Why neither Russia nor Ukraine wants to discuss the mystery explosions at strategic Russian facilities

Explosion in Belgorod, Russia

Explosion in Belgorod, Russia Stringer / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Russian media reported explosions Wednesday at an ammunition depot near Belgorod and two other storage facilities near Ukraine’s eastern border, in the latest instances of “unexplained fires and explosions at strategic locations in Russia, including storage depots, a sensitive defense research site, and the country’s largest chemical plant, ” The Washington Post reports.

“All of the hit sites are likely involved in supplying fuel and ammunition to the troops engaged in Donbas and the damage may hinder Russia’s efforts to sustain its offensive there,” the Mail reports, raising “suspicions that at least some may have been caused by sabotage or Ukrainian attacks.”

Local Russian officials blamed an April 1 explosion at fuel depots in Belgorod on Ukrainian attack helicopters, but as the incidents multiplied, it became “a subject which officials in Moscow prefer to avoid,” BBC Monitoring’s Vitaliy Shevchenko writes. “Ukrainian attacks on Russian territory would be an embarrassment to the Kremlin, which had been hoping to have control of Ukraine within days of invading it in February.”

For their part, “Ukrainian officials have hinted at some involvement in the incidents without expressly acknowledging them,” The Wall Street Journal reports.

“Karma is a cruel thing,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, wrote in Russian on Wednesday. Oleksiy Arestovych, a military adviser to Zelensky, suggested “you need to look for reasons inside Russia – for example, hiding the means by which money has been stolen from the Russian defense ministry.”

“It is clear why Ukraine would be reluctant to admit any cross-border attacks,” writes the BBC’s Shevchenko: “They would amount to a major escalation in an already bitter conflict.”

And there are plausible explanations other than sabotage or airstrikes. Thanks largely to negligence, Russia already “suffers from self-inflicted injuries in peacetime,” Russian security expert Keir Giles at London’s Chatham House tells the Journal. “When put under additional strain of an offensive war, it is no surprise that the rate of natural accidents should increase.”

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