Ukraine war: Crimea ‘sabotage’ highlights Russia’s woes

Kyiv, Ukraine –

Fires burned and munitions exploded at a depot in Crimea on Wednesday, the day after the latest suspected Ukrainian attack on a military site on the peninsula annexed to Russia, underscoring the challenges Moscow faces.

The peninsula, which Russia seized in 2014, was once a secure base that forces from Moscow used to launch attacks – and it was a staging base for the start of the February 24 invasion. But in recent days, explosions have destroyed several Russian planes at an air base in Crimea, and munitions were detonated on Tuesday.

Ukrainian authorities have stopped publicly claiming responsibility, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hinted at Ukrainian attacks behind enemy lines after the latest explosions on Tuesday, while Russia blamed “sabotage”.

The series of attacks represented the latest setback for Moscow, which began its invasion hoping to take the capital of Kyiv and much of the country in a flash, but quickly bogged down in the face of fiercer resistance. than expected from the Ukrainian forces.

As the war approaches six months, the sides are now engaged in a war of attrition, fighting from village to village, mainly in the east of the country. Attacks in Crimea could open a new front that would represent a significant escalation of the war and further stretch Russia’s military resources.

“Russian commanders will most likely be increasingly concerned about the apparent deterioration of security in Crimea, which serves as a rear base for the occupation,” the UK Ministry of Defense wrote on Twitter.

But it was unclear whether the attacks in Crimea would break the stalemate, as Ukrainian and Russian forces clash in a war that has driven millions from their homes, disrupted food supplies around the world and sometimes raised concerns about a nuclear accident.

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres plans to travel to Ukraine for a meeting with Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to discuss the evacuation of grain shipments that are essential to feed the world’s hungry. . They are also expected to talk about a possible fact-finding mission to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Moscow and Kyiv have mutually accused each other of bombing.

Explosions and fires on Tuesday tore through an ammunition depot near Dzhankoi in Crimea, resulting in chaotic scenes when around 3,000 people had to be evacuated.

In a stark reminder of Russia’s vulnerability in Crimea, the peninsula’s regional chief, Sergei Aksyonov, said authorities were still battling the fires on Wednesday with a helicopter as minutes continued to erupt. He said a search for the perpetrators of the attack was underway.

The economic newspaper Kommersant also reported explosions on Tuesday at a base in Gvardeyskoye. On Wednesday, there was still no comment from the Russian authorities.

The British intelligence report noted that Gvardeyskoye and Dzhankoi “are home to two of the most important Russian military airfields in Crimea”.

A week earlier, the Russian military came under pressure on the peninsula when Ukraine said nine Russian fighter jets were destroyed following explosions at Saki airbase in Crimea. The massive explosions sent plumes of smoke onto nearby beaches and scared away bathers.

At the time, Moscow suggested the blasts were accidental, possibly caused by a careless smoker, an explanation that drew mockery from Ukrainian authorities who hinted at their involvement in the attack but did not directly claimed responsibility.

On the Eastern Front, the stalemate continues, with the bombardments causing ever more death and destruction.

In the Donetsk region, currently at the center of the Russian offensive, two civilians were killed and seven others injured by recent Russian shelling of several towns and villages.

Meanwhile, in the south, Russian long-range bombers fired cruise missiles at the Odessa region overnight, injuring four, according to regional administration spokesman Oleh Bratchuk.

In Mykolaiv, also in the south, two Russian missiles damaged a university building early Wednesday but did not injure anyone.

Russian forces also shelled Kharkiv in the northeast and various parts of the surrounding region overnight, damaging residential buildings and civilian infrastructure but causing no casualties.