Moscow, SAEDNEWS: A senior Ukrainian official has suggested a series of explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea could have been the work of partisan saboteurs, as Kyiv denied any responsibility for the attack in the Russian-occupied territory that left at least one person dead and eight wounded.
Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, also suggested Russian incompetence as a possible cause of the blasts.
Russia’s Ministry of Defence said the “detonation of several aviation ammunition stores” had caused an explosion at the Saki air base on the west coast of the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 and used in February as it began its invasion of the rest of the country. It said there had been no attack and no aviation equipment had been damaged.
The Reuters news agency cited witnesses saying they had heard at least 12 explosions around 3:20pm local time (12:20 GMT) from the base near Novofedorivka.
Unverified videos posted on social networks showed sunbathers fleeing a nearby beach as huge clouds of smoke from the explosions rose over the horizon.
Crimea’s health department said one civilian had been killed and a further eight people injured. The area was sealed off within a radius of five kilometres (three miles), authorities there said.
Kyiv denies responsibility
Asked by Dozhd online television channel whether Kyiv was responsible for the attacks, Podolyak replied: “Of course not. What do we have to do with this?”
He added: “People who are living under occupation understand that the occupation is coming to an end.”
Zelenskyy did not directly mention the blasts in his daily video address on Tuesday but said it was right that people were focusing on Crimea.
“We will never give it up… the Black Sea region cannot be safe while Crimea is occupied,” he said, reiterating Kyiv’s position that Crimea should be returned to Ukraine.
If the base was, in fact, struck by the Ukrainians, it would mark the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula and a significant escalation of the conflict.
The headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol was hit by a small-scale explosion delivered by a makeshift drone last month in an attack that was blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs.
Officials in Moscow have long warned Ukraine that any attack on Crimea would trigger massive retaliation, including attacks on “decision-making centres” in Kyiv.
The Saki base has been used by Russian warplanes to attack areas in Ukraine’s south on short notice. Crimea borders the southern Ukrainian region of Kherson, now occupied by Moscow (Source: AlJazeera).