Missile strikes headquarters of Russia’s navy in Crimea
Ukraine struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in a missile attack Friday that left a serviceman missing and the main building smoldering, according to military officials on both sides of the war and images from the scene in Crimea.
The Russian Defence Ministry initially said one service member was killed, but then issued a statement saying he was missing following the attack in the port city of Sevastopol.
The Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been a frequent target since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine almost 19 months ago.
Crimea has served as the key hub supporting Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Sevastopol, the main base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet since the 19th century, has had a particular importance for navy operations since the start of the invasion of Ukraine.
Ukraine has increasingly targeted naval facilities in Crimea in recent weeks while the brunt of its summer counter-offensive makes slow gains in the east and south of Ukraine, the Institute for the Study of War said Thursday. Military experts say it is essential for Ukraine to keep up its attacks on targets in Crimea to degrade Russian morale and weaken its military.
The attack came a day after Russia pounded cities across Ukraine with missiles and artillery strikes, killing at least five people as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with US President Joe Biden and congressional leaders in Washington while a $24-billion aid package is under consideration. Zelenskyy was in Canada on Friday to address its Parliament in his ongoing effort to bolster support from Western allies.
Previous attacks in Crimea resulted in several civilian deaths, but Russian officials haven’t yet reported any military personnel killed. Six people were reported wounded following a July 2022 attack on the fleet’s headquarters, but it wasn’t clear whether they were civilians or service members.
The Russian-installed governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev, said no one was injured Friday outside of the burning headquarters building.
The Ukrainian military claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We promised that ‘there will be more’,” Lt Gen Mykola Oleschuk, the air force commander, said in a social media post that thanked pilots and showed video of air sirens blazing and smoke rising from the building.
The Russian Defence Ministry said five missiles were shot down by Russian air defence systems responding to the attack on Sevastopol. It was not immediately clear if the headquarters was hit in a direct strike or by debris from an intercepted missile.
Sevastopol residents said they heard explosions and saw smoke, Russian news outlets reported, and images showed gray plumes over the seafront. The Associated Press could not immediately verify the videos.
A stream of ambulances arrived at the fleet’s headquarters, and shrapnel was scattered hundreds of metres (yards) around, Russian state news agency Tass reported.
Oleg Kryuchkov, an official with the Crimean administration, said one cruise missile downed near Bakhchysarai, about 30 kilometers (18.5 miles) inland, sparked a grass fire.
Razvozhayev said civilian infrastructure wasn’t damaged, but did not mention the impact on the fleet headquarters.
He urged Sevastopol residents not to go to the central part of the city, saying roads were closed and and unspecified “special efforts” were under way. Police asked residents to leave the central part of the city, Tass said.
The attack Friday is one of several recently launched by Ukraine in the Crimea area.
The Institute for the Study of War said satellite imagery this week showed that Ukrainian strikes had significantly damaged a communications command centre in Verkhnosadove, just outside Sevastopol.