Moscow has accused western powers of helping Ukraine launch a missile strike on the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in occupied Crimea, as the Kremlin sought to refute Kyiv’s claim that the fleet’s commander was among dozens of officers allegedly killed in the attack.
At least one cruise missile, believed to be of a type supplied to Ukraine by Britain and France, hit the fleet’s main building in the port of Sevastopol last Friday. Russia said only one serviceman was missing after the strike, but Kyiv’s special forces claimed it killed 34 officers and injured another 105 people. Ukraine said the commander of the fleet was among the dead, without naming the man who holds that post, Adm Viktor Sokolov.
Russian media published video footage of Adm Sokolov on Wednesday, in which he is asked to say a few words about “what happened”.
“What happened to us? Nothing happened to us. Life goes on, the Black Sea Fleet is performing the tasks set by the command, confidently and successfully,” he replied.
Adm Sokolov was shown on a screen during a video conference with other senior Russian military officers on Tuesday, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he had no information about his whereabouts. On Wednesday, Mr Peskov noted that Adm Sokolov “took part in the meeting” but again said further questions should be addressed to the defence ministry.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova lambasted Ukraine’s western allies for allegedly helping it strike the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters, and claimed Kyiv would use long-range ATACMS missiles from the United States to hit civilian targets.
“There is no doubt that the attack was planned in advance using western intelligence means, Nato satellite assets and reconnaissance planes, and was conducted upon the advice of American and British security agencies and in close co-ordination with them,” Ms Zakharova said.
“Regarding the supply of long-range missiles to the Kyiv regime, it should be understood… this type of weaponry will be used by the Kyiv criminal regime mainly for terrorist purposes to strike public facilities and residential neighbourhoods of cities in Donbas and Crimea,” she added. Donbas is an area of eastern Ukraine partly occupied by Russia.
Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday morning that Russian shelling and drone strikes on several regions had killed one civilian and injured 17 others over the previous 24 hours.
Kyiv’s military said it was continuing to drive back Russia’s occupation force in the southeastern Zaporizhzhia region, in a slow push towards the town of Tokmak and the city of Melitopol in a bid to cut the land link between the Russian border and Crimea. The exiled Ukrainian mayor of Melitopol, Ivan Fedorov, said Russian troops were building more reinforced positions north of Tokmak to slow Ukraine’s advance.
Moscow said its soldiers had taken up “more advantageous” positions in the northeastern Kharkiv region, and continued to describe Ukraine’s counteroffensive, which is now in its fourth month, as a bloody failure.
Polish agriculture minister Robert Telus held talks with Ukrainian counterpart Mykola Solsky to resolve a row over grain exports that prompted sharp exchanges between the neighbouring states and fuelled fears for their close co-operation in opposing Russian aggression.
“I am glad that we are talking about the future, that we are building mechanisms for the future and we are calming certain emotions that have not served us well, and this is probably a good direction,” Mr Telus said.