WASHINGTON: A deadly fire at an aerospace research institute in Tver, northwest of Moscow. Another blaze at a munitions factory in Perm, more than 1,100 kilometers (680 miles) to the east. And fires in two separate oil depots in Bryansk, near Belarus.
Coincidences, or a sign that Ukrainians or their supporters are mounting a campaign of sabotage inside Russia to punish Moscow for invading their country?
Since the blaze at the Central Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Forces in Tver on April 21, which killed at least 17 people, social media has leapt on every report of a fire somewhere in Russia — especially at a sensitive location — as a sign that the country is under covert attack.
No one is claiming responsibility, but analysts say at least some of the incidents, particularly those in Bryansk, point to a possible effort by Kyiv to bring the war to their invaders.
In a post on Telegram, Mykhaylo Podolyak, a senior advisor to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, called the fires “divine intervention.”
“Large fuel depots periodically burn… for different reasons,” he wrote. “Karma is a cruel thing.”
‘We don’t deny’
In a massive country such as Russia, a fire at a remote factory or building would normally not be particularly eyebrow-raising.
But since Russian forces invaded Ukraine on February 24, more than a dozen blazes noted by people who document the war have drawn huge attention on social media, amid fears there is a concerted campaign of arsonous terror by the Ukrainians.
Even fires late last month in Russia’s far east — at an airbase north of Vladivostok and at a coal plant on Sakhalin — raised suspicions.
And on Wednesday, a massive conflagration struck a chemicals plant in Dzerzhinsk, east of Moscow.
“Russian saboteurs against Putin continue their heroic work,” said Igor Sushko, a Ukrainian racecar driver who regularly posts photos and videos on Twitter of alleged acts of sabotage inside Russia — but offers no proof they were deliberate.
Another Zelensky advisor, Oleksei Arestovych, was equally opaque to The New York Times, noting that Israel never admits its covert attacks and assassinations.
“We don’t confirm, and we don’t deny,” he said.