Ukraine has struck the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea naval fleet in its latest missile attack on a major target in occupied Crimea, as its president vowed to liberate three cities in a counteroffensive that he said would continue through the winter.
Moscow said five Ukrainian missiles were shot down over Crimea, which it illegally annexed in 2014, but the headquarters of the Black Sea fleet was hit and one serviceman was missing. Footage showed smoke pouring from the badly damaged building in the centre of the port city of Sevastopol.
Mikhail Razvozhayev, the Moscow-installed governor of the city, said gas and electricity supplies had been cut off in the centre of Sevastopol and water supply to homes and offices had been reduced while firefighters tackled the blaze. Occupation officials also said that Crimea was experiencing an “unprecedented” cyberattack on Friday.
Over the last 10 days Ukraine has used drones and missiles to hit a Russian warship and submarine in dry dock in Sevastopol, an air defence system in Crimea, and a reserve Black Sea fleet command post on the peninsula. In the last month Kyiv has intensified drone strikes on airbases deep inside Russia, damaging planes that are used to bomb Ukraine.
“There are two options for the future of Russia’s Black Sea fleet – voluntary or forced dissolution,” said Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, warning that it would be “sliced up like a salami: the process is painful, but the Ukrainian armed forces deliver high-precision strikes exclusively on military infrastructure sites”.
Ukrainian air force commander Mykola Oleshchuk took to social media to thank his country’s military pilots and mock initial Russian reports that all rockets heading for Crimea had been intercepted. “I hope that next time Russian air defence will again not let us down.”
Analysts said British-supplied Storm Shadow or French Scalp cruise missiles were probably used in the strike, which came as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy sought more weapons for his country’s military during visits to the United States and Canada.
Washington unveiled a new $325 million (€305m) package of arms for Ukraine which includes air defence equipment and cluster munitions, but not the long-range ATACMS missile system long requested by Kyiv.
US president Joe Biden said the first US Abrams tanks would arrive in Ukraine “next week”, as analysts said Kyiv’s forces had penetrated the last line of Russia’s triple-layer defences in a section of the front line in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region.
“Ukrainian armoured vehicles are operating beyond the final line of the Russian defensive layer,” said the US-based Institute for the Study of War, though it was “not yet prepared to assess that Ukrainian forces have broken fully through”.
Mr Zelenskiy predicted that Ukraine would liberate the devastated eastern city of Bakhmut and two other cities that he would not name. The main thrust of the counteroffensive is towards the cities of Tokmak and Melitopol in Zaporizhzhia region, which would cut Russia’s land link between its border and Crimea.
“We will do everything not to stop during difficult days in autumn, with not good weather, and in winter,” Mr Zelenskiy said.
Ukraine said a ship carrying 17,600 tonnes of wheat for Egypt left its Black Sea coast on Friday, using a “temporary corridor” that Kyiv designated after Russia withdrew from a deal in July to safeguard Ukrainian grain shipments. A smaller vessel with 3,000 tonnes of wheat used the route safely earlier this week, and three more ships are now sailing to Ukraine to collect a combined 127,000 tonnes of farm products and iron ore.