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Explosions Hit Russian Ammunition Depot in Crimea

The Wall Street Journal. logo The Wall Street Journal. 8/16/2022 James Marson, Ann M. Simmons, Matthew Luxmoore
© Sergei Malgavko/Zuma Press

Explosions rocked an ammunition depot in Crimea, damaging rail tracks and power lines and marking a fresh blow to Moscow’s war effort.

The blasts were set off by Ukrainian saboteurs, according to a senior Ukrainian government official. Russian officials also blamed sabotage, their first official acknowledgment of a major strike on the peninsula.

The explosions hit the ammunition dump early Tuesday at an abandoned farm near the village of Maiske, leaving two people with minor injuries. Authorities on the peninsula, which Russia’s military seized in 2014, evacuated more than 3,000 people from a three-mile zone around the depot and stopped trains on the nearby train line, which sweeps up from the eastern edge of the peninsula to the Ukrainian mainland.

“The demilitarization operation of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will continue in a precise fashion until the full deoccupation of Ukrainian territories,” Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, wrote on Telegram. “Crimea is Ukraine.”

The Ukrainian government official also said information was being gathered about reports of additional blasts in Crimea, about 50 miles away in Hvardiiske. The explosions underscore Russia’s vulnerabilities as Ukraine seeks to retake territory in its south that Russia occupied in the early stages of the war. Ukraine, which lacks the forces for a head-on assault, has sought to erode Russia’s ability to wage war by targeting ammunition dumps, command posts and bridges, usually with long-range rocket launchers provided by the U.S. Russia has reinforced its military in the south with thousands of troops that were transferred from eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asked Ukrainians in occupied regions like Crimea to stay away from “the military objects of the Russian army” and the places where Russian forces store ammunition and equipment. “The fewer opportunities the occupiers have to do evil and kill Ukrainians, the sooner we will be able to end this war by liberating our land,” he said in his Tuesday night address.

Blasts at a Russian air base in Crimea last week destroyed several warplanes, according to satellite images and Ukrainian and Western officials. Kyiv mocked Russia over the incident but didn’t take responsibility. Russia blamed an ammunition explosion, and said no warplanes were lost.

The damage to Russian facilities in Crimea has provided a morale boost for Ukrainian forces, which surrendered the peninsula in 2014 with little resistance and have been losing ground in the country’s east. The incidents also demonstrate a new threat to Russian supply lines from territory that Moscow considers its own in a war that it has sought to portray as a limited operation.

Videos shared on social media by Ukrainian officials purporting to show the scene of the blasts Tuesday showed a large fire and plumes of smoke with the sound of explosions crackling.

Russian officials said the exploding ammunition caused damage to a railway line that leads from eastern Crimea, where a bridge connects the peninsula with the Russian mainland. The Russian Ministry of Defense said power lines and infrastructure, as well as civilian homes, were damaged.

Authorities halted passenger trains at a station to the southeast of the fire and transferred passengers to buses. Officials said trains would resume Tuesday after repairs to the tracks were completed. The Russian-installed regional governor declared a local state of emergency.

Russia relies heavily on rail to transport military vehicles, equipment and troops.

Speaking via video to the Moscow international security conference on Tuesday, President Vladimir Putin repeated his claim that the U.S. is to blame for the war. Mr. Putin launched the war on Feb. 24 in an attempt to take control of Ukraine, which he said presented a security threat to Russia.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said the Himars rocket systems that Ukraine has used to target Russian military infrastructure and supply lines have had no effect on Russia’s military campaign. Western and Ukrainian officials and analysts have said the systems have dented Russia’s ability to wage war by forcing its military to locate ammunition supplies and command posts further from the front lines.

Fighting around the Zaporizhzhia nuclear-power plant has intensified in recent days. Mr. Zelensky on Monday accused Russia of rejecting the security demands of the European Union and other countries that have called on Russia to withdraw its forces from the plant.

Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, said Friday that Russia’s withdrawal from the nuclear station would make it “vulnerable to anyone who would like to go there with unknown intentions.”

“We cannot rule out provocations and terrorist attacks on the station,” he said. “We must protect the station.”

The spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said U.N. officials haven’t canceled or blocked a visit by the International Atomic Energy Agency to the plant, rejecting claims from Russian officials.

“The U.N. Secretariat has assessed that it has in Ukraine the logistics and security capacity to be able to support any IAEA mission to the Zaporizhzhia nuclear-power plant from Kyiv, should both Russia and Ukraine agree,” Stéphane Dujarric said.

The U.N. secretary-general plans to meet with Mr. Zelensky and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Aug. 18 in Lviv, Ukraine, according to his deputy spokesman, Farhan Haq, before visiting Odessa, one of the three ports being used as part of the Black Sea Grain Initiative. The agreement was the product of months of diplomacy led by the U.N. and Turkey and is aimed at easing global food shortages.

Before returning to New York, Mr. Guterres will also visit the Joint Coordination Center in Istanbul that was set up to implement the initiative, Mr. Haq said.

Write to James Marson at james.marson@wsj.com, Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com and Matthew Luxmoore at Matthew.Luxmoore@wsj.com

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