Russia accused Ukraine’s Western allies of helping plan and execute a missile attack on the Russian Black Sea fleet’s headquarters in the annexed Crimean Peninsula last week.
Moscow’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Wednesday that Western reconnaissance data, NATO country satellites and spy planes were all used in the attack carried out by Ukraine on the fleet’s headquarters.
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“There is no doubt that the attack had been planned in advance using Western intelligence means, NATO satellite assets and reconnaissance planes and was implemented upon the advice of [United States] and British security agencies and in close coordination with them,” Zakharova said at a briefing.
“The obvious aim of such terrorist acts is to divert attention from the failed attempts of the counteroffensive by the Ukrainian armed forces and to frighten people, to stir up panic in our society,” she said.
Moscow has repeatedly claimed that the US and its NATO allies have become involved in the war in Ukraine by supplying weapons to Kyiv and providing Ukrainian forces with intelligence information and helping plan attacks on Russian facilities.
Unconfirmed news reports said Storm Shadow missiles, which have been provided to Ukraine by the United Kingdom and France, were used in the missile attack on the fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol on Friday.
Zakharova’s criticism of the West followed comments made on Tuesday by Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, who said the arrival this week of US-made Abrams battle tanks in Ukraine and a promise by Washington to supply Kyiv with an unspecified number of long-range ATACMS missiles, would push NATO closer to a direct conflict with Russia.
Friday’s missile attack on the Black Sea fleet’s headquarters in Sevastopol was just the latest against targets in the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
Crimea has served as the key hub supporting the invasion of Ukraine and has increasingly come under fire by Ukrainian forces, who have promised to see the peninsula returned under Kyiv’s control.
Ukraine said the missile strike put a large hole in the main building of the fleet’s headquarters and that 34 officers were killed, including the fleet’s commander Admiral Viktor Sokolov, and more than 100 Russian personnel were wounded.
However, Sokolov was seen participating in a Russian defence officials’ meeting on Tuesday that was broadcast by Russian media.
On Wednesday, Russian state television stations also showed Sokolov purportedly speaking to journalists in Sevastopol after handing awards to a Black Sea fleet football team.
Washington, DC-based think tank, the Institute for the Study of War (ISW), said on Wednesday that while Russian media were at pains to “publish inconclusive ‘proof’” that the Black Sea fleet commander is still alive, the institute would reserve judgement until more is known.
“ISW is unprepared at this time to make an assessment about the authenticity of the footage or the date of its filming,” the think tank said.
“The Kremlin and Russian Ministry of Defense have been notably silent on the matter and have not directly confirmed that Sokolov is alive,” it added.
Ukraine’s Special Operation Forces posted a statement on Tuesday saying its sources had claimed that Sokolov was among the dead from the missile strike and that it was trying to verify those reports after the video of Sokolov surfaced.