Russia has accused Ukrainian helicopters of attacking an oil facility inside Russia after flying 25 miles undetected past the border, amid claims the Kremlin could stage a ‘false flag’ attack to justify a further escalation of the war.
Vyacheslav Gladkov, appointed by Vladimir Putin in 2020, said two of Ukraine’s military helicopters struck a fuel storage facility in the Russian city of Belgorod on Friday with S-8 rockets after crossing the border at low altitude.
The resulting blaze injured two workers, Gladkov added, while some areas in the city were being evacuated.
Video shared on social media appeared to show the attack happening at 5.43am local time, followed by helicopters flying away from the blaze, although analysts have noted Russia uses the same time of helicopters as Ukraine.
Ukraine’s government is yet to confirm the incident but if true, it would be the second time Ukraine has ventured past the border since the invasion following the missile attack on Millerovo airbase last month, in the latest humiliation for Putin in his flailing campaign.
But last week, an exiled Russian politician claimed the Kremlin is plotting a wave of attacks on its own cities in a false flag operation led by the FSB that it will blame on Ukraine to justify a general mobilisation of troops.
Ilya Ponomarev, 46, said the Russian security service is preparing to target its own chemical and weapons factories in attacks that could see civilians die.
Earlier in this week, reports initially claimed that Ukraine had attacked Belgorod which has a population of 369,000.
It later appeared more likely that the explosion at a weapons storage depot near Belgorod was the result of a human error, and not a Ukrainian airstrike.
The attack could be the latest boost for Volodymyr Zelensky who is striking back against the invading forces, and today recaptured the two strategic villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka on a main supply route, British intelligence revealed.
As day broke in Belgorod, the oil facility was ablaze, with the fire allegedly sparked by Ukrainian missiles
Two people were injured in the Belgorod facility blaze, the Russian governor said, but they were expected to survive
The oil facility is only 25 miles from the border with Ukraine, and was ablaze on Friday morning
Photos on social media appeared to show the oil facility in Belgorod ablaze in the early hours of Friday
The governor of the Russian region of Belgorod announced the attack on the oil facility in the early hours of Friday. It is yet to be confirmed by Ukraine’s government
The news site ELINT shared footage of what it said was an oil facility in Belgorod, which they claimed had been attacked by Ukraine. Their claims are unverified
On Tuesday, similar footage emerged of a huge explosion in Belgorod, at the site of a suspected arms depot.
The depot was initially believed to have been hit by a Ukrainian missile. However, analysts later concluded that the blast was likely due to human error, rather than a deliberate attack.
Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov claimed that the depot was destroyed by an OTR-21 Tochka-U ballistic missile fired by the Ukrainian 19th missile brigade, but his report was not confirmed by Ukrainian officials.
Gladkov, the regional governor, confirmed reports of the explosion and said that no Russian citizens were hurt, but refused to shed any light on the reason for the blast.
‘Explosions were heard on the territory of Belgorod and the Belgorod region,’ Gladkov said.
‘The incident took place near the village of Krasniy Oktyabr. The head of the village is in direct contact with me and has given me all the information. There are no casualties or injuries among the residents.’
‘I’ll post the reason for this later,’ he added.
However, Russian news agency TASS reported that four Russian military personnel were injured and said preliminary reports suggested the explosion was caused by a Ukrainian missile.
‘The shell hit the territory of a temporary military camp in the Belgorod region. Four servicemen were injured,’ an emergency services source told TASS.
The attack could be the latest boost for Volodymyr Zelensky who is striking back against the invading forces, and today recaptured the two strategic villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka
Vyacheslav Gladkov, governor of the Belgorod region appointed by Vladimir Putin in 2020, announced the attack on the oil facility in the early hours of Friday
Footage emerged on Tuesday of a huge explosion in Belgorod at the site of a suspected arms depot (pictured). It was initially believed to have been hit by a Ukrainian missile, but later human error was considered the likely force behind the blaze
It comes as British military intelligence said today Ukrainian forces have retaken the villages of Sloboda and Lukashivka to the south of Chernihiv and located along main supply routes between the city and Kyiv.
‘Ukraine has also continued to make successful but limited counter attacks to the east and north east of Kyiv,’ Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.
Chernihiv and Kyiv have been subjected to continued air and missile strikes despite Russian claims of reducing activity in these areas, the ministry added.
Elsewhere, Russian troops left the heavily contaminated Chernobyl nuclear site early on Friday morning after returning control to the Ukrainians, authorities said, and eastern parts of the country braced for renewed attacks – and Russians blocked another aid mission to the besieged port city of Mariupol.
Ukraine’s state power company, Energoatom, said the pullout at Chernobyl came after soldiers received ‘significant doses’ of radiation from digging trenches in the forest in the exclusion zone around the closed plant. But there was no independent confirmation of that.
The exchange of control happened amid growing indications the Kremlin is using talk of de-escalation in Ukraine as cover to regroup, resupply its forces and redeploy them for a stepped-up offensive in the eastern part of the country.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky warned that Russian withdrawals from the north and center of the country were just a military tactic to build up forces for new powerful attacks in the southeast.
A new round of talks between the countries was scheduled for Friday, five weeks into a conflict that has left thousands dead and driven four million Ukrainians from the country.
‘We know their intentions,’ Zelensky said in his nightly video address to the nation.
‘We know that they are moving away from those areas where we hit them in order to focus on other, very important ones where it may be difficult for us.’
‘There will be battles ahead,’ he added.
Ukrainian soldiers carry a body of a civilian killed by the Russian forces over the destroyed bridge in Irpin close to Kyiv, on Thursday
Following a plea from Zelensky when he addressed Australian Parliament on Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that his country would send mine-resistant armored personnel carriers to Ukraine.
He said Friday the four-wheel drive ‘Bushmaster’ vehicles, specifically requested by Zelensky, would be flown in to Europe but did not say how many would be delivered or when.
‘We’re not just sending our prayers, we are sending our guns, we’re sending our munitions, we’re sending our humanitarian aid, we’re sending all of this, our body armor, all of these things and we’re going to be sending our armored vehicles, our Bushmasters, as well,’ Morrison said.
In the encircled strategic port city of Mariupol, Russian forces blocked a convoy of 45 buses attempting to evacuate people after the Russian military agreed to a limited cease-fire in the area.
Only 631 people were able to get out of the city in private cars, according to the Ukrainian government.
Russian forces also seized 14 tons of food and medical supplies in a dozen buses that were trying to make it to Mariupol, Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said.
The city has been the scene of some of the worst suffering of the war.
Tens of thousands have managed to get out in the past few weeks by way of humanitarian corridors, reducing the population from a prewar 430,000 to an estimated 100,000 by last week, but other relief efforts have been thwarted by continued Russian attacks.
As Western officials search for clues about what Russia’s next move might be, a top British intelligence official said demoralized Russian soldiers in Ukraine are refusing to carry out orders and sabotaging their equipment and had accidentally shot down their own aircraft.
U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the war is going because they are afraid to tell him the truth.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that the U.S. is wrong and that ‘neither the State Department nor the Pentagon possesses the real information about what is happening in the Kremlin.’