- And there are fears that if the Ukrainians start attacking Russian targets inside Crimea on a regular basis, the Russian response will be severe.
- Although Crimea is internationally recognised as Ukrainian territory, Russia has ruled the peninsula for eight years and has well-established Russian state structures and military facilities.
The blasts, according to Sergei Aksyonov, took place at the Saky military base near Novofedorivka on the peninsula’s western coast.
Social media footage appeared to show multiple explosions.
The Russian defence ministry later claimed that ammunition had been detonated, but this has yet to be independently verified.
According to Russia’s state-run Ria news agency, the ministry stated that there was no “fire impact” on the ammunition storage area.
The Ukrainian peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014, is a popular tourist destination for Russians, and one video showed visitors fleeing from a beach as smoke rose in the background.
Local witnesses told Reuters that they heard at least 12 explosions beginning around 15:20 local time (12:20 GMT).
Mr Aksyonov said after arriving in the area that a 5km (3 mile) no-go zone had been established around the blast site.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Dozhd TV that Kyiv was not to blame for the explosions.
Earlier, Ukraine’s military issued a sarcastic Facebook statement in which it alluded to the sinking of the Moskva warship as well as other military setbacks, reminding Russia of its “fire safety rules and the prohibition on smoking in unsettled places.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky devoted his nightly video address to Crimea, but he did not mention the explosions directly.
“Crimea is Ukrainian, and we will never give it up,” Mr Zelensky said in a social media video.
The war “began with Crimea and must end with Crimea – with its liberation,” he added, implying that Ukraine must retake the peninsula before the war can be declared over.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, following a referendum that the international community deemed illegitimate. The vote was rushed after unidentified Russian troops took control of several strategic locations on the peninsula.
Months of pro-European protests had culminated earlier that year in the deposition of Ukraine’s Russian-backed president.
On February 24, this year, Moscow launched a full-fledged invasion of Ukraine, using Crimea as a launching pad to move Russian troops deeper into the country.
Novofedorivka and Saky are located about 50 kilometres (30 miles) north of Sevastopol, which is home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which has been leading a blockade of the Ukrainian coastline.
Crimean attack would mark dramatic escalation
If it is discovered that Ukraine was responsible for this attack, it will be a significant escalation. It would be the first significant attack on a target within Crimea proper.
Ukraine has come dangerously close: in June 2022, the Russia-appointed “leader” of Crimea claimed that Ukrainian forces had fired on Black Sea oil drilling platforms in Crimean waters, resulting in several casualties. At the end of July, Russian authorities reported that a drone had struck a Russian naval facility in Sevastopol, injuring six people.
Although Crimea is internationally recognised as Ukrainian territory, Russia has ruled the peninsula for eight years and has well-established Russian state structures and military facilities.
The Kremlin regards Crimea as “historically” Russian territory that Moscow triumphantly “re-acquired” in 2014. An attack this far inside Crimea would be a major embarrassment for President Putin.
And there are fears that if the Ukrainians start attacking Russian targets inside Crimea on a regular basis, the Russian response will be severe. Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now the deputy chairman of the powerful Security Council, stated last month that if Crimea was attacked, Russia would respond “All those [involved] will face judgement on the spot. It will be both fast and difficult.”