Russia claims victory over armed fighters in border region

This handout picture posted on April 20, 2023 on the official Telegram account of Belgorod mayor Valentin Demidov shows damage after an explosion in the city. (PHOTO / TELEGRAM / @V_V_DEMIDOV / AFP)

MOSCOW/BRUSSELS/KIEV – "A Ukrainian nationalist formation" that broke into Russia's Belgorod region on Monday has been defeated, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday.

"During a counter-terrorist operation, the nationalist formation was blocked and destroyed due to air strikes, artillery fire and active action by the units of the Western Military District that covers the state border," the ministry said in a statement.

The "remaining nationalists" were pushed back into Ukraine, where they continued to be hit until wholly eliminated, said the statement. They lost over 70 people, four armored fighting vehicles and five pickup trucks.

The Ukrainian side has denied involvement in the incursion. Two anti-government paramilitary groups in Russia were behind the operation in the Belgorod region, which aimed to create a "security strip" to protect Ukrainian civilians, a Ukrainian military spokesperson said.

READ MORE: Ukrainian 'sabotage' group breaks into Russia

The Belgorod region, located next to Ukraine's Kharkov region, has recently been a center of hostilities. On Tuesday, the region's governor Vyacheslav Gladkov reported several drone attacks that caused damage to local private residential buildings.  

Aid talks remain hurdles

The defense ministers of the European Union (EU) member states have failed to reach an agreement on new military aid to Ukraine, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Tuesday.

European and Ukraine flags fly outside the European Parliament, March 8, 2022 in Strasbourg, eastern France. (PHOTO / AP)

Our aim is to provide one million projectiles over the next 12 months … the EU had already trained 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers and was on track to train 30,000 by the end of the year.

Josep Borrell, EU's foreign policy chief

Borrell said after Tuesday's EU defense ministers' meeting that the overwhelming majority of member states had backed a proposal to increase the European Peace Facility budget by 3.5 billion euros ($3.77 billion), although he stressed that not all of it will be used to assist Ukraine.

"I still don't have unanimity on this, and it's still being discussed," he said, adding that he expected the remaining "hurdles" to be surmounted soon. He recalled that more than 10 billion euros in military support have already been provided to Ukraine.

READ MORE: Ukraine to get fresh defense aid from European countries

Borrell said EU countries had already provided Ukraine with 220,000 artillery shells and 1,300 missiles since March. These alone were worth 800 million euros and the EU was on track to provide 1 billion euros worth of ammunition.

"Our aim is to provide one million projectiles over the next 12 months," Borrell said, adding that the EU had already trained 20,000 Ukrainian soldiers and was on track to train 30,000 by the end of the year.

He explained that as part of a three-pronged strategy, member states are being asked to provide ammunition from their own stocks. There is also an effort for the joint procurement of 155 mm caliber ammunition and to boost the capability of European industry to manufacture the necessary ammunition.

ALSO READ: Envoy: Talks, building trust key to ending Ukraine crisis

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, attended the meeting and briefed ministers on the latest developments in the conflict in Ukraine.

Borrell welcomed the decision to initiate training programs for Ukrainian pilots on F-16 fighter jets. He said the training created a positive momentum that will eventually lead to the deployment of these jets in Ukraine.

"I am glad that pilot training has already started, and I hope that soon we will be able to provide this weapon to Ukraine," he said prior to the start of the meeting in Brussels. 

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks during a news conference following the G7 Leaders' Summit in Hiroshima on May 21, 2023. (PHOTO / POOL / AFP)

New Marine Corps

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on Tuesday that his country will create the Marine Corps.

"Today I have the honor to announce that a decision has been made to significantly increase the potential of the Ukrainian Marines — to create the Marine Corps," Zelensky said in a post on Telegram after visiting the frontline positions of the Ukrainian army in the eastern Donetsk region.

READ MORE: Russia confirms 2-month extension of Black Sea grain deal

The Ukrainian authorities will do their utmost to make the Marine Corps an important and strong branch of troops, Zelensky said.

The government will also work to create new brigades of the Ukrainian Marines, he added.

The Ukrainian Naval Forces, a branch of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, currently consists of surface forces, naval aviation, marines, artillery, support units and educational institutions.