Multiple explosions rocked a Russian airbase in Crimea on Tuesday, killing one person and wounding several others, authorities said.
The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that several munitions had exploded at the Saki base in the Novofedorovka region but that the area had not been shelled. A fire was being extinguished and an investigation into the cause was under way, the statement said.
A senior Ukrainian official who was not identified told the New York Times an Ukrainian strike had caused the explosions. If so, this would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site in Crimea, which the Kremlin illegally annexed in 2014, and could mark an escalation in the war.
“We have blasts at the airfield. All the windows are broken,” Viktoria Kazmirova, deputy head of the local administration, told the state-run TASS news agency.
Sergey Aksyonov, head of the Russian administration in Crimea, said no aviation equipment was damaged in the blast at the Saki base in the Novofedorovka region.
Crimea Today News said on Telegram that witnesses reported fire on a runway and damage to nearby homes from dozens of explosions.
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► The US is “still considering” a proposal to label Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications at the White House, told USA TODAY on Tuesday. “No decision has been made. The State Department is taking a look at that,” Kirby said.
►President Joe Biden signed NATO ratification documents for Sweden and Finland. Twenty-three of NATO’s 30 members have approved the additions. All members must approve for Sweden and Finland to join.
►Russia, blaming payment issues prompted by the latest round of EU sanctions, cut off the flow of oil in a pipeline that runs through Ukraine to refineries in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.
►Estonia and Finland want European countries to stop issuing tourist visas to Russians. Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said Tuesday that “visiting Europe is a privilege, not a human right.”
President Joe Biden hasn’t called Russian President Vladimir Putin directly to discuss a prisoner swap that could bring WNBA star Brittney Griner home, a high-ranking White House official said Tuesday. John Kirby, the National Security Council’s coordinator for strategic communications, told USA TODAY that “if the president believes that that is the appropriate step to take, then he’ll take that.”
Kirby said the administration is working hard for a deal that would free Griner, being held on drug charges, and Paul Whelan, in Russian custody on espionage charges since December 2018.
“We expect that the dialogue between the United States and Russia is not complete on this, that there is more work to be done,” Kirby said. “We have a serious proposal on the table, and the teams are working it out.”
Guerrilla forces loyal to Kyiv in occupied areas of southeastern Ukraine are attacking Moscow-installed officials, blowing up bridges and trains and helping the Ukrainian military by identifying key targets in an effort to challenge Russia’s grip on the region.
The resistance could erode Russian control and threaten Russia’s plans to hold referendums aimed at annexing some areas of Ukraine.
“Our goal is to make life unbearable for the Russian occupiers and use any means to derail their plans,” said Andriy, a 32-year-old coordinator of the guerrilla movement who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of not being fully identified.
Kherson, an occupied city of 500,000 people seized by Russian troops early in the war, has been openly discussed by Ukraine military leaders as a primary counteroffensive target. Guerrillas have repeatedly tried to kill Vladimir Saldo, the head of the Kherson region’s Russia-backed temporary administration. His assistant, Pavel Slobodchikov, was shot and killed in his vehicle, and another officer, Dmytry Savluchenko, was killed by a car bomb.
“The Russians were expecting that they would be met with flowers, but they faced the fact that most people consider themselves Ukrainians and are ready to offer resistance,” said Oleksii Aleksandrov, a businessman in the occupied southern port of Mariupol.
The Russian Foreign Ministry says Moscow agreed to an International Atomic Energy Agency visit to the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant in Enerhodar, Ukraine, on June 3, but the trip was canceled by UN officials because of security concerns. The UN and IAEA officials have warned that bombing in the area of the plant could lead to a nuclear disaster and have urged the combatants to allow an IAEA team into the plant.
Both sides have blamed the other for rocket attacks at the Russian-occupied plant.
“For our part, we are ready to provide the maximum possible assistance in resolving all organizational issues,” the foreign ministry statement said.
It is “highly likely” that Russia is deploying Soviet-era mines along its defensive lines in the eastern Donbas region, the UK Ministry of Defense said Monday. One type of mine Russia is likely using, the PFM-1 series, are “deeply controversial, indiscriminate weapons,” the ministry wrote.
Moscow deployed the same kind of mines during the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s, and many children were allegedly maimed after mistaking the mines for toys. The mines have likely degraded in quality since then, the UK said, and would be “unreliable and predictable” if used in Ukraine.
Contributing: The Associated Press
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism