Russia’s Defence Ministry has blamed saboteurs for explosions at a military warehouse in northern Crimea that forced the evacuation of more than 3,000 people, Russian state media has reported.
The explosions on Tuesday rocked an ammunition storage facility near the village of Mayskoye and disrupted train services and power supplies although nobody was seriously injured in the blasts, the ministry said.
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Russia’s Kommersant newspaper also reported on Tuesday on another possible act of sabotage in Crimea, quoting witnesses as saying that plumes of smoke could be seen over a Russian military airbase on the peninsula in Gvardeyskoye.
The incidents follow a series of explosions last week at a Russian-operated airbase in Crimea which Ukrainian officials had hinted were part of some kind of special operation but which Moscow said at the time was an accident.
State-owned news agency TASS cited the Russian Defence ministry as saying that civilian infrastructure had been damaged as a result of the “sabotage” – a rare admission that armed groups loyal to Ukraine are inflicting losses on military logistics and supply lines inside Russian-annexed Crimea.
Moscow’s senior representative in the region, Sergei Aksyonov, confirmed that two people were wounded in the explosions at the ammunition depot, railway traffic halted, and thousands of people evacuated from nearby villages.
Aksyonov did not provide a cause for the latest blasts in Crimea, a region that Moscow uses as a supply line for its war in Ukraine.
Last week, blasts at a military airbase on Crimea’s western coast caused extensive damage and destroyed several Russian war planes. Moscow called that an accident, though simultaneous blasts left craters visible from space.
In the latest explosions, an electricity substation also caught fire near the town of Dzhankoi, according to footage on Russian state TV. It showed large explosions on the horizon which authorities said came from the ammunition detonations.
Russia’s RIA news agency said seven passenger trains had been delayed and that rail traffic on part of the line in northern Crimea had been suspended.
Disruptions to the rail line could disrupt Moscow’s ability to support troops in Ukraine with military hardware.
The district where the blasts happened, Dzhankoi, is in the north of the peninsula, about 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Russian-controlled region of Kherson in southern Ukraine. Kyiv has recently mounted a series of attacks on various sites in the region, hitting supply routes for the Russian military there and ammunition depots.
Ukraine has not officially confirmed or denied responsibility for the explosions in Crimea, although its officials have openly cheered incidents in a territory that, until last week, appeared safe in Moscow’s grip and beyond the range of Ukrainian attacks.
Two senior Ukrainian officials took to Twitter to exult in the explosions, however, one of them, presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak, hinted at possible Ukrainian involvement while stopping short of confirming such a role.
“(The) morning near Dzhankoi began with explosions,” wrote Podolyak.
Anton Gerashchenko, an adviser to the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine, tweeted about how Crimea was a tourist spot when Ukraine controlled it but has now turned into a war zone since coming under Russia occupation.
Ukrainian Crimea was a great spot for tourism.
Occupied Crimea became a military base, filled with rockets and weapons.
Tourists are fleeing.
Hospitals are overflowing with wounded.
Environmental catastrophe, mass death of dolphins.
Is that the Crimea that Crimeans wish for? pic.twitter.com/65VfpOU8RO
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) August 16, 2022
It was not immediately clear how saboteurs had triggered the blasts, although Russian state media speculated they may have used small drones to bomb the ammunition depot and other facilities.
The Crimean peninsula on the Black Sea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 in a move that most countries do not recognise, is the base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet and is popular in the northern hemisphere summer as a holiday resort.
Ukraine’s apparent new capability to strike deeper into Russian territory could potentially change the dynamic of the six-month war as Kyiv aims to disrupt Russian supply lines ahead of a planned Ukrainian counterattack.
Similar to the attack on the airbase last week, the ammunition depot is out of range of the main rockets Western countries acknowledge giving Ukraine, raising the prospect that Kyiv has acquired new arms capability.