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Flames lit up the sky over Russia in the early hours after suspected Ukrainian missile strikes blew up two oil storage facilities supplying Putin’s troops fighting for control of Donbas.
The Transneft-Druzhba Oil Depot, located in the city of Bryansk around 70 miles from the Ukrainian border, caught fire at 2am local time before a second fire broke out at a nearby military facility around 15 minutes later, Russian state media said this morning.
Video of the moment one of the fires broke out appeared to capture the sound of an incoming missile before a large explosion and fireball. Bryansk is a logistical hub for Russian forces battling Ukraine in Donbas, while the Druzhba pipeline is one of the main routes for Russian oil to reach Europe.
The blasts came as British intelligence said Russia had ‘yet to achieve a significant breakthrough’ of defensive lines in Donbas despite Ukraine imposing a ‘significant cost’ on Putin’s forces. Britain’s Ministry of Defence said poor logistical and combat support were hampering Russia’s advances, as they did in the failed effort to take Kyiv.
Ukrainian defenders holed up in the Azovstal steel works in the southern city of Mariupol – which is still under siege – were also pinning down ‘many Russian units’ and preventing them from redeploying to the Donbas front, while also exhausting Putin’s troops and reducing their combat effectiveness, the MoD added.
Russia’s war on Ukraine – which was intended to take just days and end with the toppling of its pro-Western government – is now into its third month, with Kyiv claiming to have killed almost 22,000 Russian soldiers while destroying military equipment worth hundreds of millions of dollars in the process.
In that time, Putin’s army has suffered a number of embarrassing losses – most notably the Moskva missile cruiser, which is thought to have been destroyed by Ukrainian missiles. The seeming inability to prevent Ukraine from striking targets inside Russia with missiles is also likely causing red faces inside the Kremlin.
Flames light up the night sky over Bryansk, a Russian city some 70 miles from the Ukraine border, after suspected Ukrainian missile strikes hit oil storage facilities there overnight
Russian state media confirmed one of the fires took place at a storage facility run by the company which supplies oil to Europe, while another took place at a military facility with oil storage tanks
Kyiv has not commented on the explosions, but they come after a series of blasts in Russia credited to Ukraine’s armed forces. Bryansk is a logistical hub supplying Moscow’s forces fighting in Donbas
Two columns of thick black smoke rise into the morning air over the Russian city of Bryansk, around 70 miles from the Ukraine border, after two oil storage facilities caught fire
Fire crews were still battling the blazes on Monday morning, as Moscow denied there had been any casualties or civilian evacuations as a result
Railway lines, oil facilities and military bases in Belgorod – another logistical hub in Russia but close to the Ukrainian border – have been targeted several times in recent weeks, including by low-flying helicopters. Klimovo, a village with a nearby military base in the wider Bryansk region, was also struck.
Rob Lee, a respected military analyst, said Monday’s strike on the city of Bryansk itself could have been carried out using Tochka-U ballistic missiles fired from within Ukraine which would be capable of ranging both the oil facility and nearby military base.
Russian emergency services claimed that no casualties had been caused in the explosions and that no evacuations were necessary because the fires posed no threat to nearby residential buildings.
Images from the early-morning hours in Bryansk showed the fires were still burning as the sun came up. Some 158 firefighters and 51 vehicles were still working to extinguish the blaze around 10am local time.
The Kremlin said an investigation will be launched into what caused the blaze, though it is unlikely to point the finger at Ukraine as doing so would confirm Kyiv’s ability to successfully attack military sites within Russia.
As the fires raged in Russia, the US was pledging more military support to Ukraine to ensure ‘it can win this fight’ after Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin led the highest-profile American delegation to visit President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv since the war broke out.
Blinken and Austin said the United States had approved a $165 million sale of ammunition for Ukraine’s war effort, along with more than $300 million in foreign military financing.
‘The strategy that we’ve put in place – massive support for Ukraine, massive pressure against Russia, solidarity with more than 30 countries engaged in these efforts – is having real results,’ Blinken told reporters in Poland the day after meeting with Zelenskyy and other Ukrainian officials.
‘When it comes to Russia’s war aims, Russia is failing. Ukraine is succeeding. Russia has sought as its principal aim to totally subjugate Ukraine, to take away its sovereignty, to take away its independence. That has failed.’
For his part, Zelenskyy in the meeting said he was ‘very thankful’ for the American aid and particularly praised President Joe Biden for his ‘personal support.’
‘The priorities are weapons and support from the United States of America and our partners, European leaders, in terms of our army’s strength and support in certain areas,’ the Ukrainian president said. ‘The second issue is the sanctions policy against the Russian Federation because of the full-scale invasion and all the terror they have committed in Ukraine.’
The three-hour meeting came Sunday, the 60th day since the start of the invasion, as Ukraine pressed the West for more powerful weapons against Russia’s campaign in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces sought to dislodge the last Ukrainian troops in the battered port city of Mariupol.
Anton Gerashchenko, adviser to the head of Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs, was cited by the Ukrainian news agency Unian as saying that people who live near the burning oil depot were being evacuated
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry initially posted details of a fire in the areas of the military facility on Moskovsky Avenue, then withdrew it
Bryansk region borders Ukraine and the city is some 240 miles from Moscow. Residents were being evacuated from homes in the vicinity of the burning oil depot
Smoke rises over the Russian city of Bryansk, around 70 miles from the Ukraine border, after two oil storage facilities were hit by explosions around 2am local time
Russia has not commented on the cause of the fires other than to say they are being investigated. Ukraine has also not confirmed it was involved in the blasts
Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is now well into its third month, with thousands having died and even more being displaced
Austin said Ukraine’s military needs are changing, and Zelenskyy is now focused on more tanks, artillery and other munitions.
‘The nature of the fight has evolved, because the terrain they’re now focused on is a different type of terrain, so they need long-range fires,’ Austin said.
Asked about what the U.S. sees as success, Austin said that ‘we want to see Ukraine remain a sovereign country, a democratic country able to protect its sovereign territory, we want to see Russia weakened to the point where it can’t do things like invade Ukraine.’
On the diplomatic front, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was scheduled to travel to Turkey on Monday and then Moscow and Kyiv. Zelenskyy said it was a mistake for Guterres to visit Russia before Ukraine.
‘Why? To hand over signals from Russia? What should we look for?’ Zelenskyy said Saturday. ‘There are no corpses scattered on the Kutuzovsky Prospect,’ he said, referring to one of Moscow’s main avenues.
Blinken said he had spoken with Guterres on Friday ahead of the trip.
‘Our expectation is that he’s going to carry a very strong and clear message to Vladimir Putin, which is the need to end this war now,’ he said.
In a boost in support for Ukraine, French President Emmanuel Macron comfortably won a second term Sunday over far-right challenger Marine Le Pen, who had pledged to dilute France’s ties with the European Union and NATO. Le Pen had also spoken out against EU sanctions on Russian energy and had faced scrutiny during the campaign over her previous friendliness with the Kremlin.
Macron’s victory was hailed by France’s allies in the EU as a reassuring sign of stability and continued support for Ukraine. France has played a leading role in international efforts to punish Russia with sanctions and is supplying weapons systems to Ukraine.
‘We have a lot to do and the war in Ukraine reminds us that we are going through tragic times where France must make its voice heard,’ Macron told a cheering crowd in his victory speech.
Since failing to capture Kyiv, the Russians have aimed to gain full control over the Donbas, the eastern industrial heartland, where Moscow-backed separatists controlled some territory before the war.
For the Donbas offensive, Russia has reassembled troops who fought around Kyiv and in northern Ukraine. The British Ministry of Defense said Ukrainian forces had repelled numerous assaults in the past week and ‘inflicted significant cost on Russian forces.’
In the south of the Donbas, in the strategic port city of Mariupol, a small pocket of Ukrainian troops continues to hold out against Russian forces in the Azovstal steel factory, a sprawling facility on the waterfront.
Mariupol has endured fierce fighting since the start of the war because of its location on the Sea of Azov. Its capture would deprive Ukraine of a vital port, free up Russian troops to fight elsewhere, and allow Moscow to establish a land corridor to the Crimean Peninsula, which it seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Over the weekend, Russian forces launched fresh airstrikes on the steel plant in an attempt to dislodge the estimated 2,000 fighters inside. An estimated 1,000 civilians are also sheltering in the factory.
New satellite images by Planet Labs PBC, taken Sunday, show destroyed buildings across the steelworks and smoke rising from one area. Roofs have gaping holes; a soccer field is cratered from incoming fire.
More than 100,000 people – down from a prewar population of about 430,000 – are believed to remain in Mariupol with scant food, water or heat. Ukrainian authorities estimate more than 20,000 civilians have been killed. Recent satellite images showed what appeared to be mass graves to the west and east of Mariupol.
Ukraine war timeline: Putin’s invasion enters its third month
Russia heads into the third month of its invasion of Ukraine on Sunday with no end in sight to fighting that has killed thousands, uprooted millions and reduced cities to rubble.
In the face of mounting sanctions and fierce Ukrainian resistance bolstered by Western arms, Russia has kept up its long-distance bombardment and opened up a new offensive in the east.
Some key events so far:
February 24: Russia invades Ukraine from three fronts in the biggest assault on a European state since World War Two. Tens of thousands flee.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says he is launching a ‘special military operation’ to demilitarise and ‘denazify’ Ukraine. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy tweets: ‘Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself.’
February 25: Ukrainian forces battle Russian invaders in the north, east and south. Artillery pounds Kyiv and its suburbs and authorities tell residents to prepare Molotov cocktails to defend the capital.
February 26: A U.S. defence official says Ukraine’s forces are putting up ‘determined resistance’.
February 28: The first talks between the two sides make no breakthrough.
March 1: Russia hits a TV tower in Kyiv and intensifies bombardment of Kharkiv in the northeast and other cities, in what is seen as a shift in tactics as Moscow’s hopes of a quick charge on the capital fade.
A U.S. official says a miles-long Russian armoured column bearing down on Kyiv has not made any advances in the past 24 hours, bogged down by logistical problems.
March 2: Russian forces bombard the southern port of Mariupol for 14 hours and stop civilians leaving, its mayor says – the start of Moscow’s blockade of the city. Russia denies targeting civilians.
Russian troops reach the centre of the Black Sea port of Kherson and claim their first capture of a large urban centre.
March 3: Russia and Ukraine agree to set up humanitarian corridors for fleeing civilians. A cargo ship sinks near a Ukrainian port hours after another is hit by a blast at another port.
A million people have fled Ukraine, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) says.
March 4: Russian forces seize Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, Europe’s biggest. NATO rejects Ukraine’s appeal for no-fly zones, saying it would escalate the conflict.
March 6: ‘Rivers of blood and tears are flowing in Ukraine,’ Pope Francis tells crowds in St. Peter’s Square. ‘This is not just a military operation, but a war, which sows death, destruction, and misery.’
March 8: Civilians flee the besieged city of Sumy in the first successful humanitarian corridor. Two million have now fled Ukraine, the UNHCR says.
March 9: Ukraine accuses Russia of bombing a maternity hospital in Mariupol, burying people in rubble. Russia later says the hospital was no longer functioning and had been occupied by Ukrainian fighters.
March 13: Russia extends its war deep into western Ukraine, firing missiles at a base in Yavoriv close to the border with NATO member Poland. The attack kills 35 people and wounds 134, a local official says.
March 14: Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova bursts into a state TV studio during a live news bulletin, with a banner reading: ‘NO WAR. Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you here.’
March 16: Ukraine accuses Russia of bombing a theatre in Mariupol where hundreds of civilians are sheltering. Moscow denies it.
March 25: Moscow signals it is scaling back its ambitions and will focus on territory claimed by Russian-backed separatists in the east, as Ukrainian forces go on the offensive to recapture towns outside Kyiv.
March 29: Ukraine proposes adopting a neutral status during talks in Istanbul.
March 30: More than 4 million people have fled Ukraine, the UNHCR says.
April 1: Ukraine recaptures more territory around Kyiv from Russian soldiers who leave shattered villages and abandoned tanks as they move away from the capital.
April 3/4: Ukraine accuses Russia of war crimes after a mass grave and bodies of people shot at close range are found in the recaptured town of Bucha. The Kremlin denies responsibility and says images of bodies were staged.
April 8: Ukraine and its allies blame Russia for a missile attack on a train station in Kramatorsk that killed at least 52 people trying to flee the looming eastern offensive. Russia denies responsibility.
April 14: Russia’s lead warship in the Black Sea, the Moskva, sinks after an explosion and fire that Ukraine says was caused by a missile strike. Russia says the ship sank after an ammunition explosion. Washington believes the warship was hit by two Ukrainian missiles.
April 18: Russia launches its assault on east Ukraine, unleashing thousands of troops in what Ukraine described as the Battle of the Donbas, a campaign to seize two provinces and salvage a battlefield victory.
April 20: More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine, the UNHCR says.
April 21: Putin declares the southeastern port of Mariupol ‘liberated’ after nearly two months of siege, despite leaving hundreds of defenders holding out inside a giant steel works.
April 22: A Russian general says Moscow wants to take full control of southern and eastern Ukraine.