Russia/Ukraine INTSUM 01APR22–1; 1730 Easter/2330 Kyiv
1.) Numerous Russian media outlets reported a helicopter strike on an oil storage facility in Belgorod, Russia, with eight large oil tanks on fire as a result. Russian news states that each tank holds 2,000 cubic meters, and there’s considerable risk that the fire will spread to another area of the tank farm. One video showed what looked to be helicopters firing unguided rockets. A subsequent video shows a massive fire raging. Yet another showed two Mi-24 Hind attack helicopters flying, supposedly departing Belgorod. Vyacheslav Gladkov, regional governor, stated, “The fire at the oil depot in Belgorod started as a result of an air strike by two helicopters of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which entered Russia at a low altitude.”
1.a.) Interestingly, the Ukrainian General Staff says that it “does not have this information.” Ukrainian sources have outright denied it. Its Defense Ministry said that it cannot be held responsible “for every catastrophe on Russia’s territory.” In other words, the General Staff claims it is unaware of any Ukrainian attack on an oil tank farm in Belgorod. Equally interesting, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says without a shred of irony, “This is not something that can be perceived as creating comfortable conditions for the continuation of negotiations.”
Analyst’s Comment: I am highly skeptical of Russian claims regarding this. There’s video of this action from almost every conceivable angle. That alone seems suspect. There’s video that shows the Mi-24s making runs over the facility, firing rockets, and clearly showing large explosions. There’s security camera footage showing those explosions up close. There’s video from what are supposedly bystanders filming the event. No one seems to have been injured and no deaths have been reported. Recently in this space, we talked about Russia’s playbook and how Russians seem to say they’re open to negotiations and then miraculously find some excuse to not agree on anything of substance. We’ve discussed on numerous occasions Russian efforts to create “false flag” events upon which they can blame other in order to justify their own escalations of hostilities. At this point, I assess that this is what the “attack” is. Russia, too, operates Mi-24 Hind gunships, and uses the same rockets allegedly used, shown in still images. But, if true, it would mark the first airstrike using aircraft (rather than missiles or UAVs) on Russian territory since WWII, if I recall correctly.
This isn’t to say that a Ukrainian strike on Russian fuel storage wouldn’t be, to some degree, justified. While Ukraine insists that it is engaging only in defensive military operations — that being striking Russians in Ukraine or Russian aircraft facilities — it would be difficult to be upset over offensive operations against targets in Russia if the opportunity arose. It certainly isn’t as if Russian forces have showed restraint and have avoided targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine. Two days ago, Russian strikes specifically targeted numerous food storage warehouses in Brovary, reportedly destroying 50,000 tons of food. Over the past several days, Russia has targeted oil depots in Lviv, Lutsk, Khmelnitsky regions, as well as Dnipropetrovsk region. These attacks came shortly after Russia announced that it was “scaling back” operations in the north. As an aside, cars in Belgorod were lined up at local gas stations, and Russians across the country reportedly engaged in panic buying of fuel. A short time ago, Russian authorities in some western regions have instituted rationing fuel until further notice.
I concede, however, that it’s possible Ukraine did conduct this strike and has denied it because denying it is useful. It’s even possible that some enterprising Mi-24 unit decided on its own to go blow up a fixed oil storage facility. This would be rather embarrassing for Russia; two helicopters just flying into their airspace and destroying a fuel depot and, evidently, weren’t even engaged by air defense. On top of that, Russia has recently claimed that it has destroyed almost all of Ukraine’s air power. This would prove otherwise. A Ukrainian denial might keep Russians guessing. It just seems more useful to Russia, in terms of hearts and minds to blame Ukraine. If Ukraine did, in fact, conduct this operation, then it simply reinforces how agile their military can be. But as we know in the US, nothing makes people more upset than not knowing if they’ll be able to fill up their cars. [End Comment]
2.) Airstrikes against Kyiv and Kharkiv have increased over the past few days. Despite some sources claiming that Russia has all-but abandoned the Kyiv Oblast, I expect that these strikes will continue in the short term. I am also not convinced that Russian forces have left the Kyiv Oblast, and areas they have left are probably mined and trapped. There are reports that Russian artillery are striking areas as soon as Ukrainian forces move in. I’m just not yet convinced that Russia has outright abandoned Kyiv as a juicy target. A few hours ago, a US official stated that a church in Kyiv is being used by Russia as a “staging point as part of its assault on Kyiv,” though the official cited no evidence for this.
3.) Though perhaps an example of an availability bias, a number of recent videos have shown what looks to be an evolution of Ukrainian tactics in assaulting supply convoys. There appears to be more IED activity rather than just ambushes with anti-tank weapons. It may well be that Ukrainians have made widespread use of IED tactics from the early stages of the war, and if so, there’s simply more evidence of them now. If it is an evolution, it is an interesting one. If you at all followed the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, you’re aware of the effectiveness of IED attacks. IEDs are painfully easy to make. In general, they present lower risk for the attacker, but they also require good surveillance and intelligence on possible routes. A great deal has been written about IEDs in the last two decades, so there’s little point in spilling more ink on the subject here. Suffice it to say, however, that if Russian forces plan on sticking around Ukraine or in places they occupy, they better get used to terms like “explosively formed penetrator.”
4.) UK Secretary of Defence Ben Wallace has stated that Ukraine will be supplied with long-range artillery, counter-battery capability, and armored vehicles, but what those systems are is currently unknown. This is undoubtedly an escalation of support. Up until now, NATO nations have been resistant to providing such offensive capabilities, having largely limited the support to anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles.
4.a.) Germany announced that it will send 56 PbV-501 infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine. These are formerly East German systems essentially based on the BMP-1. The transfer is, however, as convoluted as you’d expect. In the 1990s, Germany gave these vehicles to Sweden, which then sold them to a company in the Czech Republic. Now said company has to apply for approval from Germany to sell them to Ukraine.
4.b.) The US is transferring a large stockpile of chemical/biological protection kits to the Ukrainian military in the coming days. US sources remain worried about a potential chemical, biological, radiological, or nuclear (CBRN) attack, possibly conducted as a false flag operation by Russia. There’s open-source speculation concerning the movement of Russian forces away from Kyiv as a possible prelude to such.
5.) President Zelenskyy has reportedly fired two senior members of his government, saying, “I do not have time to deal with all the traitors but they will gradually all be punished.” Fired were Andriy Naumov, the former head of the Security Service of Ukraine’s (SBU) Main Department of Internal Security, and Serhiy Kryvoruchko, former head of the SBU’s office in Kherson. Zelenskyy did not elaborate on his reasoning for firing these two officials, but his speech did cite Article 48 of the Disciplinary Statute of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and that those “who violate the military oath of allegiance to the Ukrainian people as regards the protection of our state, its freedom and independence, will inevitably be deprived of senior military ranks.”
6.) According to a senior US defense official, Russian forces have abandoned the airport in Hostomel. Subsequent photographic evidence from Ukrainian forces appear to confirm this. I am still of the opinion that the battle in Hostomel in the early stages of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, when Russian forces tried to rapidly seize the airfield (which is very close to Kyiv), will be remembered as a pivotal moment that likely assured that Russia would be unable to take the capital city.
7.) Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki claims that Russia aims to seize 1/3 of Ukraine before beginning negotiations from a “very strong position.”
7.a.) Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated that Russia cannot be a constructive partner in the G20. This, of course, comes after President Biden made similar statements. If enough G20 support for such a thing can be had, I have little doubt that Russia will be booted from the group.
7.b.) Finnish President Sauli Niinistro has stated that a referendum concerning joining NATO is no longer necessary, as there’s sufficient evidence that most Finns want to join the alliance.
7.c.) The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs will now consider the Kuril Islands a part of Japan that is currently occupied by Russia.
8.) The sabotage of Belarusian railways seems to continue. As of today, at least ten examples have reportedly been observed. These attacks are not concentrated in one area but are spread throughout Belarus.
9.) There have been numerous media reports, coming from Ukrainian sources, stating that seven buses worth of Russian troops suffering from acute radiation sickness, a result of digging defensive trenches in the Chernobyl exclusion zone were transported to Belarus. As of yesterday, the IAEA was not able to confirm these reports.
10.) Since ten is a nice number, a Russian Mi-28 Havoc, an all-weather, day-night attack helicopter, was reportedly downed by Ukrainian MANPADS fire.
More to follow as news develops. Thanks for reading.