Ukraine hints at involvement in another Crimea explosion roiling Russia

Moscow denounced sabotage and Ukraine hinted at responsibility for new explosions on Tuesday at a military base in Russian-annexed Crimea that is an important supply line for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Satellite images show ship carrying Ukrainian grain dock in Syria, according analysis

Explosions rock electricity station in Crimea

10 months ago
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A transformer substation is shown on fire after a blast in Dzhankoi, a town in Russian-annexed Crimea. Russia described the explosion as 'sabotage.'

Moscow denounced sabotage and Ukraine hinted at responsibility for new explosions on Tuesday at a military base in Russian-annexed Crimea that is an important supply line for Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The blasts engulfed an ammunition depot at a military base in the north of the Crimean peninsula, disrupting trains and forcing the evacuation of 2,000 people from a nearby village, according to Russian officials and news agencies.

Plumes of smoke were later seen at a second Russian military base in central Crimea, Russia's Kommersant newspaper said, while blasts hit another facility in the west last week.

Black smoke rises from a fire seen near electrical towers.
A view shows smoke rising above a transformer electric substation, which caught fire after a blast in the Dzhankoi district of Crimea on Tuesday. (Reuters)

The explosions raised the prospect of new dynamics in the six-month-old war if Ukraine now has capability to strike deeper into Russian territory or pro-Kyiv groups are having success with guerrilla-style attacks.

Russia has used Crimea, which it annexed from Ukraine in 2014, to reinforce its troops fighting in other parts of Ukraine with military hardware, a process Ukraine is keen to disrupt ahead of a potential counter-offensive in southern Ukraine.

Crimea is the base of Russia's Black Sea Fleet and also popular in the summer as a holiday resort.

In Tuesday's blasts, an electricity substation also caught fire, according to footage on Russian state TV. Seven trains were delayed and rail traffic on part of the line in northern Crimea had been suspended, Russia's RIA news agency said.

Operation 'demilitarization'

Ukraine has not officially confirmed or denied responsibility for explosions in Crimea, though its officials have openly cheered incidents in territory that, until last week, appeared safe in Moscow's grip beyond range of attack.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak and chief of staff Andriy Yermak both exulted on social media at "demilitarization," an apparent mocking reference to the word Russia uses to justify its invasion.

"Operation 'demilitarization' in the precise style of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will continue until the complete de-occupation of Ukraine's territories. Our soldiers are the best sponsors of a good mood," Yermak wrote on Telegram.

Russia's defence ministry said the explosions at the ammunition depot were "a result of sabotage."

Last week, blasts at another military airbase on Crimea's western coast caused extensive damage and destroyed several Russian war planes.

Russia's Crimean bases are mainly out of range of the main rockets Western countries acknowledge giving Ukraine, raising the prospect that it has acquired new capability.

Putin gives latest denouncement of West

Russia calls its invasion a "special military operation" to demilitarize its neighbour, protect Russian-speaking communities and push back against the NATO military alliance's expansion.

Ukraine and Western backers accuse Russian President Vladimir Putin of waging an imperial-style war of conquest.

In a speech to a security conference, Putin accused the United States of trying to drag out the Ukraine war by backing Zelenskyy's government while also whipping up frictions in Asia.

He cited the AUKUS security pact between Australia, Britain and the United States as evidence of Western attempts to build a NATO-style bloc in the Asia-Pacific region.

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit this month to Taiwan, which China claims as its own, was "part of a purposeful, conscious U.S. strategy to destabilize and sow chaos in the region and the world," Putin said.

UN chief to meet Zelenskyy in Ukraine

With the war raging since Feb. 24, attention has also focused in recent days on shelling in the vicinity of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant in southern Ukraine.

Both sides have blamed each other for risks to Europe's largest nuclear facility, which Russia has seized though Ukrainian technicians operate it.

The United Nations has said it can help facilitate a visit by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to Zaporizhzhia from Kyiv, but Russia said any mission going through Ukraine's capital was too dangerous.

A large, circular metal structure.
The Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant is pictured amid the Ukraine-Russia conflict outside the Russian-controlled city of Enerhodar in the Zaporizhzhia region on Aug. 4. (Alexander Ermochenko/Reuters)

UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said on Tuesday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would meet Zelenskyy, along with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Lviv in western Ukraine and discuss the situation at the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant, along with finding a political solution to the conflict with Russia.

On Friday, Guterres will visit the Black Sea port of Odesa, where grain exports have resumed under a UN-brokered deal, before heading to Turkey on Saturday to visit the Joint Coordination Center (JCC) in Istanbul, which is made up of Russian, Ukrainian, Turkish and U.N. officials overseeing the Black Sea exports of Ukraine grain and fertilizer.

LISTEN | Nuclear plant under Russian occupation prompts fears of catastrophe:

In Ukraine, a nuclear plant under Russian occupation has the international community warning of potential catastrophe. Guest host Michelle Shephard discusses the risks with Philip Crowther, international affiliate correspondent for the Associated Press; and Mariana Budjeryn, a Ukrainian nuclear expert at Harvard's Belfer Center.

Ship carrying grain from Ukraine in Syria

The first shipment of grain to leave Ukraine under a wartime deal appears to have ended up in Syria — even as Damascus remains a close ally of Moscow, satellite images analyzed Tuesday by The Associated Press show.

Images from Planet Labs PBC analyzed by the AP showed the Sierra Leone-flagged Razoni at Syria's port of Tartus just before 11 a.m. local time Monday. The vessel was just next to the port's grain silos, key to supplying wheat to the nation.

The Razoni, loaded with 26,000 tons of corn, left Odesa on Aug. 1. The cargo ship was the first to leave a Ukrainian-controlled port in the country since Russia launched the war in February.

Data from the Razoni's Automatic Identification System tracker shows it had been turned off since Friday, when it was just off the coast of Cyprus, according to ship-tracking website Ships are supposed to keep their AIS trackers on, but vessels wanting to hide their movements often turn theirs off. Those heading to Syrian ports routinely do so.

The Razoni could be identified in the satellite image by its color, length and width, as well as the four large white cranes on its deck. Samir Madani, co-founder of the oil-shipment website and an expert on following ships via satellite images, similarly identified the vessel from the image.

The Financial Times first reported on the satellite image.

Aerial image of a ship in the water near concrete piers extending from the land.
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the Sierra Leone-flagged cargo ship Razoni, center bottom with four white cranes on its red deck, at port in Tartus, Syria, Monday, Aug. 15. (Planet Labs PBC via The Associated Press)

But Lebanon, which was Razoni's presumed destination, ended up not taking the shipment, even as it struggles with its own economic crisis. Lebanese media had reported that after a months long delay due to the war in Ukraine, the merchant who had bought the shipment no longer wanted it.

The vessel sat off Mersin, Turkey, before heading to Syria.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian Embassy in Beirut referred to an earlier statement that Razoni's cargo was no longer Kyiv's responsibility.

"Our task has been to reopen seaports for grain cargo and it has been done," the statement said.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price similarly said that America didn't "determine who buys the grain shipments or their final destinations."

5 more ships depart Ukraine

Turkey's defence ministry said that five ships, including the Brave Commander, left Ukrainian ports on Tuesday carrying corn and wheat, as well as three from Chornomorsk and two from Pivdennyi. That lifts the total number of ships to leave under the July 22 grain deal to 21.

Four more ships bound for Ukraine were to be inspected on Tuesday by the JCC in Istanbul. 

The JCC said on Tuesday that it had so far approved 15 ships traveling to Ukraine to pick up grains, foodstuffs and fertilizers.

A cargo ship is shown on a body of water.
The Brave Commander bulk carrier makes its way from the Pivdennyi Seaport near Odesa, Ukraine, on Tuesday. According to Ukraine's Ministry of Infrastructure, the ship will export 23,000 tonnes of Ukrainian wheat. (Nina Lyashonok/The Associated Press)

With files from The Associated Press