Explosion Rocked Air Base And Ammunition Depot In Crimea, Commander Of Russia's Black Sea Fleet Replaced
Russia's Saky air base in Crimea. (Wikimedia Commons/Igor Bubin)

JAKARTA - Russia has replaced the commander of its Crimea-based Black Sea Fleet, the state news agency reported on Wednesday, after a series of explosions rocked the peninsula it annexed in 2014.

The explosions in the region were surprising given that the Crimea region was previously seen by Russia as a safe haven for its war in Ukraine.

Moscow blamed saboteurs for the explosion that engulfed an ammunition depot in northern Crimea on Tuesday.

Plumes of smoke were then seen rising over a second Russian military base in central Crimea, the Russian newspaper Kommersant said.

Ukraine has not officially taken responsibility, but has hinted at it. Ukraine's apparent ability to strike deeper into Russian-occupied territory, either by some form of weapons or by sabotage, represents a shift in the conflict. Earlier, the explosion also destroyed warplanes as well as parts of the Russian naval air base in Crimea last week.

On Wednesday, Russia's RIA news agency quoted sources as saying the Commander of the Black Sea Fleet Igor Osipov, had been replaced with a new commander, Viktor Sokolov.

If confirmed, the move would mark one of the most prominent dismissals of a military official so far, in a war in which Russia has suffered heavy losses in terms of personnel and equipment.

viktor sokolov
Vice Admiral Viktor Sokolov. (Wikimedia Commons/Министерство обороны оссийской едерации)

The state-owned RIA quoted sources as saying the new commander was introduced to members of the fleet's military council in the Crimean port of Sevastopol.

It is known that the Black Sea Fleet, which has a distinguished history in Russia, has suffered several blows since President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

In April, Ukraine attacked the flagship of the fleet, Moskva 121, a large cruiser with Neptune missiles. It became the largest warship sunk in combat over the past 40 years.

Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and has been extensively strengthened since then, provides a major supply route for Russian troops in southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counteroffensive in the coming weeks.

Separately, Ukrainian military intelligence said in a statement that after the recent explosions in Crimea, Russian forces had immediately moved some of their planes and helicopters deeper into the peninsula and to airfields inside Russia. Reuters was unable to independently verify the information.

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