Putin accuses Ukrainian saboteurs of attack inside Russia
The Kremlin has accused Ukrainian saboteurs of crossing into western Russia and firing on villagers. Ukraine denied the claim and warned that Moscow could use the allegations to justify stepping up its own attacks in the ongoing war.
The exact circumstances of the reported attack in the Bryansk region were unclear, as was the strategic purpose of such an assault. The regional governor said two civilians were killed.
If confirmed, it would be another indication following drone attacks earlier this week that Kyiv may be intensifying pressure against Moscow by exposing Russian defensive weaknesses, embarrassing the Kremlin and sowing unease among Russian civilians.
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Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed Ukrainian "terrorists" for the incursion, claiming that they deliberately targeted civilians, including children in "yet another terror attack, another crime."
"They infiltrated the area near the border and opened fire on civilians," Putin said during a video call. "They saw a civilian vehicle with civilians, with children in it, and they fired on them."
The alleged incursion came just days after Putin ordered the Federal Security Service to tighten controls on Russia's border with Ukraine.
While Russian war hawks have expressed dismay with what they see as Putin's reluctance to declare martial law and launch a sweeping mobilisation of soldiers, the Russian leader's comments on Thursday did not appear to signal any such moves.
Putin blamed the attack on "neo-Nazis" and said it confirmed that Russia did the right thing by invading Ukraine. "I repeat again: They will not succeed, and we will finish pushing them out," he said.
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When he ordered the invasion, the Russian leader vowed to "denazify" Ukraine, alleging falsely that radical neo-Nazi groups dominate the country led by a Jewish president. Kyiv and its Western allies dismissed his assertion as a bogus cover for an unprovoked act of aggression.
Ukraine's military intelligence representative, Andrii Cherniak, saw the Russian claims as evidence that Moscow is facing an uprising among its own disgruntled people.
"This was done by the Russians; Ukraine has nothing to do with it," he told The Associated Press.
A group calling itself the Russian Volunteer Corps claimed it crossed the border into Russia in a video that also urged Russians to rebel. The group's statement did not explain what actions it took or what specific objectives it wanted to achieve.
The Russian Volunteer Corps described itself as "a volunteer formation in the Armed Forces of Ukraine." Little is known about the group, and it was not immediately clear if it has any ties with the Ukrainian military.
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The group was founded in August and consists mostly of anti-Putin far-right Russian extremists who have links with Ukrainian far-right groups, according to Michael Colborne, a researcher for the investigative website Bellingcat.
In other developments, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov talked briefly on Thursday at a meeting of top diplomats from the Group of 20 nations. It was the first high-level meeting in months between Russia and the U.S.
A senior US official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity to discuss the private conversation, said Blinken had "disabused" Lavrov of any idea that US support for Ukraine is wavering.
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