The Kremlin said on Wednesday (May 24) the use of US-made military hardware by pro-Ukrainian fighters who conducted a raid on a Russian border region this week was testament to the West's growing involvement in the Ukraine conflict.
The Russian military said on Tuesday it had routed militants who attacked the Russian border region of Belgorod with armoured vehicles the previous day, killing more than 70 "Ukrainian nationalists" and pushing the remainder back into Ukraine.
It said it had destroyed four armoured vehicles and five pick-up trucks to repel what was one of the largest incursions onto Russian soil from Ukraine since Moscow launched what it calls its "special military operation" in Ukraine 15 months ago.
Footage of some of the destroyed vehicles released by the Russian defence ministry showed US made military hardware such as Humvee military trucks.
Reuters was able to confirm the location of damaged vehicles and surrounding details shown in the video, though could not verify the date it was filmed.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu promised on Wednesday that Moscow would respond to any more cross-border raids by Ukrainian militants swiftly and "extremely harshly."
"It is no secret for us that more and more equipment is being delivered to Ukraine's armed forces," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters when asked about the fighters' use of Western-made hardware.
"It is no secret that this equipment is being used against our own military. And it is no secret for us that the direct and indirect involvement of Western countries in this conflict is growing by the day. We are drawing the appropriate conclusions."
Military analysts said this week's two-day incursion could force the Kremlin to divert troops from front lines as Kyiv prepares a major counteroffensive it hopes will eventually defeat what it casts as an unprovoked Russian war of conquest.
Reuters verified the location of damaged vehicles shown in the defence ministry video as Graivoron, a Russian town about 5km from the border with northeastern Ukraine.
Buildings, fencing, the road layout, terrain and the tree lines matched satellite imagery of the area and corroborating videos from the same location.
The United States, Ukraine's biggest military supplier, has played down reports that American-made military hardware was used in the raid.
US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said on Tuesday he was "sceptical at this time of the veracity of these reports.
"As a more general principle ..., we do not encourage or enable strikes inside of Russia and we've made that clear. But as we've also said, it's up to Ukraine to decide how to conduct this war."
Ukraine's government denied any role in the raid, which has been claimed by two anti-Kremlin armed groups made up of Russian nationals fighting for Kyiv against their compatriots. They include far-right figures among their leadership.
The Russian commander of the Russian Volunteer Corps said that his group would soon launch more incursions into Russian territory.
Denis Kapustin, spoke to reporters on the Ukrainian side of the border with Russia a day after Moscow said it had repulsed the raid on the Belgorod region.
Kyiv has said the attack was carried out by Russian citizens, casting it as homegrown, internal Russian strife. Two groups operating in Ukraine - the Russian Volunteer Corps (RVC) and Freedom of Russia Legion - have claimed responsibility.
The Russian military said it had routed the militants, who carried out their attack using armoured vehicles, and pushed those who survived back into Ukraine.
"I think you will see us again on that side," said Kapustin, who introduced himself by his call-sign White Rex. "I cannot reveal those upcoming things, I cannot even reveal the direction. The ... border is pretty long. Yet again there will be a spot where things will get hot."
He was asked repeatedly about Western media reports that his militia had used US military equipment that was meant to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia's invasion, but declined to answer directly.
"I know exactly where I got my weapons from. Unfortunately not from the Western partners," he said.
He also suggested that Western military equipment had been captured by Russia in the battle for Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine and that such equipment could be bought on the black market.
"I think I explained that the Western military aid unfortunately goes back and forth, being raided. In Bakhmut for instance I know that a lot of armoured vehicles, American armoured vehicles, got raided by the Russian forces," he said.
Kapustin said Ukraine only supported the RVC with information, petrol, food and medicine.
"And, of course, the Ukrainian military took our wounded. But anything more than this would make things difficult."
"Every decision we make ... beyond the state border is our own decision. Obviously we can ask our (Ukrainian) comrades, friends for their assistance in planning," he said.
The RVC says it is made up of Russians fighting for Ukraine, and against Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Kapustin said his group was right-wing, but when asked if he was concerned about being labelled a Nazi by Russia he said he "did not care how the enemy insults us".
"Our future plans are new territories of the Russian Federation, which we will definitely enter... You should be a just a little bit patient, and wait just a couple of days," Kapustin said.