UPDATED: Putin: Ukrainian saboteurs fired at civilians in ‘terrorist’ attack in Bryansk

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MOSCOW, March 2 (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said a Ukrainian sabotage group had knowingly fired at civilians on Thursday in what he called a “terrorist act” on Russian territory close to the border.

Russian news agencies reported earlier that a group of Ukrainian saboteurs had taken hostages in the Bryansk region, while the regional governor said one person had been killed. Ukrainian officials denied responsibility.

In televised remarks, Putin said Russia would prevail in the face of such attacks.

Russia’s border regions have been increasingly volatile since Moscow sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine a year ago in what it called its “special military operation” with reports of shelling and sporadic sabotage.

The FSB security service said in a statement to Russian news agencies on Thursday that its own forces and the army were trying to liquidate what it described as “an armed group of Ukrainian nationalists” who had crossed the border.

Bryansk Governor Alexander Bogomaz said the Ukrainians had shot and killed one person.

“Today, a Ukrainian sabotage and reconnaissance group penetrated the Klimovsky district in the village of Lubechanye,” 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.”

He said Ukrainian armed forces had launched a drone attack and fired artillery shells at other areas near the border.

Reuters was unable to immediately verify the reports.

British military intelligence said on Wednesday that Russia was launching drone attacks against Ukraine from the Bryansk region, which lies to the north of Ukraine and is closer to the capital Kyiv than other launch sites.

Russia’s state TASS news agency said the Ukrainians had infiltrated two villages, taking local residents hostage in one of them. The RIA news agency said several people had been taken hostage in a store in the village of Lubechanye, less than one kilometre from Russia’s border with Ukraine.

Russia has accused Ukrainian saboteurs of infiltrating Bryansk before.

In December, the FSB security service said a four-person Ukrainian “sabotage group” had been “liquidated” while trying to enter Bryansk.

Putin told the FSB this week that it needed to step up its guard against espionage and what he called terrorist threats emanating from Ukraine and the West.

“Your task is to put a barrier in the way of sabotage groups, to stop attempts to illegally transport weapons and ammunition into Russia,” he said in a speech on Tuesday.

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