Ukraine trains its sights on Russian border region, seeking to stir up discontent


The Russian military said Wednesday it shot down 12 Ukrainian missiles over Russia’s southern Belgorod region bordering Ukraine, as Kyiv’s forces seek to embarrass Russian President Vladimir Putin and puncture his argument that life in Russia is going on as normal despite the 22-month war.

Belgorod Gov. Vyacheslav Gladkov said the situation in the regional capital, also called Belgorod, “remains tense.” The city came under two rounds of shelling Wednesday morning, Gladkov wrote on Telegram.

“Air defense systems worked,” he said, promising more details about possible damage after inspecting the area later in the day. Wednesday was a national holiday in Russia.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said Ukraine fired two Tochka-U missiles and seven rockets at the region late Tuesday, then launched six Tochka-U missiles and six Vilkha rockets on Wednesday morning.

The Soviet-built Tochka-U tactical missile system has a range of up to 120 kilometers (75 miles). It has a massive warhead that can carry cluster munitions. Ukraine has received some cluster munitions from the United States but Tochka-U and Vilkha can use their own cluster munitions.

The Russian side of the border with Ukraine has come under increasingly frequent attack in recent days. During the war, Russian border villages have sporadically been targeted by Ukrainian artillery fire, rockets, mortar shells and drones launched from thick forests where they are hard to detect.

Lately, as missiles and drones have fallen on Ukrainian cities, Kyiv’s troops have aimed at the Belgorod regional capital, which lies roughly 100 kilometers (60 miles) north of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city.

Belgorod, which has a population of around 340,000 people, is the biggest Russian city close to the Ukrainian border. It can be reached by relatively simple and movable weapons such as multiple rocket launchers.

On Saturday, shelling of Belgorod killed 25 people, including five children, making it one of the deadliest on Russian soil since Moscow’s full-scale invasion. A civilian was also killed Tuesday in a new rocket salvo.

Hitting Belgorod and disrupting city life is a dramatic way for Ukraine to show it can strike back against Russia, which in military terms outnumbers and outguns Kyiv’s forces.

The tactic appeared to be having some success, with signs the attacks are unsettling the public, political leaders and military observers.

Putin on Monday lashed out against the Belgorod attacks. “They want to intimidate us and create uncertainty within our country,” he said, promising to step up retaliatory strikes.

Answering a question from a soldier who asked him about civilian casualties in Belgorod, Putin said that “I also feel a simmering anger.”

Many Russian military bloggers have expressed regret about Russia’s withdrawal from the border area in September 2022 in the wake of a swift Ukrainian counteroffensive, and have argued that Russia needs to seize more territory to secure Belgorod and other border areas.

The Russian government has tried to counter the successful strikes by describing the Ukrainians as “terrorists” who are indiscriminately targeting residential areas while insisting the Russian military only aims at depots, arms factories and other military facilities.

Ukrainian officials rarely acknowledge responsibility for strikes on Russian territory.


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