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Mysterious fires at sensitive facilities heighten Russia’s war challenge
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Unexplained fires and explosions at strategic locations in Russia, including a sensitive defense research site and the country’s largest chemical plant, have raised suspicions of some sort of sabotage despite no evidence that most were not accidental.

Russian media, citing local officials, said on Wednesday that explosions were reported overnight in three regions near Ukraine’s eastern border, including Belgorod, where the Kremlin earlier this month blamed the Ukraine of carrying out a helicopter attack on a fuel depot.

These followed a fire on Monday at two oil storage depots in the Russian city of Bryansk, near the Ukrainian border, Russian media reported. The loss of the site could disrupt vital oil supplies to the northeastern front of the Ukrainian war, where Russian troops are trying to seize territory in the Donbass region.

Footage shared on social media of one of Monday’s explosions suggests it was caused by “an air or missile strike”, according to a Tweeter by Rob Lee, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The depots are less than 100 miles from Ukraine, within range of that country’s Tochka tactical ballistic missiles, Lee noted.

An adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky declined to say whether Ukraine was responsible and said the fires could have many different reasons, including what he called “karma”.

“If you [Russians] decided to attack another country en masse, kill everyone there en masse, run over civilians en masse with tanks and use warehouses in your areas to ensure the killings, so sooner or later debts will have to be repaid,” Mykhailo Podolyak said in a Telegram Post written in Russian. “And therefore, disarming the Belgorod-Voronezh warehouses from murderers is an absolutely natural and natural process. Karma is a cruel thing.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously said that Russia was investigating the cause of the fires.

If Ukraine is behind the attacks on Russian soil, this would represent a major escalation of the war. It would also be a significant embarrassment for Russia, highlighting how the country it invaded two months ago hoping for a quick victory managed to fight back deep inside its territory.

At least two other fires beyond Ukrainian missile range are not easily explained.

Last Thursday a blaze tore up the upper floors of the Defense Ministry’s Second Central Research Institute in the city of Tver, northwest of Moscow; at least 17 people died, according to Russian news agency Tass. More than two dozen people were injured, the news agency said, some of whom jumped for their lives from the upper floors of the building.

The institute is known as a highly sensitive research center for key missile systems, including Russia’s most advanced stealth programs as well as the widely used Iskander missile in Ukraine and the S-400 air defense system.

Tass said initial investigations suggested the fire was caused by an electrical fault, but a criminal investigation had been opened.

A few hours later, Russia’s largest chemical plant fire, also for unknown reasons. The Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant, located about 208 miles northeast of Moscow at Kineshma, was a major supplier of propellants critical to the production of the precision-guided missiles Russia needs for war.

A third Fire then gobbled up a sensitive facility at the College of Aerospace Engineering and Technology in the Moscow suburb of Korolyov, which is renowned for housing the space programs of the Soviet Union and Russia.

That so many fires broke out in key locations in such a short time is “pretty suspicious,” said Dmitri Alperovitch, president of the Silverado Policy Accelerator think tank in Washington. However, he added, it’s “really impossible to say at this stage”.

There are other explanations besides sabotage, Alperovitch said. Accidental fires are not uncommon in Russia, which has a reputation for being poorly maintained, and Western sanctions are making it harder to get spare parts for vital machinery.

Arestovitch doubts Ukraine was involved in the fires at defence-related facilities and has suggested Russian officials are setting fires to cover up evidence of corruption.

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