Who was behind the explosions in Crimea? Ukraine and Russia aren’t saying

Many international and Ukrainian commentators find it hard to believe that no official side has taken responsibility for the attacks on the Russian airbase on the Crimean coast, days after the explosions occurred.

On Friday, the Pentagon stated that a high-ranking official from the Defense Department claimed that Ukraine had attacked Russia’s Saki air base.

“The attack had a significant effect on Russian air capabilities and personnel,” stated their press release.

The blasts at the Russian military facility were characterized as a “misleading portrayal” of the previous remarks, but subsequently, the website had been revised and incorporated a rectification message.

Russian authorities alleged that the workers at the Saki air base failed to adhere to safety protocols, leading to a significant accident and fire during the Tuesday explosions. Nevertheless, local Russian officials recognized that one individual had died and several others were injured, as evidenced by social media pictures showing extensive plumes of smoke emanating from a nearby beach and ambulances hastening to the site. Additionally, the officials pledged to restore over 80 structures that suffered damage from the explosions, unveiling the magnitude of the destruction.

According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, nine aircrafts of Russian origin were annihilated. The examination of satellite images released by the company Planet revealed that debris was strewn across the runway and that the nine planes were extensively separated, indicating the occurrence of numerous detonations.

The Ukrainian officials claim that the planes based at the Saki air base, which is located in the southern mainland of Ukraine, were providing tactical assistance to Russia’s occupation of southern Ukraine, where the loyal authorities announced their intent to annex the Russian Federation.

In 2014, Russia seized control of Crimea from Ukraine, as Ukraine’s attempts to regain Russian-occupied land ultimately extended to Crimea, with the belief that the explosions were met with celebration by numerous individuals in Ukraine. Throughout this week, speeches and media attention surrounding the conflict have heavily influenced the disputed peninsula, yet Ukrainian authorities, including Zelenskyy and his chief counselor, have openly refuted any involvement of Ukraine in the attacks on the military base.

“The conflict with Russia started and will conclude in Crimea,” Zelenskyy stated, promising “we will reclaim the Ukrainian Crimea.”

NPR reported that two high-ranking Ukrainian military sources confirmed the claims, stating that local partisans and Ukrainian special forces were responsible for the attack. The Washington Post and The New York Times cited unnamed Ukrainian military sources.

President Zelenskyy has launched a probe into the leak, calling it “irresponsible,” as he believes that implementing our defense plans will be more advantageous. He further stated that providing fewer concrete details to the media would be better.

The Pentagon initially confirmed that American weapons were not used in the attack, but later removed references to Crimea in the news release. Experts in the military have argued that Crimea is a fair game for Ukraine, since it is considered illegally occupied by Russia. However, American officials say that the use of U.S.-Supplied weapons against Russian territory is restricted.

Analysts suggest that Ukrainian forces lack the capability to launch projectiles over the necessary distance of 120 miles to reach the Saki air base. However, the explosions have sparked speculation that Ukraine has expedited the development of its own long-range weapons program. According to an analysis from The War Zone, a military news and analysis site, Ukraine may have modified older weapons from the Soviet era to extend their range into Russian-held territory. In April, Ukraine successfully utilized domestically-produced Neptune rockets to sink the Moskva, one of Russia’s largest warships, a feat that was previously believed to be beyond Ukraine’s capabilities.

Since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, many leading Tatars have been exiled and are largely seen with suspicion due to their overwhelming pro-Ukrainian stance. In the wake of the blasts, the Indigenous Muslim group, the Crimean Tatars, have been arrested and searched, as stated by a Ukrainian civil rights group. On Ukraine’s Independence Day, August 24th, a local official loyal to Russia, Sergei Aksyonov, said that Crimea will be under a “yellow” high level terrorist threat. Even though Russians are chalking up the blasts to an accident, security levels on the peninsula have been ramped up.

It’s unlikely these blasts will change much about Russia’s presence in Crimea. Russia still maintains five other air bases on the peninsula.

Following the detonations, videos on social platforms depicted congested roads as individuals endeavored to evacuate the peninsula. The explosions occurred during the peak of Crimea’s tourist season, attracting a large number of Russians who were drawn to the region for its pleasant subtropical climate and beautiful beaches.

Following that, a nearly 12-mile section of highway was inaugurated in 2018 to link Crimea with mainland Russia, Ukraine could potentially focus on the Kerch bridge. However, Russia’s Tourism Ministry claims that there has been no decrease in trips to Crimea since the incident. Speculation regarding Ukrainian accountability has also contributed to doubts about Ukraine.

Officials from Russia said that they were busy reconnecting the Ukrainian power lines to the destroyed Crimea in July 2015. They claimed that Russia’s power grid would integrate with Crimea, thus formalizing the annexation, while also working to disconnect the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant from the rest of Ukraine. This apparent crisis, involving attacks on the power station in Russian-occupied southern Ukraine, is drawing much attention this week.

The analysis from the War Study Institute suggests that the crisis in Zaporizhzhia may be Russia’s way of forcing negotiations with Ukraine, even though 84% of polled Ukrainians in Kyiv, as surveyed by the International Sociology Institute, are against conceding Crimea-like territory to end the war sooner.

Ukrainian said she that attempts are underway to “retake Crimea,” without providing details. Tamila Tasheva, Ukraine’s envoy for Crimean Tatars, argued that the two related issues are being discussed.

Tasheva also accused Russia of coercing Crimean Tatars to visit parts of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces and lobbying residents to extol the virtues of the potential annexation ahead of the Russian occupation.

During a press briefing in Kyiv, Tasheva stated, “the Russian occupations of Crimea and southern Ukraine are inherently interconnected in terms of both military strategy and civilian propaganda.”