The mystery continues to deepen regarding the helicopter attack on an oil depot in Belgorod, Russia, a few miles from the Ukrainian border. If you haven’t already read Allahpundit’s analysis from yesterday, go check that out first. It has plenty of videos and photos, mostly from local social media. The only thing everyone seems to be able to agree on is that there were definitely some helicopters in the area firing missiles of some sort and the oil depot went up in flames. But was it really an attack by Ukrainian pilots coming across the border? Was it a Russian false flag operation? Yesterday morning I was leaning toward it being a legitimate Ukrainian air force attack, but now Ukraine is denying it, saying that it had to have been the Russians themselves. (Cincinnati Live)
Ukraine has denied responsibility for an airstrike on a Russian oil depot that also serves as a logistics center for the invasion.
Russia released video Friday saying two Ukrainian helicopters started a massive fire in a city a few miles from the border.
Ukraine says it was a Russian “false flag” operation designed to sabotage peace talks that have resumed.
British intelligence says they believe the attack will likely put strain on Russia’s logistics chains, affecting forces surrounding the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv.
In the fog of war, verifiable information is one of the hardest things to obtain, even when you’re following supposedly official sources. For example, the Armed Forces Ukraine @ArmedForcesUkr (AFU) account tweeted a confirmation that they had conducted the attack at 7 am eastern yesterday, but by the end of the day, they had deleted the tweet.
We can read that in any of several ways. We don’t know who is running the AFU Twitter account and what sort of real-time info they are receiving. They may have seen reports of the attack and initially thought it was a great idea that would lift the spirits of their people so they jumped out to take credit for it, later reeling it back in. It’s possible that they knew about the attack in advance and decided to promote it as soon as their helicopters were safely out of the area, only to be later told by Zelenski’s people to knock it off. It’s equally possible that they had no idea it was happening and jumped the gun in taking credit, only to later either learn that it wasn’t done by their guys or, once again, they were told to pull the tweet for reasons known only to the upper command.
Let’s assume for the moment that those were Ukrainian pilots in Ukrainian choppers taking out the oil depot. Why would Zelinski want to deny such an impressive turn of the tide in this battle? I suppose he really wants to see the ongoing talks with Russia move forward and he’s worried that the attack would tick off Putin enough to sour the negotiations. But if so, why order the attack in the first place? That brings up the possibility that this was just some “rogue” unit that saw an opportunity to make a big, bold move and went for it without clearing it with the top brass.
Those scenarios still sound more likely to me than the false flag theory, even though intelligence sources have been warning us for weeks that a false flag op was on the way. As Allahpundit pointed out yesterday, the Belgorod oil depot isn’t the sort of target to generate a lot of outrage among the Russian people and more support for Putin’s war. After all, it’s totally fair play for a country to strike a strategic fuel supply inside the enemy’s borders after they’ve been invaded and shelled relentlessly for more than a month, and they didn’t hit a population center. Plus, they would have just wiped out a significant amount of their own fuel just as they were supposedly saddling up to head for the Donbas region to the east. And we know they’ve already experienced massive logistical issues in terms of keeping their vehicles gassed up. That means Putin would have achieved minimal propaganda value while further crippling his ground offensive. Sounds like precisely the opposite of what you would want out of a false flag operation.
It would be nice if someone had captured better images of the helicopters, but even that might not resolve the issue. After all, Ukraine still has a lot of Russian military hardware that they’ve been using for years, along with some new stuff they’ve towed away during the invasion. We know that there are satellites monitoring that region constantly, so our intelligence agencies probably already know if those choppers flew over the border from a Ukrainian unit or if they came from Russian-held territory. But if they’re keeping that information to themselves, it’s probably part of a broader Ukrainian/NATO strategy.
As I said above, we’re trying to peer through the fog of war and make sense of all this. And that’s never going to be an easy task.
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