The Russian navy has “repelled” a drone attack in the bay of Sevastopol, home to Moscow’s Black Sea Fleet in Moscow-annexed Crimea, according to a statement by a Russian-installed governor, as a battle rages for the control of southeastern Ukrainian cities Kherson and Bakhmut.
“Today, starting at 04:30am for several hours, various air defence systems in Sevastopol repelled drone attacks,” Sevastopol Governor Mikhail Razvozhayev said on Telegram early on Saturday. “All UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) have been shot down,” he added.
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“Today at night, the most massive attack by UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) and remote-controlled surface vehicles in the waters of the Sevastopol bay was undertaken” since Moscow launched its offensive, Razgozhayev told Russian state media later on Saturday.
The attack in Sevastopol – the largest city in the Crimean peninsula, comes as Ukraine has been engaged in a fierce battle with Russian forces in the Kherson region, which serves as the gateway to Crimea. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014.
The Ukrainian military on Saturday claimed that Russian forces continued their withdrawal from Kherson, ahead of an expected advance by Kyiv.
The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine spokesman Oleksandr Shtupun said in a regular social media update that large numbers of injured and sick Russian soldiers were being taken out of hospitals in Kherson, the southern province overrun by Moscow in the early days of the war.
Al Jazeera, however, could not ascertain the veracity of the Ukrainian military claims.
Moscow blames UK, Ukraine for drone attack
Moscow accused the UK of helping Ukraine plan a drone attack on its Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol port, and said that one of its ships suffered “minor” damage.
“The preparation of this terrorist act and the training of the military personnel of the Ukrainian 73rd Special Center for Maritime Operations were carried out under the guidance of British specialists located in the city of Ochakiv in Ukraine’s Mykolaiv region,” Moscow’s defence ministry said in a statement on Saturday.
“It should be emphasised that the ships of the Black Sea Fleet that were attacked by terrorists are involved in ensuring the security of the ‘grain corridor’ as part of an international initiative to export agricultural products from Ukrainian ports,” it said.
Since launching its counteroffensive late last month, Ukrainian forces have recaptured large territories from Russian forces, including Kharkiv, forcing Russians on the backfoot. The battlefield reversals prompted Russian President Vladimir Putin to call for partial mobilisation of its military and reshuffle its military leadership.
Last month a key bridge linking Crimea to mainland Russia was partially damaged in a blast for which Moscow blamed Ukraine. Kyiv has denied its role in the attack that has attracted Russian retribution.
Russia has since carried out massive air and drone strikes across Ukraine, damaging more than one-third of its power infrastructure. On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that about four million Ukrainians were left without power as a result of the attacks.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from Kyiv, said the Russian campaign over the last couple of weeks has been highly systematic, targeting smaller substations that transfer the electricity to the grid rather than large facilities.
“The recent resumption of strikes on the city, and the mounting pressure on civilian infrastructure is bringing the war ever closer to home,” he said, adding that restoring supply is proving difficult as the Soviet-era equipment is hard to replace.
Russia says soldiers close to Bakhmut
Meanwhile, Moscow has claimed that its soldiers are slowly edging closer to the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine.
Taking Bakhmut would rupture Ukraine’s supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press on towards Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk province, which, along with Luhansk, Kherson and Zaporizhia, was annexed by Moscow last month.
Local officials said ferries and boats had also temporarily stopped crossing the bay of Sevastopol, according to Reuters news agency.
Meanwhile, Moscow said on Saturday that the accelerated deployment of modernised US B61 tactical nuclear weapons at NATO bases in Europe would lower the “nuclear threshold” and that Russia would take the move into account in its military planning.
“We cannot ignore the plans to modernise nuclear weapons, those free-fall bombs that are in Europe,” Russian deputy foreign minister Alexander Grushko told state RIA news agency.
Moscow’s forces attacked Ukraine from several directions, including from Crimea, when they invaded in February.
Earlier this week, Razvozhayev said that a drone had attacked a thermal power station near Sevastopol.
The Russian fleet stationed in the port had also been attacked by a drone in July.