Ukraine launches fresh strike on Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters

Ukraine launches fresh strike on Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters

Ukraine has launched a fresh strike on Russia’s Black Sea fleet headquarters at Sevastopol, where officials in the annexed Crimean peninsula said that at least one drone had been shot down by air defences.

 

The reported attack on Saturday morning – a day after explosions erupted near military bases in Russian-held areas of Ukraine and Russia itself – came on the same day that 12 civilians were reportedly wounded when a Russian missile hit a residential area of a Ukrainian town.

 

Vitaliy Kim, the governor of Mykolaiv, said that four children were among those wounded in an attack that damaged several private houses and a five-storey residential building in Voznesensk, about 19 miles (30km) from the Pivdennoukrainsk nuclear power plant.

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He added that a young girl had lost an eye as a result of the attack on Saturday.

 

While there was no apparent major damage after the reported unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) attack on Sevastopol, which has not been verified, observers said it demonstrated Ukraine’s ability to strike deep behind Russian lines at prestige targets.

 

Video shared on Twitter appeared to show Russian air defences attempting to destroy the UAV and dark plumes of smoke rising from the city.

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Mikhail Razvozhayev, Sevastopol’s governor, wrote on Telegram that a drone had hit the roof of the headquarters on Saturday and said there were no casualties, reports the Russian news agency Tass.

 

“I am at the [Black Sea] fleet’s headquarters now. A drone hit the roof here 25 minutes ago. Unfortunately, it was not downed … There are no casualties,” he wrote.

 

Later on Saturday, Crimea’s governor, Sergei Aksyonov, contradicted the earlier statement by saying on Telegram that local air defences shot down the drone above the Black Sea fleet headquarters in Sevastopol.

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“Air defense systems successfully hit all targets over the territory over Crimea on Saturday morning. There are no casualties or material damage,” his boss, Sergei Aksyonov, said on Telegram.

 

Authorities in Sevastopol reported on Saturday night that the city’s air-defence systems had been called into action again in the evening.

 

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s defence ministry on Saturday said its forces had killed a total of 44,900 Russian personnel – a rise of 200 on the day before.

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On Friday, the US said for the first time that it would provide Ukraine with ScanEagle surveillance drones, mine-resistant vehicles, anti-armour rounds and howitzer weapons in a new £655m aid package to help its efforts to take back Ukrainian territory.

 

“These capabilities are carefully calibrated to make the most difference on the battlefield and strengthen Ukraine’s position at the negotiating table,” Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said.

 

There was cautious optimism on Saturday as two more grain ships left the Ukrainian port of Chornomorsk , bringing the total number to leave Ukraine’s Black Sea under a UN-brokered deal to 27.

 

Welcoming the sailings, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said on Saturday that governments and the private sector should cooperate to bring Russian food and fertilisers as well as Ukrainian grain to world markets under the deal agreed last month.

 

“The other part of this package deal is the unimpeded access to the global markets of Russian food and fertiliser, which are not subject to sanctions,” Guterres told a news conference in Istanbul. “It is important that all governments and the private sector cooperate to bring them to market.

 

Wednesday will mark six months of war in the region since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

 

While Russia has made gains in the east, it has been put on the defensive in other regions as Ukraine scales up its attacks in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which was seized by Russia in 2014.

 

Last week, a total of nine Russian warplanes were reported destroyed at a Crimean airbase.

 

Russian leaders have warned that such strikes indicate an escalation in the conflict, powered by the US and Nato allies.

 

In its latest intelligence update on the conflict, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) said last week that it saw “only minimal changes in territorial control along the frontline”.

 

In Donbas, it said Russian forces have approached the outskirts of Bakhmut, but have not broken into the city. The Guardian reports. In the south-west, it reported that neither Ukrainian or Russian forces had made advances on the frontline in occupied Kherson, but added: “Increasingly frequent explosions behind Russian lines are probably stressing Russian logistics and air basing in the south.”

 

The Conspiracy

Experts such as Justin Bronk from the Royal United Services Institute thinktank suggest the drone in the film could have been a commercially available Chinese-made model, the $9,500 (£8,030) Mugin-5, or a copy of it. It has a flying time of up to seven hours, the manufacturers say, and a top speed of 150 km/h (95mph) and could have been adapted to carry an improvised warhead. The payload, the manufacturers say, is 15 to 20 kilograms.

 

The drone may also have been simply engaged in reconnaissance, although the growing evidence of a pattern of drone strikes deep behind the frontline in Crimea and elsewhere suggests something different. Russia said the same naval base was hit by a drone strike at the end of July, wounding five people, making the fact that defences were not tightened all the more remarkable.

 

A video, originally from a Russian military blogger, showed a similar-looking aircraft being used in a kamikaze strike on an oil refinery at Novoshakhtinsk, inside Russian territory near Rostov, just across the border from occupied Donetsk. The similarity is unlikely to be a coincidence.

 

Ukraine continues to decline to take formal responsibility for such attacks, though it does do so sometimes in private. In public the country’s leaders prefer to make knowing comments that are not always subtle. Take Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s statement overnight: “This year, one can literally feel in the air of Crimea that the occupation there is temporary, and Ukraine is returning.”

 

The suggestion is that Ukraine has evolved a new method of attack, aimed at sowing “chaos within Russian forces”, as the key Zelenskiy adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told the Guardian last week. Some experts believe drones operated by special forces were responsible for the dramatic attack on the Saky airbase, where about nine combat planes that supported Russia’s Black Sea fleet were destroyed.

 

In any event, such drone strikes will have a practical effect. The Institute for the Study of War said “Russian occupation officials in Crimea are likely considering strengthening security on the peninsula” and that “such measures may draw Russian security forces away from the frontlines”.

 

But the critical point is the psychological impact. Repeatedly captured on video, they demonstrate that Crimea and similar behind-the-lines locations are not safe, bringing the conflict closer to Russia and the occupied territories, while at the same time being focused (at least so far) on military and industrial targets.

 

A string of social media videos show traffic jams on roads out of the Crimean peninsula, including at least one released on Saturday, suggesting Russians who moved into the territory after it was occupied and annexed in 2014 no longer consider it safe. Others show traffic jams out of Sevastopol to Yalta.

 

If that is the effect of a handful of drone strikes, Ukraine will consider the effort justified. No wonder Razvozhaev told Russians in Sevastopol that it was time to fight the propaganda war better as he appealed for everyone to remain calm because the local air defence system was now working. “Upload videos with the work of our air defence systems,” he said.

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