Russia Claims It Foiled Tank-Backed Incursion Across Its Border

Self-proclaimed anti-Putin partisans say they staged another cross-border raid several miles into Belgorod Oblast early Thursday morning local time. The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD), however, claims after intense artillery fire inside Russia, its forces repelled the attackers, who were backed with tanks, before they could penetrate Russian territory.

The partisans – the far-right Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and the Freedom For Russia Legion – claimed as of Thursday afternoon local time that they still occupied parts of the region, destroyed several Russian artillery and mortar systems and captured another armored vehicle. The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) disputed that, saying the attempted incursion, conducted by “Ukrainian terrorist groups with up to two motorized companies” was unsuccessful and that those taking part were wiped out.

The War Zone cannot independently verify either claim. As is the case in these situations, the actual truth of what is taking place is hard to ascertain, with more details surely to come. However, information emerging so far seems to show that whatever happened, this battle is more intense than the May 22 incursion by those groups into Belgorod.

“Our forward detachments are already fighting on the outskirts of Shebekino (Novaya Tavolzhanka/Titovka),” RDK proclaimed on its Telegram channel shortly before 2:00 P.M. local time. “Glory to RDK!”

“The Russian liberation forces, the Freedom For Russia Legion and the RDK, continue to destroy the equipment of the enemy, who is hiding in the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka,” the Freedom For Russia Legion posted on its Telegram channel at about the same time.

Anti-Putin partisans claim they are fighting Russian troops in Belgorod Oblast near the towns of Novaya Taolzhanka and Shebekino. (Google Earth image)

The Russian MoD, however, said it “foiled” the attack before its borders were penetrated.

“This morning, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, jointly with units of the Federal Border Guard Service of Russia and other units of the Russian Federal Security Service, have foiled a new attempt by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack against the civilian population of Shebekino (Belgorod region).”

The attack began around 3:00 A.M. Moscow time, the Russian MoD claimed.

“After intense shelling of civilian facilities in Belgorod region, Ukrainian terrorist groups with up to two motorized infantry companies reinforced with tanks attempted to invade Russian territory near Novaya Tavolzhanka and the Shebekino international road checkpoint.”

“Three attacks by Ukrainian terrorist formations were repelled by the selfless actions of Russian servicemen,” the MoD claimed. “Helicopters of the Western Military District carried out 11 strikes on the enemy. Rocket and artillery forces carried out 77 firing missions, and two heavy flamethrowers launched two strikes.”

The Russian MoD’s Zvevdanew outlet reported the following chronology on its Telegram channel, saying the groups made several attempts at entering Belgorod Oblast.

  • At 3:57 A.M., after an hour of intensive shelling of the Shebekino international automobile checkpoint on the Russian-Ukrainian border and residential areas of the Novaya Tavolzhanka settlement, the enemy, consisting of three combat armored vehicles, four pickups and 30 militants, attempted to attack in the direction of Volchansk, the international automobile checkpoint Shebekino;
  • Artillery fire inflicted a fire defeat on the enemy, during which they destroyed an armored combat vehicle and up to 10 militants. The enemy withdrew in the direction of Pletenevka;
  • In addition, a terrorist group of 15 militants tried to penetrate the territory of the Russian Federation along the left bank of the Seversky Donets River in the direction of Gatishchevo, Novaya Tavolzhanka. Ukrainian terrorists were blown up in a minefield, and their remnants were destroyed by Russian artillery;
  • At the same time, another Ukrainian terrorist group, consisting of 20 militants and two combat armored vehicles, advanced along the right bank of the Seversky Donets towards Novaya Tavolzhanka. In the course of a small-arms battle with the State Border cover units, it was dispersed. The enemy lost eight militants and a combat armored vehicle;
  • At 4:45 A.M., the Western Military District state border cover units were reinforced with an armored group;
  • At 4:57 A.M., two air strikes were carried out on the territory of Ukraine by army aviation against enemy reserves in the areas of Ogurtsovo and Gatishche;
  • From 6:05 A.M. to 6:45 A.M., Ukrainian terrorist groups, having increased their efforts, made another attempt to break into the territory of the Russian Federation from the Pletnevka and Volchansk regions. In total, up to 70 militants, five tanks, four combat armored vehicles, seven pickup trucks and one Kamaz took part in the attack;
  • From 6:10 A.M. to 6:50 A.M., the enemy was struck, as a result of which the enemy, after suffering losses, withdrew in the direction of Zhovtneve. During the battle, the terrorists lost 12 militants, 2 combat armored vehicles and a pickup truck;
  • From 7:00 A.M. to 9:50 A.M., nine army air strikes were carried out against the retreating terrorists and enemy reserves in the areas of the settlements of Ogurtsovo, Pletenevka, Staritsa and Volchansk.

“In total, more than 50 Ukrainian terrorists, four combat armored vehicles, a BM-21 Grad MLRS combat vehicle, and one pickup truck were destroyed in the border area from Ukraine,” Zvevdanews reported.

As a result of “active operations by the border troops of the Western Military District and the Russian Federal Security Service, the terrorist units of the Kyiv regime, which suffered significant losses, were driven back,” the Russian MoD claimed. “There was no violation of the State border.”

Several residents were injured and buildings were destroyed during the attack, Belgorod Oblast Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said Thursday on his Telegram channel.

“Bad morning stood out in the Belgorod region,” Gladkov wrote. There were eight wounded in the Shebekinsky District during “ongoing shelling by the Armed Forces of Ukraine. There are no dead.”

Echoing the Russian MoD, Gladkov said there were “no enemy on the territory of the Belgorod region. The armed forces, border guards, the Federal Security Service, the National Guard are on the spot. But there is a massive shelling.”

The “lives of civilians, the population is under threat,” he wrote. “First of all, in Shebekino and in the surrounding villages, the administration of districts and cities is now engaged in the removal of people. Of course, this cannot be done under fire. We need to wait for the end of the arrivals, the end of the explosions, the end of the risks of being injured or killed by the shells of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.”

Hundreds of people, Gladkov said, were evacuated.

There was “a direct hit on a private residential building, and as a result it caught fire,” wrote Gladkov. “There are also calls about numerous damage to windows and balconies in private and apartment buildings, there are houses with walls pierced by shells.”

A Ukrainian strike resulted in “a hit on the roof of one of the administrative buildings, the roof is on fire,” Gladkov claimed. “Fire crews are on site. In another administrative building, shell fragments slashed the facade and smashed the windows.”

In addition, there was a drone attack on Belgorod city, Gladkov wrote.

“According to preliminary data, a UAV fell on the roadway,” he said, adding that two people were hospitalized and a car damaged.

Despite the damage caused by the attack, both partisan groups urged local residents to remain inside their homes because they were not the targets of this operation.

They also urged Russian military personnel to lay down their weapons and join the anti-Putin cause.

“We appeal to the servicemen of Putin’s army, abandoned near Shebekino in an attempt to stop the advance of the volunteers of the Russian Volunteer Corps,” RDK posted on its Telegram.

“We call on all soldiers and officers of Putin’s army to save their lives and apply to the ‘I want to live’ project for voluntary surrender. You are guaranteed maintenance under the supervision of representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, observance of the Geneva Conventions, three meals a day, medical care and the possibility of regular contact with the house.”

“Today you are not the defenders of our Motherland. You are being used to protect the Putin regime. An authoritarian regime built on corruption and repression with one goal – the irremovable rule of Putin, who imagines himself the new tsar. Instead of developing our country, the Putin regime is squandering Russia’s enormous potential on an aggressive war with its neighbors. It should not be. Don’t die for Putin – live for your families, your future and the future of Russia…”

Anti-Putin partisan groups are reaching out to Russian troops, urging them to lay down their arms and fight the Kremlin. (Freedom For Russia Legion image)

The Russian Rybar Telegram channel, closely aligned with the Kremlin, suggested the attacks on Belgorod are part of Ukraine’s shaping operations for its looming counteroffensive.

“One of the most popular questions from subscribers, at conferences and among students is when the Ukrainian counteroffensive will begin,” Rybar wrote. “It’s already coming.”

“Look at the Belgorod region: the enemy is consistently implementing a plan to misinform and stress the population of the Russian border area, making seemingly suicidal sorties, supposedly devoid of practical meaning in this sector of the front.”

Shebekino “has turned into a second Donetsk: a large-scale artillery preparation is being carried out around the city before an attempted offensive by a limited contingent… These are all elements of the counteroffensive, which is already underway.”

Rybar claims the attacks on Belgorod are part of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. (Rybar map)

Ukraine has yet to comment on this latest attack, but has previously acknowledged a level of cooperation with the groups fighting inside Russia.

After the May 22 incursion, Andriy Chernyak, an official from Ukraine’s military intelligence directorate, GUR, “acknowledged for the first time some form of cooperation” with the two groups, the Financial Times reported last week

“Of course, we communicate with them. Of course, we share some information,” Chernyak told the newspaper. “And, one might say, we even cooperate.” 

However, he said that Ukraine’s military was not directly involved in the attack, suggesting that it was the Russians’ own initiative. 

“They are rebelling,” he said.

While it is unknown just how deeply Ukraine is involved in these incursions, speculation goes far beyond just mere communications. 

After the May 22 incursion, questions were raised about whether the groups used U.S.-provided equipment inside Russia. The White House and Pentagon are investigating, saying that U.S. equipment is not supposed to be used inside Russia.

The two groups claimed they captured the vehicles from Russians, who captured them from Ukrainians.

And during his interview with Financial Times, Chernyak denied having supplied the militias with any equipment. 

All western weaponry obtained by the Ukrainian armed forces remains “under . . . the toughest control,” he said.

Strikes inside Russia’s own borders have been a particular concern for Moscow from shortly after the invasion began and have increased in scope and frequency over the last year.

In addition to the previous incursion by the anti-Putin partisans, Belgorod has been on the receiving end of numerous artillery, mortar and drone strikes.

The RDK claims it also made incursions into Bryansk Oblast in March and April.

Whether today’s attack is truly part of the counteroffensive, an internal effort to destabilize Putin, part of a long-standing effort to shift Russian focus away from Ukraine and into its own borders, or some combination remains to be seen.

This is a developing story. We will provide updates when available.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard's work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.