Kyiv, Ukraine (AP) — A series of explosions and fires has turned Russian-occupied Crimea from a secure rear base to a new battlefield in the war, demonstrating both the Russians’ vulnerability and the ability of the Ukrainians to strike deep behind enemy lines.
Nine Russian fighter jets were reported destroyed at an air base in Crimea last week, and an ammunition depot on the peninsula was blown up on Tuesday.
Ukrainian authorities stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility, preferring to keep the world on edge, but President Volodymyr Zelenskyy alluded to Ukrainian attacks behind enemy lines after the latest explosions, which Russia blamed on “sabotage”.
Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014 and has used it as a staging ground for attacks on the country in the war that began on February 24. The Ukrainian authorities have promised to take back Crimea and other occupied territories.
The blasts represent the latest setback for Moscow, which began its invasion hoping to take Kyiv in a blitzkrieg but soon bogged down in the face of fierce resistance. As the war approaches the six-month mark, the two sides are engaged in a harsh war of attrition, fighting from town to town, mostly in the east of the country.
The attacks in Crimea may mark the opening of a new front that would represent a significant escalation in the war and could further stretch Russia’s resources.
“Russian commanders are likely to be increasingly concerned about the apparent deterioration in security in Crimea, which functions as a rear base for the occupation,” the British Ministry of Defense wrote on Twitter.
As a result of the airfield attacks, Russia is moving dozens of fighter jets and helicopters to positions deeper in Crimea and to Russian bases elsewhere, Ukrainian military intelligence reported.
Tuesday’s explosions tore through an ammunition site near the city of Dzhankoi, forcing the evacuation of some 3,000 people. Ammunition continued to explode on Wednesday and authorities were fighting the fires with a helicopter, Crimea regional leader Sergei Aksyonov said. He said a search for the perpetrators was underway.
The commercial newspaper Kommersant also reported explosions on Tuesday at a Crimean base in Gvardeyskoye. There was no confirmation from the Russians.
The British intelligence report said that Gvardeyskoye and Dzhankoi host two of the most important Russian military airfields in Crimea.
Just over a week ago, explosions rocked Russia’s Saki airbase in Crimea, destroying planes on the ground. Moscow suggested the explosions were accidental, perhaps caused by a careless smoker, but Ukrainian authorities scoffed at that explanation and hinted at their involvement.
Last month, a small explosive device carried by an improvised drone exploded in a courtyard at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol, injuring six people and prompting the cancellation of ceremonies honoring the Russian Navy.
In other developments on Wednesday, two civilians were reported killed and seven wounded in Russian shelling of several towns and villages in the eastern Donetsk region, which is the current focus of the Kremlin’s offensive.
In the south, Russian warplanes fired cruise missiles at the Odessa region overnight, wounding four people, according to regional administration spokesman Oleh Bratchuk. In Mykolaiv, also in the south, two Russian missiles damaged a university building but did not hurt anyone.
Russian forces also shelled Kharkiv and the surrounding region in the northeast overnight, damaging residential buildings and civilian infrastructure but causing no casualties, authorities said.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres arrived in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv to meet with Zelenskyy and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq said Guterres will address food and grain shipments, nuclear power plant security and the prison explosion that killed dozens of captured Ukrainian fighters, and “will do what he wants.” I can to reduce the temperature as much as possible.”
The last time the UN chief visited Ukraine, in April, Russia launched a missile attack on Kyiv while visiting the capital.
Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine