Russian authorities are saying that a series of strikes rocked one of its cities near the border with Ukraine. Russia is calling it a "deliberate" Ukrainian attack on its territory in the early hours of Sunday morning, which reportedly killed at least four people in the city of Belgorod.
"The regional governor said the blasts hit dozens of residential buildings and air defenses had been activated," BBC reports. "The Kremlin said that Sunday's attack had been a deliberate attempt by Ukrainian forces to target civilians."
However, as BBC also notes, "Ukraine dismissed the claim, saying the Russians had lied about similar incidents in the past."
Belgorod is near Ukraine's large northern city of Kharkiv. Lying just 25 miles north across the Ukrainian border, the major city in Russia's south has 370,000 residents.
It's not the first time potentially 'errant' missiles have struck Russian territory - or also it's not the first time Russia has accused Ukraine of a deliberate cross-border attack, but the damage and death toll is the most significant and extensive thus far, with a major emergency response at the scenes of impact ongoing.
An Al Jazeera war reporter inside Ukraine said of the alleged incident: "We are trying to piece together exactly what happened through social media reports. Al Jazeera cannot confirm anything that either side is saying at this point."
This is how the site of the explosion on Mayakovsky Street in Belgorod looks like now pic.twitter.com/RUd2jhKuAG— Spriteer (@spriteer_774400) July 3, 2022
Correspondent Alan Fisher added: "What appears is that somewhere around 25 missiles were fired towards the airport which is a Russian base in Belgorod. It appears that some of those missiles may have hit a residential area. That’s certainly what the media is saying …"
If this figure of a volley of more than two dozen rockets proves accurate, it would indeed strongly suggest the Russian city was deliberately targeted, and wasn't merely an incident with a few errant missiles.
Еще видео из Белгород pic.twitter.com/VjvRFBIL8l— IgorGirkin (@GirkinGirkin) July 3, 2022
Meanwhile, some observers are speculating that Ukraine could possibly have used recently provided US long-range rockets to hit deep within Russia's borders, which if true would signal massive escalation in the war.
Starting a week ago, Ukraine began touting that its US-suppled M142 HIMARS, a high mobility artillery rocket system with a range of 40-50 miles (the range of the version of the system Washington transferred last month), is having success against Russian forces on the battlefield.
Reports today that Ukraine is using US missile systems to strike *inside* Russia (Belgorod) -- which would be exactly the thing that the Biden Administration claimed it received "assurances" that Ukraine would not do if it received the missile systems. Gee, who could've predicted— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) July 3, 2022
Al Jazeera's Fisher framed it as possibly a 'revenge' attack by the Ukrainian side, commenting, "This of course comes on the back of a Russian attack last week which hit a shopping centre and then on Friday we saw 21 people killed in Odesa and the Ukrainians were accusing the Russians of deliberately targeting residential areas." Additionally Russia just captured all of Luhansk province with the fall of Lysychansk.
Later in the day, the Russian Defense Ministry updated the death toll from three killed to four:
"Russian ant-aircraft defences shot down three Tochka-U cluster missiles launched by Ukrainian nationalists against Belgorod," Russia's defense ministry spokesman, Igor Konashenkov, said Sunday. "After the destruction of the Ukrainian missiles, the debris of one of them fell on a house".
Another two bodies were pulled from the rubble Sunday morning, news outlet Baza reported.
So far there's been outside independent media confirmation of the Russian statements. But social media videos are widely circulating that appear to confirm major strikes on the city.
Russian media video appears to show Russian anti-air defenses active over the city...
В Белгороде после взрывов в городе из-за срабатывания ПВО трое погибших, четверо пострадавших, частично разрушены 11 многоквартирных домов и не менее 39 частных домов, из них пять полностью — губернатор области Гладков pic.twitter.com/5h835a5HbT— Рустем Адагамов (@adagamov) July 3, 2022
The local Russian governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, cited extensive damage to the city from the strikes, describing that at least 11 apartment buildings and 39 residential houses have been damaged or destroyed. He also said Russian defensive anti-air systems were triggered amid the attack, but this also remains unconfirmed.
Russia has lately been ramping up its attacks on locations further West in Ukraine, including on "decision-making centers" - actions which will likely only now increase with this latest Belgorod incident, also as Western powers are being warned not to provide long-range weapons.