Shadowy attacks inside Russia deliver a psychological win for Ukraine

Kyiv has little to lose from the raids it claims not to be involved in, writes Chris Stevenson. The stakes are higher for Moscow

Wednesday 24 May 2023 01:00 BST
<p>A member of the Freedom of Russia Legion in Ukraine at the end of last year </p>

A member of the Freedom of Russia Legion in Ukraine at the end of last year

The announcement from Moscow came as little surprise, at least in its language – claiming that those who had raided Russian villages close to the border with Ukraine had been “completely eliminated”. That it came after two days of fighting raises more of an eyebrow.

The attack has been claimed by Russian militia groups who say their aim is to see President Vladimir Putin toppled. Whatever the state of the raid – with suggestions that the militas’ opperations could be continuing despite the announcements from Moscow – in the context of Russia’s broader invasion it is a skirmish. It is the intrigue around the incursion that will have a more lasting effect as it becomes part of the propaganda war between Moscow and Kyiv.

For Ukraine, there appears little to lose. Officials such as Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior aide to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, said Kyiv had nothing to do with the incursion, putting it down to Russia’s emerging “violent resistance movement” and that “tanks are sold at any Russian military store”. Andriy Yusov from Kyiv’s intelligence directorate said both groups were working “autonomously on the territory of Russia” and Ukrainians were not involved, while Ukrainian TV said they were militiamen and “Russian volunteers”.

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