The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said on Sunday that he was willing to meet a pro-Ukraine group of Russian partisans holding two Russian soldiers captive, as he reported a renewed flare-up of fighting near the border.
Meanwhile, Russia’s defense ministry said its forces had used artillery to repel the latest in a series of attempted cross-border incursions by the partisans, whom Moscow brands as “terrorists” acting as proxies for Kyiv.
The Freedom of Russia Legion and the Russian Volunteer Corps have claimed responsibility for a spate of cross-border attacks inside Russian territory, including last week when Moscow said two civilians were killed during fighting.
In a video on the Freedom of Russia’s Telegram channel, a man identifying himself as the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps said he would hand over two soldiers they were holding captive in exchange for a meeting with the governor.
The video showed the two captives, one of whom appeared to be injured and was laid out on an operating table.
“Today until 17:00 you have the opportunity to communicate without weapons and take home two Russian citizens, ordinary soldiers whom you and your political leadership sent to the slaughter,” read a joint statement posted along with the video.
The governor of Belgorod, Vyacheslav Gladkov, appeared in a video message three hours later, in which he agreed to meet the group if the soldiers were still alive.
“Most likely they (the saboteurs) killed them, as hard as it is for me to say. But if they are alive, from 5-6 p.m. - Shebekino checkpoint. I guarantee safety,” Gladkov said.
He added that fighting with a group of “Ukrainian saboteurs” was taking place in the town of Novaya Tavolzhanka, near the Ukrainian border, without providing any details.
Russia’s defense ministry later said its forces had broken up the group, driving its fighters back into Ukraine.
Ukraine has denied direct involvement in the cross-border attacks but has cast them as a consequence of Russia’s invasion.
Gladkov said earlier on Sunday that Ukrainian forces had continued to shell his region overnight after two people were killed the previous evening and hundreds of children were evacuated away from the border.