Russian commanders are likely increasingly concerned with the “deterioration in security across Crimea”, the UK’s Ministry of Defence has said after an ammunitions depot was rocked by multiple explosions.
In what Russia called an “act of sabotage”, a fireball explosion erupted at the facility in Maiske, near Dzhankoi, on Tuesday morning, injuring at least two and prompting the evacuation of around 3,000 people.
Ukraine has stopped short of claiming responsibility for the explosions in Crimea, which Russia seized in 2014 and has been used by Vladimir Putin to launch attacks since the war began on 24 February.
Worsening the outlook in Crimea was a report by the Kommersant business paper, that explosions had also taken place near Gvardeyskoye in the centre of the peninsula. By Wednesday, there still was no comment from the Russian authorities.
A statement from the British Ministry of Defence on Wednesday said that “Russian commanders will highly likely be increasingly concerned with the apparent deterioration in security across Crimea, which functions as rear base area for the occupation”.
It said Gvardeyskoye and Dzhankoi “are home to two of the most important Russian military airfields in Crimea”.
If Ukraine was behind the explosions, it would represent a significant escalation in the war. Such attacks could also indicate that Ukrainian operatives are able to penetrate deeply into Russian-occupied territory.
Last week, Mr Putin’s military in Crimea came under pressure when Ukraine said nine Russian warplanes were destroyed following explosions. At the time, Moscow still offered the possibility of a discarded cigarette butt as the cause.
Meanwhile, in the Donetsk region at the front of the Russian offensive, two civilians were killed and seven others wounded by recent Russian shelling of several towns and villages.
Russian Tu-22M3 long-range bombers fired cruise missiles at the Odesa region overnight on Tuesday, leaving four people injured, according to Odesa regional administration spokesman Oleh Bratchuk.
In the southern city of Mykolaiv, two Russian missiles damaged a university building early on Wednesday but injured no one.
The Russian forces also shelled Kharkiv and various parts of the Kharkiv region overnight, damaging residential buildings and civilian infrastructure but inflicting no casualties.
On Thursday, UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres plans to travel to Ukraine for a meeting in the western city of Lviv with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
They are expected to discuss the grain shipments and a possible fact-finding mission to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, which Russia and Ukraine have accused each other of shelling.