Ukraine Strikes Back

Based on preliminary reports, early in the morning of April 1 some Ukrainian helicopters managed to fly into Russia and attack a fuel depot in Belgorod, Russia. It looks like they attacked the depot using unguided rockets, producing some very satisfying explosions and a fire that was still blazing by the light of day. At least eight of the 16 fuel tanks at the depot were set ablaze. There is a video of what looks like a pair of Ukrainian MI-24 Hind helicopters sprinting away back home.

Belgorod is only about 25 miles from the Ukraine-Russia border, but after one crosses that border it is less than 20 miles to the outskirts of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city. Kharkiv’s capture or encirclement has been an apparent objective of Russian forces since they kicked off the war. They have failed to achieve either of these objectives, and the Russian forces seemed to have switched to a strategy of shelling Kharkiv, including by attacking residential neighborhoods with cluster munitions. Belgorod is the obvious jumping-off point if there is a renewed push on the city. Ukraine’s attack might be a serious blow to Russia’s “reduced” offensive ambitions this spring, as there will be less fuel available for military vehicles.

This is certainly a major embarrassment for Russia, especially because its military has been claiming that it has destroyed the Ukrainian air force. Breathless headlines like “Kyiv attacked Russia. How will Moscow Respond?” and “Political scientist: Russia has the right to declare war on Ukraine.” 

Russian spokesman Dmitry Peskov took the opportunity to blame Ukraine for any “breakdown” in the ongoing negotiations: This is not something that can be perceived as creating conditions comfortable for the continuation of negotiations.” This is amusing to say the least, given that Russia appears to have focused on targeting Ukrainian fuel supplies with long-range strikes at the same time it has been floating its  new “limited war.” One wonders at how Russians can cry foul over a Ukrainian strike while Russia has been hard at work striking Ukraine, not to mention invading, raping, pillaging, etc.

This was not even the first time during the war that Ukraine has struck Russia. There are reports Ukraine launched a short-range ballistic missile attack into Belgorod earlier this week, striking an ammunition dump, On February 25, the second day of the war, Ukraine launched a short range ballistic missile strike and hit the Millerovo air force base near Rostov, Russia, about 10 to 12 miles from the Ukraine-Russia border.

What is probably going on here is that Russia is using this Ukrainian helicopter attack as a prop to support its next escalation. A few days ago Russia claimed that their withdrawal from around Kyiv and Chernihiv were a gesture of mercy to Ukraine, part of an effort to make the peace talks go better. What has actually happened is that Ukrainian forces have defeated Russian ones near Kyiv and Chernihiv, and the Russian forces are retreating. Now, Russia can use this new Ukrainian attack to explain why this merciful withdrawal is followed by an escalation in eastern Ukraine, as Putin concentrates his forces to win a victory around Kharkiv or in Donbas. 

Andrew Fink received his Ph.D. from the law school at Leiden University in 2020 on the history of propaganda, conspiracy theories, and violent extremist ideologies.

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