Strikes destroyed Russian cruise missiles in transit through Russian-occupied Crimea late Monday as Ukraine’s military hinted at but did not confirm responsibility for the attack, according to media reports.
Ukrainian and Russian officials disputed the circumstances surrounding the strikes Tuesday, with Ukrainian military intelligence saying the incident destroyed Moscow’s Kalibr class missiles and would help “demilitarize Russia and prepare the Crimean peninsula for de-occupation,” according to The Associated Press. Kremlin-installed leaders in Crimea said that Ukrainian drones activated local air defense measures and sustained damage to civilian facilities in the town of Dzhankoi but caused “no serious damage.”
Kyiv’s intelligence service said several missiles being transported by rail to submarine loading sites had been destroyed but did not disclose the weapons used in the strike or where the ordnance originated from, the AP reported. (RELATED: US Weapons Aid For Ukraine Could Extend Years Beyond The War, Top Pentagon Official Says)
Dzhankoi hosts one of Russia’s most significant military airfields and serves as a key transportation junction, according to CNN. The Sevastopol port on the coast of the Crimean peninsula also operates an important naval base for Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
A Ukrainian military spokesperson also suggested that Kyiv might have committed the attack, describing it as a sign Moscow should retreat from the eastern Ukrainian territory under Russian occupation since 2014, according to the AP.
Videos on social media of what appears to be the strike show an explosion geolocated by CNN to the town, while an off-camera observer notes the train station was hit.
Russian cruise missiles “Kalibr NK” were destroyed in Dzhankoi, Crimea, during their transportation by rail – @DI_Ukraine
It is reported that this video is from Dzhankoi. The voice says it’s the train station area. pic.twitter.com/9UXMe2aKNR
— Anton Gerashchenko (@Gerashchenko_en) March 20, 2023
Other social media reports said Russian air defenses downed a number of Ukrainian attack drones, but the AP was not able to independently verify the reports.
Ukrainian forces have struck Russian military positions in Crimea multiple times, but have not always taken immediate responsibility for any attacks, according to the AP.
3/ This is important because it forces the Russians to rethink their force posture and defensive deployments in Crimea and beyond. pic.twitter.com/bERVqvqt6M
— Mick Ryan, AM (@WarintheFuture) March 21, 2023
Ukraine’s leaders have repeatedly communicated that their war aims include recapturing the entirety of Ukraine, including Crimea.
The Biden administration maintains that Crimea is a part of Ukraine and that the U.S. will support Kyiv in achieving whatever operational or strategic objectives it establishes.
“If they decide to conduct an operation within Crimea they are well in their bounds,” a State Department spokesperson said at a briefing on Jan. 19, pledging to “be with Ukraine for as long as it takes.”
The Pentagon has reservations about Ukraine’s ability to retake Crimea, however.
“That’ll be a very difficult task. It’s not impossible, but it’s extremely difficult. And in the world of probabilities, I don’t think it’s likely,” Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley said on a podcast episode that will air Tuesday, according to Politico.
Neither side has demonstrated the ability to achieve their full war aims anytime soon, he said.
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