to journalist Cyrille Amoursky, the RDK would have published a video of its soldiers present in two Russian villages located in the region of Belgorod and that of Bryansk, also located on the Ukrainian border.

How are the Kremlin and Ukraine reacting?

President Vladimir Putin was briefed on the incursion, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, calling it an attempt by Ukraine to “distract attention” from the fall of Bakhmout.

The security services (FSB) have placed the Belgorod region under the “legal regime of an anti-terrorist operation zone”, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov announced on Monday. It grants special powers to law enforcement and armed forces, according to a statement issued by the governor. Thus, it makes it possible to evacuate civilians from the areas concerned, increased control of telecommunications, facilitated interventions by “anti-terrorist” forces or even identity checks and reinforced vehicles. The authorities “call on citizens to be vigilant, to follow the injunctions of the representatives of the police and not to interfere in the action of the police”, insists the press release. “I hope our military will accomplish their mission soon and eliminate the enemy,” the region’s governor said.

The Ukrainian presidency, for its part, ured that kyiv had “nothing to do” with this incursion, claiming to follow the situation with “interest”.

Attention has been focused in recent days on Bakhmout sectorcity of Donb epicenter of the fighting since the beginning of 2023. Moscow claimed the capture of the agglomeration this weekend. Information denied by kyiv who ensures that his men progress “on the flanks of the city”.

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