Two artillery shells hit Russian territory – Moscow
Two explosions reported on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine were the result of incoming artillery shells, officials have claimed, amid an escalating military stand-off across the border in the Donbass.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the FSB security service in the southern Rostov Region said that local border guard officials had recorded “ammunition strikes” near two rural settlements.
“One of the shells exploded two kilometers from the Russian-Ukrainian border on the outskirts of the village of Mityakinskaya,” authorities said. “Another shell destroyed an outbuilding on the ground of a private home in the Manotsky farming community.” No injuries have been reported, and a criminal investigation is said to be underway.
While officials have not yet publicly declared who they believe to be responsible for the alleged incidents, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba has insisted they had nothing to do with Kiev’s armed forces. “We resolutely refute all accusations of any alleged Ukrainian shells falling on Russian territory,” he wrote on Twitter. “Ukraine has never opened any such fire. We call for an immediate and impartial international investigation of the incidents reported by Russian media.” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has also cast doubt on the news.
In a statement issued earlier the same day, Russia’s Investigative Committee announced that a criminal probe into the incident would be opened and that a “thorough and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances” is underway.
Speaking to RIA Novosti, an unnamed law enforcement source claimed that the remains of a shell from a Soviet-era BM-21 Grad rocket launcher have been identified at one of the purported blast sites. The weapons system is believed to be used by both Ukraine’s armed forces and troops loyal to the two breakaway Donbass regions.
Officials in the self-declared Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics and officials in Kiev have both reported heavy shelling on either side of the contact line in the war-torn east of the country, accusing each other of escalating the tense military standoff. On Friday, rebel leaders declared that they believed Ukraine was set to order a military offensive designed to retake the two regions, which declared their autonomy after the country’s government was ousted by violent street protests in 2014.
The head of the Donetsk region, Denis Pushilin, called on “all men capable of carrying arms” to sign up for military service and help to “hold off Kiev’s aggression.” However, a number of media outlets have since reported that the metadata on two videos, one from Pushilin and one from his counterpart in Lugansk, warning of a recent escalation in hostilities indicated that they may have been recorded two days in advance.
Alexey Danilov, the secretary of Ukraine’s’ National Security and Defense Council, denied on Friday that Kiev was planning to attack the DPR and LPR. “There is an attempt to provoke our forces,” he claimed, adding that Ukrainian troops “can only open fire if there will be a threat to the lives of our service members.”
In a statement issued shortly after the evacuation order, Kiev’s Foreign Ministry said that “allegations that the Ukrainian authorities allegedly intend to launch an offensive in the temporarily occupied territories of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts are untrue.”
On Saturday, US President Joe Biden claimed that Washington has “every indication” that Russia is “prepared to go into Ukraine, attack Ukraine.” The warning is the latest in a series of Western leaders insisting that Moscow could be on the verge of ordering a full-blown invasion of its neighbor. The Kremlin has consistently rejected the allegations, claiming American and British intelligence reports that it is preparing a ‘false flag’ attack as a pretext for war are “hysteria.”
Speaking on Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin again called for a diplomatic solution to the growing crisis. “All Kiev needs to do is sit down at the negotiating table with representatives of the Donbass and agree on political, military, economic, and humanitarian measures to end this conflict. The sooner this happens, the better,” Putin said.