Tuesday, April 16, 2024

In Night Raid, Choppers Blow Up Fuel Depot On Russian Soil Near Ukraine

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At the Russian city of Belgorod, flames roil over fuel depots hit by rockets fired by attack … [+] helicopters.

Video capture.

It would sound like improbable fanboy fiction if there weren’t recordings showing it actually happening.

Specifically, videos and images posted on the social media page Belinter show allegedly Ukrainian combat helicopters at 5 AM local time on April 1 causing massive damage to a fuel depot in the Russian city of Belgorod.

Belgorod lies just 35 miles northwest of Ukraine’s second city of Kharkiv, and for long has been a staging ground for Russian armies which invaded Ukraine on February 24. In theory, it should have fallen well within the umbrella of Russia’s famously elaborate integrated air defense system.

Yet a recording shows two attack helicopters unloading flurries of 80-millimeter S-8 rockets into the blazing fuel depot with impunity.

The attack caused massive fireballs to the light skies and columns of smoke to pour into the air. Allegedly, eight 2,000 cubic meter fuel storage tanks were set ablaze. The regional governor claimed two workers were injured in the attack, but the owning Rosneft company stated there were no injuries.

Another video suggests two Mi-24 Hind gunships, a type operated both by the Russian and Ukrainian militaries, appear to have participated in the attack.

The Ukrainian Army was estimated to operate 34 Mi-24s at the beginning of 2022, including gun-armed Mi-24Ps, cannon-armed Mi-24Vs and Mi-24VPs, and Mi-24PU-1s specially modernized by Ukraine. All of these models can (and usually do) mount B8V20 rocket pods on their stub wings, each carrying 20 S-8 rockets.

Mykolayiv, UKRAINE: A Ukrainian Air Force MI-24 helicopter launches missiles during strategic … [+] command-staff “Clean sky” exercises at the Shirokiy Lan range, near the southern city of Mykolayiv, 22 September, 2006. Ukraine’s pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said 19 September 2006 Ukrainians did not support NATO membership and, thus, he would not retract his call for a slowdown on joining the military alliance. AFP PHOTO/ GENIA SAVILOV (Photo credit should read GENIA SAVILOV/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Ukraine’s Mi-24 have been seen in action only occasionally since fighting began on February 24, notably strafing Russian paratroopers in the Battle of Antonov Airport near Kyiv in the first day of the war.

Just one Ukrainian Mi-24 and one Mi-8 have been confirmed destroyed as of March 31 by researchers, though actual losses may well be higher.

The apparent attack flies in the face of conventional military wisdom. True, low-flying aircraft using terrain to mask their approach can be difficult to detect. But proper combat air patrols by overflying fighters and A-50 airborne early warning aircraft could have offered a superior overhead angle using doppler radar to detect such an attack.

Furthermore, short range air defenses, including man-portable missiles and vehicle-mounted systems, pose considerable threats to helicopters, and indeed have accounted for most of Russian helicopter losses. And one would expect the Russian armies staging from Belgorod would have extensive short-range air defense interposed between that city and Ukrainian forces.

That said, such a failure of Russian air defenses would be of a piece with their underwhelming performance in the conflict so far.

The attack could impair the mobility of Russian forces in this sector ,which already are reeling from blows by Ukraine’s 92nd and 93rd mechanized brigades at Chuhuiv and Trostyanets.

It also comes at a time that Russian aerial bombing is increasingly targeting Ukrainian fuel depots in an effort to ground Kyiv’s remaining aircraft and reduce the operational mobility of Ukrainian ground forces which may seek to counterattack reinforce troops in Eastern Ukraine, where Moscow claims it plans to focus future military efforts.

TOPSHOT – A member of the Ukrainian special forces stands as a gas station burns after Russian … [+] attacks in the city of Kharkiv on March 30, 2022, during Russia’s invasion launched on Ukraine. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP) (Photo by FADEL SENNA/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

Despite many Russian sources confirming the attack took place, at the time of writing Ukraine’s military has yet to claim responsibility. This, combined with ample footage of the attack, has led some to speculate Moscow might have staged the attack against itself as a false flag operation to reinvigorate public support for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

A few days prior, an explosion in a Belgorod ammunition depot was initially speculated to be from a Ukrainian missile attack, but then was clarified to have been an accident.

The false flag theory for the helicopter attack seems problematic given the great extent of the damage, and the validity of a fuel depot as a target of military value.

Claims that the Belgorod attack marks the first attack by Ukraine on Russian soil are also inaccurate, as Ukraine had already acknowledged striking Millerovo airbase in Russia using Tochka ballistic missiles, destroying at least one Russian fighter.

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