The cross-border raid shows that Russia’s security, once bolstered by a formidable military machine, had declined markedly since last year’s invasion, said Sergey Radchenko, an expert on international relations at Johns Hopkins University.
“This is why the Ukrainian intelligence bothers with operations that don’t really have any other meaning, to show the weakness of the Russian state. That’s the message that’s being sent,” he told NBC News.
“The results of Putin’s disastrous invasion speak for itself: Russia is a lot less safe and a lot less capable,” Radchenko added.
He said the drone attack on the Kremlin on May 3 — which Moscow immediately called an Ukrainian assassination attempt on Putin, a charge denied by Kyiv — similarly showed the vulnerabilities of the state.
In an apparent effort to display the strength of its response, a video shared widely on Russian social media and geolocated by NBC News showed a senior general leading the operation to rebuff the incursion earlier this week, directing troops in military fatigues and urging them to move forward on a road in a residential area near the border.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told a news conference Wednesday that the pro-Ukrainian fighters were “thrown back to the territory of Ukraine, where they continued to be defeated until they were completely eliminated.” He promised to “react promptly and extremely harshly” to any future cross-border raids.
But the Kremlin’s response was met with ridicule by supporters of Ukraine and dismay by its own influential pro-military figures.
In a sign that Russia’s recent claim of a symbolic prize on the battlefield had done little to ease internal dissent, the mercenary chief who led that campaign in Bakhmut also issued a warning.
Yevgeny Prigozhin, the founder of the Wagner mercenary group, voiced fears Wednesday that Russia could not just lose the war, but also face a revolution similar to those of 1917 unless the country’s ruling elite intensified its approach. “We need to impose martial law,” said Prigozhin, who has been a vocal critic of Moscow’s military leaders.