Drone attack targets Russia’s Black Sea Fleet headquarters

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A drone has been shot down over the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in annexed Crimea, a local official said, in the second attempted strike on the command in Sevastopol in less than a month.

“The drone was shot down just above the fleet headquarters” in the city of Sevastopol, city Governor Mikhail Razvojaev wrote on Telegram on Saturday, blaming the attempt on Ukrainian forces.

“It fell on the roof and caught fire,” he said, adding that there was no significant damage or victim.

The first reported attack came on July 31, when a presumed Ukrainian drone attacked the Black Sea Fleet on Russia’s Navy Day, wounding five people.

Russia also reported Ukrainian drone attacks late on Friday.

Russia’s RIA and Tass news agencies, citing a local official in Crimea, said it appeared Russian anti-aircraft forces had been in action near the western Crimean port of Yevpatoriya on Friday night.

Video footage posted by a Russian website showed what appeared to be a ground-to-air missile hitting a target.

Tass cited a local official as saying Russian anti-aircraft forces knocked down six Ukrainian drones sent to attack the town of Nova Kakhovka, east of the city of Kherson.

Separately, an official in Crimea said defences there had downed an unspecified number of drones over the city of Sevastopol.

“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, said.

The incidents come as Ukraine has recently intensified attacks behind Russian lines in an attempt to disrupt supply lines Moscow uses to sustain its occupation. While Kyiv has been withholding official comment on incidents in Crimea or inside Russia, it has hinted that it was behind them, using long-range weapons or sabotage.

Analysts have said the attacks were made possible by new equipment used by the Ukrainian army and predicted more would occur.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy referred obliquely to the incidents in Crimea in his nightly video address on Saturday, saying there was anticipation in the peninsula ahead of next week’s 31st anniversary of Ukrainian independence from Soviet rule.

“You can literally feel Crimea in the air this year, that the occupation there is only temporary and that Ukraine is coming back,” he said.

Alexandre Vautravers, the editor-in-chief at the Swiss Military Review, said the attacks – which some media outlets said were carried out by Ukrainian special forces and residents sympathetic to Kyiv – have caused panic across Crimea.

“It’s very significant, of course. It’s not the only efforts the Ukrainians have been achieving quite well. The result of this has been two-fold – one, the Crimea population has been put under alert and this has created panic in Crimea, with people trying to flee this area, which is no longer considered safe,” Vautravers told Al Jazeera.

“The other one is that this panic has reached Russian high command to the point where mobilisation has been ordered in Crimea, which is interesting, both on a military side of things, but also on a political one, because the Russian Federation is wanting everyone to believe that Crimea is a part of Russia. How can you mobilise only a small segment or area of the country and not call this a general mobilisation for the entire country?”

Vautravers said it was not clear how many people living in Crimea were still sympathetic to Ukraine. But “we know for a fact that there has been a lot of passive resistance, and also individual or group attacks against Russian forces, Russian interests, and Russian command posts,” he said. “We’ve seen this in Crimea and we’ve seen this elsewhere in the country.”

On Friday, the United States said for the first time that it would provide Ukraine with ScanEagle surveillance drones, mine-resistant vehicles, anti-armour rounds and howitzer weapons in a new $775m aid package to Ukraine.

Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in televised remarks on Friday that statements from Ukrainian officials about striking facilities in Russian-occupied Crimea mark “an escalation of the conflict openly encouraged by the United States and its NATO allies”.

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