Explosions rock Russian base in Crimea, killing 1 and wounding several; conflicting reports on source of blasts: Live Ukraine updates

Multiple explosions rocked a Russian air base in Crimea on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding several others, authorities said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that several munitions had exploded at the Saki base on the western coast of the peninsula but denied it had been shelled. A fire was being extinguished and the cause was being investigated, the statement said.

A senior Ukrainian official who was not identified told The New York Times an Ukrainian attack had caused the explosions. If so, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site in Crimea, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014, and could mark an escalation in the war.

"We have blasts at the airfield. All the windows are broken," Viktoria Kazmirova, deputy head of the local administration, told the state-run TASS news agency.

Sergey Aksyonov, head of the Russian administration in Crimea, said no aviation equipment was damaged in the blast.

Crimea Today News said on Telegram that witnesses reported fire on a runway and damage to nearby homes from dozens of explosions.

Rising smoke can be seen from the beach at Saki after explosions in the Russian military air base near Novofedorivka, Crimea, on Tuesday. The blast of munitions killed one person, injured several others and caused a fire at the base.
Rising smoke can be seen from the beach at Saki after explosions in the Russian military air base near Novofedorivka, Crimea, on Tuesday. The blast of munitions killed one person, injured several others and caused a fire at the base.

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Latest developments:

►The U.S. is "still considering" a proposal to label Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, John Kirby, the National Security Council's coordinator for strategic communications at the White House, told USA TODAY on Tuesday. "No decision has been made. The State Department is taking a look at that."

►The Kremlin condemned a proposal by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that Russian travelers be banned from entering Western countries for a year to deter Moscow's annexation of Ukrainian territory. Russians should “live in their own world until they change their philosophy,” Zelenskyy told the Washington Post.

►President Joe Biden has signed NATO ratification documents for Sweden and Finland, and twenty-three of NATO's 30 members have approved the additions. All members must approve for Sweden and Finland to join.

►Russia, blaming payment issues prompted by the latest round of EU sanctions, cut off the flow of oil in a pipeline that runs through Ukraine to refineries in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

►Estonia and Finland want European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Tuesday that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right.”

US has made 'a serious proposal' to bring Brittney Griner home

President Joe Biden hasn't called Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to discuss a prisoner swap that could bring WNBA star Brittney Griner home, a high-ranking White House official said Tuesday. John Kirby, the National Security Council's coordinator for strategic communications, told USA TODAY that "if the president believes that that is the appropriate step to take, then he'll take that."

Kirby said the administration is working hard for a deal that would free Griner, who is being held on drug charges, and Paul Whelan, who has been in Russian custody on espionage charges since December 2018.

"We expect that the dialogue between the United States and Russia is not complete on this, that there is more work to be done," Kirby said. "We have a serious proposal on the table, and the teams are working it out."

Russian war misinformation sites grow into the hundreds

Faced with attempts to curtail its spread of misinformation about the war, Russia has found an effective solution -- increase its sources of propaganda from two main platforms to hundreds of them.

The European Union moved to block two of the Kremlin's leading voices, RT and Sputnik, after Russia launched its so-called "special military operation'' against Ukraine on Feb. 24. Since then the number of outlets spewing out fictitious material has mushroomed, as Moscow has moved the same content to rebranded sites with no previous known ties to Russia.

The New York-based firm NewsGuard has found 250 websites actively spreading Russian war propaganda. Among their claims: allegations that Ukraine’s army has staged some deadly Russian attacks to curry global support, that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is faking public appearances, and that Ukrainian refugees are committing crimes in Germany and Poland.

Resistance brings chaos to occupied areas

Guerrilla forces loyal to Kyiv in occupied areas of southeastern Ukraine are attacking Moscow-installed officials, blowing up bridges and trains and helping the Ukrainian military by identifying key targets in an effort to challenge Russia's grip on the region.

The resistance could erode Russian control and threaten Russia's plans to hold referendums aimed at annexing some areas of Ukraine.

“Our goal is to make life unbearable for the Russian occupiers and use any means to derail their plans,” said Andriy, 32, coordinator of the guerrilla movement who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of not being fully identified.

Kherson, a city of 500,000 seized by Russian troops early in the war, has been openly discussed by Ukraine military leaders as a primary counteroffensive target. Guerrillas have repeatedly tried to kill Vladimir Saldo, head of the Kherson region's Russia-backed temporary administration. His assistant, Pavel Slobodchikov, was shot and killed in his vehicle, and another official, Dmytry Savluchenko, was killed by a car bomb.

“The Russians were expecting that they would be met with flowers, but they faced the fact that most people consider themselves Ukrainians and are ready to offer resistance,” said Oleksii Aleksandrov, a businessman in the occupied southern port of Mariupol.

Russia says UN pulled plug on planned visit to  nuclear plant

The Russian Foreign Ministry says Moscow agreed to an International Atomic Energy Agency visit to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on June 3, but the trip was canceled by U.N. officials because of security concerns. The U.N. and IAEA officials have warned that bombing around  the plant could lead to a nuclear disaster and have urged the combatants to allow an IAEA team into the plant.

Each sides has blamed the other for rocket attacks at the Russian-occupied plant.

"For our part, we are ready to provide the maximum possible assistance in resolving all organizational issues," the foreign ministry statement said.

Russia's old mines 'unreliable and unpredictable'

It is “highly likely” that Russia is deploying Soviet-era mines along its defensive lines in the eastern Donbas region, the U.K. Ministry of Defense said Monday. One type of mine Russia is probably using, the PFM-1 series, was described by the ministry as a “deeply controversial, indiscriminate'' weapons.

Moscow deployed the same kind of mines during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, and many children were reported to have been maimed after mistaking the mines for toys. The mines probably have degraded in quality since then, the U.K. said, and would be “unreliable and unpredictable” if used in Ukraine.

Contributing: The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: 1 dead, several hurt as blasts rock Russian base