Ukraine hints it blew up Russian missiles in occupied Crimea

A “mysterious explosion” destroyed Russian cruise missiles that were being transported through occupied Crimea, Ukraine said Tuesday, days after President Vladimir Putin visited the Black-Sea region.

The apparent attack was the latest to hit behind Russian lines in the annexed peninsula, and comes as officials in Kyiv suggest that retaking the area remains a priority for the country’s military ahead of a planned offensive later this year.

Ukraine has previously declined to take responsibility for attacks in Crimea and that was the case this time.

However, the country’s ministry of defense said in a Telegram post that “Kalibr NK” missiles designed to be launched from the Russian naval fleet in the Black Sea had been destroyed.

“The mysterious [explosions] continue the process of Russia’s demilitarization and prepares the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea for de-occupation,” the post said, adding that the missiles were being transported via railway.

The missiles can hit land targets as far as 1,500 miles and sea targets almost 240 miles away, the defense ministry added.

Footage posted to social media and geolocated by NBC News, showed an aerial vehicle flying near rail yard in the Dzhankoi area, in northern Crimea. It then dived towards the ground and erupted into flames. A loud explosion could then be heard. The person filming the video can then be heard asking: “Did it hit my house?”

A Russian military air base is located near Dzhankoi and Ukrainian officials have long claimed that the city and its surrounding areas have been turned into the largest Moscow military base in Crimea.

One person was injured with a house and store was damaged in the Dzhankoi area, the Russian-installed head of Crimea, Sergey Aksyonov said in a Telegram post.

“Air defense worked,” he said, without mentioning the missiles or specifying what type of attack it was.

In a separate post to his own Telegram channel, Aksyonov’s adviser Oleg Kryuchkov, said the attack had targeted civilians.

“All the drones targeted civilian sites,” he wrote, alongside pictures which showed a downed small aircraft. “There are no military installations nearby,” he added.

NBC News could not independently verify their claims.

Russia has bombarded Ukrainian cities with high precision cruise missiles which are usually launched from its warships, often hitting civilian targets. Russia has denied targeting civilian infrastructure.

While much of the fighting in recent months has centered around the eastern city of Bakhmut, analysts say the explosion in Crimea could mean Ukraine was still continuing with its offensive against strategic targets elsewhere.

“It allows the Ukrainians to collect intelligence on Russian responses in Crimea as the Ukrainian Armed Forces plan future military operations there,” Mick Ryan, a retired major general and adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said on Twitter.

Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014, first by force and later a referendum, which has been denounced as a sham by the U.S. and much of the international community. It has since become the major supply route for its forces in the south and the east.

There have been several attacks on the peninsula since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

In August, an ammunition depot, also in Dzhankoi, was hit by a series of blasts, which Russia called an act of “sabotage” at the time.

Then in October, another blast destroyed part the Kerch bridge connecting the Russian mainland to Crimean Peninsula. Putin took the project of connecting Crimea with the Russian mainland personally and the 12-mile structure built after the annexation, so the attack, which Ukraine did not claim, was a symbolic blow.

“Strikes like this are not war winning silver bullets. But, their impact is cumulative on the degradation of Russian morale and war fighting capability,” Ryan said.

The latest explosion came just two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Crimea on Saturday — the day after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him, alleging that he oversaw the war crime of the unlawful abduction and deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.

During his visit Friday, Putin expressed no intention of loosening his grip. “Obviously, security issues take top priority for Crimea and Sevastopol now,” he said, referring to Crimea’s largest city. “We will do everything needed to fend off any threats.”

Ukrainian President Volodymy Zelenskyy has vowed to take the territory back.

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