There are unconfirmed reports that Ukraine recently took the fight to Russia and attacked a civilian fuel depot with helicopters in the southern Russian city of Belgorod which is located not far from the shared border between the two warring nations, sparking furious recriminations from Russian officials and threats to upend the tenuous negotiations for a ceasefire agreement.
A CNN analyst described the development as being President Joe Biden’s “worst nightmare” in that it had the potential to prompt Russian President Vladimir Putin to make good on prior threats to dramatically escalate the deadly conflict.
Russian fuel depot attacked by helicopters
CNN reported Friday on the unconfirmed accounts of Ukrainian attack helicopters crossing the border into Russia and launching strikes against a massive fuel depot located on the outskirts of Belgorod, setting part of the facility ablaze with a fire that threatened to engulf numerous large storage tanks.
In addition to videos of the inferno in the aftermath, there also appear to be several videos circulating on social media of the helicopter attack as it occurred, lending credence to the assertion that Ukraine was responsible, likely as retaliation for multiple attacks by Russian forces on Ukrainian fuel depots throughout the conflict.
According to Russian state media, at least two workers were injured by the fire after the attack but nobody was reported as killed and while residents in the surrounding area were evacuated as a precaution, it is not believed that the blazing fuel depot presents a major threat to the city.
A top spokesman for the Kremlin in Moscow, Dmitry Peskov, said that Putin has been kept up to date on the alleged Ukrainian attack on the Russian fuel depot and warned that the incident could prove detrimental to the ongoing ceasefire negotiations.
Biden’s “worst nightmare”
Friday on “New Day,” CNN global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier said the incident was “one of the Biden administration’s worst nightmares.”
Given the reported success Ukrainian forces have had countering the Russian invasion, Dozier said, “The worry is that will prompt Russia to do something violent, ala — Russia has said if it feels like it is threatened in the extreme, that is when it will use tactical nuclear weapons and things like that.”
She added that “the Biden administration wants the Ukrainians to be able to take back territory but not go too far.”
Ukraine denies responsibility, Biden WH declines to comment
For what it is worth, RadioFreeEurope reported that Ukrainian officials have denied the Russian accusations of responsibility for the attack and resultant inferno at the Belgorod fuel depot. However, in a bit of mixed messaging, Ukrainian officials — including President Volodymyr Zelensky — have declined to either confirm or deny the underlying accusation that Ukraine has launched cross-border attacks into Russian territory.
“Ukraine is currently conducting a defensive operation against Russian aggression on the territory of Ukraine, and this does not mean that Ukraine is responsible for every catastrophe on Russia’s territory,” Defense Ministry spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said, according to RFE. “I will not confirm or deny these allegations.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki was twice asked about the alleged Ukrainian attack on the Russian fuel depot during Friday’s briefing, but she declined to comment on specifics or hypotheticals and instead simply blamed Putin and Russia for being the initial aggressor that started the ongoing conflict.