Putin says Ukrainian group attacks border region, Kyiv denies Russian 'provocation'

Russian President Putin takes part in the opening ceremony of the Year of Teacher and Mentor, via video link in Moscow
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in the opening ceremony of the Year of Teacher and Mentor, via video link in Moscow, Russia March 2, 2023. Sputnik/Mikhail Metzel/Pool via REUTERS
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LONDON, March 2 (Reuters) - President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia had been hit by a "terrorist attack" in the southern Bryansk region bordering Ukraine, and vowed to crush what he said was a Ukrainian sabotage group that had fired at civilians.

Ukraine accused Russia of staging a false "provocation", but also appeared to imply some form of operation had indeed been carried out by Russian anti-government partisans.

Amid reports of shelling and sporadic sabotage, Russia's border regions have become increasingly volatile since Moscow invaded Ukraine a year ago.

Putin, in a televised address, accused the group of opening fire on civilians in a car, including children. Bryansk Governor Alexander Bogomaz said the attack had killed two people and wounded an 11-year-old boy.

"They won't achieve anything. We will crush them," said Putin, saying the group was made up of the kind of people who wanted to rob Russia of its history and language.

Later in the day four members of Russia's National Guard were injured when their car ran over a mine in the village of Sushany, just across the border from Ukraine, said Alexander Khinstein, a senior federal parliamentarian.

The four had been taking part in an operation to secure the region, he wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

The FSB security service initially said the army and FSB were trying to liquidate "an armed group of Ukrainian nationalists" who had crossed the border.

It later said the situation was under control and a large number of explosive devices had been found, while demining was taking place. It did not mention earlier reports by state news agencies that hostages had been taken.

In two videos circulating online, armed men calling themselves the "Russian Volunteer Corps" said they had crossed the border to fight what they referred to as "the bloody Putinite and Kremlin regime."

Describing themselves as Russian "liberators", the men called on Russians to take up arms and rise up against the authorities. They said they did not open fire on civilians.

Reuters could not immediately verify the videos' authenticity.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that law enforcement agencies would determine who was responsible.


Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak wrote on Twitter: "The story about (a) Ukrainian sabotage group in RF (Russian Federation) is a classic deliberate provocation."

He said Russia "wants to scare its people to justify the attack on another country & the growing poverty after the year of war."

A spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence suggested the makeup of the sabotage group was a sign of internal strife.

"These are people who with weapons in their hands are fighting the Putin regime and those who support it... Maybe Russians will begin to wake up," Andriy Yusov told Ukrainian outlet Hromadske.

British military intelligence said on Wednesday that Russia was launching drone attacks on Ukraine from the Bryansk region, which lies to the north of Ukraine and is closer to its capital Kyiv than other launch sites.

Russia has accused Ukrainian saboteurs of infiltrating Bryansk before. In December, the FSB said a "sabotage group" had been "liquidated" while trying to enter the region.

Putin told the FSB this week that it needed to step up its guard against espionage and what he called terrorist threats emanating from Ukraine and the West.

Reporting by Reuters; editing by Jonathan Oatis Additional reporting by Dan Peleschuk and Mike Collett-White in Kyiv and David Ljunggren in Ottawa; writing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Trevelyan; editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Thomson Reuters

Chief writer on Russia and CIS. Worked as a journalist on 7 continents and reported from 40+ countries, with postings in London, Wellington, Brussels, Warsaw, Moscow and Berlin. Covered the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Security correspondent from 2003 to 2008. Speaks French, Russian and (rusty) German and Polish.