The Russian province of Belgorod, which borders Ukraine, has been the target of an armed assault by “saboteurs,” according to the district’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, on May 22. In response, Russia has announced a regional “anti-terrorist operation regime.”
According to a news statement that the governor published, this regime, created due to a decision made by the Federal Security Service (FSB), grants exceptional powers to law enforcement agencies and military forces.
As a result of the implementation of this regime, it will be feasible to remove citizens from affected regions, tighten control over communications networks, make it easier for “anti-terrorist” personnel to carry out their missions, and even implement more stringent checks on people’s identities and the vehicles they drive.
This “anti-terrorist” mode functioned for many years in the Russian Caucasus, especially in Chechnya, where Russia fought an independence movement that later evolved into an armed jihadist force. During this time, Chechnya was the epicentre of the conflict.
As a direct result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24, 2022, a hitherto unaffected territory of Russia has been subjected to this regime for the first time.
The Ukrainian government has rejected claims it was responsible for organising the armed assault into the Belgorod region.
The Russian security forces have already captured an armoured fighting vehicle developed by the American business Navistar and designated as an International M1224 MaxxPro MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected). Russian officials say the Ukrainian Saboteurs abandoned it.
According to the Russian media, the damaged American MaxxPro crashed into the cameras in the town of Glotovo. They mention that “Max Pro” is not intact but is on the move.
The reports from Russian news outlets say that the Russian soldiers have thus far been successful in killing 39 of the attackers.
The images and videos shared on social media suggest that an assault took place at the FSB building in Belgorod. The strike was carried out with the assistance of a UAV.
Who are the Russian Volunteer Corps and Legion for Russia’s Freedom?
The Russian Volunteer Corps was established in July 2022 and is composed of far-right Russian nationalists opposed to the regime of Vladimir Putin. On May 22, the Russian Volunteer Corps claimed responsibility for a second incursion into Russia’s Belgorod Oblast following the one in March.
Denis Nikitin, also known as Denis Kapustin, is the organisation’s leader. Nikitin, who is 38 years old, is a fan of mixed martial arts (MMA) and the founder of the White Rex clothing brand, which has neo-Nazi and white supremacist motifs. He was well-known among the communities of those who adhered to the extreme right in Europe, and he resided in Germany. As a result of his radicalism, he was expelled from the Schengen area for ten years in 2019. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, he released a video stating that he despised Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky, but that the essential thing at the time was to fight alongside Ukraine against Putin. This organisation is also linked to Ilya Ponomarev, a former Russian Duma member living in exile since 2014.
How many people are a part of the Volunteer Corps and the exact nature of their connections to Ukraine is still being determined. The newspaper Novaya Gazeta made contact with the City Council in April. The City Council is an organisation that recruits warriors for the Russian Volunteer Corps and other formations of Russians willing to resist Putin. It is mentioned that the goal is to establish a base from which to develop a Russian liberation army with nuclei that will be fighting in Ukraine and others that will be operating in Russia. This will also be related to the formation of ethnic groupings in the Caucasus. According to the organisers, the participants have a variety of worldviews and ideologies; nonetheless, they have a common belief in the European Convention on Human Rights and the right of communities and peoples to govern independently.
The Freedom of Russia Legion, formed in March 2022 and fighting with the Ukrainian Forces, also claims credit for the raid on May 22. It is made up of Russian Armed Forces defectors as well as other Russian volunteers, some of whom have immigrated to Ukraine.
Chronology of the attack
Gladkov reported that Ukrainian saboteurs had infiltrated the Grayvoron district. He clarified that the Russian military, border guards, National Guard, and FSB personnel are “taking the necessary steps to eliminate the adversary.”
Before this, the governor reported two bombardment victims in the Gayvoronsky district village of Glotovo. He said a woman with mine-explosive wounds was rushed to intensive care, while the man’s condition was rated as moderate.
Gladkov subsequently reported that eight individuals sustained injuries. He further stated that there were no fatalities.
Later, the Kremlin verified that a Ukrainian sabotage group had attempted to infiltrate the Belgorod region; the group was being pushed out of Russian territory and destroyed.
Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation, told reporters that there are sufficient forces and means on-site to combat the saboteurs. He specified that Putin was made aware of the incident.
There are communication disruptions in the Belgorod region’s special operation zone.
The anti-terrorist Mode system was implemented in the region.
The Russian Federation’s Ministry of Internal Affairs placed the nationalist Andrey Levkin on the sought list. The law enforcement agencies said Levkin was part of a sabotage cell that infiltrated the Belgorod region.
Peskov stated that the objective of the sabotage was “to divert attention away from the direction of Bakhmut and to minimise the political impact of Ukraine’s loss of Artemovsk.” On the evening of May 21, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation proclaimed the total liberation of this city in the Donbas.
In the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, Zaporizhia, and Kherson regions, the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation routinely reports on the suppression of the actions of Ukrainian saboteurs.
The previous sabotage attack on one of the other Russian regions, the Bryansk region, occurred on March 2. Then, two people were killed, a boy born in 2012 was injured, and he managed to bring two females to safety alongside him.
Putin subsequently referred to the assault on villages near Bryansk as a terrorist act.