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Latest in Ukraine: Russia Contends It Has Repelled Incursion in Belgorod Region


This image taken from a video shows people indicating a damaged building in the Belgorod region, Russia, May 22, 2023.

New developments:

  • Britain’s defense ministry said Russian security forces "highly likely clashed with partisans" in Russia’s Belgorod province, and that Russia is "facing an increasingly serious multi-domain security threat in its border regions."
  • Two Ukrainian war veteran amputees covered a total of 120 kilometers walking toward each other to raise funds for medical equipment for Ukraine's main military hospital. "This is how we can help our brothers and sisters in arms, and in some way our country. Because our country is really fighting right now. We are all fighting in the ways we can."

A senior Russian official claimed Tuesday that Moscow’s troops have repelled a cross-border raid from Ukraine in the Belgorod region, and that Russia killed more than 70 of the attackers in a battle that lasted about 24 hours.

In the fog of war, it was impossible to independently verify claims about the armed incursion that began Monday, or even who was behind it. Moscow blamed the raid on Ukrainian military saboteurs, while Kyiv contended that it was an uprising against the Kremlin by Russian partisans.

Russian dissidents unhappy about Russian President Vladimir Putin's policies instigated the assault, Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar said Tuesday.

"These are Russian patriots, as we understand it. People who actually rebelled against the Putin regime," she said.

"There are no Ukrainian soldiers on Russian soil. They are not supervising their operation," said Ilya Ponomarev, an exiled Russian politician who resides in Ukraine and says that he is a political representative for the group involved in the operation. He told VOA’s Ukrainian service “This operation is done by Russians on the Russian territory."

The fight took place about 80 kilometers north of the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed the armed attackers were killed by local troop units, air strikes and artillery fire.

"The remnants of the nationalists were driven back to the territory of Ukraine, where they continued to be hit by fire until they were completely eliminated," Konashenkov said, without providing evidence. He did not mention any Russian casualties.

Konashenkov said four armored combat vehicles and five pickup trucks used by the attackers were destroyed. The governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said the raid targeted the rural area around the town of Graivoron, about five kilometers from the border. Twelve civilians were wounded in the attack, he said, and an older woman died during the evacuation.

Russia's Investigative Committee, its top law enforcement agency, announced an investigation into alleged terrorism and attempted murder in connection with the incident. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the raid "elicits deep concerns," and a "bigger effort" was required to prevent such attacks in the future.

In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, poses for photo with soldiers after an awarding ceremony as he visits the Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 23, 2023.
In this photo provided by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, center, poses for photo with soldiers after an awarding ceremony as he visits the Donetsk region, Ukraine, May 23, 2023.

Zelenskyy visits front line troops

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday he visited troops on the front lines.

Without giving a specific location, Zelenskyy posted on Telegram a series of photos alongside members of the military.

"Our defenders. Frontline. Today I am here to congratulate our warriors on the Day of the Ukrainian Marines," Zelenskyy said.

"On his return from a foreign visit, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the front line positions of the Ukrainian armed forces in the Vugledar-Maryinka defense line in Donetsk region," the presidency said in a statement.

The Ukrainian leader has made several trips to the front lines since Russia launched its full-scale invasion last year. In recent weeks, his travels have been to European capitals to secure new pledges of military aid and make the case for allies sending advanced warplanes to aid Ukrainian forces.

U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall said "it will take several months at best" to decide on supplying F-16s to Ukraine.

Speaking with reporters with the Defense Writers Group in Washington on Monday, Kendall said the F-16s "will give the Ukrainians an interim capability they don't have right now, but it's not going to be a dramatic game changer." He said, "airpower has not been a decisive factor so far," citing the effectiveness of ground-based air defense systems. "The F-16s are going to help the Ukrainians, but it's not going to fundamentally change that equation," he remarked.

War crimes tribunal

The NATO Parliamentary Assembly on Monday unanimously recognized Russia's crimes against Ukraine as genocide, striking "a diplomatic victory [for Ukraine with] far-reaching political consequences," said Yehor Cherniev, the head of Ukraine's delegation at the assembly in Luxembourg.

"This is our diplomatic victory. All of our key wishes regarding the final text of the declaration have been taken into account," Cherniev said.

The declaration includes support for an international tribunal for Russian war crimes, a pledge to help Ukraine achieve victory, a commitment to restoring Ukraine's territorial integrity, the implementation of further sanctions, and an aid program similar to the Marshall Plan to help restore the country's economy.

In his nightly video address, Zelenskyy hailed the declaration from the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

"Things are called what they are: a clear recognition of Russia's crimes against our country as genocide, a clear condemnation of ruscist ideology," he said. "This is the right basis for other international organizations as well."

National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

Some information for this story came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.