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Fires at military factories raises tension in Russia

A series of incidents that Moscow is blaming on the Ukrainian government have raised tensions in Russia in the past month. First there was a string of fires at military factories, followed by the arrests of alleged Ukrainian saboteurs said to be part of a gang that calls itself “Maniacs: cult of murder,” among other alleged enemy cells. Kyiv has alternatively responded with silence, ambiguous answers and accusations that Russia is fabricating pretexts for its offensive.

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The Kremlin has repeatedly threatened 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 deliver “a tough response” if the West encourages Ukraine to attack Russian territory. On Thursday, the governor of Belgorod asserted that several houses in a border town had been destroyed by an alleged strike. There were no victims, as on previous occasions.

Mikhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, said 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, Podolyak only pointed to three neighboring regions as possible targets: Belgorod, Voronezh and Kursk.

Despite the proximity of May 9, when Russia will observe “Victory Day,” which commemorates the country’s defeat of the Nazis in 1945, so far the alert level has only been raised in four regions bordering Ukraine and in 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 oblasts (provinces) of Briansk, Kursk, Voronezh and Belgorod, located north of the fighting, and in the middle of the Black Sea peninsula. That is, places where a Ukrainian military attack could reach. The measure does not affect Rostov, which borders the separatist territories of Donetsk and Luhansk, nor Krasnodar, which is separated from Ukraine by the Sea of Azov.

The first strike on Russian soil came on April 1, when the governor of Belgorod reported that two helicopters belonging to the Ukrainian air forces had attacked a fuel depot located a few kilometers from the border. The secretary of the Ukrainian Security Council, Oleksiy Danilov, responded ambiguously when asked about the authorship of the attack. “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.”

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