Who was behind the explosions in Crimea? Ukraine and Russia aren’t saying : NPR

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Smoke rises after explosions were heard from the direction of a Russian military airbase near Novofedorivka, Crimea, in this still image obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

Obtained by Reuters/via Reuters


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Obtained by Reuters/via Reuters


Smoke rises after explosions were heard from the direction of a Russian military airbase near Novofedorivka, Crimea, in this still image obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

Obtained by Reuters/via Reuters

KYIV, Ukraine – Days after explosions at a Russian airbase on the Crimean coast, no side has officially taken responsibility for what many Ukrainian and international commentators say is an attack. On Friday, the US Department of Defense confirmed claims that Ukraine was responsible for the attack.

A statement from the Defense Ministry, quoting an anonymous senior official, said: “The bombing had a significant impact on the Russian air force and Russian personnel.”

In the hours after Tuesday’s blast, Russian officials claimed workers at Saki Air Force Base were not following safety protocols, leading to a serious accident and fire. But when images surfaced on social media of large columns of smoke rising over a nearby beach and ambulances arriving at the scene, local Russian authorities acknowledged that one person was dead and several injured. And a bigger picture of the damage came Wednesday when officials pledged to repair more than 80 buildings damaged in the blast.

Analysis of satellite images published by the company Planet suggests that multiple explosions occurred hundreds of meters apart, damaging nine aircraft and scattering debris on the taxiway. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said nine Russian planes were destroyed.

Ukrainian officials allege that planes stationed at Saki Air Force Base provided tactical assistance to the Russian occupation of southern mainland Ukraine, where authorities loyal to Moscow announced their intention to be annexed to the Russian Federation.

Many in Ukraine celebrated the blast, believing that Ukraine’s efforts to take back the Russian-occupied territory eventually reached Crimea, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Ukrainian officials, including Zelenskyy and his top adviser, have publicly denied that Ukraine is behind attacks on the base, but the disputed peninsula has dominated speeches and media coverage of the war this week.

A combination photo shows satellite images of Saki Air Force Base in Crimea, August 9 and after an attack on August 10.

Planet Labs PBC/Handout via Reuters


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Planet Labs PBC/Handout via Reuters


A combination photo shows satellite images of Saki Air Force Base in Crimea, August 9 and after an attack on August 10.

Planet Labs PBC/Handout via Reuters

“The war with Russia started and will end in Crimea,” Zelenskyy said, vowing that “we will return to Ukraine’s Crimea.”

Unnamed Ukrainian military sources quoted by The New York Times, The Washington Post and Politico said Ukrainian special forces and local partisans were responsible for the attack. NPR contacted two high-ranking Ukrainian military sources, who declined to confirm the claims.

President Zelenskyy has launched an investigation into the leak. He called it “irresponsible” to disclose details to the media and said: “The less concrete details you give, the better it will be for the execution of our defense plans.”

US officials say they have restricted the use of US-supplied weapons against Russian territory, but military experts have argued Crimea is fair game for Ukraine as most countries consider it illegally occupied by Russia. On Friday, the Pentagon confirmed that no US weapons had been used in the attack.

Still, Ukrainian forces are believed to be unable to fire projectiles over the 120 miles it takes to reach from Ukrainian-occupied territory to Saki Air Force Base, analysts say. But the explosions have fueled speculation that Ukraine has accelerated a domestic long-range weapons program. An analysis by The War Zone, a military news and analysis site, suggests that Ukraine may have adapted older Soviet-era weapons to reach further into Russian-occupied territory. Ukraine used domestic Neptune missiles to sink one of Russia’s largest warships, the Moskva, in April.

Although the Russians portray the blast as an accident, they have increased security levels on the peninsula. Sergei Aksyonov, a local official loyal to Russia, said Crimea will be under a high “yellow” terrorist threat level during Ukraine’s Independence Day on Aug. 24. A Ukrainian civil rights group has said Crimea’s indigenous Muslim minority, the Tatars, are being searched and arrested in the wake of the blast. Tatars are largely viewed with suspicion in Crimea because of their overwhelmingly pro-Ukrainian stance since the 2014 annexation, which has left many exiled.

It is unlikely that these explosions will do much to change Russia’s presence in Crimea. Russia has five other air bases on the peninsula.

The explosions come at the height of Crimea’s tourist season, with Russians flocking to the area for the subtropical weather and beaches. Videos on social media showed traffic jams of people trying to leave the peninsula after the explosions.

Speculation about Ukrainian responsibility has also raised suspicions that Ukraine could next attack the Kerch Bridge, a nearly 20-kilometer-long road opened in 2018 to connect Crimea to mainland Russia. However, the Russian Ministry of Tourism says the number of visits to Crimea has not decreased since the incident.

This week also attracts a lot of attention, a new crisis, with apparent attacks on the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, in Russia-occupied southern Ukraine. Ukraine’s electricity company, Energoatom, claims that Russia is working to disconnect the plant from the rest of Ukraine and integrate it with Russia’s power grid through Crimea, formalizing the annexation of both Crimea and the Zaporizhzhya region. In July, Russian officials said they were in the process of reconnecting Ukraine’s power lines to Crimea devastated in 2015.

An analysis by the Institute for the Study of War suggests that the Zaporizhzhya crisis could be Russia’s way of forcing negotiations with Ukraine, although 84% of Ukrainians, polled by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, oppose using territory as the Crimea to end the war earlier.

Ukraine’s envoy to the Crimean Tatars, Tamila Tasheva, argued on Wednesday that the two problems are linked. She said Ukrainian efforts to “retake Crimea are underway”, without providing details.

Tasheva also accused Russia of forcing Tatars of Crimea to visit Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine and of lobbying residents to praise the virtues of the Russian occupation ahead of a possible annexation vote.

“Russian occupations of Crimea and southern Ukraine are inherently linked, both in terms of military strategy and civilian propaganda,” Tasheva said at a news conference in Kiev.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voicehttp://thevalleyvoice.org
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.

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