Russian authorities report cross-border raids in 2 regions near Ukraine

Ukraine fired at least eight missiles at Russia’s Belgorod border region, killing two people and wounding 12, local officials said Thursday.

The attack was the latest salvo in Kyiv’s attempt to rattle the Kremlin on the eve of Russia’s presidential election, which is taking place amid a ruthless crackdown on dissent.

Ukrainian forces also attempted cross-border raids that were repelled in Belgorod and the Kursk region, according to local authorities.

The Russian Defence Ministry claimed its troops killed 195 Ukrainian soldiers and destroyed five tanks and four armoured infantry vehicles, two days after saying they killed 234 Ukrainian troops in another border assault.

It is not possible to independently verify the Russian claims.

Several media outlets — including the Moscow Times and the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper — reported pro-Ukraine and anti-Kremlin groups made up of Russian fighters taking part in cross-border incidents in the border oblasts of Belgorod and Kursk on Thursday.

A drone is seen flying above Belgorod, Russia, on Thursday.
A drone flying over Belgorod Thursday. (AFP/Getty Images)

Cross-border attacks in the area have occurred sporadically since the war began and have been the subject of claims and counterclaims, as well as disinformation and propaganda.

The region of Belgorod has seen repeated drone attacks and has even been accidentally bombed by a Russian warplane over the course of Moscow’s war with Ukraine.  

A deadly Ukrainian strike on Belgorod’s regional capital of the same name on Dec. 30 left residents shocked.

Expected return to power

The Ukrainian assaults on Russian territory in recent days, including long-range drone attacks and alleged incursions by Ukraine-based Russian proxies, have come as Russian President Vladimir Putin heads for near-certain re-election.

A woman walks past a mural depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Simferopol, in occupied Crimea.
A woman walks along a street Tuesday near a mural depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin in Simferopol, in occupied Crimea. The mural reads: ‘Crimea is our common heritage.’ (Alexey Pavlishak/Reuters)

Putin has sought to persuade Russians to keep him in power against a backdrop of what he says are foreign threats to the country and as the Ukraine war stretches into its third year.

In a video released Thursday, Putin called on Russians to go to the polls, calling participation in the election a “manifestation of patriotic feeling.”

“Elections are a step into the future,” Putin said.

Since coming to power almost 25 years ago, Putin has eliminated nearly all independent media and opposition voices in Russia, particularly after the 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine that initially went badly wrong.

Analysts say the Kremlin is worried about low turnout during the three days of voting that begin Friday and needs Russians to participate to give legitimacy to Putin, who is almost certain to win another six-year term.

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As Kyiv marks two years since Russia’s invasion, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has revealed 31,000 Ukrainian soldiers have died fighting. He also hinted at a planned offensive while urging allies for more support.

Sam Greene, with the Center for European Policy Analysis in Washington, called Russia’s election “a sham.”

“The Kremlin controls who’s on the ballot. The Kremlin controls how they can campaign,” Greene told The Associated Press.

“To say nothing of being able to control every aspect of the voting and the vote counting process.”

Kyiv waits for delayed Western aid

Despite Russia’s early difficulties in the war, when its assault on Kyiv failed and Western countries came to Ukraine’s aid by sending weapons and training troops, the Kremlin’s forces now have battlefield initiative, military analysts say.

A woman and child walk behind an "I Love Ukraine" sign in Kyiv.
A woman and child walk behind a ‘I Love Ukraine’ sign in Kyiv on Thursday. (Vadim Ghirda/The Associated Press)

That is largely because Western aid has petered out due to European shortages and is now being held up in the United States by political differences.

The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think-tank, said Russian forces “have the theatre-wide initiative and will be able to determine the time, location, and scale of offensive operations” on the battlefield for the moment.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said Russia’s assault is gaining momentum and the coming months are “critical to the direction of conflict.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Thursday warned that delays in deliveries to Ukraine are costing lives.

“The Ukrainians are not running out of courage, they are running out of ammunition,” Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

While Ukraine wrestles with increasingly meagre battlefield resources, Russia has significantly expanded its own weapons production and is getting ammunition from Iran and North Korea.

That bodes badly for Ukraine once Putin has likely cemented his grip on power, the IISS said in a report Wednesday.

“Over the spring and summer, Russia is likely to mount a series of major attacks designed to inflict Ukrainian casualties, push defenders westward and expand its control of occupied territories,” it said.

For now, it said, “the land war looks bloody” and favours Moscow.

Ukrainian soldier are seen firing a howitzer toward Russian troops, near the front line in the Kherson region.
Ukrainian soldier are seen firing a howitzer toward Russian troops on Tuesday, near the front line area in the Kherson region. (Serhii Nuzhnenk/Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe/Reuters)

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