Fire engulfs Russian border service building in Rostov-on-Don near Ukraine


A building for the border patrol of Russia’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, exploded in flames on Thursday in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, killing at least one person and injuring at least two, according to Russian media and local officials.

Videos posted to social media sites showed a large fire and plumes of thick, gray smoke emanating from the building on Siverska Avenue, which runs along the Temernik River. Rostov-on-Don is located about 75 miles from the Ukrainian border.

The governor of the Rostov region, Vassily Golubev, writing on Telegram, said the fire had spread over 800 square meters — roughly 9,000 square feet — causing two walls to collapse. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated and at least one person was hospitalized with serious injuries, Golubev said.

The FSB is Russia’s main domestic security service, responsible for border security, surveillance and counterterrorism.

In recent weeks, amid a rising number of cross-border attacks from Ukraine, including drone strikes, President Vladimir Putin has ordered officials to tighten security in Russia’s border regions, including Kursk, Bryansk, Belgorod and Rostov.

Local residents told Russian media outlets that they heard loud explosions before the fire broke out.

Golubev and local emergency services officials said on Thursday that a short circuit sparked the blaze, by igniting fuel tanks. The Washington Post could not independently verify these reports.

Citing local emergency officials, Tass, the state-controlled news service, reported that as a result of the fire, one person had died and at least two more were injured.

The FSB, however, later issued a statement giving a slightly different cause of the fire. “Fuel and lubricants caught fire in a maintenance shop of the garage of the staff of Russia’s FSB border department in the Rostov region at 12:20 p.m., causing an explosion and partial collapse of the building,” the security service said, according to the Interfax news service.

A large fire erupted at a warehouse belonging to Russia’s Federal Security Services, or FSB, in Russia’s Rostov region on March 16. (Video: Reuters)

In Russia’s border regions, there is rising concern about sabotage by groups opposed to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and growing anxiety after a flurry of drone sightings in Western Russia and an attack in Bryansk claimed by a rogue Russian nationalist group.

“It is necessary to keep the Russian-Ukrainian border under special control, to put a barrier for sabotage groups there,” Putin said at a board meeting of the FSB in late February. “The FSB must respond to the intensification of Western intelligence activities against Russia.”

Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said that the fire suggested further internal turmoil in Russia. “Any FSB building that burns or explodes in [Russia], particularly in Rostov region, clearly indicates that this is a manifestation of panic, weakening of power control and [Russia’s] transition to a major internal conflict,” Podolyak tweeted.

“Ukraine doesn’t interfere,” he added, “but watches with pleasure.”

Robyn Dixon in Riga, Latvia, and David L. Stern in Kyiv, Ukraine, contributed to this report.

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2023-03-16 17:21:00