Russia Shuffling Troops, Planes Out of Crimea After Explosions: Report
A recent series of explosions in Crimea has spurred Russia to shuffle some of its planes and Black Sea Fleet troops out of the occupied peninsula, according to a Ukrainian military intelligence official.
Vadym Skibitsky, a representative for the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defense of Ukraine, told Krym.Realii in a report published Wednesday that the redeployed Black Sea Fleet personnel were sent to the Russian port city of Novorossiysk. Skibitsky said that those personnel “are not directly involved and have auxiliary functions” in the fleet.
The redeployed Russian aircraft were sent to airfields in Russian territory, he said. Skibitsky added that the directorate cannot rule out the possibility of some warships and supply vessels also being moved from Sevastopol, Crimea’s largest city and a major Black Sea port, to Novorossiysk to “avoid getting hit.” Ukraine’s defense ministry has previously said that Russian planes and helicopters were being moved either deep into Crimea or into Russian territory in the wake of the explosions.
Newsweek was not able to independently verify the reshuffling of the Crimean troops and planes. Russia’s defense ministry was contacted for confirmation and comment.
A series of explosions rocked a Russian airbase in Crimea last month, with Russia’s defense ministry attributing the blasts to detonated aviation ammunition. An anonymous Western official cited in a Reuters report said that the explosions knocked out more than half of Russia’s naval aviation combat jets from its Black Sea Fleet. The New York Times reported that a senior Ukrainian military official with knowledge on the matter said that Ukraine was behind it, even though Ukraine has not publicly confirmed this.
Newsweek was not able to independently verify that Ukraine was responsible for the blasts, or that more than half of the Black Sea Fleet’s naval aviation combat jets were put out of use.
Several days after the Russian airbase explosions, another series of blasts hit an ammunition depot in Crimea, causing it to catch fire. Russia’s defense ministry blamed the explosions on sabotage, although Ukraine again did not definitively claim responsibility.
Skibitsky told Krym.Realii that Russia has strengthened its air defense in Crimea with the transfer of further air defense forces and other means. He also said that Russian troops in Crimea have started to “take a closer look” at issues such as air threats and are preparing for them during exercises.
While Ukraine has not publicly confirmed any role in either of the series of blasts, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky vowed following the airfield explosions that the war would end with the “liberation” of Crimea, which was annexed by Russia in 2014.