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Russian Anti-Kremlin Forces Attack Belgorod: Analysis and Weapons Examination
In the early morning hours of May 22, several armored vehicles and at least tens of Russian rebels under the command of Kyiv launched an armed operation from Ukraine into Russia’s Belgorod region. The size of the incursion and the equipment used is unprecedented. Battles continue to rage in multiple locations as Russian security forces struggle to put down the raiding parties. The far-right Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and the Freedom of Russia Legion (RFL) have each released videos of their soldiers during the ongoing clashes. It is possible that some Ukrainian forces were also involved.
With Ukrainian artillery support, the fighters overran border security and rapidly advanced, catching Russia flat-footed and pushing them back, ultimately capturing and briefly occupying local settlements. The reconnaissance and assault forces were able to penetrate defenses and move quickly using light armored vehicles.
Ukraine has denied any connection to these groups and the fighting inside Russia. Andriy Yusov, a Ukrainian military intelligence spokesperson, told Ukrainian media:
Yes, today the Russian Volunteer Corps and the Freedom of Russia Legion, which consist of citizens of the Russian Federation, have launched an operation to liberate these territories of the Belgorod region from the so-called Putin regime and push back the enemy in order to create a certain security zone to protect the Ukrainian civilian population.
However, RVC leader Denis Nikitin explicitly confirmed that his group’s earlier attack in Russia’s Bryansk was supported by Kyiv and the military. Moreover, Militant Wire analyst War Noir examined the weaponry used by RVC and assessed that they were almost certainly provided by Ukraine.
During the fighting, Ukraine launched drone attacks deeper beyond the operational areas of activity into Belgorod city, reportedly striking an FSB building. Additionally, sympathizers floated a Freedom of Russia Legion flag over Moscow, and the group also planted its flag on a bridge in Belgorod.
After more than 24 hours of clashes and Russia declaring a counter-terrorism operation, land and air forces attacked the Ukrainian-backed soldiers and seem to have pushed them back toward the border. The Ukrainian raid was ultimately successful in its aim to draw media attention away from the loss of Bakhmut, embarrass the Kremlin, and score a considerable propaganda victory.
This article will examine the imagery of the weapons and equipment employed during the fighting.
Weapons and Armour
The Russian Volunteer Corps and allied forces used various armored vehicles to enter and traverse Belgorod.
It is possible to see several of what seem to be HMMWV vehicles supplied to the Ukrainian Army in the attack.
Furthermore, RVC seems to have used at least two International M1224 MaxxPro MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles as well; which are originally supplied by the USA to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The military vehicles used by the RVC in the attack were supplied by Western allies to the Ukrainian Army.
One of the M1224 MaxxPro MRAPs appears to be fitted with a 7.62x54mmR PKM/PKTM machine gun. A Ukrainian 'Strela' type flash hider is also attached to the machine gun.
Two International M1224 MaxxPro MRAPs were later captured by Russian forces in Belgorod.
The group also used the T-72 series Main Battle Tank in the attack. These MBTs are used by both Ukraine and Russia.
After the attack, Russian Volunteer Corps announced that it had captured a BTR-82A APC.
As for the weapons used by RFL and RVC during the attack, it can be observed that they carry weapons of various calibers and types.
In particular, some of the RVC fighters seem to have various 5.56x45mm assault rifles supplied by NATO countries.
The first of these weapons is the Belgian production FN SCAR-L assault rifle. This weapon is also used by many units of the Ukrainian Army. It has been seen before that RVC uses FN SCAR-L rifles.
It seems that CZ 806 BREN-2 assault rifle was also used by the RVC's unit attacking Belgorod.
The CZ 806 BREN-2 rifle and an International M1224 MaxxPro MRAP is also seen in the photo of a fighter who participated in the attack—at least connected to the RVC group involved in the attack.
This fighter is a member of the Ukrainian Volunteer Intelligence Battalion "Sonechko" (Добровольчий Розвідувальний Батальйон "Сонечко"); therefore, it is not known whether he directly participated in the attack or just took part in the intelligence/preparation phase. However, it is known that he was in direct contact with the RVD and the group involved in the attack.
It also appears that the gun is used with a Magpul PMAG drum mag and Aimpoint CompM4 Red dot reflex sight.
BREN-2 assault rifles are originally produced and supplied by Czech Republic (Czechia) to the Ukrainian Army and are used by many different units.
It is also discernible that various notable weapons were captured at the border by the Russian Forces after the attack.
One photo shows at least six Swedish Pansarskott m/86 anti-tank weapons and one M240 (PIP) machine gun and ammunition, along with the MaxxPro MRAP.
In addition to these, various 5.45x39mm AK-74 variants commonly seen during the attack were also used.
Various AK-74 and AKS-74U weapons, some customized, frequently appeared in the hands of the attacking groups.
These weapons and the accessories used to customize the weapons are frequently used in both Russia and Ukraine. Some of these accessories can be easily bought from civilian markets.
The RVC fighter posing in front of the MaxxPro is seen carrying a customized AKS-74U carbine. It is also apparent that a Turkish DLG Tactical’s DLG-122 AKSU handguards and custom flash hider are attached to the gun.
It can be noted that the weapons used by RVC and associated forces in Belgorod are fitted with custom accessories. Both 5.45 AK-74 variant rifles and these accessories are frequently used by Russia and Ukraine. These accessories are parts that can be easily obtained from the civilian market.