Responses to events in Belgorod region indicate growing anxiety in Russian society
Experts of the Institute for the Study of War says that the reaction of the Russian authorities to the operations in the Belgorod region indicates "increased anxiety regarding the war in Ukraine" in Russia’s information space and society
The report notes that on June 1, units of the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion conducted another operation in the Belgorod region.
The governor of the Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, stated that during the attempted breakthrough, "there was no enemy on the territory of the Belgorod region." However, geolocation videos suggest that fighters from these forces were allegedly operating on Russian territory.
Analysts note that the reaction of Russian officials and so-called military bloggers to the limited operation in the Belgorod region shows that the Russian information space remains highly anxious about the war in Ukraine.
ISW also mentioned that Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stated on June 1 that the Russian president is receiving constant updates on the situation in the Belgorod region. Furthermore, Putin awarded the head of the Shebekino district, Vladimir Zhdanov, with the "Order of Courage" in recognition of his response to the border situation.
Experts add that on June 1, Gladkov reached an agreement with the authorities of several Russian regions to accommodate 1,200 residents of Belgorod during the evacuation. Additionally, he announced the evacuation of 200 children to the Penza region and revealed plans to evacuate another 600 children to the Kaluga and Yaroslavl regions on June 3.
According to analysts, the discussions about the evacuation, the attention given by Putin, and the Russian Defense Ministry's description of these operations as attempts to "invade" Russian territory suggest that the Kremlin is utilizing these limited operations to bolster its current narrative, which aims to portray the conflict in Ukraine as an existential one and to rally domestic support for a protracted war.
The activities of the Freedom of Russia Legion and the RVC
The Freedom of Russia Legion is a Russian legion within the Ukrainian Armed Forces, formed in March 2022 after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
It was reported on May 1, 2022, that elements of the Freedom of Russia Legion have started emerging within the territory of Russia.
The Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) is another volunteer formation fighting on the side of Ukraine. Thus, on March 29, the RVC published a video denying the participation of the Ukrainian side in the operation in the Bryansk region that took place on March 2, 2023. At the same time, in its video report, the RVC confirmed its involvement in the operation in the region.
On April 6, the Freedom of Russia Legion reported that it had once again infiltrated from Ukraine into the Bryansk region of Russia and successfully returned without any losses. In a commentary to Polygon Media, the volunteer group mentioned that it had accomplished its "propaganda tasks" during the operation, which involved engaging with the local population and distributing leaflets.
Already on May 22, the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps announced that they had liberated the settlements of Kozinka and Gora-Podol in the Belgorod region as part of the creation of a demilitarized zone on the border with Russia, and advanced units entered Grayvoron. A counterterrorism operation was introduced in the region and nuclear munitions were evacuated.
Late in the evening of May 22, Russian media reported that administrative buildings in Belgorod, including the FSB and the Interior Ministry, had been hit by drones, and that administrative buildings in Grayvoron and Borisovka had been hit by drones.
Later, on May 29, the Russian Volunteer Corps reported that it had once again crossed the Russian border on Border Guard Day, thus "congratulating" the Russian military.
On June 2, the RVC and the Freedom of Russia Legion announced the second phase of the raid in the Belgorod region: they showed their tank in a village near Shebekino.