I t is hard not to wonder whether the flare-up in Crimea in the midst of the seemingly relentless war in Ukraine is a somewhat latter-day version of the 19th century Crimean war. The conflict is said to have escalated on Thursday when Russia is reported to have lost eight jets there. The damage wrought by a series of explosions was the immediate trigger for the emergency that has been imposed in the Russia-occupied peninsula that was annexed in 2014. According to Ukraine’s air force, as many as nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in the massive explosions at the base in Crimea. There is speculation that the offensive was the result of a Ukranian attack that would represent a major escalation of the war. Russia’s defence ministry has played down the extent of the damage, claiming that no equipment had been destroyed, not to mention casualties. Such strained assertions were contradicted by videos from the scene and by a tally of the damage by officials in Crimea, a strategic peninsula in Ukraine.
Although Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility for the explosions, a senior Ukrainian military official said on Wednesday that the former Russian satellite’s special forces were responsible for the blasts. The airbase is situated about 200 miles from the nearest Ukrainian military unit. According to the Russian defence ministry, the explosion was ignited by the detonation of stockpiled ordinance for warplanes at the base. While the ministry did not speculate on whether Ukrainian forces might have been involved, the decision to raise the terrorist threat level to yellow suggested that officials were concerned about security in the peninsula. This measure is said to be “exclusively prophylactic” because the situation in the region is reportedly under full control. Not so however when the world reflects on Ukraine’s accusation against Russia, blaming Moscow for exploiting its position in a nuclear power plant it had seized to target a nearby town in a rocket attack that killed at least 13 people and left many others grievously wounded.
Russia, according to Ukraine, had targeted the town of Marchanets, one that the Kremlin has alleged Ukranian forces have used in the past to shell Russian forces who are holed up at a nuclear power plant which they took over in March. It is a measure of the enormity of the potential nuclear crisis that the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi, has appealed for restraint. This has been clothed with the warning of the “very real risk of a nuclear disaster”. Even foreign ministers of the Group of Seven nations have demanded that Russia must immediately hand back control of the plant to Ukraine, a demand that the Kremlin is unlikely to accept. The plot thickens.