Russia claims that its peace talks with Ukraine have been jeopardized by an attack on a Russian oil depot for which Russia blames Ukraine.
If confirmed, it would be the first attack launched on a target inside Russia since that country invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said he could not confirm or deny that the explosion came after Ukrainian helicopters attacked the site on Friday, as alleged by Russian officials, according to Reuters. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry and the country’s general staff did not respond when Reuters sought comments.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian President Vladimir Putin was briefed about the incident.
“Of course this cannot be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for continuing the talks,” Peskov said.
A report in The New York Times that cited Russian regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said the oil depot was set on fire after two Ukrainian helicopters attacked the site in Belgorod, which is about 20 miles from Ukraine’s border with Russia.
— NEXTA (@nexta_tv) April 1, 2022
“The fire at the oil depot happened as a result of an airstrike of two helicopters of the Armed Forces of Ukraine that entered the territory of Russia at low altitude,” Gladkov said in a social media post Friday, according to the Times.
Firefighters, he added, “are trying to localize the fire as quickly as possible. Nothing threatens the population.”
Video showed two helicopters firing at the oil depot, but the Times reported it could not be confirmed that the helicopters were Ukrainian.
The Times said that after its review of the video, it was confirmed that an airstrike caused the fire raging at the oil depot.
The Times called the attack “an embarrassment to Russia’s military, which said last week that Ukraine’s air force had been ‘practically destroyed.’”
The Times said Ukraine previously had hit Russian territory only with ground-launched missiles.
A reporter for Germany’s Bild quoted Ukrainian officials as saying they did “not have this information” about the oil depot explosion. Julian Roepcke said it “could have been a Russian false flag operation to justify further brutal attacks.”
The Ukrainian General Staff tells my colleague @fpiatov, it does “not have this information” that Ukrainian forces attacked an oil depot in Belgorod oblast, hinting that the attack could have been a Russian false flag operation to justify further brutal attacks on 🇺🇦.
— Julian Röpcke🇺🇦 (@JulianRoepcke) April 1, 2022
Russia claimed this week that it would de-escalate the war as peace talks began in Turkey.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday told his people, “We don’t believe anyone, not a single beautiful phrase,” according to The Washington Post.
U.S. officials also have been skeptical of Moscow’s de-escalation announcement, seeing it as a sign that Russia probably is taking time to regroup and reorganize its attack.
— 🅻-🆃🅴🅰🅼 (@L_Team10) April 1, 2022
BBC analyst Jonathan Beale said that if true, Ukraine’s attack is “bringing the war home to Russia.”
“Ukrainian helicopter pilots have plenty of experience of flying low and fast to avoid being detected by military radar and air defence systems,” he wrote.
“But if these unconfirmed reports are correct – flying at night, well into Russian territory, to launch an attack on an enemy fuel depot would have required extraordinary bravery – as well as finely-honed flying skills.
“This alleged attack alone will not dramatically alter the battle. But it could show Ukraine has managed to keep its air force functioning, and give a huge boost to the morale of Ukraine’s military.”
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