Vladimir Putin claimed Russia had been hit by a “terrorist attack” on civilians inside its territory near Ukraine and vowed to crush what he said was a Ukrainian sabotage group.
In a televised address, Putin accused the group of opening fire on occupants of a car, including children. “They won’t achieve anything. We will crush them,” the Russian president said.
Ukraine accused Russia of staging a false “provocation” – but also appeared to acknowledge an operation had been carried out.
“A Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group penetrated the Klimovsky district in the village of Lubechanye,” Bryansk governor Alexander Bogomaz said on his Telegram channel. “Saboteurs fired on a moving car. As a result of the attack, one resident was killed and a ten-year-old child was wounded.”
In two videos circulating online, armed men calling themselves the “Russian Volunteer Corps” said they had crossed the border to fight what they referred to as “the bloody Putinite and Kremlin regime,” Reuters reported.
Describing themselves as Russian “liberators”, the armed men called on Russians to take up arms and rise up against the authorities. They said they did not open fire on civilians.
The authenticity of the videos could not immediately be verified by Reuters.
The FSB security service forces were tackling “an armed group of Ukrainian nationalists” who had crossed the border, later saying the situation was under control and that explosive devices had been found.
However, Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted: “The story about (a) Ukrainian sabotage group in RF (Russian Federation) is a classic deliberate provocation."
He said Russia “wants to scare its people to justify the attack on another country & the growing poverty after the year of war.”
A spokesman for Ukrainian military intelligence suggested the makeup of the sabotage group was a sign of internal strife inside Russia.
"These are people who with weapons in their hands are fighting the Putin regime and those who support it... Maybe Russians will begin to wake up, realise something and take some concrete steps," Andriy Yusov told Ukrainian outlet, Hromadske.
British military intelligence said on Wednesday that Russia was launching drone attacks on Ukraine from the Bryansk region, which lies to the north of Ukraine and is closer to Kyiv than other launch sites.
Russia has accused Ukrainian saboteurs of infiltrating Bryansk before. In December, the FSB said a four-person Ukrainian "sabotage group" had been "liquidated" while trying to enter the region.
Warning have been issued in the past that Russia could use false flag attacks by manufacturing provocations to justify further escalations.
Reuters contributed to this report