Explosions and drone strikes rock Russian-held areas far from Ukraine’s warfront

Explosions and drone strikes rock Russian-held areas far from Ukraine’s warfront

Russia on Friday reported fresh Ukrainian drone strikes after explosions erupted near military bases in Russian-controlled areas of Ukraine. Smoke billows from a munitions depot in the village of Maiskoye, Crimea, in this photo taken on Aug. 16, 2022.

Stringers | AFP | Getty Images

Russia on Friday night, a day after explosions near military bases in Russian-held areas of Ukraine and Russia itself, reported fresh Ukrainian drone strikes, apparent evidence of Kiev’s growing ability to destroy Moscow’s assets far from the frontlines.

The latest incidents followed last week’s massive explosions at an airbase in Russia-annexed Crimea. In a new assessment, a Western official said the incident rendered half of Russia’s Black Sea naval aviation useless in one fell swoop.

Russian news agencies RIA and TASS, citing a local Crimean official, said it appeared Russian anti-aircraft forces were deployed near the western Crimean port of Yevpatoria on Friday night. A video posted by a Russian website showed what appeared to be a surface-to-air missile hitting a target. Portal could not immediately confirm the accuracy of the video.

Tass quoted a local official as saying Russian anti-aircraft forces shot down six Ukrainian drones sent to attack the town of Nova Kakhovka, east of the city of Kherson. Ukraine says retaking Kherson is one of its top priorities.

Separately, an official in Crimea said that defenses there shot down an unspecified number of drones over the city of Sevastopol.

“Ukrainian forces have given the Russians a magical evening,” said Seriy Khlan, a member of the Kherson regional council, which was dissolved by the Russian occupying power.

The night before, several explosions had been reported in Crimea – which Moscow seized in 2014 – including near Sevastopol, the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and in Kerch, near a huge bridge to Russia.

Inside Russia, two villages had been evacuated after explosions at a munitions depot in Belgorod province, more than 100 km (60 miles) from territory controlled by Ukrainian forces.

Kyiv shy about incidents in Crimea

Kyiv has withheld official comments on incidents in Crimea or inside Russia, while hinting that it may be behind long-range weapon use or sabotage.

A Western official on Friday pointed out that at least some of the incidents involved Ukrainian attacks, saying Kyiv consistently produces “kinetic effects” deep behind Russian lines.

Huge explosions on August 9 at Russia’s Saky airbase on the Crimean coast disabled more than half of the Black Sea Fleet’s fighter jets, the official said, in what would become one of the costliest attacks of the war.

Russia has denied planes were damaged in a so-called accident, although satellite imagery showed at least eight burned-out warplanes and several huge craters.

Moscow fired the head of the Black Sea Fleet this week.

Ukraine is hoping that its apparent newfound ability to hit Russian targets behind the lines can turn the tide of the conflict by disrupting the supply lines Moscow needs to support its occupation.

A senior US defense official said Friday that US President Joe Biden’s administration is preparing another $775 million security aid package for Ukraine that will include surveillance drones and, for the first time, mine-resistant vehicles.

For the past month, Ukraine has been using Western-supplied missiles to strike behind Russian lines. Some blasts reported in Crimea and Belgorod were beyond the range of munitions that Western countries have so far confirmed have been shipped.

A senior Ukrainian official said about half of Crimea’s incidents were Ukrainian attacks and half were accidents caused by Russia’s poor operations.

He stressed that attacks would be carried out by saboteurs rather than long-range weapons, although he would not say whether Kyiv now has ATACMS, a longer-range version of the US HIMARS missiles it began deploying in June.

The official, who asked not to be named, said Ukraine had hoped its strikes would have a greater impact in reducing Russian artillery, but Moscow was adjusting.

Concern about nuclear power plant

Ukraine also issued dire warnings about a frontline nuclear power plant, the Zaporizhzhia complex, where it believed Moscow was planning a “large-scale provocation” as justification for disconnecting the power plant from Ukraine’s power grid and connecting it to Russia’s.

“If Russia’s radiation blackmail continues, this summer could go down in the history of various European nations as one of the most tragic of all time,” said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an address Friday night.

Russian President Vladimir Putin continued the mutual blame game, accusing Ukraine of shelling the complex and risking a nuclear catastrophe.

Ukraine’s nuclear power plant operator said Friday it suspects Moscow plans to switch the Zaporizhia power plant to Russia’s power grid, a complex operation Kyiv says could cause disaster.

The power plant is held by Russian troops on the banks of a reservoir.

Ukrainian troops control the opposite bank.

Moscow has rejected international calls for the power plant to be demilitarized, and Putin renewed on Friday his accusation that Kyiv shelled it in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, according to the Kremlin’s advert.

Macron’s office said Putin had agreed to an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) mission to Zaporizhia.

Thousands have been killed and millions forced to flee since Russia began its invasion on February 24 and said it aims to demilitarize Ukraine and protect Russian speakers on what Putin described as historic Russian land.

Ukraine and Western countries see it as a war of conquest aimed at erasing Ukraine’s national identity.