Explosions in Crimea: Moscow talks about an escalation

Explosions in Crimea: Moscow talks about an escalation

Exactly what happened in Crimea on Friday night cannot be said from the outside. The only thing that is certain is that several explosions were heard in two places on the occupied Ukrainian peninsula that are strategically important to Russia – at Belbek military airport near Sevastopol and near Kerch, where the bridge from the Russian mainland to Crimea lies.


According to official Russian information, Russian air defenses were in action in both cases. A drone was shot down near Belbek. The Ukrainian leadership is keeping a low profile. “You understand, we have nothing to do with this,” tweeted Oleksiy Arestovich, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.

The American think tank Institute for the Study of War sees a whole range of possible explanations for the incidents: improper handling of military material by Russian soldiers, Ukrainian espionage, attacks by Ukrainians, successful Russian air defenses – or nervousness on the part of Russians. troops who died after the explosions at the Saki military airport last week and at the Dschankoy ammunition depot this week are now reacting to the first suspicion of danger.

There has been official talk of sabotage since Wednesday

Until early August, Russian propaganda presented Crimea as an impregnable bastion. Despite the war in Ukraine, thousands of tourists from all over Russia flocked to the peninsula, as they had in previous summers. The first hint of Ukrainian activities in Crimea came in late July, when Russian Navy Day celebrations in Sevastopol were canceled after a drone crashed over Black Sea Fleet headquarters.

The Russian military explained the explosions at the Saki military airport 10 days ago as explosive ordnance accidentally, but did not admit to the loss of several aircraft, as documented by satellite imagery. After the explosions near Dschankoj on Wednesday, which also damaged the rail link with Russia, there was already official talk of sabotage.

The causes of these coups, sensitive to the logistics of Russian troops in southern Ukraine, are unclear. Officially, at least, Ukraine does not have weapons with sufficient range to fire at these targets from within its controlled territory.

The New York Times reported, citing an unnamed Ukrainian leadership source, that a special military unit was operating behind Russian lines. According to Ukrainian information, the Russians have hardly allowed anyone from southern Ukraine to enter Crimea since the blasts.

Ukraine sees Crimea as a legitimate target

Officially, the Ukrainian leadership accepts no responsibility for the events in Crimea – as well as for fires or explosions at oil refineries or ammunition depots in Russia. The most recent incident of its kind also took place on Friday night near Belgorod, about 50 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Such events are, at best, snidely commented on in Kyiv – often with the saying that someone was obviously smoking in the wrong place.

In the case of Crimea, however, the Ukrainian leadership has always emphasized that attacks on military targets on the island occupied by Russia in 2014 would be legitimate. From Kiev’s point of view, this also applies to the Crimea Bridge, as presidential aide Mykhailo Podoliak said this week: This is a structure built illegally by the occupiers.

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said this week that Ukraine has the right to use US-supplied weapons in Crimea as a matter of self-defense. US news portal Politico reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed US government official, that Washington shares that view.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reacted to this on Friday: If objects in Russia or Crimea were attacked, there could be no self-defense. It is an escalation of the conflict that is encouraged and supported by Washington.