A series of large explosions rocked a key Russian air base in Crimea on Tuesday afternoon, killing one civilian and wounding nine more people, local health officials and Crimea's Kremlin-installed leader Sergei Aksyonov said. Russia illegally annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, used the peninsula to launch its Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, and regularly uses the Saki air base to strike Ukrainian targets in the south.
Russia's Defense Ministry originally said nobody was injured in the blasts and no damage was inflicted at the air base, near a Black Sea beach resort popular with Russian tourists. Moscow then blamed the explosions on the detonation of air force ordnance, possibly due to a "violation of safety requirements." Nevertheless, Aksyonov raised the terrorism alert level around the base, calling the measure "exclusively prophylactic, because the situation in the region is under full control."
Ukraine publicly denied responsibility for the explosions, though the Defense Ministry deadpanned on Facebook that the blasts "once again recalls the rules of fire safety and the prohibition of smoking in unspecified places." An unidentified senior Ukrainian military official told The New York Times that Ukrainian forces did carry out the strike, using "a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture." The official said Ukrainian loyalist partisans were involved in the operation, but did not elaborate.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky did not directly mention the blasts in his daily address Tuesday night, but he did say that "this Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation."
"A Ukrainian attack on Russian forces in the Crimean Peninsula would represent a significant expansion of Ukraine's offensive efforts" and "an embarrassment" for Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Times reports. Ukraine has been using new Western-supplied weapons to hit Russian targets deep behind Russian lines, but the country "possesses few weapons that can reach the peninsula, aside from aircraft that would risk being shot down immediately by Russia's heavy air defenses in the region. The air base, which is near the city of Novofederivka, is well over 100 miles from the nearest Ukrainian military position."