Pro-Ukraine militants promise more cross-border raids

STORY: These heavily armed fighters posed for reporters at an undisclosed location in northern Ukraine, close to the border with Russia, on Wednesday.

They claim to be members of a paramilitary group made up of Russians opposed to their country's invasion of Ukraine, who earlier this week launched a brazen two-day incursion and raid on the Russian city of Belgorod.

Denis Kapustin, a Russian national who claims to command what he calls the Russian Volunteer Corps, boasted to the press that more cross-border raids were in the works, saying, "just a couple of days to see us again on that side."

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Yesterday his group released this video, showing fighters on an armored vehicle, driving past a border crossing. This footage obtained by Reuters shows a fighter place an RVC sticker on a Russian personnel carrier.

Russia has said the attackers, which it called terrorists, had been "crushed."

Russian media aired images of what it said were the invaders vehicles, claiming they were American-made. Russia's defense ministry said 70 invaders were killed, and the rest driven back to Ukraine.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu promised on Wednesday that Moscow would respond to any more cross-border raids by Ukrainian militants swiftly and "extremely harshly."

Ukraine's government denied any role in the raid.

Asked what kind of support he got from Kyiv, Kapustin said, "medicine, petrol, and a lot of encouragement."

He said two members of his group had been killed, and ten wounded, then pointed to what he called the main trophy: a Russian military vehicle he said his fighters captured.

While the two-day operation might have done little damage to the Russian military, analysts said the incursion could force Moscow to reallocate forces ahead of an expected Ukrainian counter-offensive.

"First of all, it shows that the Russian border is undefended and this, of course, will cause Russia to divert troops away from the defensive lines elsewhere in Ukraine to try to reinforce that border, to try to prevent anything like this happening again."

Kier Giles is with the Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House. He said the assault also had a psychological element.

"It's part of a pattern of events that showed that Russia is not invincible and that Ukraine can, in fact, deliver damage to Russia itself. If we think back to, for example, the drone attacks on the Kremlin, exploding small explosive devices on top of one of the iconic buildings of the Russian statehood, all of it undermines this narrative that the war will not touch Russia itself."

Russia has blamed Ukraine for attacks inside Russia or Russian-held territory in recent months, many of them of fuel depots in Russian-occupied Crimea, which Moscow calls sabotage.

On Wednesday, Moscow claimed to have foiled an attack on one of its warships by three uncrewed Ukrainian speedboats in the Black Sea.

This week's operation in Belgorod would be Ukraine's largest such incursion known so far.

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