Pro-Ukraine militias attack Russian border regions

Pro-Ukrainian militias staged a brazen cross-border raid on Tuesday, claiming to take control of a Russian village, as Kyiv launched one of its largest drone attacks since the start of the war.

Groups of pro-Kyiv volunteer fighters, made up of Russians who oppose the Kremlin, said that they had broken into the Kursk and Belgorod regions, while Moscow said it had fired rockets and artillery to foil the attempted incursion.

"The village of Tyotkino, Kursk region is completely under the control of Russian liberation forces," the Freedom of Russia legion, a militia that claims to be made up of Russian citizens fighting on behalf of Ukraine, said in a post on Telegram.

It published a video purporting to show a handful of Russian troops fleeing across a snowy field.

Moscow denied that the fighters had made ground, saying its forces had thwarted multiple attacks.

Ukraine: position of military forces
AFP | Valentin RAKOVSKY, Sophie RAMIS, Sylvie HUSSON

"At about 3:00 am (0000 GMT), Ukrainian terrorist groups, after intensive shelling of civilian sites, tried to invade Russian territory in three directions," Russia's defence ministry said.

"All the Ukrainian attacks were repelled. The enemy was hit by aircraft, rockets and artillery," it added.

Another attack at 8:00 am (0500 GMT) at Tyotkino was also foiled, it added.

Russia's defence ministry said it halted the last attack at 8:25 am (0525 GMT), but a spokesperson for the Freedom of Russia region told AFP fighting was ongoing.


- 'Not in control' -

Moscow also reported a wave of Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian border regions overnight and throughout Tuesday. In one statement it said it had shot down four Ukrainian drones over the Kursk region in the space of an hour.

Kursk Governor Roman Starovoyt said there had been a shoot-out in his region.

The neighbouring Belgorod region was also hit in a series of drone attacks on Tuesday -- including a strike on Belgorod city hall, the regional governor said.

Ukraine has claimed responsibility for a wave of drone strikes and blasts at Russian energy sites in recent months

Officials in Kursk city said they were closing schools until the end of the week amid the spike in attacks.

Russia's FSB security service said that since Sunday it had repelled a number of attempted cross-border attacks in the Belgorod and Kursk regions.

A spokesman for Ukraine's military intelligence, Andriy Yusov, said the fighters were not acting under orders from Kyiv.

But he said the attacks showed "the Kremlin is once again not in control of the situation in Russia."

Ukraine-based militias -- made up of Russian citizens who oppose Moscow's invasion and have taken up arms for Kyiv -- have claimed to be behind previous incursions into Russian territory.

Emergency vehicles at the spot of a fire at an energy complex in the town of Kstovo
TELEGRAM / @glebnikitin_nn/AFP | Handout

The Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion said they took temporary control of several settlements in the Belgorod region in May and June 2023 in a string of raids after breaking through a border checkpoint.

In March last year, Russia launched a wave of retaliatory missile strikes on Ukraine after it said a sabotage group killed civilians in the Bryansk border region.

A spokesperson for the political wing of the Freedom of Russia Legion told AFP on Tuesday the latest attack was timed to coincide with Russia's March 15-17 presidential elections.

"This is not an election at all. It is the next stage of a usurpation of power, the formation of Putin's dictatorship under the guise of elections," spokesman Alexei Baranovsky said.


- Major oil refinery -

Kyiv launched one of its most significant drone strikes on Russia so far in the two-year war.

Two Russian energy sites, including one of the largest oil refineries some 800 kilometres (500 miles) from the border, were hit overnight, Russian officials said.

Ukraine has justified attacks on Russian energy sites as legitimate targeting of infrastructure used to fuel the invasion. It did not claim responsibility for Tuesday's strikes.

A major oil refinery in Kstovo, just outside the city of Nizhny Novgorod, was hit by a drone early on Tuesday morning, the regional governor said.

Russia's Lukoil energy giant, which owns the refinery and says it is one of the largest in Russia, said it had "temporarily suspended" operations there after an unspecified "incident".

Pro-Ukraine militias release images of Russian border area attacks
Freedom of Russia Legion / Telegram/AFP |

Another drone crashed into a fuel depot and ignited a fire in Oryol, around 160 kilometres from the border, according to the regional governor.

Also on Tuesday, Russia's state news agencies cited the defence ministry as saying a Russian Il-76 military transport plane with 15 people on board had crashed in the Ivanovo region, around 200 kilometres (125 miles) east of Moscow, after an engine fire.

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