Ukraine-Backed Russian Exile Groups Stage Assaults on Moscow’s Turf

Ukraine staged a flurry of cross-border ground attacks and long-range drone strikes into Russia on Tuesday, assaults that appeared aimed at disrupting President Vladimir V. Putin’s re-election campaign messaging that the war had turned in Moscow’s favor.

Three armed groups of Russian exiles who operate in coordination with Ukraine’s military said they had crossed the border into southern Russia overnight and were fighting in border regions. Farther from the border, drone strikes hit a Russian oil refinery and fuel depot.

Throughout the war, Ukraine has struck targets inside Russia to disrupt military logistics, hit airplanes parked on runways and blow up railway bridges. The cross-border attacks, Ukrainian officials have said, are also intended to unnerve Russians and undermine Mr. Putin’s efforts to insulate them from the war.

Mr. Putin has through his two and a half decades in power — and through multiple elections, the next of which is scheduled to be held next week — portrayed an image of bringing order to Russia. The Kremlin has also barred the only vocally antiwar candidate from running.

The reported border-area fighting in two regions, Kursk and Belgorod in southern Russia, could not immediately be independently confirmed.

The groups saying they crossed into Russia — the Free Russian Legion, the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Siberian Battalion — operate in coordination with Ukraine’s military. Some members of the groups, including the leader of the Russian Volunteer Corps, hold far-right nationalist views.

Members of two of the organizations, the Volunteer Corps and the Legion, also crossed into Russia last spring to skirmish with Russia’s border patrol and military. But whereas the incursion last spring was considered to have a military purpose — diverting Russian forces to the border before a planned Ukrainian offensive elsewhere — the attacks on Tuesday delivered a more overtly political message.

A deputy commander of the Free Russia Legion, Maksimillian Andronnikov, posted a video on social media describing the incursion as being timed to the lead-up to a presidential election that is set to extend Mr. Putin’s tenure into a fifth term.

“We are the same Russians as you,” Mr. Andronnikov said in the address. “We also have the right to a statement of will.”

The reports of the fighting in the border region coincided with Ukrainian drone attacks throughout central Russia, including a strike on an oil refinery near Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow. The refinery operator, Lukoil, said the facility had halted operations but did not clarify why.

A spokesman for Ukraine’s military intelligence agency, Andriy Yusov, confirmed that Ukraine had launched the wave of long-range strikes but he did not clarify their intention or confirm specific targets.

“Such incidents will occur with everything used for military purposes, one way or another,” Mr. Yusov told Radio Liberty. “This work will continue.”

Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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