Two volunteer soldiers fired at other troops on Saturday at a Russian military firing range, killing 11 and wounding 15, the country’s defence ministry said.
The shooting took place in the Belgorod region in southwestern Russia that borders Ukraine, according to officials.
The ministry, which described the shootings as a terror attack, said two volunteers from an unnamed former Soviet nation fired on other soldiers during target practice before being killed by return fire. The recruits were being trained to fight in Ukraine.
“During a firearms training session with individuals who voluntarily expressed a desire to participate in the special military operation, the terrorists opened fire with small arms on the personnel of the unit,” RIA, the state-owned domestic news agency, cited a defence ministry statement as saying.
The shooting comes during a divisive mobilisation ordered by Vladimir Putin to beef up Russian forces in Ukraine – a move that triggered protests and caused hundreds of thousands to flee Russia.
The Russian president said on Friday that over 220,000 reservists already had been called up as part of an effort to recruit 300,000.
Despite Mr Putin claiming only people who had recently served in the military would be subject to the call-up, activists and rights groups reported military conscription officers rounding up people without any army experience – some of whom were also unfit for service for medical reasons.
Some of the freshly called-up reservists have posted videos of them being forced to sleep on the floor or even outside and given rusty weapons before being sent to the front lines.
Oleksiy Arestovych, an advisor to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said in a YouTube interview that the attackers at Belgorod military base were from the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan and had opened fire on the others after an argument over religion. The Independent has not been able to verify his claims.
Tajikistan is a predominantly Muslim nation, while around half of Russians follow various branches of Christianity. The Russian ministry had said the attackers were from a nation in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which groups nine ex-Soviet republics, including Tajikistan.
The independent Russian news website Sota Vision said the attack occurred in the small town of Soloti, close to the Ukrainian border and about 104km (65 miles) southeast of Belgorod.
Mr Zelensky said on Saturday that Ukrainian troops were still holding the strategic eastern town of Bakhmut despite repeated Russian attacks while the situation in the larger Donbas region remained very difficult.
Although Ukrainian troops have recaptured thousands of square miles of land in recent offensives in the east and south, officials say progress is likely to slow once Kyiv’s forces meet more determined resistance.
Ukrainian forces and civilians are relying on Starlink internet service provided by Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company. Musk said on Friday he could no longer afford to fund the service but on Saturday said he would continue to do so.
Mr Zelensky said almost 65,000 Russians had been killed so far since the 24 February invasion, a figure far higher than Moscow’s official 21 September estimate of 5,937 dead. In August the Pentagon said Russia has suffered between 70,000 and 80,000 casualties, either killed or wounded.
Mr Putin ordered the mobilisation three weeks ago, as part of a response to Russian battlefield defeats in Ukraine. He has also proclaimed the annexation of four partially occupied Ukrainian provinces and threatened to use nuclear weapons.
Mr Zelensky, speaking in an evening address, said Russian missiles and drones had continued to hit Ukrainian cities, causing destruction and casualties.
Kyiv said on Friday that it expected the United States and Germany to deliver sophisticated anti-aircraft systems this month to help defend against the missiles.
Fighting is particularly intense in the eastern Donetsk and Luhansk provinces bordering Russia. Together they make up the larger industrial Donbas, which Moscow has yet to fully capture.
Russian forces have repeatedly tried to seize Bakhmut, which sits on a main road leading to the cities of Sloviansk and Kramatorsk. Both are situated in the Donetsk region.
Separately, the Ukrainian armed forces’ general staff said in a Facebook post that troops had on Saturday repelled a total of 11 separate Russian attacks near Kramatorsk, Bakhmut and the town of Avdiivka, just to the north of Donetsk.
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