A pair of Ukraine’s Mi-24 “Hind” helicopters have reportedly made a daring raid more than 20 miles into Russia, destroying an oil depot in the southern city of Belgorod on Friday, according to Russian officials and open source reports.
The governor of Russia’s Belgorod region, Vyacheslav Gladkov, accused Ukraine of carrying out the attack in a Telegram post, Reuters reported. He said that the two helicopters entered Russia flying at low altitude, presumably to evade air defenses.
Other senior Russian officials, including Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, have acknowledged the strike and argued that it will negatively impact ongoing peace negotiations between the two countries.
Although Ukraine’s top diplomat, Dmytro Kuleva, told reporters in Poland that he can neither confirm nor deny the attack, videos posted to social media appear to show two Mi-24 helicopters launching rockets at the depot and then flying back in the direction of Ukraine at low altitude. A spokesperson for Ukraine’s defense ministry also said he could neither confirm nor deny the attack.
It’s not clear what impact the destruction of the oil depot will have on the Russian war effort. NATO officials have previously indicated that the Kremlin’s forces have had trouble maintaining a steady supply of fuel for vehicles on the front lines, and reported drone strikes have previously targeted fuel trains and other logistics assets.
The strike also serves as further evidence that the war for control of Ukraine’s — and now Russia’s — skies remains more contested than analysts thought possible before the war.
Samuel Bendett, a Russian drone warfare expert with the CNA think tank, previously told Military Times that one of the most “inexplicable” parts of Russia’s war against Ukraine has been the Kremlin’s failure to successfully integrate layered air defense into its combat formations. Russian doctrine calls for battalion tactical groups to include significant air defense capabilities.
“[In Ukraine], Russia doesn’t seem to display the very tactics, techniques and procedures that it’s practiced for years and sought to perfect in Syria...[to provide] adequate cover to its ground forces,” he said.
Davis Winkie is a senior reporter covering the Army, specializing in accountability reporting, personnel issues and military justice. He joined Military Times in 2020. Davis studied history at Vanderbilt University and UNC-Chapel Hill, writing a master's thesis about how the Cold War-era Defense Department influenced Hollywood's WWII movies.