Ukraine Situation Report: Claims Swirl Around Cross-Border Raids Into Russia

Pro-Ukraine forces claim they launched cross-border raids today, while Kyiv subjected Russian energy infrastructure to a major drone attack.

byThomas Newdick|
There are now multiple reports of an attempted incursion into Russia from across the Ukrainian border. The Russian Ministry of Defense has said that its forces prevented the incursion, while at least two separate Ukraine-based groups have claimed responsibility for the operation: both the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Siberian Battalion claim to be made up of Russians opposed to the Kremlin.
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Confirmed information at this stage is still very limited, but there are now multiple reports of an attempted incursion into Russia from across the Ukrainian border. The Russian Ministry of Defense has said that its forces prevented the incursion, while at least two separate Ukraine-based groups have claimed responsibility for the cross-border operation: the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Siberian Battalion both say they are made up of Russians opposed to the Kremlin.

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense’s account, “terrorist formations” tried to invade Russia’s Belgorod region at around 3:00 A.M. Moscow time today. The ministry claimed that the attack was launched in three directions: near the settlements of Odnorobovka, Nekhoteyevka, and Spodaryushino. Russia says that the fighters were supported by tanks and other armored fighting vehicles.

The Russian Ministry of Defense also said that another four attacks were repulsed between around 8:00 and 8:25 A.M. in Russia’s Kursk region. These the ministry blamed on Ukrainian “sabotage and reconnaissance groups.” Specifically, the attacks are said to have been concentrated near the village of Tyotkino, which the Freedom of Russia Legion claims it has liberated.

“Putin’s army is rapidly leaving the settlement, leaving behind positions and abandoning heavy equipment,” the Freedom of Russia Legion said in a Telegram post, before adding: “The fighting for Tetkino is still ongoing.”

At this stage, there’s still a good deal of confusion as to how deeply the attackers managed to penetrate Russian territory, with Moscow denying that the groups managed to breach the border, let alone take control of any villages.

For its part, Russia claims that its forces inflicted heavy losses on the attackers. The Russian Ministry of Defense says that aircraft, missile forces, and artillery were all used to repel the attacks, which suggests that the cross-border raids were on a significant scale.

There is currently no independent confirmation of casualties on either side. Russian accounts claim that an estimated 60 “Ukrainian” soldiers were killed in the Belgorod region, and five tanks and an armored personnel carrier were destroyed. The Russian Defense Ministry has not so far provided claims for the Kursk region.

Meanwhile, the Freedom of Russia Legion declared in a Telegram post:

“We will take our land from the regime centimeter by centimeter.”

As well as the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Siberian Battalion that claimed responsibility for the raids, a third group, the Russian Volunteer Corps, also reportedly took part in the operation. This claim came from Andriy Yusov, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s military intelligence, or GUR. He also told Ukraine’s 24 Channel that the groups were conducting the operation on Russian territory independently of Ukraine.

Whatever the relationship between these groups and the Ukrainian government, it’s notable that the incursions were launched on the same day that Kyiv struck multiple targets in Russia with drones, in what appears to have been one of the most extensive operations of its kind. Reportedly, at least 25 drones and nine artillery rockets or missiles were launched by Ukrainian forces. Many of the drones appear to have been directed at the Kursk region.

Russian reports claim that 25 Ukrainian drones were brought down over Russian regions including Belgorod, Bryansk, Kursk, Leningrad, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Oryol, and Tula, with many more drone attacks also being reported.

Targets of the Ukrainian strikes included Lukoil’s LKOH.MM NORSI. This major oil refinery is said to have been seriously damaged by the resulting fire.

“A fuel and energy complex facility was attacked by unmanned aerial vehicles,” Gleb Nikitin, governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region, said on Telegram. He also posted a photo of a fire truck beside the NORSI refinery and said emergency services were working to put out the blaze there.

Citing unnamed industry sources, the main crude distillation unit at NORSI was damaged, according to Reuters, which should stop at least half of the refinery’s production, for the time being.

Other energy infrastructure was also targeted, with Russia reporting that a drone was destroyed near the town of Kirishi, home to the country’s second-largest oil refinery.

For many weeks now, Russian energy facilities have been in Kyiv’s sights. As we reported yesterday, U.K. intelligence assessments state that Russia has stopped some energy exports for six months in an attempt to stabilize domestic prices and repair damaged facilities, which is slower going due to sanctions. Ukraine clearly sees Russia's primary financial means, energy, as a soft point to put pressure on.

In response to the Ukrainian attacks and the border incidents, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “Our military is doing everything necessary; the air defense systems are working.”

Again, there’s no evidence of a coordinated offensive, but in terms of the cross-border raids and drone strikes, it is perhaps no coincidence that these come just three days before the start of voting in the Russian presidential election. This is almost certain to see Vladimir Putin extend his rule by six more years.

The presidential election was also referenced by the Freedom of Russia Legion, which posted on social media:

“The people will vote for whom they want, not for whom they have to. Russians will live freely.”

Ukrainian attacks on energy infrastructure will also drive up domestic gasoline prices, something that could be a problem for President Putin as the country goes to the polls.

The cross-border operations have already seen repercussions in Russia. In the city of Kursk, local authorities said that schools have switched to online classes, TASS reported.

A statement from Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, claims that Russian border guards and military personnel have foiled several attempts to cross the Russian border in the Belgorod and Kursk regions since March 10. This suggests that there have been other incidents like today’s, likely on a smaller scale, and perhaps intended more as reconnaissance raids.

In that same period, the FSB claims that over 100 insurgents have been killed and that Russian forces have destroyed six tanks, a CAESAR self-propelled artillery unit, 20 armored fighting vehicles, and a strongpoint. These claims cannot be independently verified.

Certainly, however, today’s incidents are not the first time that cross-border operations have been launched into Russia, with anti-Kremlin Russian forces and Ukrainian special forces having been involved on previous occasions.

Russian accounts report previous attempted attacks by “Ukrainian saboteurs” who infiltrated the Bryansk region in March 2023 and also tried to enter the Belgorod region in late May and early June.

Whatever the outcome of today’s cross-border raids, the situation will help boost Ukrainian morale, especially with the first reports coming within hours of a statement from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who claimed that the situation along the front lines is the best it has been in three months, with Russian troops said to no longer be advancing after their capture of the eastern city of Avdiivka last month.

Before diving into more developments from the conflict in Ukraine, The War Zone readers can review our previous coverage here.

The Latest

The Russian Aerospace Forces has lost another of its Il-76 Candid transport aircraft after an example crashed near its base at Ivanovo-Severnyi, northeast of Moscow. The eight crew and seven passengers on board were all killed, Russia’s Ministry of Defense confirmed. It claimed the cause of the crash was an engine fire, with videos showing one of the engines under the right wing on fire, before the nacelle itself appears to fall to the ground.

There have been unconfirmed reports that the Il-76 was transporting crew from the A-50 Mainstay airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) squadron that is also located at Ivanovo-Severnyi. If true, that would be another blow for the unit, which has already lost two A-50s in separate combat incidents this year, with recent reports that further examples of these aircraft may have been damaged when the Taganrog plant responsible for their maintenance and upgrade came under Ukrainian drone attack last week.

In a dramatic encounter captured in the video below, two of the higher-end items of military equipment operated by Russia and Ukraine clashed in a duel of sorts, reportedly last summer. According to reports, a Russian S-400 air defense system was attempting to shoot down Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) munitions launched by a Ukrainian M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS). It seems that the Russian missile system was less than successful, being struck in turn by one or more of the GMLRS rockets.

More apparent success for the Ukrainian HIMARS in the next video, which purports to show the destruction of a Russian Palantin electronic warfare system somewhere in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region. According to a report by the Ukrainian Militarnyi defense website:

“[Ukrainian special operations forces] stated that the Russian invaders were conducting electronic reconnaissance and interfering with Ukrainian communication systems in this area. Ukrainian soldiers transmitted the coordinates and guided the HIMARS rocket system to the target, which successfully destroyed it.”

According to the Russian Ministry of Defense, the Palantin system is used to “suppress enemy radio communication and electronic intelligence systems in a 1,000-kilometer-wide swathe. The capabilities of the equipment make it possible to blind the enemy in the short-wave and ultra-short-wave ranges, as well as to deprive it of cellular communications.”

The Russian Ministry of Defense says that the system can be used to discretely target radio frequency objects, conduct bandwidth and specific frequency jamming, and detect opposing forms of EW.

The efforts to defend armored vehicles against the proliferation of different threats on the battlefield continue to yield interesting results. A recent case in point is this Ukrainian-operated M113 armored personnel carrier, which is fitted not only with screen-like structures to protect against attacks from the sides and the front of the hull but reportedly also electronic warfare equipment to jam incoming first-person-view (FPV) drones.

In one of the latest accounts of the ongoing ammunition shortages facing Ukraine, the artillery battalion commander of the 128th Mountain Assault Brigade provided his thoughts on the subject to The Economist. He describes a situation in which his brigade has 12 howitzers, all of which fire Soviet-caliber shells. Currently, he says that his men have only around 20 or 30 shells available for each day of fighting, far short of the 150 shells he says they need.

Much of the current Ukrainian woes surrounding the continued supply of artillery ammunition, and other vital weapons, stem from delays in arms packages being signed off in Washington and in Europe.

There has been some movement today from the U.S. side, with the Biden administration announcing a new round of military aid for Ukraine worth up to $300 million.

Announcing the package in a White House briefing, National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said:

“When Russian troops advance, and its guns fire, Ukraine does not have enough ammunition to fire back. That’s costing terrain. It’s costing lives. And it’s costing us, the United States and the NATO alliance, strategically.”

Pentagon spokesman Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed that the package would include Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, additional ammunition for HIMARS, 155mm artillery rounds, including high-explosive and dual-purpose improved cluster munition rounds, 105mm artillery rounds, AT4 anti-armor systems, additional rounds of small arms ammunition, demolitions, munitions for obstacle clearing, spare parts, maintenance, and other equipment.

There is a report that this package will include more ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles that proved so effective for Ukraine, especially in pushing back rotary-wing aviation from the frontlines. This was not disclosed formally in the package announcement, but it may be included under HIMARS ammunition, as that is one of the platforms that can fire ATACMS that Ukraine has.

Last December, Washington had claimed that it had no funds left for additional arms packages for Ukraine. A senior defense official today explained the new development as follows: “We had savings come in that will allow us to offset the cost of a new drawdown package.”

Good news for Ukraine, but President Joe Biden has already issued words of caution, saying the package is “not nearly enough,” and Congress still needs to pass additional funding.

That’s it till our next update.

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