Russia is hunting pro-Ukraine saboteurs after humiliating Crimea explosions

Russian military police in Crimea
(Image credit: Stringer/AFP via Getty Images)

Russian intelligence services are hunting for saboteurs in occupied Crimea after a series of explosions over the past week destroyed Russian munition depots, air bases, warplanes, and infrastructure used to supply Russian troops invading Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. Russia and Ukrainian officials agree that saboteurs were responsible for Tuesday's massive explosions at an ammunition site near the town of Dzhankoi.

Ukraine is not officially acknowledging any role in the Crimea blasts, but some officials have said Ukrainian special operations forces and guerrilla allies are responsible for the explosions near Dzhankoi, at Saki airbase, and at a military airfield in Gvardeyskoye. Russia's FSB intelligence agency said Wednesday it has detained six Russian citizens in Crimea who belonged to a terrorist cell that worked with Ukrainian "emissaries," the Journal says.

Russia has "become increasingly invested in framing recent Ukrainian strikes on Russian military assets in Crimea as acts of terrorism," baselessly pointing to the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir, the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War think tank said Wednesday. But Ukraine set up a secret network of resistance fighters before Russia's invasion, The New York Times reports. "Slipping back and forth across the front lines, the guerrilla fighters are known in Ukraine as partisans, and in recent weeks they have taken an ever more prominent role in the war, rattling Russian forces by helping deliver humiliating blows in occupied areas they thought were safe," notably in Crimea.

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"The goal is to show the occupiers that they are not at home, that they should not settle in, that they should not sleep comfortably," a partisan code-named Svarog told the Times.

In fact, "Russian military leadership is likely increasingly losing confidence in the security of Crimea following recent Ukrainian strikes," ISW assessed, noting that the Kremlin quietly replaced Admiral Igor Osipov, commander of the Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet, with Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov. Ukrainian intelligence also said Wednesday that Russia is moving dozens of Crimea-based warplanes and helicopters back to Russian territory or deeper into Crimea.

The U.S., for its part, supports Ukraine's attacks on Crimea, Politico reported Wednesday. "We don't select targets, of course, and everything we've provided is for self-defense purposes," a senior Biden administration official told Politico "Any target they choose to pursue on sovereign Ukrainian soil is by definition self defense," and "Crimea is Ukraine."

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