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A column of Russian military vehicles is seen near the village of Oktyabrsky, Belgorod, near the Russian-Ukrainian border. Alamy Stock Photo

Russia blames Ukraine for fuel depot explosion as Kyiv denies role

There is confusion over who is responsible for a helicopter attack on a fuel depot in the Russian town of Belgorod.

A RUSSIAN FUEL depot near the border with Ukraine has been bombed – with Moscow claiming Ukraine had attacked the facility, but Kyiv denying any involvement.

Regional Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said two Ukrainian helicopter gunships had flown at low altitude and struck the facility in the city of Belgorod north of the border, triggering the blast and fire.

Two workers at the depot were injured, he said. But Russian media cited a statement from state oil company Rosneft that denied anyone was hurt.

More than 300 firefighters battled the blaze, using a helicopter and a special firefighting train, the Belgorod mayor’s office said.

Gladkov said he met with residents who were moved from their homes to a nearby sports facility. He also posted photos of craters and metal fragments in a rural area where he said explosions had damaged a power line and broken a window.

It would not be the first attack reported inside Russia since the war began on 24 February, although there has been nothing to the same scale as this incident.

Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, denied that Ukraine was responsible.

“For some reason, they say that we did it, but in fact this does not correspond with reality,” he said on Ukrainian television.

Earlier, presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich said: “We are carrying out defensive operations on our territory. Russian authorities bear responsibility for everything that happens at Russian territory.”

Russian authorities “must figure out what’s going on in Belgorod,” he said.

Maybe someone smoked in the wrong place. Maybe there was something else. Maybe Russian troops are sabotaging orders and don’t want to enter Ukrainian territory by available means.

Any airborne attack inside Russia would likely require skillful flying to avoid its air defences.

The explosion drew a muted response from the Kremlin, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying it was not helpful for talks with Ukraine.

Russia regrouping

After over a month of a military campaign that has reduced parts of Ukraine to rubble, Moscow said in peace talks earlier this week it would scale back attacks on the capital Kyiv and the city of Chernihiv.

But Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia was consolidating and preparing “powerful strikes” in the country’s east and south, joining a chorus of Western assessments that Moscow troops were regrouping.

“This is part of their tactics,” said Zelenskyy in a late-night address.

“We know that they are moving away from the areas where we are beating them to focus on others that are very important… where it can be difficult for us,” he said.

In Donbas and Mariupol, in the Kharkiv direction, the Russian army is accumulating the potential for attacks, powerful attacks.

Fears grew that the theatre of war may yet widen, as Russia accused Ukraine of an air strike with helicopters hitting energy giant Rosneft’s fuel storage facility in the western town of Belgorod, around 40 kilometres from the border with Ukraine.

‘Errors in calculation?’

Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to Ukraine’s president, said Kyiv was concentrating on repelling the enemy.

“For what’s happening on Russia’s territory, the responsibility lies with Russia, and it’s up to them to deal with what’s happened there,” he said in a video on Twitter.

But the consequence of Russia’s accusation was swiftly made clear by the Kremlin.

“Of course, this is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of negotiations,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters, referring to ongoing peace talks.

Russia launched its offensive on 24 February on its neighbour, expecting to quickly take Kyiv and topple Zelenskyy’s government.

But a ferocious Ukrainian fightback and logistics and tactical problems scuppered such plans. Meanwhile Russia is battling unprecedented Western sanctions that have led multinationals to quit the country en masse.

On the ground, Ukraine’s troops were beginning to regain control including around capital Kyiv and in the southern region of Kherson – the only significant city that Russia had managed to occupy.

Reputational damage

With his economy crippled by unprecedented international sanctions, Putin has sought to leverage Russia’s status as an energy power.

Warning that EU members will need to set up ruble accounts from today to pay for his country’s gas, he said existing contracts would be halted if the payments were not made.

The EU has joined the United States in imposing sanctions but has stopped short of imposing an energy embargo.

Moving to ease supply tensions on the energy market that have sent crude prices soaring, US President Joe Biden said more than 30 countries have joined Washington in tapping national oil reserves.

The EU has turned its eye to China, warning Beijing at a summit not to take Russia’s side.

“It would lead to a major reputational damage for China here in Europe,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen warned.

© AFP 2022, with reporting from the Press Association

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