An explosion at a factory northeast of Moscow today left a huge mushroom-cloud-like column of smoke over the facility, which primarily produces electro-optical equipment. The blast reportedly left at least 45 people injured, according to local authorities, but there are so far no reports of fatalities.
Reports coming out of Russia claim that the incident is not related to the latest drone strike against Moscow today and also suggest that the explosion came from an adjacent warehouse used by an explosives manufacturer. But there is meanwhile no doubt that Ukraine is escalating its campaign against targets within Russia itself, using both drones and other means of hitting back.
Multiple videos and photos posted to social media showed the aftermath of the blast, in the town of Sergiev Posad, around 30 miles northeast of Moscow, with not only the enormous pall of smoke but also at least one building appearing to be completely demolished, other high-rise buildings with their windows blown out, and piles of debris in the streets.
The epicenter of the explosion appears to have been very close to the Zagorsk Optical-Mechanical Plant, or ZOMZ. While this manufactures optical equipment for industrial and healthcare applications, it’s also known to provide electro-optical items for the Russian military.
According to Piotr Butowski, a regular contributor to The War Zone and an expert on Russian military aviation, among the products that ZOMZ manufactures are laser warning receivers for combat helicopters, optical collimators for head-up displays on combat helicopters, as well as elements of the self-defense suites for Tu-160M bombers and other aircraft.
The office of the mayor of Sergiev Posad said that 23 people were hospitalized after the blast, with six of them in intensive care. Subsequently, Reuters reported that at least 45 people had been injured, with the possibility that more victims were left trapped under the rubble.
Quoting local emergency services, the Russian state news agency TASS said that today’s explosion apparently occurred in a warehouse containing “pyrotechnic equipment.” The online news channel Mash further claimed that the warehouse in question had been rented by a pyrotechnics firm, named Piro-Ross. It’s not clear whether the location of that storage so close to the ZOMZ plant was coincidental, or if there is some kind of relationship between the two entities.
Baza, a Russian media channel with close ties to law enforcement, reported that the owner of the Piro-Ross company, which also produces fireworks, was being interrogated by officials.
At least one video shows what appear to be artillery shells apparently strewn around the vicinity of the area where the blast happened, suggesting that the pyrotechnics in question may also have included stored ammunition.
On the other hand, accidental blasts involving explosives intended for non-military use are a serious concern in any context. An accidental fireworks explosion is certainly one explanation for the blast and this, in turn, could have triggered the detonation of other explosive products.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian political adviser Anton Gerashchenko, presented his own theory as to the cause of the blast.
“Russian media report that the general director of Piro-Ross plant, Sergei Chankaev (where the explosion allegedly happened), has been detained and is being brought for interrogation,” Gerashchenko said in a post on Twitter. “Reportedly, [the] director of the company hired illegal migrants for his enterprise. The owner of the pyro-firm allegedly claims that the explosion occurred in a neighboring workshop, not in the warehouse where he stored his pyrotechnics. Does this mean that a Russian strategic military plant was renting out its premises for commerce and illegals were working there? I’m not surprised.”
Whatever the cause of the blast, either the ZOMZ facility or an ammunition storage depot (or both) would be a military target of interest for Ukrainian or pro-Ukrainian groups. Ammunition depots, in particular, have been targets of attacks multiple times before, within Russia, as well as in Russian-occupied Crimea.
Local emergency services appear to have ruled out the possibility of a drone strike, specifically, but they haven’t ruled out more general sabotage. Meanwhile, drones continue to hit targets deep within Russia, as part of an escalating campaign that has also struck the Russian capital on several occasions. Today, the latest drone attack on Moscow saw the Russian Ministry of Defense claim two drones were shot down.
It’s noteworthy, too, that the ZOMZ factory previously suffered a fire, in June 2022. The cause of the blaze was not determined, but it was part of a wave of mysterious fires that broke out in western Russia around the same time. Not surprisingly, suspicion fell upon Ukrainian or pro-Ukrainian interests.
At this point, it must be stressed that there is no hard evidence that the blast in Sergiev Posad was the result of Ukrainian activity, whether launched from Ukraine itself or by operatives that infiltrated Russian territory, or even by pro-Ukrainian Russian elements.
It’s also the case that Russian infrastructure has been accident-prone in the past, with not all explosions or fires necessarily being the result of hostile action. Notably, preliminary investigations into a fire at a secretive defense research site in Tver suggested faulty wiring may have been the cause.
Video of the deadly blaze at the Central Scientific Research Institute of the Aerospace Defense Troops, or TSNII VVKO, in the center of Tver, in April 2022:
But there is no doubt that war-critical infrastructure within Russia has repeatedly been struck by mysterious fires and explosions, suggesting that there is a campaign, whether coordinated or otherwise, to target these kinds of objectives.
At the same time, officials in Kyiv have begun to speak more openly about the possibility of Ukrainian involvement in drone strikes directed against Russia. This marks a change in policy from earlier in the conflict when officials either issued denials about their involvement or refused to comment.
While the precise cause of the blast in Sergiev Posad is unclear for now, there is meanwhile no doubt that the conflict is increasingly extending to areas beyond Ukraine’s borders, with military and infrastructure objectives deep within Russia now very much under threat.
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