On Thursday, members of the Freedom of Russia Legion and Russian Volunteer Corps, known as RDK, once again crossed the Russian border. This time, the anti-Putin Russian factions attacked a location some 90 kilometers east of the area where they crossed 10 days earlier, reportedly capturing a portion of the village of Novaya Tavolzhanka and engaging the Russian army in the town of Shebekino (pop. 40,000) where Russian government buildings were on fire Thursday afternoon.
This is the third time these groups have crossed the Ukraine-Russia border. However, unlike past incursions—where the Russian opponents of Vladimir Putin moved into areas that were sparsely populated and left soon after coming into contact with Russian forces—this action reportedly involves heavy fighting, including bombing runs by Russian jets. This may not be a matter of dashing in, raising a flag, or stealing a vehicle before piling back across the border. This time there is a reported battle underway on the southern edge of Shebekino.
However, a strong emphasis should be placed on the word “reported.” The claims about what’s happening near Belgorod today range from nothing much at all, to Moscow or bust.
At this point, the groups of anti-Putin Russian forces have engaged in at least three cross-border actions spread over more than 500 km. As we’ve covered before, the declared policies and leaders of these groups make them a lot less than admirable. However, these repeated actions make it clear that if they are not operating with the tacit approval of the Ukrainian military, they are at least benefiting from Ukraine turning a deliberate blind eye to these mini-invasions.
So far, none of the RDK actions have resulted in a significant loss of men or materiel on either side though last week’s actions around the town of Grayvoron and village of Kozinka did result in the capture of a Russian APV … and the apparent loss of at least two Ukrainian military vehicles.
This time, the incursion is much closer to the major Russian city of Belgorod. On Thursday afternoon, RDK forces reportedly set fire to the police station in Shebekino, within 25 km of Belgorod.
Russia is continuing to describe this as a completely failed operation, with state media reporting that “At 3 AM Moscow time, two Ukrainian motorized infantry companies tried to cross into Russia near Novaya Tavolzhanka and Shebekino. More than 30 Ukrainian terrorists, four armored combat vehicles, and a GRAD MLRS were destroyed as a result of the failed incursion.” That’s one extreme of the reporting on this action.
However, geoconfirmed images of damage indicate that RDK forces succeeded in crossing the border and moving several kilometers through a more populous area than in past attempts. At least one reported explosion in Shebekino appears to be connected to a drone, but the source of that drone isn’t clear.
Right now, while Russia is claiming the incursion was a total failure, there are apparently credible reports of fighting near Novaya Tavolzhanka.
However, there are an absolutely incredible number of reports suggesting that the incursion is taking out the entire Russian military. That includes claims that RDK forces have seized Russian helicopters, captured Russian tanks, and are headed into Belgorod. Dozens of tweets and Telegraph images on Thursday feature what is reported to be fighting in Shebekino, but without fail these videos are from earlier fights nowhere near this reported site. After this morning, it may be necessary to issue a new contract for bullshitometers.
In other words, there are a lot of false reports going on around these events. Be extremely cautious in accepting any of them as factual. In particular, the fact that all images that are supposedly showing the fighting are (so far) actually taken from earlier events suggests that there is a concerted effort to make this incursion appear more successful than it may have been.
The truth is that actual events may have ended well before you read this. It’s unlikely that the RDK forces, which in past such events have totaled fewer than 100 men, will long hold on to any Russian territory or put up a sustained fight once Russian troops are present in numbers. Right now, the smoke screen of images taken from fighting in other areas and false claims on both sides make it impossible to assess what’s really happening.
But it may not matter.
If Ukraine’s goal in tolerating these shenanigans is to increase the already high level of panic in Russia and force the Russian military to shift troops to the border in advance of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, it’s likely they’re being effective on that point, even if the RDK doesn’t come back with souvenirs. Or come back at all.
On Wednesday, an unnamed “senior Western official” confirmed previous estimates that, in taking the city of Bakhmut, 20,000 Russians were killed and another 40,000 were wounded. For comparison, that’s about five times the number of Allied troops lost in the D-Day invasion. It’s actually more losses than the Soviet Union suffered in their entire war in Afghanistan, a war which played a major role in bringing down the Soviet empire.
It’s an incredible price to pay in taking any location, much less the 58th largest city in Ukraine.
Most of that cost came directly out of the ranks of Wagner Group, which is why CEO Yevgeny Prigozhin has been such a constant presence on social media over the past month, gesturing toward piles of dead Wagner mercenaries, frothing over a lack of artillery shells, and complaining about the many failings of Russian leadership.
Near the beginning of May, Prigozhin claimed he was pulling his men out of Bakhmut. In response, Ramzan Kadyrov, head of the Chechen traveling acting troupe, declared that he would bring his experienced team of TikTok soldiers in to fill the role of Wagner’s prisoner brigades. None of that actually happened. Russia only needed to finish pulverizing a few more blocks of the city with artillery. So Prigozhin stuck around long enough to wave his Wagner flag over the burned-out ruins.
Now that this “victory” has been achieved, it appears that Prigozhin really has begun withdrawing his forces to a “rear position.” Also, without the need to do something dangerous, it appears that Chechen forces are once again feeling confident enough to make fun of Wagner’s tattered remains.
Yeah, Prigozhin, you whiner. Shut up about artillery. You don’t see real warriors like the Kadyrovites asking for more ammo, do you? No! They may occasionally need another memory card for their video cameras, but they do not whine. They go to the nearest store in nice towns far away from the fighting and buy it themselves. Like real warriors.
Watching these guys chow down on each other is one of the few pleasures of this whole thing.
One part of preparing the battlefield in Ukraine is definitely something that’s happening across the border in Russia. It’s not the RDK actions: It’s the number of locations that have been hit in recent weeks by drones. By which I mean drone strikes like this one covered by Euromaidan Press, in which a Ukrainian drone reportedly took out one of Russia’s largest oil refineries near Afipsky in Krasnodar Krai Oblast.
Not drone strikes like this Newsmax report about a Ukrainian drone that apparently took down a building in Davenport, Iowa.
The hit on the refinery at Krasnodar Krai is one of several such incidents in the past two weeks. These included an attack on a pipeline facility near Pskov. The Afipsky refinery was nearly 400 km southwest of the nearest area of Ukrainian control. The Pskov site is 600 km to the north of Ukraine near Latvia. The spread of such drone attacks on oil facilities makes it appear that Ukraine is moving to seriously restrict the availability of fuel to Russian forces as they prepare for a renewed counteroffensive.
That Ukraine is able to successfully attack locations well to the north and south of the border, along with the recent drones over Moscow, also helps remind Russia that nowhere is safe.
A missile that gets shot down causes far less damage than one which reaches its target intact. Too many times in this war, in cities all across Ukraine, there have been demonstrations of how a single missile can bring absolute devastation to apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and train stations. It’s no surprise that the No. 1 item Ukrainian officials are still trying to get from Western nations is more air defense.
But shooting a missile down doesn’t render it harmless. On Thursday morning, what was reported to be a 9K720 Iskander missile was launched at Kyiv. Such missiles weigh over 4 tonnes and travel at speeds over Mach 5. All that mass and all that momentum doesn’t go away when air defense makes a successful hit.
The warning that one of these missiles was incoming to the Kyiv area came shortly before its arrival. Considering that such a missile can cross the distance between the Ukrainian border and Kyiv in a little over two minutes, the five-minute warning that the area received shows that the Ukrainian military was able to see that Russia was making preparations before the missile launched.
Even so, five minutes is a terribly short time—so short that many people were only beginning to arrive at the nearest shelter when air defenses struck the incoming missile and a shower of debris rained down. It’s such a short time that at one of those shelters, the doors were still locked and people waiting outside were unable to get in before fragments of the Iskander reached the ground.
Under that thin silver emergency blanket is the body of a 9-year-old girl. The man in the chair is her grandfather. He reportedly knelt next to her for hours before someone brought him the chair. Both the girl and her mother were killed waiting for that shelter door to swing open.
An investigation is underway to discover why that door was locked. No investigation is necessary to determine who is responsible for the death of this child or her mother.
Dimitri of WarTranslated has been doing the essential work of translating hours of Russian and Ukrainian video and audio during the invasion of Ukraine. He joins Markos and Kerry from London to talk about how he began this work by sifting through various sources. He is one of the only people translating information for English-speaking audiences. Dimitri’s followed the war since the beginning and has watched the evolution of the language and dispatches as the war has progressed.