MOSCOW — In a bold declaration of military triumph, Moscow has announced the defeat of armed insurgents who embarked on a cross-border assault from Ukraine into Russia’s Belgorod region. This unusual raid has ignited a whirlwind of contrasting narratives, leaving the actual scenario shrouded in a cloud of ambiguity.

Who Were the Attackers?

The attack, orchestrated on May 23, led to nearby villages being evacuated after they were exposed to intensive shelling. Russian authorities implemented a counter-terrorism operation, deploying jets and artillery to repulse the invaders. Moscow contends that 70 insurgents were annihilated during the operation, and the remaining fighters were pushed back across the Ukrainian border.

Russia’s defense ministry described the culprits as a “Ukrainian nationalist formation” accountable for severe shelling on the Kozinka checkpoint and other areas. However, Ukrainian officials refute any participation, asserting that the fighters were Russians hailing from the anti-Kremlin paramilitary factions known as the Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC).

“These are Russian patriots who aspire to change the political regime in their country,”

declared Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar. The RVC and the Freedom of Russia Legion have also accepted responsibility for the incursion and pledged to establish a demilitarized zone on the border to impede further shelling of Ukraine.

A Key Region Under Threat

The contradictory accounts have not been corroborated independently, leaving space for conjecture and diplomatic strain. The attack on Russian soil has made NATO leaders anxious, as any assault on a member state could potentially instigate a more significant conflict. The West is cautious as the situation further complicates the enduring crisis between Russia and Ukraine.