Ukraine Strikes Back: Multiple Explosions Rock Russian Border Towns

A spate of apparent attacks against targets in a border region of Russia suggests a new and possibly sustained campaign by Ukraine.

byThomas Newdick|
Belgorod attacks
via Twitter


With much attention focused on new air defense systems to strengthen Ukraine’s ability to defeat Russian missile and drone attacks, the Ukrainian military appears to have launched a missile barrage of its own targeting Belgorod in western Russia. According to claims by Russian state news agencies, the attacks left an undisclosed number of people in the region, which borders Ukraine, killed or injured, with a rail line and an ammunition dump being among the apparent targets.

Rail services in the Belgorod region were suspended today after at least one missile — apparently a Ukrainian Tochka series, or SS-21 Scarab tactical ballistic missile — came down on a line near the town of Novyi Oskol. Pictures said to have been taken at the site of the strike that has appeared on social media show obvious damage both to the track and the overhead power lines. The photos also look to show the tail end of a Tochka or Tochka-U missile.

It's unclear whether the missile was intended to hit this rail infrastructure, and in the process degrade, even temporarily shut down an important logistics route for the Russian military in Ukraine, or whether it missed its intended target.

Wreckage of a Russian Tochka-U on display in Kyiv, for comparison with the wreckage of an apparent Ukrainian missile of this type seen in the Belgorod region:

The ammunition dump that was reportedly struck was in the village of Oktyabrsky, where Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti said there had been fatalities and injuries. It's not clear what munitions may have been used in this instance. Russian authorities blamed the explosion on Ukrainian “shelling” from over the border. This may imply long-range artillery, including multiple rocket launchers, or it could also have involved the Tochka. Oktyabrsky is only around five miles from the border with Ukraine.

A map of the Belgorod region showing the key areas where Ukrainian attacks have been reported in the last 24 hours. Google Earth

Ukraine launching attacks on Russian ammunition depots would certainly make sense, with the value of each such storage site increasing day by day, amid indications that Russia is running low on artillery shells and other heavy munitions needed to support their campaign in Ukraine.

As for the Tochka, this has seen sporadic use by both sides in the conflict so far, but the Ukrainian Armed Forces are not thought to possess significant stocks of this weapon. According to IISS, Ukraine possessed 90 of the launchers prior to the outbreak of the latest conflict and an undisclosed number of missile rounds. The Cold War-era system is fired from a road-mobile transporter-erector-launcher and can carry a warhead of over 1,000 pounds to a range of 45 miles for the original Tochka or 75 miles for the improved Tochka-U.

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Vyacheslav Gladkov, the regional governor of the Belgorod region, said Russian air defenses managed to shoot down at least one missile, also near Novyi Oskol — again, the type was not disclosed. The town is less than 60 miles north of the border with Ukraine, which puts it within range of the Tochka missile and long-range 'suicide drones.'

“Power lines are damaged. Trains are temporarily suspended,” Gladkov said, on the Telegram messaging service, adding that there were no casualties in Novyi Oskol.

Later the same day, videos posted to social media suggested that further attacks were underway as night fell on the Belgorod region. Unsubsubstantiated accounts suggest that these attacks have targeted a thermal powerplant, resulting in power outages across the region.

So far, there has been no independent confirmation of the official Russian statements, but the evidence is increasingly pointing to a sustained campaign.

The latest apparent Ukrainian attacks seem to continue a trend of targeting the Belgorod region, which has seen a string of unexplained explosions and fires as well as outright attacks. Yesterday, October 13, Gladkov, blamed Ukrainian shells for hitting the top floor of a 16-story apartment block in the city of Belgorod, the region’s administrative hub, which is around 20 miles from the border. He said that no one was hurt.

Gladkov also said that an ammunition dump near Belgorod city and a border post in the frontier town of Shebekino had been destroyed and that further damage had been inflicted on a school in a village close to the border. There is so far no independent confirmation of these claims, although videos posted to social media, including the one below, purport to show the burning ammunition depot.

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However, officials in Kyiv did respond to the apartment block incident, claiming that the damage was the result of a stray Russian missile. Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter that Russia had attempted to launch a missile toward the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv but instead it hit the residential building.

That Kyiv has not yet made a statement related to the incidents in the Belgorod region, other than attributing blame to one of them to Russia, is not altogether surprising.

There has been a pattern of reported attacks on objectives within Russia’s border regions since the Kremlin launched its invasion on February 24. Among the targets that have apparently come under attack are Russian fuel and ammunition stores.

Based on available imagery, attacks on Russian infrastructure have involved suicide drones built from remote-controlled planes available on Alibaba and apparently, at least in one case also Mi-24 assault helicopters; it seems likely that some use has also been made of high-speed target drones repurposed as cruise missiles. There have also been cross-border special forces raids made by Ukrainian troops, which you can read about in-depth here.

Tochka missiles have also been implicated in previous allegations of Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory. In early July, Russian officials accused the Kyiv regime of attacking Belgorod with these weapons, carrying submunitions warheads, and claimed to have shot down three. These attacks were alleged to have killed at least five people and destroyed numerous buildings. For its part, Russia, too, has apparently deployed Tochka missiles with submunitions warheads.

Earlier in the conflict, Russian officials attributed a series of blasts outside Belgorod city in late March to a Ukrainian attack involving three Tochka-Us and said that these injured eight and destroyed several vehicles.

And, in one of the very first alleged incidents of Ukraine striking back on Russian territory, on the second day of the war, there were unconfirmed reports that an apparent attack on the Russian airbase at Millerovo was the result of a Tochka missile strike. The details of what happened at the airbase remain murky and it remains possible that the incident was an accidental fire rather than a Ukrainian strike.

A Ukrainian Armed Forces Tochka-U tactical ballistic missile during a rehearsal for the Independence Day military parade in Kyiv, 2018. VoidWanderer/Wikimedia Commons

In some cases, Ukrainian officials have offered oblique comments that suggest that these incidents are legitimate payback for Russian actions, or “karma,” but they have fallen short of claiming responsibility.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has in the recent past said that he would be willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.” This has led many to suggest that Ukrainian actions on Ukrainian territory claimed by Russia could risk a nuclear response by Moscow. But the Belgorod region sits firmly within Russian borders and with no Ukrainian threat to invade Russia or occupy its territory, it remains unclear exactly where Putin’s “red line” is, in this instance.

So far, however, ‘revenge’ for such actions in Russian-occupied Crimea — namely the attack on Russia’s Kerch Strait Bridge earlier this week — has been met by a conventional Russian response. After a number of non-specific threats from Kremlin officials, this ultimately took the form of a barrage of long-range ballistic and cruise missiles and drones directed against Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities and infrastructure.

Meanwhile, attacks on Russian territory proper continue, like those in the Belgorod region, albeit officially unclaimed by Ukrainian authorities. Whether these kinds of actions will ultimately prompt some kind of direct response remains unclear, suffice to say they are a thorn in the side of the Kremlin’s war effort. They are also an embarrassment for the regime, with each such successful attack demonstrating the inability of the Russian military to stop them, and being highly symbolic of the country’s faltering campaign in Ukraine.

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