June 17, 2024

Ukraine Drone Hits Crimean Depot, Belgorod Cluster Bombs: Claims

A Ukrainian drone attack on Crimea on Saturday blew up an ammunition depot, prompting evacuations on the Moscow-annexed peninsula and halting rail traffic, just five days after drones damaged Russia’s symbolic bridge across the Kerch Strait.

Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014, was targeted by Kyiv during Moscow’s 17-month offensive on all of Ukraine but has seen increased attacks in recent weeks.

In the face of counter-offensives launched to regain lands lost to Moscow, Kyiv has indicated more than ever – despite Western disquiet – that it also aims to return the Black Sea peninsula.

“The goal is to return Crimea,” Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky said, according to a transcript published by his office on Saturday of a speech addressing the Aspen Security Forum on Friday.

He said that Kyiv considers the Crimean bridge – opened by Russian leader Vladimir Putin in 2018 – as an “enemy object” and wants it to be “neutralized”.

Less than 24 hours later, the leader of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, who was installed in Moscow, said that an “enemy” drone had detonated an ammunition depot.

“As a result of an attack by an enemy drone on the Krasnogvardeisky area, an ammunition depot detonated,” Aksyonov said on Telegram, referring to an area located inland in the center of Crimea.

He did not specify exactly where it hit and ordered the evacuation of those living within five kilometers of the zone, without saying how many residents would be moved.

Aksyonov reported no casualties and claimed there was little damage, but unverified videos on social media showed smoke rising into the air.

He added that rail traffic will be stopped on the peninsula: “To reduce risks, it was also decided to stop rail traffic on Crimean railways.”

Authorities later said two trains heading from Moscow to Crimea’s capital, Simferopol, and another in the opposite direction were stopped.

Road traffic across the Crimea bridge – one of the few ways out of Crimea as flights have been canceled during the conflict – only reopened on Saturday after a Ukrainian attack damaged the bridge on Tuesday, killing two.

The attacks on Crimea come as many of Kyiv’s western allies are uncomfortable with Ukraine’s ambitions to take back the annexed land, fearing a larger-scale conflict with Russia.

They also signaled a sharp rise in the Black Sea area, with Russia this week pulling out of a significant grain deal that allowed ships to safely carry cargo and saying it would consider vessels bound for Ukraine to be potential military targets.

Ukraine has also warned that it may consider vessels bound for Russian ports as carrying “military cargo”.

In his speech, Zelensky warned that Moscow believes that “the Black Sea is only Russian”.

He said Kyiv was “looking for a way out” to find a new grain corridor after Moscow pulled out of the market and was talking to other Black Sea countries such as Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria.

Kyiv asked the United Nations and neighboring countries to ensure safe passage for cargo through joint patrols.

The Russian army conducted live fire exercises in the Black Sea on Friday, with the UN warning against escalation.

On the battlefield, Moscow forces said on Saturday they had pushed back three Ukrainian attacks in the eastern villages of Urozhayniy and Priyutniy.

Russia also accused Kyiv of using an infamous cluster munition on the Russian border village of Zhuravlevka, two weeks after the US was criticized for sending the controversial weapons to Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden faced fierce criticism from his own allies earlier this month for launching the munitions – which could pose a long-term risk to civilians.

Belgorod Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said “the Ukrainian army had fired three cluster munitions from a multiple rocket launcher (by the Ukrainian army) in the village of Zhuravlevka” on Friday.

The small village is located on the border with Ukraine in a region where there have been almost daily cross-border attacks for several months.

This was the first time that Russia reported that the weapons were used on its territory.

Biden said earlier this month that he had made a “very difficult decision” to send the weapons to Kyiv.

Putin has said that Moscow had enough cluster munitions to respond if Ukraine were to use the weapons.

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