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Fighters with Ukrainian insignia on Russian territory, explosions in the Russian region of Belgorod, there is said to be one dead civilian. A lot has happened in the past 48 hours in the embattled border area near the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.

Eyewitnesses (name not named):

"First gunshots, then mortars, machine guns, the noise of machine guns."


"Was there any real fighting?"

Eyewitnesses (name not named):

"Yes, it was a real fight. Nothing like this has ever happened since I've lived here."

The governor of the Belgorod region also confirmed the incidents.

Vyacheslav Gladkov, Governor Belgorod:

"I have just returned from Graiworon, from the villages attacked by the Ukrainian Armed Forces."

But who are the fighters who have invaded Russian territory and what does their attack mean for the war?

Mark Galeotti, British military expert:

"These Russian volunteers cover a whole range of different political perspectives. There are liberals and anarchists to neo-Nazis. And all of them, in their own way, have a reason to desire the overthrow of the current Russian regime. They hope that they will contribute in some way to the overthrow of the Putin regime."

Speaker, "Legion of Freedom of Russia":

"We are Russians, just like you. We are human beings, just like you. We want our children to grow up in peace and become free people. But that has no place in Putin's Russia today, which is eaten away by corruption, lies, censorship, restrictions on freedom and repression."

Mark Galeotti, British military expert:

"These are not independent forces, even if it is repeatedly claimed that this has nothing to do with us, that they are only Russian volunteers. They are controlled by Ukrainian military intelligence. They depend on the Ukrainians when it comes to weapons, support and the like. So, in a way, they accept that they are part of the Ukrainian war effort, simply because they believe that a Russian defeat in Ukraine will hasten the downfall of the regime in Moscow."

The Ukrainian government has so far denied direct involvement in the surprise attack – and Kiev is silent on the question of who equipped the volunteer units with weapons. However, the attack has exposed the vulnerability of Russia's border regions.

How Putin and his military will react to this remains to be seen. However, a psychological effect on the Russian leadership is already being felt.

Dmitir Medvedev, Prime Minister of Russia:

"As for these scumbags – I can't call them anything else – they can be characterized in different ways. The question is what to do with them. They must be exterminated like rats, they must not even be caught."

The Russian army initially published pictures of destroyed vehicles on Wednesday and announced that Russian soldiers had driven the attackers back across the Ukrainian border: This could not be independently verified for the time being. But how does the attack affect the war?

Mark Galeotti, British military expert:

"In and of itself, this is not a groundbreaking change. Above all, this is probably what is called in military terms a formative operation that prepares the battlefield for the inevitable and looming Ukrainian counteroffensive. Rather, this is a chance to do two things. First, to unsettle the Russians, to worry them about the possibility of uprisings among their own population. And secondly, to force the Russians to divide their troops and transfer part of them to the Belgorod region as reinforcements. I think Ukraine has to hope that this will open up areas for some kind of large-scale attack in the next week or so."