A series of incidents that Moscow blames on the Ukrainian government have raised tensions in Russia over the past month. First there was a series of fires at military factories, followed by the arrest of suspected Ukrainian saboteurs who were believed to be part of a gang calling themselves ‘Maniacs: Murder Cult’, among other cells. suspected enemies. kyiv has alternately responded with silence, ambiguous answers and accusations that Russia is fabricating pretexts for its offensive.
The Kremlin has repeatedly threatened to take action if attacks on its territory continue. Russian President Vladimir Putin went so far as to say a week ago that his country would deliver “a tough response” if the West encouraged Ukraine to attack Russian territory. On Thursday, the governor of Belgorod claimed that several houses in a border town had been destroyed by an alleged strike. There were no casualties, as on previous occasions.
Mikhailo Podolyak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, quipped on April 27 that the fires and explosions produced in several border regions would be a kind of “demilitarization”, one of the conditions that the Kremlin demands of kyiv for peace. Despite rumors blaming kyiv for all the fires across the country since April, Podolyak named only three neighboring regions as possible targets: Belgorod, Voronezh and Kursk.
Despite the proximity of May 9, the date when Russia will observe “Victory Day”, which commemorates the country’s defeat by the Nazis in 1945, so far the alert level has only been raised in four regions bordering Ukraine and in the Crimean Peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014, and the step was not taken until well before April, more than a month and a half after the start of the ‘offensive. More specifically, it is in force in the oblasts (provinces) of Bryansk, Kursk, Voronezh and Belgorod, located north of the fighting and in the middle of the Black Sea peninsula. That is, places where a Ukrainian military attack could reach. The measure does not affect Rostov, which borders the separatist territories of Donetsk and Lugansk, or Krasnodar, which is separated from Ukraine by the Sea of Azov.
The first strike on Russian soil came on April 1, when the Governor of Belgorod reported that two helicopters belonging to the Ukrainian Air Force had attacked a fuel depot located a few kilometers from the border. Ukrainian Security Council Secretary Oleksiy Danilov responded ambiguously when asked about the authorship of the attack. “They say we did it. According to our information, this is not true. They must understand that this can happen throughout the territory of Russia.
Series of fires
After this incident, similar events occurred in regions close to Ukraine. On April 27, two fuel depots in Bryansk and an ammunition depot in Belgorod caught fire. In Voronezh and Kursk, regional authorities claimed to have detected Ukrainian drones. Two other military installations have burned down in recent weeks, although Russian authorities said they were accidents.
On April 14, several explosions occurred in the town of Klimovo, 10 kilometers from the border. Moscow accused kyiv of bombing the region, and the Ukrainian government said it was a set-up “to foment anti-Ukrainian hysteria”. Seven people, including a pregnant woman, were injured, the city’s central hospital told Russian news agency Tass.
On April 21, another fire broke out at the headquarters of the Second Research Institute of the Defense Ministry, located in Tver, a province near Moscow. On May 1, a gunpowder factory in Perm burned down, killing three people. The components of the Grad multiple rocket launchers are produced at this plant east of Moscow, weapons that are also used in Ukraine.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) usually announces the dismantling of terrorist cells every week. One of the largest operations of this type since the beginning of the conflict was announced on March 30. Authorities said they arrested 60 members of the MKU gang, “Maniacs: Cult of Murder” in Russian, across the country. The FSB defines it as “a group of young people and neo-Nazis created by the Ukrainian special services to carry out terrorist acts, massacres and extremist crimes in Russia”. Last year, the FSB arrested dozens of suspected members in waves, accusing them of coordinating with Kyiv to promote street protests after opposition leader Alexey Navalny was arrested in January 2021. prior arrests, however, gang members had never been associated with kyiv. either by the Russian authorities or by the media.
The MKU appeared in Ukraine in 2018 and quickly went viral across the border. Its members beat up immigrants and homeless people, then uploaded the videos to their Telegram channels. In the Ukrainian city of Dnipro alone, more than 30 attacks were recorded in 2019, while in Russia there were several more cases a year later. The BBC and Nastoyasheye Vremia investigated its members and discovered that they were just another neo-Nazi street gang with no political ties.
Arrests of suspected Ukrainian saboteurs also intensified as the conflict progressed. Among other things, the FSB reported on April 28 the arrest in the Crimea of a former Ukrainian soldier who, “on the instructions of the nationalists of the Azov battalion, was preparing an explosion in a shopping center in Simferopol”. And a day earlier, the agency announced the capture in Belgorod of two Russian citizens who, according to the FSB, had sent information about the deployment and infrastructure of Russian troops to the Mirotvorets site, which in the past published the addresses Ukrainian politicians and journalists.
The FSB said on April 25 that it had dismantled a cell of the National Socialism-White Power organization that planned to attack two Kremlin propaganda figures on the instructions of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).
Accusations that Ukrainian troops were breaking into Russian territory had been leveled even before Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to advance on February 24. Three days earlier, the Defense Ministry said it destroyed two BMP transport vehicles and killed five Ukrainian soldiers who allegedly broke in. the border. That day, Moscow also accused Ukraine of bombing an empty border crossing in the middle of a forest.