Ukraine has been sending a message to Russia that the country has plans to retake territory that Moscow annexed in 2014.
“These fireworks mean that Crimea is coming back to Ukraine,” Serhiy Bratchuk, the spokesman for Odesa region’s military administration, told Britain’s The Times newspaper this week.
The comments come as multiple explosions have rocked Russian bases in occupied Crimea over the last week, destroying ammunition and damaging logistics and communications lines.
Kyiv has not officially taken credit for the attacks, though Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and military leaders have hinted in recent days that the explosions could be part of their planned offensive.
“Although Ukraine hasn’t officially claimed responsibility, Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy previously has warned about the counteroffensive being planned for August-September, and he and his top adviser, Mykhailo Podolyak, hinted about Ukraine’s involvement in the recent explosions,” Rebekah Koffler, a former DIA intelligence officer and the author of ”Putin’s Playbook: Russia’s Secret Plan to Defeat America,” told Fox News Digital.
Ukraine’s ability to strike deep behind Russian lines would be a blow to Moscow, where leaders have so far denied that the attacks were the result of a coordinated Ukrainian effort. The Russian military has said the explosions were an act of “sabotage” and has also pinned blame on Hizb ut-Tahrir al-Islami, an Islamic terrorist cell.
The Russian FSB spy agency claimed on Wednesday that forces “neutralized” the six-member cell behind the attack, but Ukraine has hinted that more attacks are coming.
Speaking to the Washington Post on Wednesday, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukraine intends to keep hitting key targets deep inside Russian-held territory in the coming weeks.
“We’re using a strategy to ruin their stocks, to ruin their depots, to ruin their headquarters, commander quarters,” he said. “It’s our answer to their meat-grinder tactics.”
Reznikov said that elements of Ukraine’s special forces have been enlisting a “resistance force” that will be capable of hitting deep behind Russian lines, a strategy Ukrainian leaders hope will soften Russian defenses and deal a blow to morale ahead of a larger offensive.
Ukraine still lacks enough weapons and ammunition to launch a full-scale offensive into Russian-held territory, something Reznikov hopes will be coming from western countries that have poured billions into the Ukrainian war effort.
But there are some indications Moscow is growing more concerned about the security situation in Crimea, with Russian media outlets reporting that Black Sea Fleet commander Adm. Igor Osipov has been replaced by the order of Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the attacks on the occupied peninsula. Osipov, who has been in charge of the fleet since May 2019, will be replaced by Vice Adm. Viktor Sokolov.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, and both sides claim the peninsula is rightfully part of their territory. Ukraine has vowed in recent weeks not to give up the fight to reclaim the territory, a promise bolstered by the latest attacks in the region.
“Regardless of how exactly the attack was mounted — special forces, pro-Ukraine guerrilla forces, strikes from within the Russian positions or stand-off distances — the outcome is significant and positive for Ukraine,” Koffler said.
“The result is that Russia’s ammunition depots, logistics, supply and communications lines were degraded, or in some cases destroyed,” she continued. “This is a major boost for Ukrainian morale and a psychological blow to the Russian forces.”