Was exactly on Friday night the Crimea what happened cannot be said from the outside. The only thing that is certain is that several explosions could be heard at two locations on the occupied Ukrainian peninsula that are strategically important for Russia – at the Belbek military airport near Sevastopol and near Kerch, where the bridge from the Russian mainland to Crimea meets.
According to official Russian information, Russian air defenses were in action in both cases. A drone was shot down near Belbek. The Ukrainian leadership is keeping a low profile. “You understand, we have nothing to do with this,” tweeted Oleksiy Arestovich, an adviser to the President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The American think tank Institute for the Study of War sees a whole range of possible explanations for the incidents: improper handling of military material by Russian soldiers, Ukrainian espionage, attacks by Ukrainians, successful Russian air defenses – or nervousness on the part of the Russian troops who died after the explosions in the Saki military airport last week and in the Dschankoy ammunition depot this week now react at the first suspicion of danger.
There has been official talk of sabotage since Wednesday
Until the beginning of August, Russian propaganda presented the Crimea as an unassailable bastion. Despite the war in the Ukraine, thousands of vacationers flocked from all over the country, as in previous summers Russia to the peninsula. The first hint of Ukrainian activities in Crimea came at the end of July, when the celebrations of Russian Navy Day in Sevastopol were canceled after a drone crashed over the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet.
The Russian military explained the explosions at the Saki military airport ten days ago as accidentally exploding ammunition, but did not admit the loss of several aircraft, as documented by satellite images. After the explosions near Dschankoj on Wednesday, which also damaged the railway connection to Russia, there was already official talk of sabotage.
The causes of these blows, which are sensitive to the logistics of Russian troops in southern Ukraine, are unclear. At least officially has the Ukraine no weapons whose range is long enough to fire on those targets from the area under their control.
The New York Times reported, citing an anonymous source in the Ukrainian leadership, that a special military unit was operating behind Russian lines. According to Ukrainian information, the Russians have hardly allowed anyone from southern Ukraine to Crimea since the explosions.
Ukraine sees Crimea as a legitimate target
Officially, the Ukrainian leadership accepts no responsibility for the events in Crimea – as well as for fires or explosions in oil refineries or ammunition dumps in Russia. The most recent incident of this type also occurred on Friday night near Belgorod, about 50 kilometers from the Ukrainian border. Such events are at best commented maliciously in Kyiv – often with the saying that someone was obviously smoking in the wrong place.
In the case of Crimea, however, the Ukrainian leadership has always emphasized that strikes against military targets on the island occupied by Russia in 2014 would be legitimate. From Kiev’s point of view, this also applies to the Crimean Bridge, as Presidential Advisor Mykhailo Podoliak said this week: This is a structure built illegally by the occupiers.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said this week Ukraine has the right to use US-supplied weapons in Crimea as a matter of self-defense. The American news portal Politico reported on Wednesday, citing an unnamed American government official, that Washington shares this view.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov reacted to this on Friday: If objects in Russia or Crimea were attacked, there could be no question of self-defense. It is an escalation of the conflict that is encouraged and supported by Washington.