Blasts hit Russian ammunition depot in Crimea
By Michael Schwirtz
Huge explosions rocked a Russian ammunition depot on the occupied Crimean Peninsula on Tuesday morning, delivering another embarrassing blow to Moscow’s forces a week after blasts at a Russian air base in the same region destroyed several fighter jets.
A senior Ukrainian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss the operation, said an elite Ukrainian military unit operating behind enemy lines was responsible for the explosions. Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement that the episode was an “act of sabotage,” according to the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
The apparent use of covert forces behind enemy lines underscored the inventiveness of Ukraine’s forces. Since the war began, they have adopted unconventional tactics in the hopes of leveling the playing field while trying to repel attacks from a much larger and better equipped Russian military.
Although he did not confirm Ukraine’s involvement, Andriy Yermak, the head of the presidential office in Ukraine, said on the Telegram messaging app that the country’s armed forces would continue the “demilitarization” of Crimea and other captured territories until they achieved “the complete deoccupation of Ukrainian territories.”
At least two civilians were wounded in the blasts in the northern part of the peninsula, and as many as 3,000 were evacuated from the area around the weapons depot, the Kremlin-installed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said on Telegram.
The explosion occurred at a temporary ammunition storage site near a military base, he said, and the ammunition then continued exploding after the initial blast.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that there were no serious casualties and that the explosions damaged power lines, railroad tracks and homes.
After explosions tore through a Russian air base in Crimea last week, Russia’s Defense Ministry said the blasts had left no casualties and that no equipment had been destroyed. But videos from the scene and an assessment by local officials told a different story, while satellite imagery showed craters, burn marks and at least eight destroyed fighter jets.
Local residents in Crimea said authorities there had introduced a “yellow level terrorist threat” alert and that people were being stopped and searched as they entered parks and public buildings.
After illegally annexing Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin turned the peninsula into a heavily fortified military zone that President Vladimir Putin of Russia often describes as hallowed ground.
Since the invasion of Ukraine in February, Crimea has served as a key base of operations. Aircraft at Crimean bases have flown sorties over Ukraine, and ships of the Black Sea fleet based there have launched punishing rocket attacks on Ukrainian military positions and civilian neighborhoods.
Until this month, Crimea appeared well protected from Ukrainian attacks. Even Ukraine’s most advanced weapons systems do not have the range to hit Russian military targets there, and its planes are incapable of making it through Russia’s air defenses on the peninsula.
Then, on Aug. 9, a series of powerful explosions ripped through the Saki air base in western Crimea, annihilating a good portion of the Black Sea fleet’s 43rd naval aviation regiment. That attack, according to a Ukrainian official, was carried out in part by special forces officers working with local partisan fighters.