Ukraine carried out a spectacular drone strike in Crimea on Saturday, blowing up an ammunition depot, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents and halting rail traffic on the annexed peninsula.
Russia has described the planned death of a Russian journalist in a Ukrainian bombing as a “heinous crime”, holding the West “responsible” along with Kiev and vowing to “answer” those responsible for the attack.
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who acted as a mediator between Moscow’s staunch ally Kremlin and Yevgeny Prigozhin during Wagner’s aborted uprising in Russia a month ago, arrived in St Petersburg (northwest) on Sunday where he was due to meet Vladimir Putin.
The two leaders plan to discuss, in particular, the “strategic partnership and alliance” between Moscow and Minsk, the Kremlin said in a press release on Friday.
Saturday’s new Ukrainian offensive in Crimea comes days after an attack on the Kerch bridge, the only work connecting the peninsula to Russia and used specifically to transport equipment to the Russian military on the Ukrainian front.
The strike was aimed at “military installations” and was “conducted by Ukrainian forces,” a source inside the Ukrainian military confirmed to AFP, without providing details on the operation’s progress.
Kiev, which launched a counter-offensive in early June to retake territories captured by Moscow, is reaffirming its intent to retake Crimea in particular, which Russia unilaterally annexed in 2014.
On Friday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said the Kerch bridge, built in violation of international law, “must be neutralized.”
Crimea’s governor, Sergei Aksyonov, elected by Moscow, explained to him that a “drone strike” had caused an explosion at an ammunition depot. […] Krasnogvardeisky district”, located inland from the peninsula.
“It has been decided to evacuate people living within a radius of five kilometers,” he added.
Local pro-Russian officials announced by the end of the day that temporarily suspended rail traffic had been “restored”.
Four people were hospitalized, according to the Moscow-based health ministry, which did not provide further details on the nature of their injuries.
Ukrainian attacks on the peninsula in recent weeks are rarely reported.
From July 16 to 17, a naval drone attack damaged the Crimean bridge, which had already been attacked in October 2022.
Vladimir Putin promised an immediate “response” from his military and called for “improved security” of the mission.
Additionally, the Russian military announced that Rostislav Jouravlev, a reporter for the Russian news agency Ria Novosti, was killed Saturday by a Ukrainian bombardment in the Zaporijjia region in southern Ukraine.
“Units of the Ukrainian Armed Forces opened artillery fire against a group of journalists,” he alleged, “more or less seriously injuring four journalists.”
Russian diplomacy condemned the planned “heinous crime”. “The perpetrators of the brutal murder of the Russian journalist will inevitably receive the punishment they deserve,” he said, assuring that “those who provided cluster munitions to their bodyguards in Kiev will also share full responsibility.”
In connection with the disputed weapons, Vyacheslav Kladkov, the governor of the Russian region of Belgorod bordering Ukraine and the target of ongoing strikes, accused Kiev of bombing the village of Zoravlevka with cluster munitions on Friday.
A 45-year-old man was killed and a 70-year-old man wounded in a Russian bombardment in northeastern Ukraine, where Moscow’s forces have made some advances in recent days, the Ukrainian public prosecutor’s office said.
Beyond the more intense fighting, this week was marked mainly by a verbal escalation over the Black Sea after Russia pulled out of an international agreement on Ukrainian grain exports.
Moscow and Kiev have taken turns warning ships sailing in the Black Sea that they could be targeted if they head toward enemy ports.
On Saturday, Volodymyr Zelensky said he had a phone conversation with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg about the “unblocking” of the grain route in the Black Sea.
“We have […] Mr. Identified with Stoltenberg,” the Ukrainian president said on Twitter.