Ukraine strikes again in Crimea, challenging Russian grip on the peninsula

ODESA, Ukraine — Russian warships patrol the coast of Crimea and Russian warplanes fly from its territory, transformed by eight years of...

ODESA, Ukraine — Russian warships patrol the coast of Crimea and Russian warplanes fly from its territory, transformed by eight years of occupation into a fortress. President Vladimir V. Putin has called Crimea is a “sacred place”, the “holy land” of Russia, and one of its main advisers has warned that if the peninsula were attacked, Ukraine would face “Judgment Day”.

But lately, Ukraine has called the Kremlin’s bluff. Huge explosions rocked a temporary Russian ammunition dump in Crimea on Tuesday, in the latest in a series of clandestine Ukrainian assaults on the Black Sea peninsula that Mr Putin illegally annexed in 2014, and which is now used as a vital base for Russia. invasion.

A senior Ukrainian official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the operation, said an elite Ukrainian military unit operating behind enemy lines was responsible for the blasts. The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that the episode was an “act of sabotage”, a significant acknowledgment that the war extends to what the Kremlin considers Russian territory.

Credit…Planet Labs

The attacks in Crimea highlight the increasingly aggressive military tactics, as the Kyiv government relies on Western long-range weapons and special forces to strike deep behind the front, disrupt Russian supply lines and counter Russia’s materiel advantages. They also represent a growing challenge for Mr Putin, with Crimea’s security central to Russia’s military effort – and Mr Putin’s political standing at home.

No action Mr Putin has taken in his 22-year rule has sparked as much pro-Kremlin euphoria among Russians as his largely bloodless annexation of Crimea, a move that cemented his image as a leader resurrecting Russia as a great power.

And in the run-up to last winter’s full-scale invasion, it was Crimea that Mr Putin repeatedly cited as the location of what he called an existential security threat posed by the Ukraine, warning that a Western-backed Ukrainian effort to regain control of the peninsula by force could spark a direct war between Russia and NATO.

Until this month, Crimea appeared well protected from Ukrainian attacks. Even Ukraine’s most advanced weapon systems lack the range to hit military targets there, and its planes are unable to penetrate Russian air defenses on the peninsula.

But in recent weeks, explosions have erupted on the peninsula on several occasions. And on July 31, Russia canceled its Navy Day celebrations in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol after a makeshift drone attack six injured.

Last week, a series of explosions at a military airfield in southern Crimea wiped out much of the air power and ammunition stores of the Black Sea Fleet’s 43rd Naval Aviation Regiment and sent the bathers rushing for cover. That attack, according to a Ukrainian official, was carried out in part by special forces officers working with local partisan fighters.

In Tuesday’s attack, at least two civilians were injured and power lines, railway tracks and homes were damaged by multiple bangs in the village of Mayskoye, Russian officials said. As many as 3,000 people have been evacuated from the area and Crimean residents said authorities issued a “terror threat level yellow” alert, searching people as they entered parks and public buildings.

A New York Times analysis of multiple photos and videos shows a large fire west of Mayskoye on Tuesday, and a satellite image shows smoke rising from the same site. Videos taken by passers-by before the explosions and verified by The Times show military vehicles parked in the nearby village, including what appear to be multiple mobile rocket launchers emblazoned with the “Z” that Russia uses to identify its forces.

About 11 miles from the site of the explosions, a transformer station in the town of Dzhankoi was also on fire. The cause was unclear, but it is near another site where hundreds of Russian military vehicles were filmed in previous weeks.

Even before these explosions, there were signs that residents of the peninsula, a popular vacation spot, were either displaced or felt disturbed enough to leave. A record 38,000 cars drove both ways through Monday the 12 mile bridge linking Crimea and Russia, the state news agency Tass reported.

“The queue these days to leave Crimea for Russia across the bridge proves that the absolute majority of citizens of the terrorist state already understand or at least feel that Crimea is not a place for them “Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his late night speech. .

What we consider before using anonymous sources.
How do the sources know the information? What is their motivation for telling us? Have they proven themselves in the past? Can we corroborate the information? Even with those questions answered, the Times uses anonymous sources as a last resort. The journalist and at least one editor know the identity of the source.

Ukrainian leaders have not publicly claimed responsibility for any of the recent explosions, sticking to an official ambiguity policy on attacks far behind the front lines. But Mr. Zelensky and one of his advisers, Mykhailo Podolyak, appeared to hint at Ukrainian involvement.

“A reminder: Crimea of ​​a normal country is about the Black Sea, mountains, recreation and tourism, but Russian-occupied Crimea is about warehouse explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves “, Mr. Podolyak said. wrote on Twitter. “Demilitarization in action.

Mr Zelensky praised those assisting Ukraine’s intelligence services and special forces, and warned civilians in Russian-held territory to stay away from Russian military installations. “The reasons for the explosions in the occupied territory can be different, very different,” he said, but they all cause damage to the Russian military.

After Mr Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russian forces rushed north from Crimea and quickly captured a large swath of territory in southern Ukraine, including including the Kherson region, which Russian forces control almost entirely. Russia is now using Crimea to move troops and supplies and provide air and logistical support to its forces in Kherson and the neighboring Zaporizka region, where Ukraine has attacked Russian supply lines and threatened a counterattack. major offensive.

Pavel Luzin, an independent Russian military analyst, said that “Russia’s possibilities on the battlefield are limited” by Ukraine’s attacks in Crimea.

“He can’t take the initiative, because there aren’t enough resources,” he said of the Russian military. “Crimea is the only way to support the consolidation of troops in the Kherson and Zaporizka regions. Otherwise, this troop grouping does not exist.

Now the question is how Russia responds to the attacks. In April, the Russian Defense Ministry warned that it would retaliate against future Ukrainian strikes on Russian territory by targeting “decision-making centers” in the capital, Kyiv.

In July, Dmitry A. Medvedev, deputy chairman of Mr. Putin’s security council and former president, said that in the event of an attack by Ukraine on Crimea, “judgment day will come for all of them there.” -down at the same time. ”

After Tuesday’s explosions, some pro-Kremlin commentators were calling on the military to carry out those threats. Andrei Klishas, ​​a top lawmaker from Mr Putin’s United Russia party, said in a social media post that “Russia’s retaliatory strikes must be very convincing”.

“This is about protecting our sovereignty,” he wrote.

But Mr Putin, who addressed a security conference in Moscow via video link on Tuesday hours after the morning explosions in Crimea, made no mention of the attack. He said Russia was prepared for a long war, even if many more Ukrainians died, repeating his frequent argument that a Ukraine allied with the West was an existential threat to Russia. The West, he claimed in his speech, was using Ukrainians as “cannon fodder” in its conflict with Russia.

“The situation in Ukraine shows that the United States is trying to prolong this conflict,” he said.

With little movement on the battlefield over the past month, the Kremlin has tried to consolidate its control over the occupied territories, attempting to repeat the illegal annexation process he led in Crimea in 2014, according to Western analysts. Russian forces and their proxies arrested hundreds of people, distributed Russian passports, replaced currency with rubles and redirected the Internet through Russian servers, putting pressure on Ukraine to disrupt this work.

Two explosions in the occupied city of Melitopol interrupted pro-Kremlin television broadcasts on Tuesday, according to the city’s deposed Ukrainian mayor, Ivan Federov. Details about the explosions could not be independently confirmed, and it was not immediately clear who was responsible. But Mr Federov said the episode underscored that opposition to Russian-installed authorities would continue.

“The people of Melitopol are holding their ground and the resistance forces are neutralizing everything” that the Kremlin-backed regime has imposed, he said.

In addition to reinforcing and defending their positions in southern Ukraine, Russian forces continued to shell Ukrainian towns and defensive positions for hundreds of kilometers in northern and eastern Ukraine.

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Russian shells exploded on roads, hit infrastructure and destroyed other buildings in five of the city’s nine districts, according to Ihor Terekhov, the city’s mayor. .

He said it had been “a long time” since Russian forces struck so many different parts of the city at once. The number of victims was still being assessed.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Odessa, Ukraine, and Anton Troyanovsky from Berlin. Marc Santora contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine, and Cora Engelbrecht of London and Christian Triebert from New York.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Ukraine strikes again in Crimea, challenging Russian grip on the peninsula
Ukraine strikes again in Crimea, challenging Russian grip on the peninsula
Newsrust - US Top News
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