June 4, 2023

Institute for the Study of War: Russian volunteers stage a third cross-border raid, capture a dozen Russian ‘prisoners of war’

Institute for the Study of War

Elements of the all-Russian pro-Ukrainian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR) conducted another limited raid into Belgorod Oblast on June 4 and are reportedly continuing to operate in a Russian border settlement. Geolocated footage published on June 4 shows LSR and RDK personnel advancing towards Novaya Tavolzhanka (3.5km from the Ukrainian border). Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov confirmed that there was fighting within Novaya Tavolzhanka, although the Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) claimed that units of the Western Military District and the Russian Border Guard Service struck a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group near the settlement, forcing them to withdraw. Russian milbloggers claimed that a sabotage and reconnaissance group of 20 personnel entered Novaya Tavolzhanka without armored vehicles. Wall Street Journal Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Yarsoslav Trofimov reported that the pro-Ukrainian Russian fighters remain in Novaya Tavolzhanka as of 1700 (Moscow Standard Time).

Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov responded to a RDK and LSR demand to negotiate for the exchange of captured Russian prisoners of war (POWs). The LSR and RDK addressed a video to Gladkov purporting to show RDK and LSR fighters with two Russian POWs whom they said they captured near Novaya Tavolzhanka. The RDK and LSR demanded that Gladkov arrive at the temple in Novaya Tavolzhanka by 1700 (Moscow Standard Time) to negotiate for the release of the POWs. Gladkov stated that he was ready to meet with the RDK and LSR fighters at the Shebekino checkpoint to negotiate the exchange of the POWs. Gladkov later reportedly refused to meet with the RDK and LSR fighters because he believed that the Russian POWs were already dead. The RDK and LSR released a subsequent video showing themselves with 12 Russian POWs, criticizing Gladkov for lacking courage, and stating that they would send the POWs to Ukraine.

The dissonant Russian responses to and reporting about the limited raid in Belgorod Oblast continue to suggest that the Russian leadership has not yet decided how to react to these limited cross-border raids. The contradictory reporting from official Russian sources about the situation in Belgorod Oblast and Gladkov’s apparent personal decision to respond to the RDK and LSR suggests that the MoD and Gladkov are not coordinating their responses to the raids. ISW has previously reported that Russian officials have disproportionately responded to the limited raids into Russian territory in an effort to assuage growing Russian anxiety about the war in Ukraine while also supporting ongoing information operations that aim to present the war as existential to Russia. Russian responses have primarily centered on informational effects, and there is no indication that the Russian leadership has set a wider policy for preventing further limited raids into Russian border oblasts. It is also not clear if Russian authorities are orchestrating the evacuation response to this activity. An RDK fighter claimed on June 4 that Belgorod Oblast authorities have not organized the announced evacuation measures in the Shebekino area and that Russian citizens have largely fled of their own accord, leaving many settlements in a semi-abandoned state. Gladkov claimed that 4,000 residents from the area are currently staying at temporary accommodation centers in connection with evacuation efforts, however. Ukrainian Advisor to the Internal Affairs Minister Anton Herashchenko stated on June 4 that the RDK and LSR activity has prompted Russian leaders to divert significant forces to stop border incursions, although ISW has not observed confirmation that Russian forces have done so.

Key Takeaways

  • Elements of the all-Russian pro-Ukrainian Russian Volunteer Corps (RDK) and Freedom of Russia Legion (LSR) conducted another limited raid into Belgorod Oblast on June 4 and are reportedly continuing to operate in a Russian border settlement.
  • Belgorod Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov responded to a RDK and LSR demand to negotiate for the exchange of captured Russian prisoners of war (POWs).
  • The dissonant Russian responses to and reporting about the limited raid in Belgorod Oblast continue to suggest that the Russian leadership has not yet decided how to react to these limited cross-border raids.
  • The limited raids and border shelling in Belgorod Oblast are increasingly becoming the current focal point for criticism against the Russian military leadership.
  • Russian forces again targeted Ukraine with Iranian-made drones and cruise missiles on June 4 making it the fourth consecutive day of strikes across Ukraine.
  • Wagner Group financier Yevgeny Prigozhin claimed on June 4 that Ukrainian forces may have regained positions in southwestern Bakhmut, supporting repeated Ukrainian reports that Ukrainian forces maintain positions on the southwestern outskirts of the city.
  • Ukrainian and Russian forces both claimed to have made limited territorial gains on the Kupyansk-Svatove line.
  • Russian forces conducted limited ground attacks around Bakhmut and Marinka.
  • Ukrainian forces conducted local ground attacks and reportedly made limited tactical gains in western Donetsk Oblast and eastern Zaporizhia Oblast.
  • The Russian Ministry of Defense (MoD) submitted a draft government decree that will no longer require an individual’s presence at an enlistment office for military registration.
  • Russian officials continue to use rest and rehabilitation schemes to deport Ukrainian children from occupied territories to Russia.
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