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War in Ukraine: Who is to blame for explosion in central Kharkiv?

Kharkiv's central square after a rocket explosion / National Police of Ukraine

Christo Grozev, head of the investigative media outlet Bellingcat, claims that the missile that hit the building of the Kharkiv regional state administration was a 3M54-1 "Kalibr", which is used by the Russian military.


The moment the missile fell near the building of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration / Twitter account Christo Grozev

The shell in the screenshot looks very similar to the Russian ammunition. Except that Christo may not have been entirely accurate. To his Twitter post, Grozev attached a photo of the missile of another modification - 3M-54E1. In addition, the entire 3M-54 series is designed to hit surface ships.

Photo shown on Twitter account of Christo Grozev / Twitter account of Christo Grozev

It was the high-precision 3M-14/3M-14E cruise missile that most likely struck Kharkiv's administration. It was designed to destroy ground targets. Also, the 3M-14/ZM-14E can be used by aircraft. In particular, the 3M-14 AE modification.

ZM-14E Kalibr missile /

Ukraine has no "Kalibrs"

Ukraine is not listed among the countries that use the Kalibr missiles.  But the propagandists who blame the AFU do not really care. They put forward the theory that the western direction of the shot indicates that the Ukrainians themselves struck the Kharkiv Regional State Administration. They say it was an arranged provocation.

Based on the position of the missile recorded by the video camera, the "experts" draw the azimuth. It allegedly indicates that the launch was carried out by a mobile missile complex from the sector controlled by the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

This is how the azimuth of the shot was drawn by Russian propaganda/Telegram

At the same time, no one cites the results of calculations and an expert opinion on the missile's trajectory, which casts doubt on the competence of this scheme's author. At that time, the Russian troops surrounded the town of Akhtyrka, just north of the sector indicated in the propaganda scheme. They could have fired from there as well, not to mention that the range of the "Kalibr" allows a strike from a much greater distance than from the "Dikanka-Oposhnya-Kotilva" area.

Consequences of the missile strike in Kharkiv / National Police of Ukraine

Not only from the ground

The discussion of the ground launch azimuth may be an attempt to divert attention from the airborne option.

"The Russian side has established full airspace dominance over the entire territory of Ukraine," Igor Konashenkov, an official spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, said on February 28.

If this is true, then no one but the Russian army could have bombed the Kharkiv administration building from the air. And in this case, the theories about the azimuth of the attack do not matter: a plane with a Kalibr can strike from the necessary distance at the right angle.

Could the missile come from the sea? It almost perpendicularly hit the front, northwest side of the Kharkiv regional state administration building. This casts doubt on the version about the hit from the southern locations of Crimea and Odesa, considered as probable launch sites.

Trajectory from Crimea or Odesa hardly fits / Euroradio

"Provocations by the AFU" and other fascinating stories

Accusations of provocation on the part of the AFU are also quite dubious. "The Ukrainian military struck the administration building in order to unite people in the face of the advancing Russian threat" sounds very shaky. Corpses and devastation in the street are more likely to demoralize people than to unite them. Such a provocation is a very risky move, especially when the enemy is very close.

If the missile was fired by the Russians, however, things are much easier. In this case, three goals are achieved: panic among the population, destruction of infrastructure, and destruction of enemy manpower.

Russian propaganda fails to take into account the fact that spending valuable "Kalibers" (where did Ukraine get them?) on the administration building in Kharkiv is extremely irrational. It is much more logical to first strike the AFU artillery using the Buratino heavy flamethrower systems, Buk surface-to-air missile systems, and other Russian military equipment.

Not Kalibr, but Neptun? Hardly

The version that it was not "Kalibr" but "Neptun" [Ukrainian winged subsonic low-altitude missile] that hit the building of the Kharkiv Regional State Administration is also not trustworthy. The screenshot from the surveillance camera does not allow to identify the munition accurately. But in the video of the hit you can clearly see two silvery wings, which suggest the Kalibr. The Neptun has trapezoidal wings, eight wings, not two, and they are smaller in size.

Ukrainian Neptun cruise missile / Luch Design Bureau

Russian "experts" have also suggested that it was a missile fired from the Ukrainian Smerch multiple rocket launcher. But the Smerch ammunition does not have stabilizer wings on the sides at all.

Smerch MLRS shell / Pyotr Levashov

Conclusions. In order (deliberately or accidentally) to strike the Kharkiv administration, the Ukrainians first had to get "Kalibers" from somewhere, since they are not in the inventory of the Ukrainian army. Bombing their own city is also a bad PR move. So the option of "provocation" looks unrealistic.

But there are many arguments in favor of the version that it was a Russian missile that fell in the center of Kharkiv. The Russians use such weapons and control the territories from which such a strike could be made. It is possible that the terrible explosion in Kharkiv was the result of an air raid. And the airspace over Ukraine is controlled by the Russians. And this is not ours, but their own assertion.

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