A group of armed men on Wednesday crossed the Ukraine-Russia border and recorded an anti-Kremlin video calling for the overthrow of Russian President Vladimir Putin, before hightailing it back to safety with the Russian army and police behind them.
According to official Russian accounts the men took hostages and injured at least one civilian. Ukrainian officials were quick to brand the whole incident a Kremlin provocation manufactured to stoke Russian public hostility towards Ukraine.
The apparent incursion by at least two men took place in the village Sushany, in Russia’s western Bryansk Olblast, in mid-morning. The region is heavily forested and swampy, and the village is less than two kilometers from the international border.
In a video that went viral across Ukrainian and Russian news platforms, two men wearing military uniforms and in a video apparently recorded in front of the Sushany village clinic held up a flag and said that they were members of the “Russian Volunteer Corps” (RVK), and called for Russia’s population to rise up against the Russian Federation government.
“We came here not as a sabotage group, but as a liberating army on the lands of our people. In contrast to Putin’s army of executioners and rapists we don’t attack peaceful citizens. We came here in order to liberate you. We call on you to take up weapons and fight the bloody Kremlin regime. Glory to the RVK and death to the Kremlin tyrants!” an armed man dressed in military gear said.
The group returned to Ukrainian territory without losses, the UNIAN news agency reported. The independent Russian news platform Vazhnie Istorii cited a purported participant in the raid, according to whom 45 men crossed the border, executed an ambush of two Russian armored personnel carriers and recorded the video before escaping.
The independent Russian Telegram news platform Astra identified the main video speaker as an “RDK commander” named Denis Nikitin. Russian opposition media in October reported Nikitin was a member of a Russian nationalist group fighting on Ukraine’s side following the Russian invasion.
Early and at times frenzied Russian news channel reports said a “terrorist group” had taken Russian civilians hostage and in some cases shot them. Most accounts claimed one child was injured, but stories differed on whether he was killed or safely transported to a local hospital. There was no independent confirmation.
The pro-Russia Readovka information channel posted a recording of a purported telephone interview with a female reside of Sushany village which, if real, confirmed at least one civilian death and expressed grassroots Russian will for tighter control of Russia’s borders.
“Seven ran along one street with automatic weapons, seven people, and on the other street, there, I didn’t see them. There were a lot of them there, with grenade launchers, automatic rifles and brochures. They burned a house completely, shot a woman who was standing there. They fired at cars, and forced people to get out of cars. In general, a nightmare,” the unverified recording said in part.
A late afternoon statement by the FSB, Russia’s secret services, said a man died, an 11-year-old boy was injured by the border-crossers, and that “the situation is under control.”
Mykhailo Podolyak, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Presidential administration, in one of the earliest official Kyiv reactions said the it all was entirely manufactured by Russian propagandists, in a video statement calling the incident “a miraculous faked sabotage group in Bryansk Oblast… classic Russia. She [Russia] always uses provocation and lies, and always creates informational pretexts – although it’s not really clear why she did it today, when there’s already a full-scale war in progress. What sense is there in trying to provoke someone whom you’re already fighting with?”
Podolyak claimed that Russia had “manufactured this incident, as in the Second Chechnya War, in order to justify to its population continued genocidal war.” He then predicted that Moscow would use the faked attacks to justify additional militarization of Russian society and further forced mobilization of civilians into the army.
“Ukraine does not attack Russian territory, does not send Ukrainian troops into Russia and Russian civilian infrastructure, because Ukraine is a civilized country,” Podolyak said “Moreover, Sushany is an out-of-the-way village with no strategic significance.”
Putin critics have accused the Russian leader of engineering a chain of apartment bombings in four Russian cities killing more than 300 people in September 1999, which the Kremlin then used as grounds for the subsequent Russian invasion and conquest in 2000 of the independent state of Chechnya, at the time known as the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. Kremlin officials have denied the claims, asserted Chechnya was always part of Russia, and said Islamic terrorists were responsible for the apartment bombings.
In a Thursday afternoon statement, Putin said the Sushany attack was a clear case of terrorism: “They crossed the border zone and opened fire on civilians. They [the fighters] saw that it was a civilian car and saw that there were civilians, and children sitting inside of it. And they opened fire on them.”
Putin claimed that the attackers were terrorists bent on ending Russian history, ethnic identity and language. “The Russian people will neither bow down nor be erased,” he vowed.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin had cancelled a planned Wednesday trip to Russia’s southern Stavropol region to monitor the situation in Sushany. It is not clear whether the incident would justify a formal change of Russian military activities in Ukraine from a “Special Military Operation” to another status, Peskov said.
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