A Russian air base deep behind the front line in Crimea was damaged by several large explosions, killing at least one person, although it was not immediately clear whether it had been targeted by a long-range Ukrainian missile strike.
Several videos on social networks showed explosions and clouds emerging from the Saky military base in Novofedorivka on Crimea’s west coast on Tuesday afternoon, raising questions about how a location more than 160 km from the front line could have been attacked. Later, a senior Ukrainian official appeared to claim responsibility, without giving details.
The Russian Defense Ministry told the RIA Novosti news agency that the explosions took place around 3:20 p.m. local time, and “several aviation munitions exploded” in a storage area. He said he was trying to discern the cause of the incident.
Russian tourists vacationing on nearby beaches could be seen walk away in fear. It is one of the rare occasions when the peninsula, occupied by Russia since 2014, has been directly affected by the latest fighting. Local people told a Russian news site that the blasts lasted an hour.
Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed leader of occupied Crimea, said one person had died. Previously he had turned a video survey near the sitewith smoke rising in the distance, indicating that paramedics and medics were at the scene.
In his overnight address, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy did not specify who was behind the attacks, but pledged to “liberate” Crimea, saying: “This Russian war against Ukraine and against the whole Free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea – with its liberation.
“Russia has turned our peninsula, which has always been and will be one of the best places in Europe, into one of the most dangerous places in Europe. But we will come back to Ukrainian Crimea. From the Kharkiv region to Kherson, from Donetsk to Enerhodar, from Stanytsia Luhanska to Yalta, from Berdyansk to Novofedorivka – these are all parts of our country, this is Ukraine, which will be completely free.
An adviser to the president, Mikhail Podolyak, said Ukraine did not take responsibility for the explosions, suggesting partisans may have been involved. Asked by online TV channel Dozhd whether Kyiv is taking responsibility, he said: “Of course not. What do we have to do with that?
Earlier he seemed to suggest that the strike could herald a new phase in the dispute.
Podolyak said Kyiv’s long-term goal was “the demilitarization of the Russian Federation.” He added: “Crimea’s future is to be a pearl of the Black Sea, a national park with unique nature and a world resort. Not a military base for terrorists. This is just the beginning.
Ukraine’s Defense Ministry said it could not determine the cause of the explosions but added, sarcastically, that people should observe fire safety rules and “no smoking in unspecified places”.
The air base, where Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill landed en route to the Yalta conference in February 1945, is too far – about 110 miles – from the front line to be hit by conventional Ukrainian ground rockets. It might, however, be within range of other longer-range systems.
Over the past 24 hours, there had been growing speculation about Ukraine’s missile capability after the United States confirmed, for the first time, that it had supplied Kyiv with anti-missile missiles. – long-range radiation, used to neutralize air defense systems.
A Pentagon spokesman said Monday that the United States had already supplied a number of weapons to Ukraine, but declined to say how many or what type. The weapons are generally believed to be the AGM-88 high-velocity anti-radiation (Harm) missile, a tail fin of which was circulating by Russian bloggers on Sunday. They are usually launched from an aircraft and have a maximum range of around 90 miles.
Over the past month, Ukraine has shown its ability to strike deeper and deeper into Russian-held territory using Himars rocket artillery, which has a range of around 50 miles.
However, there were other suggestions that Saky’s base was hit by a guerrilla operation. Margarita Simonyan, editor-in-chief of the public newspaper Russia Today, appeared to suggest in a tweet that the blasts were caused by sabotage – although she later said the blast was caused by “several munitions” exploding in storage.
In later posts, Simonyan said there had been no missile strikes and added that claims that Kyiv forces could strike 300 km (186 miles) were “Ukrainian propaganda”. She advised people to “exhale and go to the beach.” Other videos, however, showed traffic jams forming as people sought to flee Crimea.
Saky airbase is about 165 miles from the Ukrainian city of Odessa, suggesting it could have been targeted by Neptune missiles previously used to knock out the Russian warship Moskva. Anti-ship missiles have a range of approximately 190 miles and can be used to hit ground targets.
A Ukrainian official, speaking anonymously, told The New York Times that “an exclusively Ukrainian-made device was used” in the attack. This could suggest it was a Neptune, a Ukrainian-developed cruise missile that first became operational in the early stages of the war.
Earlier on Tuesday, officials said at least three Ukrainian civilians had been killed and 23 injured by Russian shelling in 24 hours, including in an attack not far from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
Dnipropetrovsk region governor Valentyn Reznichenko said Russian forces fired more than 120 rockets at the town of Nikopol, across the Dnieper from the factory, damaged several apartment buildings and sites industrial.
The Prime Ministers of Estonia and Finland have called on other European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russian citizens, saying they should not be able to vacation in Europe while the Russian government is waging war in Ukraine.
Kaja Kallas, Estonia’s Prime Minister, said on Tuesday that ‘visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right’ and that it was ‘time to end tourism from Russia now’, the day after of a similar call from his Finnish counterpart, Sanna Marin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy went further in an interview with The Washington Post on Monday and called for an outright travel ban and deportation of Russians who had traveled west. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the idea amounted to “irrational thinking”.