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Huge fire rages at Russian oil depot as FSB says Ukrainian agents arrested in Crimea

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and used it as one of the launchpads for its full-scale invasion last year. Kyiv has vowed to retake the annexed peninsula.
/ Source: Reuters

Oil depots were ablaze in both Russia and Ukraine on Wednesday as both sides escalated a drone war targeting infrastructure ahead of Kyiv’s planned spring counter-offensive to try to end Moscow’s all-out invasion.

Scores of firefighters battled a huge fire that Russian authorities blamed on a Ukrainian drone crashing into an oil terminal on Russia’s side of the key bridge it built to occupied Crimea.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) said, meanwhile, that it had arrested seven people connected with Ukrainian intelligence and accused them of planning “a series of high-profile sabotage and terrorist acts” in the annexed peninsula.

Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and used it as one of the launchpads for its full-scale invasion last year. Kyiv has vowed to retake the area.

In a statement, the FSB said the group had planned attacks against Russian-installed officials including local governor Sergei Aksyonov. It said it had seized explosives identical to those used to attack railways in the peninsula in February.

Kyiv does not comment on incidents in Russia or occupied Crimea but says destroying infrastructure supporting the Russian military in Ukraine is part of preparation for its planned ground assault, ready to begin at any time.

Separately on Wednesday, Russian emergency services blamed a large fire at a fuel depot on the Taman peninsula, which adjoins Crimea across the Kerch strait, on a drone falling on the facility.

Flames and black smoke billowed over large tanks emblazoned with red warnings of “Flammable” in videos posted on Russian social media of the burning fuel depot near the bridge.

Image: Oil products tank fire in Russian settlement after suspected drone attack
An oil tank in flames Wednesday after a suspected drone attack in Krasnodar, Russia. Russian Foreign Ministry Press Service / via EPA

“The fire has been classified as the highest rank of difficulty,” Veniamin Kondratyev, the governor of the Krasnodar region said on the Telegram messaging app, adding that there were no casualties.

He said 188 firefighters were battling the blaze, attacking it with foam. He called for people to remain calm and said there was no need to order the evacuation of the nearby village of Volna.

Russia’s TASS news agency, citing emergency services, said the fire was caused by a drone falling on the facility.

In Ukraine, the governor of the central Kirovohrad region said three Russian drones had tried to hit an oil facility in the region’s main city Kropyvnytskyi. Prosecutors said a huge fire had broken out.

Ukraine says its air defenses have mostly neutralized the latest attacks, especially around the capital Kyiv.

But the two sides have been launching long-range strikes since last week in apparent anticipation of Ukraine’s upcoming counteroffensive, expected to be one of the most decisive phases of the war.

After a lull of nearly two months, Russia fired a wave of missiles before dawn last Friday, including one that killed 23 civilians while they slept in an apartment building in the city of Uman hundreds of miles from the front.

On Saturday, a suspected Ukrainian drone strike caused a fire at a Russian oil terminal in Sevastopol, naval base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. On Monday, Russia hit dozens of homes and an industrial enterprise in Dnipropetrovsk region that Kyiv did not identify. And blasts have derailed freight trains in Russia’s Bryansk region adjacent to Ukraine for the past two days in a row.

Over the past five months, Ukrainian ground forces have kept mostly to the defensive, while Russia launched a huge, largely failed winter assault, capturing little new ground despite the bloodiest infantry combat in Europe since World War Two.

For its planned counterattack, Kyiv has been building up a force with thousands of fresh troops trained at Western bases and armed with hundreds of new Western-supplied tanks and armored vehicles. Russia has dug in heavy fortifications along the length of the front line.