Ukraine Live Briefing: Explosions rock Russian air base in Crimea

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during an interview with The Washington Post at his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Aug. 8, 2022. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky during an interview with The Washington Post at his office in Kyiv, Ukraine, on Aug. 8, 2022. (Heidi Levine for The Washington Post)

An attack on a Russian air base in occupied Crimea on Tuesday sent plumes of smoke over a city on the peninsula’s western coast, and Ukrainian government officials warned the blasts were “just the beginning,” vowing to liberate the territory Moscow annexed in 2014.

But Ukrainian leaders did not openly claim credit for the explosions, and it was not immediately clear who was responsible. A U.S. official said it appeared Ukrainian forces had carried out the strike using a weapon not provided by the United States.

Here’s the latest on the war in Ukraine and its ripple effects across the globe.

Key developments

  • Russia said the explosions occurred at an ammunition storage site. The Defense Ministry told Russian reporters that no one was injured in the explosions and that aviation equipment was not damaged. However, Sergei Aksyonov, the Russian-backed head of Crimea, said that one person had died. Russian state media reported earlier that five were injured.
  • Top Ukrainian officials stopped short of claiming responsibility for the attack but said that Russian troops must be expelled from Crimea. The peninsula is “not a military base for terrorists,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said on Twitter. In an apparent reference to Tuesday’s strike, he added: “It is just the beginning.” Later, in an interview with an independent Russian outlet, Podolyak sought to distance Ukrainian forces from the carnage, saying it was possible anti-Russian partisans were responsible. Deputy Prime Minister Iryna Vereshchuk said the explosions were “another reminder of who Crimea belongs to. Because it is Ukraine.”
  • Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in his evening address, said: “Crimea is Ukrainian, and we will never give it up.” Zelensky said Russian occupying forces in Crimea are a threat to all of Europe and that the Ukrainian government is working toward the “liberation of Crimea.” He did not say whether Ukraine had carried out Tuesday’s attack.
  • If conducted by Ukraine the strike would be a dramatic escalation in the nearly 6-month-old war. It would demonstrate Ukrainian forces’ ability to hit Russia far from front lines, deep inside territory where Russian tourists are so comfortable with their security that they lounge near the base on Black Sea beaches.
  • Between 70,000 and 80,000 Russian troops have been killed or wounded during the conflict, Colin Kahl, the U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, said at a briefing Monday. The figure is “pretty remarkable,” he said, “considering that the Russians have achieved none of [Russian President] Vladimir Putin’s objectives at the beginning of the war.

Global impact

  • President Biden signed the documents endorsing Finland and Sweden’s NATO Accession Protocols. “[Putin] wanted the Finlandization of NATO; but he’s getting the NATO-ization of Finland along with Sweden,” Biden said in Tuesday remarks.
  • Putin spoke to Israeli President Isaac Herzog about the Russian Justice Ministry’s move to close down the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency for Israel, according to the Kremlin press service. The call was initiated by Israel. “It was agreed that contacts on this matter will be continued through the relevant departments of both countries,” the Kremlin press service said. Russia’s threat to shut down a prominent Jewish organization has stoked fears among Jews planning to leave the country because of its war against Ukraine, while deepening a rift between Russia and Israel, Robyn Dixon reports.
  • The Kremlin on Tuesday condemned Zelensky’s call to ban all Russian travelers from visiting Western countries to stop Russia from annexing any more Ukrainian territory.
  • Two more grain ships sailed Tuesday under a deal brokered by the United Nations and facilitated by Turkey. One ship is destined for South Korea, and the other headed to Turkey, the Black Sea Grain Initiative Joint Coordination Center said in a statement. The ships are carrying a combined total of 70,020 metric tons of foodstuffs.
  • Ukraine took the top prize in the women’s competition at the Chess Olympiad in Chennai, India. Russia’s team was suspended after the invasion of Ukraine.

Battlefield updates

  • Ukrainian troops are “moving very successfully” toward Izyum in the northeast, putting further pressure on Russian troops, Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovych said in a YouTube video. The city of 50,000 is seen as a gateway to the eastern Donbas region, most of which is held by pro-Russian forces.
  • Russia’s assaults on the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut have been its most successful axis in the Donbas region in the past 30 days, Britain’s Ministry of Defense said, although it noted that Russian troops have gained only 10 kilometers (six miles) in that time. “In other Donbas sectors where Russia was attempting to break through, its forces have not gained more than 3km [1.8 miles] during this 30 day period; almost certainly significantly less than planned.”
  • In the Kharkiv region, at least a dozen settlements came under Russian artillery, tank and aircraft fire, the Ukrainian military said in its latest update. But Ukrainian forces claimed to have captured the town of Dovhenke. Several villages in the northern Sumy region also came under intense Russian fire.
  • The Pentagon will send Ukraine an additional $1 billion in military assistance, including tens of thousands more munitions and explosives — the largest such package since Russia launched its invasion in February.

From our correspondents on the ground

Accounting of bodies in Bucha nears completion. It’s the closest accounting of victims from Russia’s occupation of the Kyiv suburb, officials say. The Washington Post’s Liz Sly reports that “after months of meticulous, painful and at times gruesome investigation … [the tally is] 458 bodies, of which 419 bore markings they had been shot, tortured or bludgeoned to death.”

“Mykhailyna Skoryk-Shkarivska, the town’s deputy mayor … said the details of each case were now being investigated by prosecutors working to identify the perpetrators and ultimately try them for war crimes,” Sly reported. “The Russian troops left the corpses of many of those they killed to rot unattended, but also burned some, possibly out of hygiene concerns or to hide evidence of torture, the deputy mayor said.”

Dan Lamothe and Isabelle Khurshudyan contributed to this report.

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russia fired at least 85 missiles on at least six major cities in Ukraine on November 15, in one of the most widespread attacks of the war so far. The strikes came just hours after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, speaking by video link, presented a 10-point peace plan to G-20 leaders at a summit in Indonesia. As in previous Russian missile attacks, critical civilian infrastructure appeared to be primary targets. Parts of several cities that were hit were left without electrical power on Tuesday afternoon.

Russia’s Gamble: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior U.S., Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

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