Two Ukrainian helicopter pilots have stunned the Kremlin with a low-level missile strike against a major fuel-supply depot located over the border on Russian soil.
The strike on the Belgorod complex is the first time since World War II that an enemy has attacked Russia inside its own borders.
Stunned Kremlin officials, apparently unaware of their irony of the comments, denounced the raid as a provocation and said the incident had set an “unfavourable tone” for peace talks with Kyiv.
Video footage of the attack – the first time the war has been brought home to Russia since Moscow launched its invasion on February 24 – showed several missiles streaking in from low altitude, followed by a series of explosions.
️⭕️🇷🇺#Russia: In Belgorod, 8 tanks with fuel volume of 2,000 cubic metres each are burning, there is a threat of fire switching to another 8 – Russian emergency services
👉The attack was executed-by 2 helicopters of 🇺🇦#Ukraine’s forces pic.twitter.com/PFQKxRwVqr
— 🅻-🆃🅴🅰🅼 (@L_Team10) April 1, 2022
Regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on messaging app Telegram that the Ukrainian Hind class choppers struck the facility in Belgorod, some 35km from the border with Ukraine, after entering Russia at low altitude.
The resulting blaze injured two workers, Gladkov added, while some areas of the city had to be evacuated. However, Russian oil firm Rosneft, which owns the fuel depot, said in a separate statement that no one was hurt in the fire. The company gave no information on the cause of the blaze.
A witness told Reuters that another blast was heard in the city later on Friday. The cause of the blast was not immediately clear.
Propaganda exposed as lies
The attack has not only damaged Russia’s capacity to use the depot’s supplies to fuel its forces in Ukraine, it has also further dented Vladimir Putin’s credibility.
Russians on social media asked how the attack could ever have taken place in light of state media’s claim that the Ukrainian Air Force was totally destroyed in the first few days of the war.
In Belogrod petrol stations were soon besieged by long lines of cars waiting to fill their tanks in the expectation that available fuel would soon run out.
Speaking to reporters on a conference call, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said President Vladimir Putin had been briefed about the incident. Peskov said the strike could jeopardise Moscow’s peace negotiations with Kyiv.
“Of course this cannot be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for continuing the talks,” Peskov said, adding that everything was being done to prevent disruptions in fuel supplies in the city.
In separate comments, Energy Minister Nikolai Shulginov said the incident would not affect the region’s fuel supplies or prices for consumers.
The governor of the neighbouring Kursk region, Roman Starovoit, said its own fuel supplies were sufficient to last several weeks and called on the population not to stockpile fuel.
An ammunition depot near Belgorod caught fire on Wednesday, causing a series of blasts. At the time, Gladkov said authorities were waiting for the Russian defence ministry to establish its cause.