Explosions and fires ravaged an ammunition depot in Crimea annexed to Russia on Tuesday.on the peninsula in just over a week, forcing the evacuation of more than 3,000 people.
Russia blamed the explosions in the village of Mayskoye on an “act of sabotage”, without naming the perpetrators.
Separately, Russian business newspaper Kommersant quoted residents as saying plumes of black smoke also rose above an air base in Gvardeyskoye in Crimea.
Ukraine has not publicly claimed responsibility for any of the explosions, including those that destroyed nine Russian planes at another air base in Crimea last week. Russia seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and used it to launch attacks on the country in the war that began nearly six months ago.
In another reported act of sabotage, Russian news agency Tass quoted the FSB security agency as saying that Ukrainian agents had blown up six high-voltage transmission towers earlier this month in the Russian region of Kursk, near from Ukraine.
If Ukrainian forces were behind the explosions in Crimea, it would represent a significant escalation of the war. Such attacks could also indicate that Ukrainian agents are able to penetrate deep into Russian-occupied territory, complementing attempts to weaken Moscow’s forces on the front lines.
“Frankly, this changes the front on every level,” Hal Kempfer, a former U.S. Marine Corps intelligence officer, told CBS News Senior Foreign Correspondent Charlie D’Agata after the attack on the last week. “If they can keep up the momentum, if they can keep making deep strikes, if they keep making gains across Kherson Oblast, they might be able to push all the way down that flank. south.”
This strike elicited a swift and brutal response from Russia. President Vladimir Putin’s forces retaliated with increased shelling and missile attacks on towns and villages in southern Ukraine.
The Kremlin has demanded that Kyiv recognize Crimea as part of Russia as a condition to end the fighting, while Ukraine has pledged to drive Moscow’s forces out of the Black Sea peninsula.
Videos posted on social media showed thick columns of smoke rising above raging flames in Mayskoye, and a series of explosions could be heard. The Russian Defense Ministry said the fires damaged a power plant, power lines, railway tracks and apartment buildings.
“We went out to have a look and saw clouds of smoke coming from the barn where the military warehouses are,” said Maksim Moldovskiy, a resident. “We stayed there until about 7-8am. Everything was exploding – lightning, fragments, debris falling on us. Then the rescuers came and said they were evacuating everyone.”
Crimean regional leader Sergei Aksyonov said two people were injured and more than 3,000 were evacuated from two villages.
“The bangs are quite loud. Ammunition is strewn on the ground,” he said, adding that several houses had burned down.
Crimea is a popular summer destination for Russian tourists, and last week’s explosions at Crimea’s Saki air base sent bathers on beaches fleeing as flames and columns of smoke rose in the air. horizon.
Ukrainian officials warned on Tuesday that Crimea would not be spared the ravages of war.
Rather than a travel destination, “Russian-occupied Crimea is about warehouse explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter.
Russia attributed last week’s explosions to an accidental detonation of munitions, but satellite photos and other evidence – including scattered explosion sites – pointed to a Ukrainian attack, possibly with anti-missile missiles. ships, military analysts said.
The UK Ministry of Defense said in an intelligence update that Russian Black Sea Fleet vessels are in an “extremely defensive posture” in the waters off Crimea, with the vessels barely venturing out of sight of the coast. Moskva, flagship of Russiaand last month Ukrainian forces retook the strategic Snake Island.
“The limited effectiveness of the Russian fleet undermines Russia’s overall invasion strategy,” the British said. “That means Ukraine can divert resources to put pressure on Russian ground forces elsewhere.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu says that in addition to supplying weapons to Ukraine, Western allies have provided detailed intelligence and instructors to help Ukraine use weapons that can strike deep in the occupied territories.
“Western intelligence agencies not only provided target coordinates to launch strikes, but Western specialists also oversaw the input of that data into weapons systems,” Shoigu said.
Meanwhile, in Donbass, the eastern industrial sprawl that has been at the center of fighting in recent months, one civilian was killed in Russian shelling and two others were injured, according to Ukrainian regional governor Pavlo Kyrylenko.
In Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine, one civilian was killed and nine others injured by Russian shelling, regional governor Oleh Syniehubov said. He said the night attack was “one of the most massive bombardments in Kharkiv in recent days”.
Good news has emerged from the region: a United Nations-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian grain has set sail for the starving Horn of Africa in the first relief delivery of the war. The shipment was made possible by an internationally brokered deal to release grain trapped in Ukrainian ports by the fighting.