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Ukrainian ‘Saboteurs’ Attack Russian Border Region, Moscow Claims

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Russian authorities on March 2 claimed they were fending off a “terrorist attack” in the country’s western Bryansk region, which shares a border with Ukraine’s northern regions of Sumy and Chernihiv.

“Ukrainian saboteurs infiltrated a border district of the Bryansk region on Thursday morning,” Russia’s TASS news agency reported, adding that at least one person was killed while others were briefly taken hostage.

In a statement carried by the Russian media, Russia’s Federal Security Service claimed that operations were under way to “eliminate the border infiltrators.” 

Officials in Kyiv, for their part, accused Russia of staging what they called a false “provocation.”

“The story about a Ukrainian sabotage group in the Russian Federation is a classic deliberate provocation,” Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. 

One day earlier, Podolyak claimed the Ukrainian military did not attack targets inside Russian territory.

Ukraine, he wrote on Twitter, “doesn’t strike at Russian Federation territory.” He went on to assert that his country was waging “a defensive war to de-occupy all its territories.”

Russia, Podolyak claimed, was facing mounting “panic and disintegration” due to what he called an “increase in internal attacks on infrastructure facilities by unidentified flying objects.” 

Russia Ukraine War
Ukrainian Presidential Adviser Mykhailo Podolyak speaks during an interview with The Associated Press in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Feb. 16, 2023. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP Photo)

Drone Wars

Podolyak was referring to several recent reports of attacks inside Russian territory by unmanned aerial drones. 

On Feb. 27, Moscow’s regional governor claimed a drone had been downed in a “failed attack” on a gas facility 70 miles southeast of the capital. 

The following day, the Russian Defense Ministry alleged its forces had foiled a “massive drone attack” in the Black Sea region of Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014.

According to a ministry spokesman, six Ukrainian combat drones were shot down without causing damage or casualties. Another four drones, the ministry claimed, had been “disabled by electronic-warfare systems.”

The Epoch Times was unable to verify the ministry’s assertions.

But if true, the incidents were not the first drone attacks to occur inside Russia since the latter invaded Ukraine more than one year ago.

Last December, three airbases inside Russian territory were attacked by drones of unknown origin, damaging aircraft and killing three servicemen. 

One of the airbases that came under attack is known to host long-range strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear payloads.

While Kyiv did not claim responsibility for December’s airbase attacks, they were widely celebrated by Ukrainian military officials.

Epoch Times Photo
This combination of pictures taken from footage released by Valery Zaluzhny, the chief commander of the armed forces of Ukraine, shows a drone strike on a Russian missile system in the Zhytomyr region on Feb. 27, 2022. (Courtesy of Valery Zaluzhny via Reuters)

‘We Will Crush Them’

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also weighed in on the alleged armed incursion in Bryansk, which he described as a “terrorist attack.”

The attackers, he said in a televised address, “won’t achieve anything. We will crush them.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, when asked whether the parameters of Russia’s “special military operation” would be modified as a result of the incident, said: “I can’t say anything at this point.”

Later on March 2, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence apparatus appeared to suggest that the alleged attack could have been staged by Russian nationals opposed to Putin’s government.

“These are people who, with weapons in their hands, are fighting the Putin regime and those who support it,” Andriy Yusov was quoted as saying by Hromadske, a Ukrainian media outlet.

“Maybe Russians will begin to wake up … and take some concrete steps,” he said.

Epoch Times Photo
A Ukrainian soldier is seen in a tank of the Ukrainian Army, as their passage is blocked on their way to the town of Kramatorsk on April 16, 2014.  (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

Claims and Counter-Claims

Recent weeks have seen several claims and counter-claims of plans by both sides to stage “provocations” and “false-flag” attacks.

On Feb. 28, the Russian Defense Ministry accused Kyiv of planning–with U.S. help–a “large-scale provocation” in the eastern Donetsk region.

Last September, Russia annexed Donetsk and three other regions in a move critics describe as an illegal land grab.

The defense ministry claimed shipments of toxic materials had been recently transported to Donetsk’s frontline from the Kyiv-controlled city of Kramatorsk.

“We’re aware of the flagrant falsehoods from the Russian government that claim the United States is planning a provocation in Ukraine using chemical weapons,” a State Department spokesperson told The Epoch Times. 

“This is blatant disinformation,” the spokesperson said. “Lies from the Russian Federation are now commonplace.”  

Russian officials have made similar claims in the past.

Since the conflict began, Moscow has repeatedly accused the United States of running clandestine biological weapons programs on Ukrainian territory. 

In a Feb. 21 address before Russia’s Federal Assembly, Putin alleged the United States, in cooperation with NATO, had run “secret biological laboratories near Russian borders.” 

U.S. officials consistently dismiss the claims as “Russian disinformation.”

Reuters contributed to this report.

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