Russia accused Ukraine of cross-border sabotage; Kyiv denies

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian officials have accused Ukrainian saboteurs of crossing into western Russia and attacking local villages Thursday, while…

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian officials accused Ukrainian saboteurs of crossing into western Russia and attacking local villages Thursday, a charge Ukraine denied, warning that Moscow could use the claims to justify stepping up its own attacks in the war continues.

The exact circumstances of the incident reported in the Bran region remain unclear, including the strategic purpose of such an attack.

If this is confirmed, it will be another sign drone attacks before This week, Kyiv could increase pressure on Moscow by exposing weaknesses in Russian defenses, embarrassing the Kremlin and sowing alarm among Russian civilians.

Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the invasion on Ukrainian “terrorists”, claiming that they had deliberately hit civilians.

“It was another terrorist attack, another crime,” Putin said during a video call. “They infiltrated the border area and opened fire on civilians.”

When asked by reporters if this could justify a change in the status of what Russia still calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded with a low profile: “I can’t say yet.”

Peskov said that Putin canceled his planned trip to the south of Russia on Thursday and is receiving reports on the situation from the governor of the region.

Thursday’s apparent incursion came days after Putin ordered the Federal Security Service to tighten controls on Russia’s border with Ukraine.

The adviser to the President of Ukraine, Mykhailo Padalyak, called the Russian messages “a classic deliberate provocation.”

Russia “wants to scare its own people to justify attacking another country (and) increasing poverty after a year of war,” he tweeted, suggesting the attack was the work of Russian guerrillas.

Amid conflicting initial reports, Russia’s Federal Security Service said fighting with a subversive unit was taking place in the Bryansk region.

With reference to the Russian state news agency TASS, the Federal Security Service reported that “measures are underway to eliminate armed Ukrainian nationalists who have violated the state border.”

TASS, citing Russian law enforcement agencies, previously reported that saboteurs are holding up to six people hostage. The local governor said the group fired on a vehicle there, killing one person and injuring a 10-year-old child.

TASS, citing an unnamed representative of the special services, reports that two villages in the Bran region — Sushany and Lubechan — were attacked by “several dozen armed militants.”

The governor of the Bran region bordering Ukraine, Alexander Bahamaz, said that a group fired at a car in Lubechan, killing one person and injuring a child. He also reported that a Ukrainian drone struck a residential building in Sushany, causing it to catch fire.

On Tuesday, drones that the Kremlin said were launched by Ukraine flew deep into Russian territory, including one that came within 100 kilometers (60 miles) of Moscow.

A representative of Ukraine’s military intelligence, Andriy Chernyak, considered Russia’s statements to be proof that it faced what Kyiv claims is an uprising among its disaffected people.

“The Russians did it, Ukraine has nothing to do with it,” he told the Associated Press.

Chernyak noted that a group calling itself the “Russian Volunteer Corps” claimed responsibility for the attack on a video where they call on Russians to revolt.

The Russian Volunteer Corps calls itself a “volunteer formation within the Armed Forces of Ukraine.” Little is known about the group, and it is not yet clear whether the group actually has any ties to the Ukrainian military. It was also not clear from the corps statement what actions it took and what specific goals it wanted to achieve.

In Ukraine, on Thursday, three people were killed and six more were injured as a result of a Russian missile hitting a five-story apartment building in a city in the southeast of the country.

President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky said that as a result of the strike, which took place in the dark, several floors of the building were destroyed.

The State Emergency Service reported that 11 people have been rescued so far.

Zaporozhye is a large city with a population of over 700,000 before Russia’s full-scale invasion of its neighbor just over a year ago. It is the administrative capital of the partially occupied Zaporozhye region, where the largest nuclear power plant in Europe is located.

Russian artillery, drones and missiles have been shelling Ukrainian-controlled areas in the south and east of the country for months. Moscow denies that it targeted civilian targets, but its indiscriminate shelling has caused widespread destruction in city centers.

During the winter months, the war was mostly at a standstill.

Zelensky said that Russia “wants to turn every day of our people into a day of terror.” And he added: “But evil will not rule on our land.”

Meanwhile, a fierce battle continued for control of Bakhmut, a key eastern stronghold where Ukrainian authorities say they can strategically withdraw.

The General Staff of Ukraine reported that Russian troops are “continuing to attack and storm the city,” but Kiev troops repelled part of the attacks on the destroyed city. The governor of the Donetsk region, Paulo Kirilenko, said that one person was injured in Bakhmut on Thursday morning.

Bakhmut was among the cities and towns of the Donetsk region that came under fire from the Russian side, according to the message of the General Staff.

Taking the city would not only give Russian forces a rare battlefield victory after months of setbacks, but could also cut Ukraine’s supply lines and allow Kremlin forces to press on other Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk. ___

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