A series of incidents that Moscow blames on kyiv — some with unclear details — have raised tensions in Russia in the past month. It is a concatenation of fires in military factories, to which has been added the increase in the anti-terrorist alert and the arrests of alleged Ukrainian saboteurs who are part of a gang called “Maniacs: cult of murder”, among other alleged enemy cells. . On some occasions, Ukraine is silent or evasive, and on others it accuses Russia of fabricating pretexts for its offensive.
The Kremlin has repeatedly threatened since mid-April 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 will carry out “a tough response” if the West encourages Ukraine to attack Russian territory. This Thursday the governor of Belgorod assured that several houses in a border town had been destroyed by an alleged bombing. There were no victims, as on previous occasions.
For his part, the adviser to the Ukrainian presidency Mijailo Podoliak ironically 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 accusing kyiv of all the fires that have occurred since April throughout the country, Podoliak only pointed to three neighboring regions as possible targets: Belgorod, Voronezh and Kursk.
Despite the proximity of May 9, the symbolic Victory Day in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, so far it has only been decided to raise the alert level in four regions bordering Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula that Russia annexed in 2014 , and the measure was not taken until well into April, more than a month and a half after the offensive began. Specifically, it is in force in the oblast (provinces) of Briansk, Kursk, Voronezh and Belgorod, located north of the fighting, and in the middle of the Black Sea peninsula. That is, where a military attack could reach.
As a curiosity, this measure does not affect Rostov, whose stretch of border borders the separatist territories of Donetsk and Lugansk, nor Krasnodar, which is separated from Ukraine by the Sea of Azov. In this last area it only increased temporarily between April 11 and 25.
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The yellow alert level implies, according to the National Antiterrorism Committee, that there is “confirmed information of a possible attack.” In this stadium, which is renewed every 15 days, “surveillance over citizens is reinforced” and the emergency and security services are prepared for any eventuality.
The first blow on Russian soil came on April 1, when the governor of Belgorod reported that two helicopters belonging to the Ukrainian forces had attacked a fuel depot located a few tens of kilometers from the border. The secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, responded intriguingly when asked about his authorship. “They say we did it. According to our information, that is not true. They must understand that this can happen throughout the territory of Russia.”
concatenation of fires
After that incident, other similar events occurred in areas near Ukraine. On April 27, two fuel depots in Bryansk and an ammunition depot in Belgorod exploded. In Voronezh and Kursk, regional authorities claimed to have detected Ukrainian drones.
Two more military installations have burned in recent weeks, although Russian authorities said they were accidents and were not located in the area mentioned by Podoliak.
On April 14, several explosions occurred in the town of Klimovo, 10 kilometers from the border. Moscow accused kyiv of bombing the area, and Volodymyr Zelensky’s government said it was a setup “to foment anti-Ukrainian hysteria.” Seven people, including a pregnant woman, were injured, the town’s central hospital reported to the Russian news agency Tass.
On April 21, another huge fire broke out at the headquarters of the Second Research Institute of the Ministry of Defense, located in Tver, a province near Moscow. According to the official version, more than two dozen people lost their lives due to an alleged power outage caused by obsolete wiring. The laboratory develops navigation systems for many weapons, such as the Iskander missile systems used in Ukraine.
Also, on May 1, a gunpowder factory in Perm burned down, causing three fatalities. Components for the Grad multiple rocket launchers are produced at the facility east of Moscow, weapons that are also used in Ukraine.
Subsequently, some Ukrainian media have also linked a series of industrial fires to the conflict, although neither the location coincides with Podoliak’s words, nor the activities of the companies and their location invite one to believe that version. Among the examples cited is that on April 21 an industrial solvent factory in Ivanovo was set on fire due to the reaction of an alleged chemical spill, according to the official version. Likewise, the fire at an antibiotic plant in Kurgan, in Central Asia, and another fire at one of the country’s thermal power plants, located on the island of Sakhalin, in the middle of the Pacific, were also mentioned. The incident was due to a turbine failure, according to local authorities.
With all these precedents, the sight on April 22 of a large column of smoke in the Moscow town of Korolyov, dedicated to the aerospace industry, set off all the alarms, although it ultimately turned out to be just a fire at a residential building site.
The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) usually announces the dismantling of terrorist cells every week. Usually they are alleged followers of the Islamic State, although in recent times it has also been common to read communications where Ukrainians are allegedly detained about to commit an attack.
One of the largest operations of this type since the conflict began was proclaimed to the four winds on March 30. Authorities said they had arrested 60 members of the MKU gang, “Maniacs: Cult of Murder” in Russian, across the country. The FSB defines it as “a youth and neo-Nazi group created by the Ukrainian special services to commit terrorist acts, massacres and extremist crimes in Russia”, and already last year it arrested dozens of alleged members in several waves, accusing them of have been coordinated with kyiv to promote street protests after the arrest of the opposition Alexei Navalni in January 2021.
However, in other arrests of his followers carried out before, this alleged link with kyiv had never been mentioned, neither by the authorities nor by the Russian press. MKU emerged in Ukraine in 2018 and quickly went viral across the border. Its members beat up immigrants and the homeless, and then upload 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. After its sudden appearance as an alleged terrorist group organized by Ukraine and Navalny, both the BBC and Nastoyásheye Vremia they investigated its members and only found one more neo-Nazi street gang.
Arrests of suspected Ukrainian saboteurs have also intensified as the conflict has progressed. Among others, the FSB reported on April 28 the arrest in Crimea of a former Ukrainian soldier “supporter of neo-Nazism” 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, on the 27th, the agency announced the capture in Belgorod of two Russian citizens “supporters of Ukrainian Nazism” because, according to the FSB, they sent information on the Russian deployment and infrastructure to the Mirotvorets website, a portal that in the past it has even published the addresses of Ukrainian politicians and journalists for their ideas.
The FSB said on April 25 that it had dismantled a cell of the National Socialism-White Power organization that was planning to attack two prominent Kremlin propaganda figures on instructions from the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). In the video released by the Russian authorities they carried both Ukrainian passports and swastikas despite being a secret mission. And on the 21st, the FSB claimed to have arrested several citizens of the Crimean Tatar minority, whom it accused of being “supporters of the Islamic State” and allegedly planning the sabotage of the railway tracks through which the Russian armed forces pass. On April 12, a Russian was arrested outside Moscow for allegedly being part of the Ukrainian far-right group Pravy Sektor. According to the FSB, he also had extremist symbols on him that incriminated him.
Accusations that Ukrainian troops are breaking into Russian territory have been made even before Vladimir Putin ordered his troops to advance on February 24. Three days earlier, the Defense Ministry said it had destroyed two BMP transport vehicles and killed five Ukrainian soldiers who had allegedly broken into its border. That day, Moscow also accused Ukraine of having bombed a border checkpoint that was empty in the middle of a forest. In no case were there Russian casualties.
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