Ukraine strikes again in Crimea, new challenge for Putin

ODESA, Ukraine — Russian warships patrol the shores of Crimea and Russian warplanes fly over their territory, turning a fortress from eight years of occupation. President Vladimir V. Putin called Crimea is a “holy place,” Russia’s “holy land,” and one of its top advisers warning That if the peninsula were invaded, Ukraine would face “Judgment Day”.

But recently, Ukraine has fallen under the guise of the Kremlin. A massive explosion occurred on Tuesday at a makeshift Russian ammunition depot in Crimea, the latest in a series of covert Ukrainian attacks against the Black Sea peninsula, which Mr Putin illegally occupied in 2014, and is now transferred to Russia. It is being used as an important platform for attack.

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

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Attacks in Crimea underline Ukraine increasingly aggressive military strategy, as the government in Kyiv leans to strike deep in the rear on long-range Western weapons and special forces, disrupting Russian supply lines and countering Russia’s advantage in materiel. They also represent a growing challenge for Mr Putin, with Crimea’s security key to Russia’s military efforts – and to Mr Putin’s political situation at home.

Mr Putin has taken no action in his 22-year rule, which sparked pro-Kremlin enthusiasm among Russians as a largely bloodless annexation of Crimea, an action that sought to revive Russia as a great power. strengthened his image as a leader.

And as for the full-scale invasion last winter, it was Crimea that Mr. Putin repeatedly cited as what he called an existential security threat posed by Ukraine, warning that Western-backed Ukrainian attempts to retake A direct war could be started between the peninsulas by force Russia and NATO,

Until this month, Crimea appeared well protected from Ukrainian attacks. Even Ukraine’s most advanced weapons systems have no range to hit military targets, and its aircraft are unable to penetrate Russian air defenses on the peninsula.

But in recent weeks there have been repeated eruptions on the peninsula. And on July 31, Russia canceled its Navy Day celebrations in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol. attack by a floating drone Six injured.

Last week, a series of explosion at a military airfield Annihilated a good part of the air power and munitions reserves of the 43rd Naval Aviation Regiment of the Black Sea Fleet in southern Crimea, and sent beachgoers to cover. According to a Ukrainian official, the attack was carried out by special forces officers working with local partisan fighters.

Russian officials said Tuesday’s attack injured at least two civilians, and that power lines, railway tracks and homes were damaged in several explosions in the village of Meskoye. About 3,000 people were evacuated from the area, and local residents of Crimea said the authorities there had warned of a “yellow level terroristic threat”, searching for people entering parks and public buildings.

An analysis of several photos and videos by The New York Times shows a large fire burning west of Meskoye on Tuesday, and a satellite image shows smoke rising from the same site. Videos taken by passersby before the explosions and verified by The Times show military vehicles parked in a nearby village, including mobile multiple rocket launchers with ‘Z’ written on them, as Russia tries to identify its forces. uses for.

A fire also broke out at a transformer substation in the town of Dzhankoye, about 11 miles from the site of the explosions. The reason was unclear, but it is near another site where hundreds of Russian military vehicles were filmed weeks earlier.

Even before those eruptions, there were signs that people on the peninsula, a popular vacation spot, were either relocating or feeling nervous enough to leave. A record 38,000 cars drove in both directions on Monday 12 mile bridge Tasi, the state news agency linking Crimea and Russia informed of,

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said in his nightly address, “The queue these days for Russia to leave Crimea across the bridge proves that the absolute majority of the terrorist state already understands or at least realizes that Crimea is not the place for them.” ,

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Ukraine’s leaders have not publicly claimed responsibility for any recent explosions official ambiguity policy About attacks behind the front lines. But Mr. Zelensky and one of his advisers, Mykhailo Podolik, appeared to hint at Ukrainian involvement.

“A reminder: Crimea of ​​the country in general is about the Black Sea, the mountains, entertainment and tourism, but Crimea is about the explosion of Russian-occupied warehouses and the high risk of death for invaders and thieves,” Mr. Podolik wrote on twitter, “Demilitarization in Action.”

Mr. Zelensky praised Ukraine’s intelligence services and special forces aides, and warned civilians in Russian-occupied territory to stay away from Russian military installations. “The causes of the explosion in the occupied territory can be different, very different,” he said, “but they all result in losses to the Russian military.”

After Mr. Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February, Russian forces jumped north from Crimea and captured a large area in southern Ukraine, including the Kherson region, on which Russian forces were almost entirely takes control of. Russia is now using Crimea to funnel troops and supplies, and is providing air and logistical support to its forces in Kherson and the neighboring Zaporizhka region, where Ukraine is attacking Russian supply lines and a major counter-offensive. Threatening attack.

An independent Russian military analyst, Pavel Luzhin, said that Ukraine’s attacks in Crimea are “limiting Russia’s possibilities on the battlefield”.

“It cannot seize the initiative, because there are not enough resources,” he said of the Russian military. “The only way out is to support a group of soldiers in the Crimea Kherson and Zaporizhka regions. Otherwise, this group of soldiers does not exist.”

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

In July, the deputy chairman of Mr Putin’s Security Council and former President Dmitry A. Medvedev said that in the event of an attack from Ukraine against Crimea, “Judgment Day will come for all of them at the same time.”

After Tuesday’s blasts, some pro-Kremlin commentators were calling on the military to deal with those threats. Andrei Klishas, ​​a senior lawmaker from Mr Putin’s United Russia party, said in a social media post that “Russia’s retaliation should be very reassuring.”

“It’s about protecting our sovereignty,” he wrote.

But Mr Putin, who addressed a security conference in Moscow by video link on Tuesday, hours after the early blasts in Crimea, made no mention of the attack. He said Russia was prepared for a protracted war even if many more Ukrainians would die, reiterating his persistent argument that western-allied Ukraine was a potential threat to Russia. The West, he claimed in his speech, was using Ukrainians as “cannon fodder” in their conflict with Russia.

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

With little movement on the battlefield last month, the Kremlin has tried to consolidate his control over the occupied territoriesAccording to Western analysts, an attempt to repeat the process of illegal occupation carried out in Crimea in 2014. Russian forces and their allies have arrested hundreds, taken out Russian passports, replaced the currency with the ruble and rerouted the Internet through Russian servers – on Ukraine for disrupting that work. pressure is exerted.

Two explosions on Tuesday set off pro-Kremlin television broadcasts in the occupied city of Melitopol, according to Ukraine’s ousted mayor Ivan Fedorov. Details about the explosions could not be independently confirmed and it was not immediately clear who was responsible. But Mr Fedrov said the episode emphasized that opposition from Russian-established officials would continue.

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

In addition to consolidating and defending their positions in southern Ukraine, Russian forces continue to occupy hundreds of miles of Ukrainian towns, cities and defensive positions in northern and eastern Ukraine.

In the northeastern city of Kharkiv, Russian shells burst into streets, affecting infrastructure and destroying other buildings in five of the city’s nine districts, according to city mayor Ihor Terekhov.

He said it was “a long time” as Russian forces attacked several different parts of the city at once. The casualties were still being assessed.

Michael Schwartz Odessa, Ukraine, and . reported from Anton Troyanovsky from Berlin. Mark Santora Contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine, and kora engelbrecht from London and christian triebert from New York.

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