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According to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s military adviser, Kyiv could be reading to launch more strikes in the region after it emerged that a special forces unit carried out an explosive raid on the Russian base in the area.
One person was killed on Tuesday when a Russian air base near seaside resorts in the annexed Crimean peninsula was rocked by blasts that Moscow said were detonations of stored ammunition, not the result of any attack.
Witnesses said they had heard at least 12 explosions around 3:20pm local time (12:20BST) from the Saky air base near Novofedorivka on the west coast of the peninsula, which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014 and used in February as one of the launchpads for its invasion.
Crimea, a holiday destination for many Russians, has so far been spared the bombardment and artillery combat that other areas of eastern and southern Ukraine have suffered.
Russia’s defence ministry was adamant the “detonation of several aviation ammunition stores” had caused an explosion, and initially said no one had been harmed. It said there had been no attack and no aviation equipment had been damaged.
Asked whether Ukraine was taking responsibility for the blasts, presidential aide Mykhailo Podolyak told the Dozhd online television channel: “Of course not. What do we have to do with this?” Moscow could accuse Kyiv of crossing a red line if Ukraine were to acknowledge it had attacked territory that Russia sees as its own.
Podolyak, who advises President Volodymyr Zelensky, suggested the blast could be down to Russian incompetence or an attack by partisans.
He said: “People who are living under occupation understand that the occupation is coming to an end.”
But anonymous Ukrainian government officials said the country’s special forces were behind the attack.
Oleksiy Arestovych, a military adviser to Volodymyr Zelensky, said more strikes were likely to happen “in the coming days”.
It comes as Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announced the UK will send more weapons to Ukraine to help it defend against Russia’s invasion.
He said that more multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS) will be sent to the eastern European nation, as well as precision-guided M31A1 missiles which can strike targets up to 50 miles away, designed to defend against Russian heavy artillery.
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Mr Wallace said: “This latest tranche of military support will enable the armed forces of Ukraine to continue to defend against Russian aggression and the indiscriminate use of long-range artillery.
“Our continued support sends a very clear message: Britain and the international community remain opposed to this illegal war and will stand shoulder-to-shoulder, providing defensive military aid to Ukraine to help them defend against Putin’s invasion.”
Ukrainian troops have been trained in the UK on how to use the launchers, and the UK has also committed to training 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers in infantry battlefield skills over the coming months.
Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands have all announced they will be supporting the programme.
The Defence Secretary will co-host the Copenhagen Conference for Northern European Defence Allies of Ukraine on Thursday, to discuss long-term support for Ukraine on training, equipment, and funding.
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The UK has previously supplied Ukraine with various weapons, including the NLAW anti-tank missile launcher, which was considered instrumental in the initial defence against Moscow’s invasion.
On Wednesday, Mr Wallace said it was “clear” that explosions at a Russian air base in Crimea were not caused by “someone dropping a cigarette”, as he dismissed Moscow’s “excuses” for the blasts.
It came amid speculation that the massive fireballs, which killed one person and wounded several more, were the result of a Ukrainian attack.
Ben Wallace said he believes anyone’s “manual of war” would deem the site on the Crimean peninsula, which was annexed by Moscow in 2014, a “legitimate target” for Ukraine to strike.
Ukraine’s air force has claimed nine Russian jets were destroyed in the blasts on Tuesday, although the country’s officials have stopped short of publicly claiming responsibility.
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