The Kremlin is planning to falsify evidence to frame Ukraine for an attack on a prison housing prisoners of war (POW) in a bid to deter the West from sending more weapons to support the embattled nation, multiple intelligence sources suggest. The Olenivka prison near Donetsk had been used to house many of the Ukrainian soldiers who surrendered at the Azovstal plant in Mariupol several months ago. Last Thursday, the prison came under attack, killing at least 50 Ukrainian POW. Disturbing video footage published on Russian state TV and social media channels show extensive destruction to a building and several bodies.
The Kremlin has been quick to blame Ukrainian troops, who they say were using Western-provided weapons for the attack.
A White House official told CNN they expect Russia will falsify evidence in order to more convincingly blame Ukrainian forces.
The official added that they have “reason to believe that Russia would go so far as to make it appear that [Western-provided] Ukrainian HIMARS were to blame”.
This analysis is echoed by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), which found: “Russian forces likely set fire to the prison complex holding Ukrainian POWs in occupied Donetsk Oblast but blamed Ukraine for an alleged precision strike using Western-supplied military equipment, likely to deter additional military support to Ukraine.”
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Main Military Intelligence Directorate (GUR) reported that it determined the Wagner Group deliberately set fire to the prison complex on July 28.
The report is consistent with the damage observable in Russian-published video of the site.
The footage showed the walls of the building were burned but still standing and did not reveal shell craters or other indicators consistent with an artillery strike.
Western-provided HIMARS have reached rock star status in Ukraine, with the Defence Ministry posting slick celebratory videos to social media channels.
On Monday, Kyiv’s MoD shared a spoof promotional video for “HIMARS global tour 2022”, featuring footage of the rocket launchers wreaking havoc on Russian targets after nightfall, to the soundtrack of Metallica’s Enter Sandman.
The tagline read: “Coming soon… to a Russian munitions depot near you.”
The United States started providing the key precision rocket weapon system to Ukraine in June after receiving assurances from Kyiv that it would not use them to hit targets inside Russian territory.
In July, US President Joe Biden signed a new weapons package worth up to $400 million, including more HIMARS and ammunition.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky used his overnight speech on Tuesday to celebrate the success of HIMARS.
He proclaimed: “The word ‘HIMARS’ has become almost synonymous with the word ‘justice’ for our country.
“The Ukrainian defence forces will do everything to ensure that the occupiers experience more and more painful losses every week thanks to these very effective systems.”
They have confirmed that there are at least 20 HIMARS operating on the battlefield.
The delivery of HIMARS comes as fighting intensifies in the southeast of Ukraine, stretching up into the northeast.
Donetsk and Luhansk are the two regions that together form Donbas, the eastern part of Ukraine where the conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed separatists began in 2014.
The area has become the main focus of Putin’s invasion after his troops failed to take over Kyiv earlier this year.
The Russian military has kept up a constant barrage of artillery and missile strikes across the region for several weeks.
The Kremlin claims the goal of what it calls its “special military operation” is to take control of both Luhansk and Donetsk.