Ukrainian saboteurs and special forces are said to be causing chaos against Russian targets behind enemy lines—with their most spectacular operation to date going off with a bang Tuesday.
After a series of explosions ripped through a Russian air base on the occupied Crimean peninsula, the Russian defense ministry said that detonating aerial ordnance at the site was to blame and that no one had been hurt. Questions about the Kremlin’s version of efforts were immediately raised based on videos of the blasts shared on social media, which analysts said looked much more like the result of a coordinated attack than an isolated accident. New revelations have reduced the Russian story about what happened to a smoldering wreck.
Speaking to The Washington Post on Wednesday, an anonymous Ukrainian government official said the explosions at the base were in fact caused by an operation carried out by Ukrainian special forces. Exactly how the attack was executed has not been divulged, though a U.S. official has insisted that an American weapon was not used in the attack. The explosions were so far behind the frontline that the area had been presumed safe enough by Russian authorities to allow tourists to visit nearby resorts; footage on social media showed beachgoers running for cover as the plumes of smoke and flame erupted from the base.
Russian officials later reported that one person had been killed and 13 injured in the blasts.
Although Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky did not address the Crimea explosions directly in his nightly address to his people Tuesday, he made it clear that he wants to wrest control of the region back from Moscow, which annexed Crimea in 2014. “Crimea is Ukrainian,” Zelensky said, “And we will never give it up.”
If confirmed to be a Ukrainian operation, the attack would represent a significant escalation in the range of Kyiv’s ability to strike back against invading forces. But Tuesday’s deadly blasts aren’t the only attack credited to undercover Ukrainian agents.
A Kremlin-appointed mayor in the occupied city of Kherson was put in a coma and flown to Russia for treatment after he fell ill on Aug. 3. After “five months non-stop under bullets,” Vladimir Saldo was “simply overtired,” the deputy head of the Kherson administration claimed, denying that he had been poisoned. Russian state media accounts of the illness differed, with some claiming he’d had a stroke, while others said he’d contracted COVID. But Russian opposition media reported that Saldo had in fact been poisoned by a chef brought into his house the day before he mysteriously fell ill. It’s thought that Ukrainian military strategists are turning to residents in Russian-occupied territories to carry out the attacks—including the poisoning of Saldo.
These undercover guerrilla agents, or “partisans,” were also thought to have been responsible for the assassination of another Moscow-installed official less than 24 hours after Saldo was taken to Moscow for treatment.
Vitaly Gur, who was appointed to be the deputy head of the town of Nova Kakhovka near Kherson, was shot Saturday as he left his apartment building. He died as he was being rushed to hospital in Crimea, Russian media reported.
It’s not clear if Ukraine has plans for future attacks behind enemy lines—but Kyiv issued a warning for Russian vacationers on Tuesday. Alongside a picture of thick black smoke rising from the Crimean air base, a spokesperson tweeted: “The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine would like to remind everyone that the presence of occupying troops on the territory of Ukrainian Crimea is not compatible with the high tourist season.”