The Kremlin is once again under immense pressure after a unit of Russian “freedom fighters” raided across the international frontier from northeast Ukraine into the Belgorod region for the second time in two weeks.
How chaotic is it in Belgorod?
Very. On Thursday, June 1, various posts on social media showed burning buildings and fighters driving unimpeded down roads in armored vehicles, some captured during their previous raid.
Regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said 12 people had been wounded in the previous 24 hours in the district of Shebekino, whose residents poured into centers for displaced persons in Belgorod city.
"There are many families with children, including infants and disabled people. We will try to provide them with as much care as possible," Belgorod mayor Valentin Demidov said.
Two people were wounded in the city when a drone crashed near a petrol station, Demidov said.
NEW: #Russia launched another series of missile strikes on #Ukraine on May 31 & June 1.— ISW (@TheStudyofWar) June 2, 2023
Elements of the all-Russian pro-Ukrainian Russian Volunteer Corps & Freedom of Russia Legion reportedly conducted another raid into #Belgorod Oblast, Russia on June 1. https://t.co/V9zaXtMtN0 pic.twitter.com/9sk6yEhoaP
What’s the current situation?
Russia claims to have contained the situation. “Overall, the attack involved up to 70 militants, five tanks, four armored vehicles, seven pickup trucks and a Kamaz truck," the Russian defense ministry said in the evening, reporting at least three attempted crossings.
It said it used the air force and artillery to repel the attacks, killing more than 50 Ukrainian fighters.
But a post from one of the groups involved in the incursion on Friday morning claimed to still be active in Belgorod.
What has Putin’s response been?
Putin has not commented directly on the situation but his spokesperson said he was being constantly informed of the situation.
But while he doesn’t appear to have time to comment on matters, he has taken some time out to hand out a shiny medal.
On Thursday, the official website of the Kremlin said: “On June 1, Putin signed a decree awarding the Order of Courage to Vladimir Zhdanov, head of the administration of the Shebekin municipal district of Belgorod Region.”
The decree text states that Zhdanov was awarded for “courage and selflessness shown in the performance of his civic duty.”
How has that gone down?
Not very well with several prominent Russian commentators accusing Putin of trying to gloss over the situation and ignoring the severity of what’s going on.
In a post on Telegram, Russian ultranationalist Igor Girkin reacted furiously to Putin’s lack of reaction, saying by the time the Kremlin responds properly to what, he said, were Ukrainian operations within Russia, it would be too late and the Russian public’s support for the Russian leadership will have waned.
Also on Telegram, popular Russian miliblogger ‘Black Colonel’ said: “I would like to draw the attention of the highest official of Russia to the tragedy that unfolded in … the Belgorod region in Shebekino.
“There are daily killings of civilians of the Russian Federation under the shelling of the Ukrainian army, things are moving towards the evacuation of the population, and the president pretends that everything is fine and has never even expressed his attitude to what is happening there.”
Another popular Russian miliblogger, Rybar, suggested there was a much bigger issue that the Kremlin was downplaying, saying that the actions in Belgorod risks diverting Russian troops ahead of the long-awaited Ukrainian counteroffensive.
“Militarily, such sorties are intended to shift the focus away from the Donetsk, Zaporizhia and Kherson regions and force Russian troops to react on a different sector of the front,” he said.
Russia has seen repeated attacks on its soil, including attacks by several drones on Moscow last week.
After at least eight drones were used in that attack, the Russian foreign ministry accused the West of "pushing the Ukrainian leadership towards increasingly reckless acts".
Ukraine has denied "direct involvement".
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