On Tuesday, Russia declared that it had defeated and killed a considerable number of purported "Ukrainian nationalists" who had trespassed into Russian territory, marking a significant surge in the ongoing conflict, now 15 months old.
The termination of the reported fighting remains unconfirmed independently, but local administrative measures enacted following Monday's assault were rescinded, according to the governor of Russia's Belgorod region. One of the groups allegedly responsible for the incursion pledged on social media, "One day we will return to stay."
Prompted by the violent outbreak, Russia evacuated border towns adjoining northeast Ukraine. The Russian government has pointed fingers at Ukraine for initiating the assault, an allegation Kyiv flatly denies. The incriminated parties, proclaiming themselves to be armed Russian dissidents, took responsibility for the attack.
More than 70 "Ukrainian nationalists" were killed and four armoured vehicles destroyed, according to the Russian military. However, these casualty figures are yet to be independently verified. In contrast, the Ukrainian Armed Forces' General Staff reported no missile attacks in Ukraine within the last 24 hours, though it did note 25 air strikes and over 20 shellings on localities, causing civilian casualties and infrastructural damage.
Russian military forces effectively cornered the alleged infiltrators and overwhelmed them through a coordinated offensive, the defense ministry reported. "The remnants of the nationalists were pushed back to Ukrainian territory, where they continued to be hit by gunfire until they were completely eliminated," the ministry added.
The two self-proclaimed dissident groups responsible for the raid, the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC), both assert their aim to overthrow President Vladimir Putin.
Contradicting Moscow's claims, Kyiv denies any involvement in the raid. Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the Ukrainian president, stated sarcastically on Twitter that Kyiv "has nothing to do with it."
On its part, Russia contends that the incursion was a diversionary tactic by Ukrainian saboteurs to distract from Russia's capture of the city of Bakhmut following intense warfare. Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, reiterated Russia's stance, labelling the alleged infiltrators as "Ukrainian militants," regardless of their claimed Russian ethnicity.
Meanwhile, on Ukrainian soil, Russian forces are celebrating the strategic capture of Bakhmut, their first significant victory in 10 months, even as Kyiv reports its own advances around the city's outskirts. Despite recent developments, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insists that NATO's involvement in training Ukrainian pilots doesn't make the alliance a direct participant in the conflict.