June 2, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian forces claim to repel latest cross-border raid by Russian insurgents 

Institute for the Study of War

The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to respond disproportionately to limited raids into Russian territory, likely to project confidence and competence in the MoD’s ability to respond to perceived threats. The Russian MoD issued a second update about the June 1 Shebekino, Belgorod Oblast border raid, largely fixating on the timeliness and scope of the Russian response to the raid. The MoD claimed that additional Russian Western Military District (WMD) elements reinforced the border area within an hour of the start of the raid and conducted heavy air, artillery, and flamethrower strikes against the raiding units and their reserves. The MoD claimed that over 135 people and 35 vehicles in total conducted the raids and that various Russian defensive efforts – including small arms fire and mines – repelled the raids. The MoD later celebrated the commander of an unspecified motorized rifle battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Nikitin, for leading the defensive effort, likely to preempt attempts to attribute the “victory” achieved by Belgorod border defense on Russian Colonel General Alexander Lapin as the information space did during the May 23 raid. The Russian MoD’s fixation on portraying Russian forces and the Russian military command as capable defenders of Russia likely reflects internal and broader information space anxiety over the coming Ukrainian counteroffensive as well as any reverberating informational impacts from any failures to defend against Ukrainian counterattacks.

Select Russian milbloggers continue to use the situation in Belgorod Oblast to criticize Russian leadership while others downplayed the recent raids. A Wagner-affiliated milblogger stated that the Russian MoD is not treating Belgorod Oblast like Russian territory and claimed that it is only adding to the list of settlements affected by Ukrainian shelling. A milblogger called on Russian forces to destroy increasingly well-equipped Ukrainian forces at their deployment points along the border and not to lie in their reports about the situation in the area. Some milbloggers stated that Russian forces have responded well to the raids, which they claim are merely “terrorist attacks” aimed at creating a psychological impact as opposed to securing concrete territorial goals. A prominent Russian milblogger absurdly claimed that Ukrainian forces have concluded that it is too risky to start the counteroffensive now after observing Russia’s responses to recent probing efforts. The raids, any Ukrainian probing efforts, and Russian responses in the past few weeks have all been on an extremely small scale compared with the announced forces Ukraine is reportedly preparing for the counter-offensive. The Russian hyperfocus on minor tactical engagements highlights Russian nervousness and insecurity about the forthcoming counteroffensive.

Russian forces conducted another series of strikes against Ukraine using cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones on the night of June 1-2.The Ukrainian General Staff reported that Russian forces launched 15 Kh-101/555 missiles at Kyiv City from Tu-95 aircraft over the Caspian Sea and that Ukrainian air defense destroyed all 15 missiles. The Ukrainian General Staff also reported that Ukrainian forces shot down all 21 Shahed 131/136 drones that Russian forces launched at Kyiv from southern Ukraine. Ukrainian Air Force Spokesperson Colonel Yuriy Ihnat stated that Russian forces are attempting to attack in atypical patterns and at unexpected times to deceive Ukrainian air defense, but that newly supplied air defense systems nonetheless allow Ukrainian forces to shoot down all Russian missiles flying along a ballistic trajectory. Ukrainian Southern Forces Joint Press Center Head Nataliya Humenyuk stated on June 2 that Ukrainian air defenses shot down a Russian drone over Mykolaiv Oblast during the June 1 to 2 overnight strikes.

Key Takeaways

  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) continues to respond disproportionately to limited raids into Russian territory, likely to project confidence and competence in the MoD’s ability to respond to perceived threats.
  • Select Russian milbloggers continue to use the situation in Belgorod Oblast to criticize Russian leadership while others downplayed the recent raids.
  • Russian forces conducted another series of strikes against Ukraine using cruise missiles and Iranian-made drones on the night of June 1-2.
  • Head of the Russian Main Organizational and Mobilization Directorate of the General Staff Colonel General Yevgeny Burdinsky announced that the Russian military will form two new military districts and other new formations by the end of 2023. Budinsky’s statements likely aim to reintroduce and reamplify Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s standing proposals to significantly expand the Russian military.
  • Russian sources appear to be reorienting the debate about the attribution of responsibility for small-scale tactical gains in the Bakhmut area to an ongoing offensive operation to capture Marinka, a small, almost leveled settlement where Russian sources have struggled to advance since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. These discussions about responsibility coincide with the reported arrival of Chechen forces to assume responsibility of the Donetsk front and complete the capture of Marinka and other settlements in the area.
  • US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on June 2 that calls for a ceasefire are unacceptable because they will freeze the current lines in place and enable Putin to consolidate control of occupied areas and prepare for future attacks on Ukraine.
  • Russian forces continued ground attacks in the Kupyansk and Kreminna directions. 
  • Russian forces conducted ground attacks in Marinka. 
  • A Russian source claimed that Ukrainian forces made territorial gains during limited counterattacks in western Donetsk Oblast. 
  • Russian sources claimed that Ukraine struck the port area in occupied Berdyansk, Zaporizhia Oblast, with Storm Shadow missiles. 
  • Ukrainian sources continue to report that Russian cadets from higher military academies are deploying to areas near the Ukrainian border within Russia.
  • Russian occupation authorities continue to forcibly transport Ukrainian children to Russia under the guise of medical rehabilitation schemes.
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