KIEV (Reuters) – The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region said on Sunday he was ready to meet with a pro-Ukrainian group of Russian rebels holding two Russian soldiers, as he reported a renewed escalation in fighting near the border. .
Meanwhile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said its forces used artillery to repel the latest in a series of attempted cross-border incursions by rebels, whom Moscow classifies as “terrorists” acting as proxies for Kiev.
The Russian Freedom Corps and the Russian Volunteer Corps have claimed responsibility for a series of cross-border attacks inside Russian territory, including last week when Moscow said two civilians were killed during the fighting.
In a video on the Freedom of Russia Telegram channel, a man who identified himself as the commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps said he would hand over two soldiers who were being held captive in exchange for a meeting with the governor.
The video showed the two captives, one of whom appeared to be injured and placed on the operating table.
“Today until 17:00 you have the opportunity to communicate without weapons and take two Russian citizens, ordinary soldiers whom you and your political leadership sent to the massacre,” read a joint statement posted along with the video.
Belgorod’s governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, appeared in a video message three hours later, agreeing to meet the group if the soldiers were still alive.
“Most likely they (the saboteurs) killed them, although it is difficult to say. But if they are alive, from five to six in the evening – the Chebykino checkpoint. I guarantee safety,” Gladkov said.
He added that battles with a group of “Ukrainian saboteurs” were raging in the town of Novaya Tavolganka near the Ukrainian border, without providing any details.
The Russian Defense Ministry later said its forces had dispersed the group and sent its fighters to Ukraine.
Ukraine denied direct involvement in the cross-border attacks but described them as a result of the Russian invasion.
Gladkov said earlier on Sunday that Ukrainian forces continued to bomb his area at night after killing two people the night before and evacuating hundreds of children far from the border.
(Cover) By Dan Belichuk and Caleb Davis. Editing by Gareth Jones and David Lungren
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