Two oil storage facilities around 150km into Russia from Ukraine's border went up in flames early Monday morning, just hours after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kiev to tout some $713 million in new US weapons shipments and military aid.
Ukraine’s President Zelensky has published photos of himself with US Secretary Blinken and Secretary Austin in Kyiv Sunday and said their visit “at this crucial moment for the Ukrainian state is very valuable and important.” pic.twitter.com/gwL84RdyPJ
Blinken and Austin delivered news to Zelensky of more US military aid, the reopening of @USEmbassyKyiv, and finally a new US ambassador to Ukraine — Bridget Brink, the ambassador to Slovakia. https://t.co/PVlOMn717M
Did America sign off on these alleged strikes? Did they feed Ukraine the intelligence? Was this a deliberate provocation by the US or did the Ukrainian military stage it to try and draw the US even further into the war?
A fire broke out on Monday morning at an oil depot in Bryansk, a large Russian city around 150km from Ukraine, and 370km south-west of Moscow.
The blaze occurred at a premises operated by Transneft-Druzhba JSC and at another location, officials told RIA Novosti. No casualties have been reported and there is no threat to residential buildings, the Ministry of Emergency Situations has advised.
"The evacuation of the population is not planned. According to preliminary information, there were no victims," its press service stated, according to TASS. Local residents have reported that explosions were heard and sirens are audible in social media videos.
Another fire was recorded in the Fokinsky district of the city, the causes of which have not yet been established, Moscow daily Kommersant has reported. Bryansk is home to over 400,000 people, and is an important regional hub.
Russia responded by carrying out strikes on at least five Ukrainian railway stations in central and western Ukraine, with the goal of trying to cut off the US's weapons shipments.
Russia reportedly struck at least 5 Ukrainian railway stations in central and western Ukraine this morning. 2074/https://t.co/pU8wQNUTq8
A Pentagon official who requested anonymity told me it is "likely we have a limited footprint on the ground in Ukraine, but under Title 50, not Title 10," meaning US intelligence operatives and paramilitaries – but not regular military.
Bruce Fein, a constitutional expert and former associate attorney general in the Ronald Reagan administration, told me this week that in his view, "the United States and several NATO members have become co-belligerents with Ukraine against Russia by systematic and massive assistance to its military forces to defeat Russia."
According to Fein, the US and its NATO allies are now vulnerable to attack by "an enemy belligerent," meaning Russia, because of their "systematic or substantial violations of a neutral's duties of impartiality and non-participation in the conflict."
"Neutrality," continued Fein, "is violated by permitting a belligerent to violate its territorial integrity (as Belarus and Russia have done to Ukraine), or by supplying warships, arms, ammunition, military provisions or other war materials, directly or indirectly, or supplying military advisers to a belligerent," as the US has done.
"Under the Declare War Clause of the constitution, co-belligerency, which displaces the status of the United States as neutral, requires a declaration of war by Congress," said Fein. But instead of fulfilling its constitutional duties, Congress has been aggressively pushing the administration to deepen its involvement in what is clearly now a US-Russian proxy war.
On. March 2, the US House of Representatives voted 425-3 in favor of a non-binding resolution "Supporting the People of Ukraine." The following week, on March 10, the House overwhelmingly voted to send $14 billion in military funding to Ukraine as part of an omnibus spending package.
And on April 7, the US Senate passed Republican Senator John Cornyn's Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022, which "temporarily waives certain requirements related to the President's authority to lend or lease defense articles if the defense articles are intended for Ukraine's government and necessary to protect civilians in Ukraine from Russian military invasion."
In the end, Congress and the Biden administration are wading into dangerous waters. Fein warns that the US has "employed the concept of co-belligerency to target for extermination any group or individual who provides material support to al-Qaeda or ISIS" – and there is a real risk that Russia may take a page out of America's playbook.
Something tells me Blinken et al. aren't going to like it when the Hamas, Houthis and others start launching attacks in Israel and Saudi Arabia with the latest in Russian high-tech weaponry.