Powerful explosions shook a Russian air base in Crimea on Tuesday, sending towering clouds of smoke over the landscape, potentially escalating the conflict in Ukraine. According to authorities, at least one person was killed, and several were injured.
The Russian Defense Ministry denied that the Saki base on the Black Sea had been shelled, instead claiming that bombs had exploded there. However, reports on Ukrainian social media suggested that it was damaged by long-range missiles fired from Ukraine.
Sunbathers on surrounding beaches were seen fleeing as massive flames and pillars of smoke rose over the horizon from various spots, accompanied by deafening booms. Witnesses reported burning on a runway and damage to surrounding residences as a result of dozens of blasts, according to reports.
According to Tass, Russia’s national news agency, the primary cause of the explosions looked like a “violation of fire safety rules.” However, according to the ministry, no warplanes were damaged.
“The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine cannot establish the source of the fire, but once again recalls the regulations of fire safety and the ban of smoking in unspecified areas,” Ukraine’s Defense Ministry wrote on Facebook.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a presidential adviser, remarked cryptically in his regular online interview that the blasts were either generated by a Ukrainian-made long-range weapon or were the work of partisans operating in Crimea.
Throughout the battle, Russia has reported many fires and explosions near the Ukrainian border at munitions storage locations, blaming some of them on Ukrainian strikes. However, Ukrainian officials have largely remained silent on the incidents.
If Ukrainian forces were behind the air base explosions, it would be the first known big attack on a Russian military station on the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014.
Last month, a smaller explosion at Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean town of Sevastopol was blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs using a drone.
Moscow warned Ukraine that any strike on Crimea would result in massive retaliatory action, including attacks on Kyiv’s “decision-making centres.”
In the meantime, the president of Ukraine has threatened to reclaim Crimea from Russia.
“This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — its liberation,” President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Tuesday in his video address.
“Today, it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary components to the formula for the liberation of Crimea.”