Russian rebels claim to have seized key target in cross-border raid

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Pro-Ukrainian Russian partisans claimed to have seized control of a Russian border village and its administrative building on Sunday, coinciding with the final day of voting expected to secure a renewed term in power for President Vladimir Putin.

Anti-Putin forces aligned with Kyiv took control of the village of Gorkovsky, in Russia’s Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, the Freedom for Russia Legion, an anti-Kremlin Russian organization, said on Sunday.

The village is just over the border from northeastern Ukraine. Russia said on Sunday that Ukrainian groups had attempted to infiltrate a village close to Gorkovsky, but did not mention the partisan organizations nor the village’s name.

Newsweek has reached out to the Russian Defense Ministry for comment via email.

Pro-Ukrainian Partisans in Belgorod
A photograph published on social media by an anti-Putin organization, the Siberian Battalion, appearing to show its fighters close to the Ukrainian border in the Belgorod region on March 17. Pro-Ukrainian Russian partisans claimed to…

Telegram/ Siberian Battalion

Chechen volunteers worked alongside the rebels in claiming the village and seizing the local administrative building, said a Chechnya-based anti-Kremlin organization. The Siberian Battalion, another anti-Putin Russian group, also posted an image appearing to show its fighters with a sign taken from the local administrative center.

A video posted by the Freedom for Russia Legion on Sunday appeared to show the group’s fighters outside the building in Gorkovsky, but Newsweek could not independently verify this clip.

The anti-Kremlin groups collectively launched an incursion into Belgorod and the Kursk border region from Ukrainian territory earlier this week. Russia’s Defense Ministry said it had crushed the cross-border rebellion, calling the fighters Ukrainian “terrorist formations” and ascribing the responsibility to Kyiv.

The anti-Kremlin groups have described their actions as a “limited military operation,” echoing the Russian government’s phrasing of the war in Ukraine as a “special military operation.” Kyiv said following the action on Tuesday that the groups were operating independently of Ukraine.

Roman Starovoit, the governor of Russia’s Kursk region, said on Telegram that Ukraine had shelled border villages, but did not mention the village of Gorkovsky.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, the governor of the neighboring Belgorod region, said on Sunday that Ukraine had attacked the village of Oktyabrsky, southwest of the city of Belgorod, but did not reference Gorkovsky. He had said late on Saturday that several homes were damaged in Gorkovsky by Ukrainian shelling.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement on Sunday that it had “stopped all attempts to penetrate into the border territory of the Russian Federation by sabotage and reconnaissance groups of Ukrainian militants” around the Belgorod village of Kozinka.

Kozinka is just east of Gorkovsky, which Moscow did not mention in its statement.

The Russian Volunteer Corps said earlier in the week that it had captured Russian soldiers, and that Moscow’s statements on the destruction of the rebel groups were a lie.

Denying direct involvement with the groups, Ukraine’s military intelligence agency said on Saturday that the anti-Kremlin organizations were “hitting their stride,” adding: “They’re no longer just a ‘group’, now they’re a force.”

“They have fought in many of Ukraine’s hottest spots,” Lieutenant General Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s GUR agency, said in remarks reported by Ukrainian media. “We’re going to try and help them as much as we can.”

“Vladimir Putin, the whole world has been watching for several days now how the Russian city of Belgorod, Belgorod and Kursk regions have turned into an active combat zone,” the Freedom for Russia Legion said in a statement earlier this week. “Your elections have long since turned into a complete farce.”

Sunday marks the final day of voting in the presidential elections, which are not deemed fair nor free by the international community. Putin is expected to clinch another term in power, solidifying his rule for the next six years in the absence of any other legitimate candidates. Russian officials reported extensive Ukrainian drone strikes in numerous Russian regions in the early hours of Sunday.