STRATEGIC ASSESSMENT-Moscow. Russian forces clashed with a Ukrainian sabotage group that crossed into Russian territory and opened fire on civilians, officials said Thursday, with President Vladimir Putin calling the alleged incident a “terrorist” attack.
The statements could not be independently verified, and Kyiv dismissed the claims from Moscow as a “deliberate provocation.”
Bryansk region Governor Alexander Bogomaz said a sabotage and reconnaissance group from Ukraine entered the village of Lyubechanye and fired at a moving car, killing one person and injuring a 10-year-old child who was hospitalized.
“In the Bryansk region’s border district of Klimovsky, the FSB of Russia and additional forces of the Russian Defense Ministry are taking measures to destroy armed Ukrainian nationalists who violated the state border,” Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said.
Civilian casualties were reported, the state-run TASS news agency reported, citing law enforcement agencies.
The saboteurs were believed to be holding civilians hostage, TASS reported.
The Readovka Telegram news channel reported citing unidentified sources, that the sabotage group consisted of 40 people.
TASS later reported, citing eyewitnesses, that the saboteurs might have left the Bryansk region and returned to Ukrainian territory.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there had been “an attack by Ukrainian fighters” and that Putin was being kept “constantly” updated.
Putin had been due to visit the southern Stavropol region for a meeting on education but would hold a video call instead, he said.
“Our soldiers and officers… protect against neo-Nazis and terrorists… those who today committed another terrorist attack, penetrated the border area and opened fire on civilians,” Putin said at the education meeting via video link.
Ukraine however dismissed the claims as a “deliberate provocation.”
“The story about (a) sabotage group in Russia is a classic deliberate provocation. Russia wants to scare its people to justify the attack on another country and the growing poverty after the year of war,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhaylo Podolyak said on Twitter.
Ukraine’s command in the north on Feb. 23 had warned that Russia may be planning a false-flag operation in the area, “most likely … to accuse the Ukrainian defenders of violating territorial integrity.”
Ukraine’s military intelligence meanwhile described the reports of clashes in the Bryansk region “a continuation of the transformation of Russia, its purification and liberation from Putin’s dictatorship,” according to the independent Hromadske news outlet.
Elsewhere in the Bryansk region, a residential building in the village of Sushany caught fire after being struck by a drone, Bogomaz said, while two houses were damaged by mortar fire in the village of Lomakovka.
The governor of another Russian border region, Kursk, Roman Starovoyt, said Ukrainian shelling on the village of Tetkino had left one dead and one injured.
He said the shelling damaged three houses and cut power in the village.
Russia’s border regions have regularly reported cross-border aerial strikes since Moscow invaded Ukraine just over one year ago.
But Thursday’s incident marks the first reported instance of on-the-ground fighting inside Russian territory (AFP).