A Ukrainian drone strike on an oil storage facility in the Crimean port of Sevastopol caused a massive fire, according to a Russian official cited by the Associated Press on Saturday. This comes amid an escalation in attacks against Crimea, annexed by Russia in 2014, and as the ever-imminent Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south and east of the country is expected to fail.
Despite earlier reporting of as many as four drones being involved in the strike, Mikhail Razvozhaev, the Russian-appointed governor of Sevastopol, said experts have since examined the site and it is clear that “only one drone was able to reach the oil reservoir,” though another UAV was downed.
The blaze at the city’s harbor was assigned the highest ranking in terms of how difficult the flames would be to extinguish, but reportedly the fire has now been contained. On his Telegram channel, Razvozhaev shared videos and photos of the attack’s aftermath. He explained that nobody was injured in the fire, oil supplies in Sevastopol would not be hindered, and four oil tanks had burned down.
However, a Ukrainian military intelligence official has claimed that over 10 oil tanks had been destroyed, which carried roughly 40,000 tons of fuel for use by the Russian Black Sea fleet. Ukraine has not taken official responsibility for the attack. Kiev rarely admits its role in operations on the peninsula, with officials instead opting to strongly hint at their responsibility to the press or social media.
Such is the case with this latest drone strike. Andriy Yusov, the aforementioned Ukrainian military intelligence official, said the attack was “God’s punishment” for Russian air raids during the previous day in the city of Uman. At least 23 people, including six children, were killed in the Russian missile strikes, according to the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.
“This punishment will be long-lasting. In the near future, it is better for all residents of temporarily occupied Crimea not to be near military facilities and facilities that provide for the aggressor’s army,” Yusov was quoted as saying in a report by RBC Ukraine.
Sevastopol has seen regular attempted drone strikes, particularly in recent weeks. On Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry reported that its forces had repelled Ukrainian naval drones seeking to target the Black Sea fleet. According to the AP, one of the unmanned boats was destroyed while another blew up, causing some shattered windows in many apartment buildings in the surrounding areas. They reportedly resulted in no further damage.
Last month, a Ukrainian military spokeswoman implied Kiev carried out a drone attack in northern Crimea, which destroyed a shipment of Russian cruise missiles being transported by rail. Russian authorities have disputed that version of events, however, and maintained that the drone attack targeted civilian residential areas. Ukrainian military intelligence released a vague statement after the attack, claiming such strikes advance “the process of Russia’s demilitarization, and prepares the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea for de-occupation.”
Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula in 2014, following a US-backed coup in Kiev. Polling conducted since then has indicated overwhelming support among Crimeans for rejoining the Russian Federation. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said this week that Kiev will seek to reconquer the peninsula during its upcoming counteroffensive and has previously remarked that peace talks cannot happen unless all Ukrainian territory lost to Russia is recaptured, including the Black Sea peninsula.
There is a split in the Biden administration on what to do regarding Kiev’s goal of retaking Crimea. Even Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who previously called for Russia’s “strategic defeat,” has suggested attacking Crimea would cross a “red line” for Russian President Vladimir Putin, likely provoking a severe reaction.
On the other hand, the ultra-hawkish Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland has said “Russia has turned Crimea into a massive military installation … Those are legitimate targets, Ukraine is hitting them, and we are supporting that.” She went on to say Ukraine will not be “safe unless Crimea is at a minimum – at a minimum – demilitarized.”
Pentagon documents allegedly leaked by National Guard airman Jack Teixeira exposed that the US has little faith in Kiev’s ability to regain territory it has lost to Russia during the ostensibly upcoming spring counteroffensive.
Two administration officials told Politico this week that it is highly unlikely that Ukrainian forces will have any luck in severing the land bridge to Crimea in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia oblasts.
Connor Freeman is the assistant editor and a writer at the Libertarian Institute, primarily covering foreign policy. He is a co-host on the Conflicts of Interest podcast. His writing has been featured in media outlets such as Antiwar.com, Counterpunch, and the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity. He has also appeared on Liberty Weekly, Around the Empire, and Parallax Views. You can follow him on Twitter @FreemansMind96.