News That Matters

‘Saboteurs’ in Crimea Create New Fears for Russia in Ukraine

The Kremlin appears deeply concerned about the successful sabotage of Russian ammunition and logistics hubs in Crimea during what look to be increasingly brazen Ukrainian commando raids.

Both Russia and Ukraine confirmed on Tuesday explosions at a Russian airfield on the critically strategic peninsula that Moscow first annexed in 2014 as well as at an ammunition depot in its Dzhankoi district. Widely disseminated social media posts showed massive plumes of black smoke emanating from the depot as live rounds cooked off, creating secondary explosions.

The Ukrainian government was conspicuously tight-lipped – even coy – about the perpetrators of the attack, with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his daily address warning his fellow citizens against traveling close to Russian military installations on the peninsula. Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov wrote in a cryptic tweet early Wednesday, “According to the insider information, a fire from cigarette butts on the territory of Crimea occurred near a bowling club. Lucky strike!” in what some considered an allusion to the Russian military base. Ukrainian officials have previously attributed damaging explosions at Russian military facilities to its soldiers’ carelessness with lit cigarettes.

Zelenskyy only mentioned Crimea generally, thanking those “who oppose the occupiers.” But unnamed Ukrainian officials told several news outlets late Tuesday that elite commando units carried out the operations.

Russia merely attributed the attack to unspecified “saboteurs” with some local legislators claiming the perpetrators are broadly coordinated by Kyiv. Western intelligence assessments, however, suggest Moscow realizes the devastating effects of these attacks on a geographic point it previously considered a safe zone for moving critical supplies and personnel from its mainland into occupied Ukraine.

“Russian commanders will highly likely be increasingly concerned with the apparent deterioration in security across Crimea, which functions as rear base area for the occupation,” British military intelligence concluded in an analysis on Wednesday.

The ammunition depot and airbase “are home to two of the most important Russian military airfields in Crimea,” the assessment added. “Dzhankoi is also a key road and rail junction that plays an important role in supplying Russia’s operations in southern Ukraine.”

The Institute for the Study of War wrote in an analysis note that the explosions “both caused significant damage to Russian resources and seriously disrupted Russian logistics.” The U.S.-based think tank, which has fastidiously tracked the movements of Moscow-backed forces since the invasion began on Feb. 24, said these hubs have served critical roles in moving Russian troops onto the peninsula for subsequent ground offensives, including for Melitopol, and that it had temporarily suspended passenger rail service from Russia to Crimea following the attack.

Russia’s public response aligns with these assessments of the damage the attacks have caused. Its Russian-language state news disseminated accusations about the explosions in line with its long-held propaganda efforts, claiming that the attack and subsequent explosions led to civilian casualties and widespread damage of local neighborhoods, and also that Russian tourists continue to flock to the traditional holiday destination, breaking new records for hotel occupancy since the beginning of the pandemic.

The Kremlin-backed leader of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said thousands of people evacuated from nearby villages and several homes burned down. He added, “detonations are rather strong. Ammunition is strewn all over the ground.”

Several analysts also observed that the attacks – if they were perpetrated by the Ukrainian government – would not violate Zelenskyy’s commitments to the Biden administration not to use any U.S.-provided military equipment for attacks on Russian territory, as Crimea remains, technically sovereign Ukrainian territory.

The attacks do, however, force Russia to reconsider territory it previously regarded as safe against enemy attacks, particularly as the war evolves from an invasion into an occupation.

Ukrainian officials said Russia had moved command posts back across the Dnipro River, which bisects much of Ukraine before flowing into the Black Sea to the east of Crimea at the strategic port city of Kherson. Yuri Sobolevsky, the first deputy head of the Ukrainian local government there, claimed that much of Russia’s military command structure had already left the city.

Source link