Ukraine Attacks Fuel Depot Miles Inside of Russia–or Did It?

Friday morning, a major fuel depot in Belgorod, Russia, was attacked by helicopters and left in flames. Russia is not happy.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that President Vladimir Putin had been informed about the incident. He said it was “certainly” an escalation, adding: “This is not something that can be perceived as creating conditions comfortable for the continuation of negotiations.”

Ukrainian officials would not confirm or deny the attack, suggesting it could be a Russian error or even linked to Russian helicopter pilots who had refused to fly into Ukraine. These officials suggested that Moscow should sort out what was happening on its own territory.

Despite this apparent trolling, many military and intelligence analysts said it had been a Ukrainian attack carried out by two Mi-24 helicopters that swept in low, fired rockets at the fuel dump, causing a massive explosion, and then were spotted departing, still flying at a very low altitude. No casualties were reported.

If the attack is confirmed, it would mark an audacious and risky shift by Ukraine, with its forces shifting from a largely defensive posture to a direct airstrike on Russia at a time when the Russian military appears weakened.

There is a lot of stuff going on here that gives a “house of mirrors” effect.

What really happened?

Russia says it did; Ukraine says it didn’t. In fact, Ukraine is going full metal Alex Jones here, claiming a “false flag” attack.

As silly as it sounds, there is a thread of plausibility. Ukraine and Russia are engaged in negotiations. Ukraine attacking targets in Russia could, rightfully, be seen as a provocation at a time when de-escalation might be warranted. Russia could, conceivably, perceive that an attack during hours of limited visibility could embarrass the Ukrainian government and give Russia some advantage. The counterpoint to that is that Russia didn’t spend that much ingenuity making up reasons for its invasion of Ukraine.

Just four days ago, there was a similar incident in which a Russian ammunition dump exploded. It was attributed to both a Ukrainian missile strike and the world-class safety record of the Russian Army.

Both sides use the same helicopters and munitions, which doesn’t make things any easier.

On the other hand, look at the location of Belgorod.

The target was a fuel depot that would be needed to support this newfound “focus on Donbas” that no one had heard of until last week. The Russian military has devastated Ukrainian cities without regard for civilian casualties, so feelings are running high. At the same time, the Ukrainian Army is having some success and might be disposed to get a few licks in on Russian cities.

In my view, I don’t see the Ukrainian Defense Ministry as having ordered this attack. Neither do I believe the “false flag” story. The fuel dump at Belgorod is the right target at the right place at arguably the right time. Falling back on Ockham’s Razor, I think we have to give great credence to the notion that Ukraine did carry out the attack but that it was ordered by a local commander.

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