Gunmen opened fire at a Russian military training ground near Ukraine, killing at least 11 people and wounding 15 others, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
According to the ministry, the “terrorist” took place on Saturday in the Belgorod region, which borders Ukraine.
It said two assailants – nationals of an unspecified former Soviet republic – fired on volunteer soldiers during a target practice and were killed in the return fire.
The shooting came amid a rapid mobilization ordered by President Vladimir Putin to bolster Russian forces in Ukraine, a move that sparked protests and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing Russia. It also came a week after an explosion damaged a bridge in Crimea, a peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
“During firearms training with individuals who voluntarily expressed their desire to participate in a special military operation (against Ukraine), terrorists opened fire on the personnel of the unit with small arms,” the Ministry of Defense said in a statement.
Oleksi Arestovich, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said in a YouTube interview that the attackers were from the Central Asian country of Tajikistan and opened fire on others over a dispute over religion.
Tajikistan is a predominantly Muslim nation, while about half of Russians follow various branches of Christianity. The Russian ministry said the attackers were from the Commonwealth of Independent States, which includes nine former Soviet republics, including Tajikistan.
Al Jazeera could not immediately confirm Arstovich’s comments.
Independent Russian news website Sota Vision reported that the attack took place in the small town of Solot, located near the Ukrainian border and about 105 km (65 miles) southeast of Belgorod.
Elisabeth Braw, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said the shooting showed how much anger there is against Putin’s mobilization from Russia and other former Soviet states.
“Regardless of who the perpetrator was, it shows how poorly protected Russian military bases are when someone can just show up and kill 11 soldiers at the base. And it also shows how unprepared the Russian authorities are. After shooting one soldier, they didn’t even succeed to kill. Criminals shot 11 soldiers,” Braw told Al Jazeera.
“So it’s really, really embarrassing. … You can imagine if you’re someone who’s going to be called, or you’re worried about being called, you’re going to look at it and say, ‘Well, I’d better get out of the country.’ by any means at my disposal because I don’t want to end up like this,” he added.
Putin ordered the mobilization three weeks ago, part of a response to Russia’s defeat on the battlefield in Ukraine, when Kiev forces retook territory occupied by Moscow for months. Fighting is particularly intense in the eastern provinces of Donetsk and Lugansk, which together form the larger industrial Donbas region.
Putin said on Friday that more than 220,000 reservists had already been called up as part of the recruitment of 300,000 reservists. He promised that the mobilization would end in two weeks.
The mobilization has been messy from the start, with authorities sending mixed signals about who should be drafted in a country where almost all men under the age of 65 are on the reserve list.
Although the Russian leader announced that only those who had recently served in the military would be eligible for conscription, activists and rights groups said the conscriptions were gathering people without military experience, some of whom were also unfit for military service. medical reasons.
Some newly drafted reservists posted videos of being forced to sleep on the floor or even outdoors and given rusty weapons before being sent to the front lines. According to Russian media, some of those mobilized were sent into battle without proper training and were quickly killed.
A series of attacks on Belgorod
Saturday’s attack on the Belgorod training ground is the latest in a series of incidents to hit the Russian region.
Earlier on Saturday, Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said that the oil base was on fire after the shooting. He posted a photo showing flames and plumes of black smoke rising above the building.
Last week, Russia complained about an increase in artillery and missile attacks on its territory bordering Ukraine.
And on Friday, authorities said a Ukrainian attack set fire to a power plant in the regional capital, also called Belgorod, causing blackouts.
It came a day after a rocket gutted the top floor of an apartment building in the city of Belgorod without causing any injuries.
An ammunition depot in the area was also destroyed on Thursday.
Earlier in the week, Russian officials said Ukrainian attacks knocked out power in the town of Shebekino in the same region. A 74-year-old woman was killed and several people were injured in the city.
Zelenskyy, meanwhile, said on Saturday that nearly 65,000 Russians have died since the February 24 invasion, far higher than Moscow’s official September 21 estimate of 5,937 dead. In August, the Pentagon announced that between 70,000 and 80,000 people had been killed or wounded in Russia.
He also said that despite repeated Russian attacks, Ukrainian forces are still holding on to the strategic eastern city of Bahmut, while the situation in the greater Donbass region remains very complicated. Russian troops have repeatedly tried to capture Bahmut, located on the main road to the cities of Slovyansk and Kramatorsk. Both are located in the Donetsk region.
In an evening speech, Zelensky also said that Russian missiles and drones have continued to hit Ukrainian cities, causing destruction and casualties.
Kiev said on Friday it expected the US and Germany to deliver sophisticated air defense systems this month to help defend against the missiles.