Night of explosions rocks areas deep in Russian-held territory

KYIV: Explosions erupted overnight near military bases deep in Russian-held areas of Ukraine and Russia itself, an apparent display of Kyiv’s rapidly growing ability to wreak havoc on Moscow’s logistics far from front lines.

The explosions follow huge blasts last week at an air base in Russian-annexed Crimea. In a new assessment, a Western official said that incident had wiped out half of Russia’s Black Sea naval aviation force in a stroke.

Ukraine also issued a warning about a frontline nuclear power station where it said it believed Moscow was planning a “large-scale provocation” as justification to decouple the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and connect it to Russia’s.

Continuing the mutual blame game, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of shelling the Zaporizhzhia complex, risking a nuclear catastrophe.

In Crimea – which Moscow seized in 2014 – explosions were reported near an air base in Belbek, on the southwest coast near Sevastopol, headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

On the opposite end of the peninsula, the sky was also lit up at Kerch near a huge bridge to Russia, with what Moscow said was fire from its air defences.

Inside Russia, two villages were evacuated after explosions at an ammunition dump in Belgorod province, near the Ukrainian border but more than 100km from territory controlled by Ukrainian forces.

Closer to the front, Kyiv also announced a number of strikes overnight behind Russian lines in southern Kherson province, including at a bridge at the Kakhovska Dam, one of the last routes for Russia to supply thousands of troops on the west bank of the Dnipro River.

“The Ukrainian armed forces treated the Russians to a magical evening,” Seriy Khlan, a member of Kherson’s regional council disbanded by Russian occupation forces, wrote on Facebook.

Kyiv has been coy about its role, withholding official comment on incidents in Crimea or inside Russia while hinting that it is behind them using long-range weapons or sabotage.

Russian officials reported no one hurt in the latest explosions in Crimea and Belgorod. They said they had shot down drones in Belbek and Kerch, and confirmed that they had ordered the evacuation of two villages in Belgorod.

Video showing huge flames and smoke, purportedly at the Russian base in Belbek, was tweeted by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt.

“It certainly looks bad – or good – dependent on the perspective,” he wrote. Reuters could not confirm the authenticity of the video.