Russian security officials claimed on Thursday that a small Ukrainian armed group had crossed the Russian border into the southern Bryansk region, allegations dismissed by Kyiv as a “classic deliberate provocation” by the Kremlin.
The Security Service of Russia (FSB) said in a statement via state media agency RIA Novosti on Thursday that the agency was carrying out operations following an “armed Ukrainian nationalists who violated the state border” in the district. President Vladimir Putin later described the incident as a terrorist attack, and a local official said two civilians were killed.
CNN cannot independently verify the Russian claims, and local media have not carried any images of the supposed incidents, any type of confrontation or an alleged raid reported by Russian authorities.
US and Ukrainian officials have in the past warned that Russia has planned so-called “false flag” attacks along Russia’s border with Ukraine as a pretext for military escalation, including Russian claims ahead of last year’s full-scale invasion that Ukraine was sending “saboteurs” over the Russian border.
The Bryansk region shares a border to its south with Ukraine, and to its west with Belarus, the close Russian ally nation that helped facilitate Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year.
The governor of the region, Alexander Bogomaz, said Wednesday on his Telegram channel that in the village of Lyubechan, two civilians were killed and a 10-year-old child was injured. In the village of Sushany, also located in the Klimovsky district, Bogomaz said a residential building caught fire from a shell dropped from what he claimed was a Ukrainian drone, according to RIA Novosti.
Putin canceled a planned trip to southern Russia due to the incident in Bryansk, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said earlier on Thursday. While making remarks on the incident, Putin didn’t specify if the group had crossed the border from Ukraine, but blamed the attack on “neo-Nazis,” without giving additional details. He also promised to “put them away.”
“Today, [they] committed another terrorist act, penetrated the border area and opened fire on civilians,” Putin said during a televised meeting on Thursday. “They saw that civilians and children were sitting there, [in] an ordinary Niva (car). They opened fire on them.”
An adviser in Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky’s office, Mykhailo Podolyak, said the alleged raid was either a Russian provocation, or the work of local partisans taking a stand against the Kremlin, denying any Ukrainian involvement.
“Ukraine is not attacking,” Podolyak said. “This is either a provocation by the Russian side or Russian partisans who are beginning to dismantle the Putin regime. Because they still want to preserve some political chances for the post-war future of Russia, which will lose this war.”
Podolyak also said this type of operation was consistent with previous Russian provocations.
“This is classic Russia. It always goes for provocation, lies, it always creates information pretexts,” he said. “Ukraine does not attack Russian territory, does not send special reconnaissance groups there, does not kill people, especially civilians. Ukraine does not need this. This is not a strategic object and there is no point in going there.”
“Or it is something else,” he also said. “Either Russian partisans are actively starting to show their personality because they want to prove that a protest movement is also possible in Russia.”