As attacks by Ukrainian-aligned insurgents on Russian territory reached a third day on Wednesday, concerns rose in Russia that the rare border attack would create new problems on the battlefield – and it increasing calls for the military to spend more resources to defend against such attacks. .
A group made up of anti-Kremlin Russian fighters, the Free Russia Legion, claimed responsibility for the attack that began on Monday, sparking the worst fighting on Russian territory since the war began.
The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday that the attackers had been sent back to the border with Ukraine. But violence in Russia’s border region, Belgorod, continued overnight, with “multiple attacks” by drones and an attack that damaged a gas pipeline and caused a small fire, according to the governor of the region, Vyacheslav Gladkov.
“The night was not completely calm,” Mr. Gladkov wrote in the Telegram on Wednesday morning, adding that houses, cars and office buildings in the city of Belgorod and other settlements were damaged.
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov, said on Tuesday that Moscow was “deeply concerned” about the attack, while using the violence to try to justify Russia’s 15-month invasion of Ukraine. However, he said that President Vladimir V. Putin will not call an emergency session of his Security Council.
The Security Council met after a shorter outbreak of border violence in Bryansk in March, when soldiers led by the same group quickly took control of a Russian village before being pushed back into Ukraine.
But some passionate pro-Russian voices openly expressed fear that the Belgorod attacks would create new battlefield challenges for Russia, whose only significant military victory in the past nine month came in the last days – claimed to control the ruins of the city of Bakhmut.
Igor Girkin, a military blogger and former Russian paramilitary commander in Ukraine, wrote that, if the news of border attacks is true, “then it is inevitable to create a continuous front along this border, which must be filled from one place with combined arms units and formations of the Russian Armed Forces, is on the agenda.
The need to put more soldiers along the border, which stretches the Russian forces thinner, will be favorable for Ukraine, Mr. Girkin, who went to Igor Strelkov, concluded.
Even before the attack that began on Monday, a group of Belgorod residents shared a video calling on the government to provide them with weapons to protect themselves from a possible invasion. The location of the video cannot be independently confirmed.
“Our city and region stopped defending a long time ago,” a man read from a paper, his hands shaking slightly as he stood in front of a group of other men. “We fully understood that before the offensive led by the Armed Forces of Ukraine, our forces could not fully protect us. The front line is huge. “
While residents of the Belgorod region have long lived with the sounds of nearby wartime explosions, the attack of the past two days could deepen the broader fear of Russians and possibly damage popularity. by Mr. Putin, said Ivan Fomin, a Russian analyst with the Washington-based Center for European Policy Analysis.
“Some of the more hawkish segments of Russian society see these attacks as another sign of the Kremlin’s weakness and incompetence,” he said. “Thus, Putin may lose popularity among strong supporters of the war.”
However, depending on how the Kremlin and Russian state media portray the attacks, the invasion could also have a rally-round-the-flag effect, Mr. Fomin said.
“At the moment, Putin has difficulties explaining why he started this war, what are its goals, and why Russians should risk their lives in Ukraine,” he said. “But if he can illustrate the infiltration of Russian territory by sabotage groups from Ukraine, it might be easier for him to sell a narrative about Russia being attacked and defending itself.”
Mr. Peskov to eliminate the issue of Russians raising the alarm against fellow citizens, saying that the fighters are Ukrainians, not Russians. But the group that claimed the attack said it was made up of Russians who had “finally returned home,” as they put it on Telegram.
Yuriy Karin, an analyst at Information Resistance, a group that rejects Russian propaganda, said the pause in Russia’s official response to the attack reflected “shock” that an invasion had taken place.
“Russian propaganda is denied,” he said.
Andrew E. Kramer contributed to the report.