Ukraine Situation Report: ‘Partisans’ Threaten Crimean Incursion Next

The self-proclaimed anti-Putin partisans who have launched incursions into Russia say their next target is the Crimean peninsula.

In an address apparently broadcast on radio stations in Crimea, The Freedom For Russia Legion said they, along with the Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK), were going to conduct a raid into the peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014.

“Dear residents of the Ukrainian Crimea! The Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps will soon make a raid of volunteers on the territory of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea, which is temporarily occupied by the Putin regime,” the message stated, according to the Crimea Partisans Telegram channel, which is dedicated to the liberation of the peninsula. “We, volunteers of free Russia, consider it our duty to help the Crimeans clear the peninsula of the war criminal Putin Please remain calm and assist us as much as possible.”

On its Telegram channel, the Freedom For Russia Legion said that Crimea needs to be returned to Ukraine.

“Residents of the temporarily occupied Ukrainian Crimea! We do not recognize the quasi-referendum of 2014 and the criminal intervention of the Russian troops on the peninsula,” the group said. “The Legion considers it a matter of duty to return to Ukraine what is rightfully hers, in order to be able to build a new Russia with a clear conscience.”

The group then reached out to sympathetic residents for support, asking for information about:

  • The exact location of the points of deployment and the address of residence of the occupying troops (geo-referencing with coordinates)
  • Places of residence of the leadership of the occupying forces (geo-referencing with coordinates)
  • Locations and routes of movement of military equipment
  • Accurate data of local collaborators who went over to the side of the enemy (address of residence and location, georeference with coordinates, full name, position and place of work)
  • Persons who “sympathize” with the occupiers and other supporters of the occupying power, and their data

The Legion urged those who support Ukraine to avoid Russian sympathizers and to identify themselves to remain safe in case of an attack.

“If you live nearby and are loyal to Ukraine, please let us know. Every life is dear to us, and we will do everything to save it. We are already close!”

Russia, as we have mentioned before, has been building up fortifications in Crimea ahead of a potential invasion by Ukrainian Armed Forces. Ukraine has made no secret that it wants to liberate the peninsula and there are indications that probing efforts are underway in a counteroffensive aimed at closing off the land-bridge to the peninsula. Crimea has also come under frequent attack from Ukrainian aerial and sea drones and internal partisans as well. But this is the first indication that these supposedly Russian partisan groups may attack.

The Russians have built dragon’s teeth and trenches along the beach west of Yevpatoria, Crimea. Satellite image ©2023 Maxar Technologies.

The threat to raid Crimea comes on the heels of the two groups staging several incursions into Russian territory, including one apparently still ongoing in Belgorod Oblast, where fierce battles with Russian troops and security forces have been reported.

“Let’s just say that at the moment the Russian Volunteers are still on the territory of the Shebekinsky district there are battles of local significance the exact configuration of the front line, the position of the units I won’t name,” ‘Caesar,’ the Legion’s spokesman said in an interview with Mark Faygin, a YouTuber and lawyer who represented the likes of Pussy Riot and Greenpeace in Russia.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR) said that the groups are still engaged inside Belgorod.

“Active hostilities and internal mass unrest in the Belgorod region continue,” said Andrii Yusov, adding that the two groups and local residents “with weapons in their hands rose up against the criminal Putin government and the regime of internal occupation established by it.”

Russian authorities “left several settlements without control, trying only to establish fire control, which means the task of striking with artillery, rocket salvo fire systems on the objects of their own civilian infrastructure and local residents,” Yusov said.

“Support for the rebels among the local population is growing. This applies both to those willing to engage in armed struggle against Putin, and to local residents who are asking for protection,” Yusov said, adding that Ukraine will consider requests for the evacuation of civilians from the Belgorod region.

It is unclear just how deeply Ukraine is connected to these groups, but it has previously acknowledged a level of cooperation with the groups fighting inside Russia.

After the May 22 incursion into Russia, 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. 

A few journalists who ventured into territory previously claimed occupied by the groups on Wednesday said they saw no signs of them.

Whether these groups will actually try to stage an incursion into Crimea remains to be seen. The peninsula is likely more heavily defended than Belgorod, given its strategic importance as the home of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet as well as several air bases.

But given the frequent drone attacks and Ukraine’s publicly stated desire to kick Russia out of Crimea, occupation authorities there are clearly concerned about the future, hence the fortifications. If nothing else, this is at least another information operation to wear down the Russians.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

A day after U.S. officials indicated that Ukraine’s counteroffensive was underway and doing better than expected, there are indications that operations are increasing in intensity in Donetsk and Zaporizhia oblasts.

Pro-Russian Telegram channels are reporting an uptick in activity, with Ukrainian forces making probing attacks in those regions.

The Russian Wargonzo Telegram channel reported Ukrainian attacks along the Orekhov-Tokmak highway️ in Zaporizhia Oblast that were pushed back by Russian forces.

The Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel said Ukraine carried out unsuccessful probing attacks, backed by armored vehicles, near Lobkove, southwest of Orekhovo in Zaporizhizhia Oblast.

Rybar also reported that Russian forces repulsed attacks in southern Donetsk Oblast as well.

The information is unverified and Ukrainian armed forces are denying the counteroffensive has begun.

In an interview with Reuters, Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s National Security and Defence Council, dismissed statements by Russian officials who have said the counteroffensive has already begun.

“All of this is not true. When all this will begin, it will be decided by our military,” Danilov told Reuters. “When we start the counteroffensive, everyone will know about it, they will see it.”

All this comes after Russia’s Defense Ministry earlier this week claimed it defeated the Ukrainian counteroffensive in south Donetsk, with Kyiv suffering huge losses of troops and equipment.

As we mentioned before, figuring out exactly what is going on here is going to take time. But we are watching this closely and will update as we learn more.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said her troops have gone on the offensive in Bakhmut.

“In the direction of Bakhmut, our troops switched from defense to offensive,” said Maliar. “Over the past day, we have advanced from 200 to 1,100 meters in various sections of the Bakhmut direction.”

The Russians, she said, “went on the defensive, trying to hold the occupied positions. At present, the enemy is withdrawing its reserves in this direction from the depth for protection.”

“The Wagnerites remain in some places in the rear units. As of now, the regular army of the Russian Federation is conducting hostilities, deploying assault troops.”

Maliar said it is “possible to hold the defense of the Bakhmut direction for so long and now to advance on it thanks to the fortifications prepared in advance. The entire surrounding area is actually a fortified district. Fortifications were prepared in advance by the forces of our troops and local military administrations. It was built capitally.”

The Russian Defense Ministry (MoD) disputes Maliar’s contention.

“An attack by the [Armed Forces of Ukraine] militants was successfully repelled by Russian units,” the Russian MoD said on its Telegram channel. “No incursion into the defense was allowed. The reports of some sources about the alleged abandonment of Berkhovka by Russian troops does not correspond to reality.”

Yevegeny Prigozhin, the head of the Wagner mercenary group which did the bulk of the fighting for Bakhmut, said that Russia was in danger of losing the city.

He said on his Telegram channel Wednesday, Prigozhin said that after his troops left, “the army units lost control over the gardens in the southwestern part of [Bakhmut]. This carries great risks, because if the enemy is not immediately knocked out of the gardens, then the next step of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will be an attempt to enter Tetris (high-rise buildings at the end of Korsunsky Street). And then the domino effect until the loss of control over the entire city.”

Prigozhin also took another swipe at Russian military leaders.

“Now part of the settlement of Berkhovka has already been lost, the troops are slowly draping,” he said. “A shame! [Russian Defense Minister Sergie] Shoigu, [Russian Army Chief of Staff Valery] Gerasimov, I urge you to come to the front, raise an army with pistols so that they go forward. Come on, you can! And if you can’t, die a hero.”

Russian forces are shooting at Ukrainian rescuers attempting to reach those trapped in flooded areas of occupied Kherson after the destruction of the Nova Kakhovka dam, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told Politico Wednesday in an exclusive interview.

“As soon as our helpers try to rescue them, they are shot at,” Zelensky said, referring to rescue efforts in towns on the Russian-occupied bank of the Dnipro River, which has been inundated with floodwater after blasts partially destroyed the dam on Tuesday. The floodwaters threaten 80 settlements on both the Ukrainian-held and Russian-occupied sides of the river, according to Kyiv.

The rescue efforts included an innovative twist on what has become a battlefield staple. In order to supply them with fresh water as they waited for rescue, Ukraine dropped water bottles, not bombs, from quadcopters.

In addition to the human suffering, many animals were left behind as well.

A former NATO secretary general said a group of member nations may be willing to put boots on the ground in Ukraine if other NATO nations, including the U.S., do not provide tangible security guarantees to Kyiv at the alliance’s summit in Vilnius, The Guardian reported.

Anders Rasmussen, who has been acting as an official adviser to the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, also the issue of Ukraine’s future  NATO membership will likely be on the agenda at Vilnius.

“Rasmussen made his remarks as the current NATO chief, Jens Stoltenberg, said the issue of security guarantees would be on the agenda at Vilnius, but added that NATO – under article 5 of the Washington treaty – only provided full-fledged security guarantees to full members,” The Guardian reported.

It appears that Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, whose troops are fighting in Ukraine for Russia, have received the first Chinese military vehicles in Russian service. Kadyrov received at least eight new Tiger armored personnel carriers. While unarmed, they do have gun mounts.

The Kremlin-connected Rybar Telegram channel reported that Russian troops captured a complete set of PD-100 Black Hornet Nano drones.

“In a forest area near Novaya Tavolzhanka, a group of special forces ambushed a detachment of Nazis from the Kraken battalion,” Rybar reported. “During the battle, the enemy was destroyed. And ours got a complete set of PD-100 Black Hornet Nano UAVs.”

This isn’t the first time one of those drones was captured. We reported back in 2020 that pro-regime social accounts claimed Syrian troops recovered the Black Hornet near the town of Tal Tamr in the country’s northeastern Al Hasakah Governorate, which borders Turkey to the north and Iraq to the south.

Russia claims that Ukrainian saboteurs attacked an ammonia pipeline in Kharkiv Oblast.

“On June 5, at about 9 p.m. Moscow time, one Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group carried out an explosion of the Tolyatti-Odessa ammonia pipeline close to Masyutovka in Kharkiv Oblast,” the Russian Defense Ministry said Wednesday on its Telegram channel.

“As a result of this terrorist act, there were victims among the civilian population. People received the necessary medical assistance.”

Ammonia residues were drained from the Ukrainian territory through the damaged sections of the pipeline, the Russian MoD claimed, adding there were no casualties among Russian servicemen.

Germany this week announced the latest tranche of aid for Ukraine, which includes eight Bundvagn 206 tracked all-terrain vehicles, 2,000 rounds of ammunition for Gepard anti-aircraft systems, 16 border protection vehicles, 14 Vector reconnaissance drones and several logistics vehicles. It’s all part of Germany’s $5.78 billion commitment to Ukraine’s security. That includes funds to backfill equipment donated from its own stocks as well.

Images have emerged on social media of DM63A1 kinetic energy 120mm ammunition for the Leopard 2 tanks donated to Ukraine and now in service with its military.

Often in war, being in the right place at the right time helps. In the case of this Ukrainian soldier, that meant being behind a 50 caliber heavy machine gun shield atop an Australian-donated M113AS4 armored personnel carrier. As you can see from the video below, it apparently saved his life.

And sometimes, you are not so lucky, as is the case of these Russian troops struck by a Ukrainian First Person Video drone.

Speaking of FPV drones, Ukraine’s Army of Drones released a video highlight of attacks by the Ukrainian Defense Intelligence Directorate’s (GUR) Warmate FPV drones against Russian air defense, electronic warfare and surveillance radar systems. As the post below notes, it is unclear what the results of the strikes were. Often, another drone is in the air observing the hit, but not in most of these cases.

And finally, sometimes you go fishing, and sometimes the fish come to you, like these Ukrainian troops experienced in an amphibious vehicle.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report about Ukraine.

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Howard Altman Avatar

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.