Massive explosions and fires ripped through Crimea on Tuesday, forcing 3,000 residents to flee their homes as the war in Ukraine appears to be spreading to the peninsula occupied by Russia since 2014. Officials said two people were injured.
The Russian Defense Ministry blamed "sabotage" for explosions at a military warehouse near Dzhankoya. Power lines, a power plant, a railway track and several residential buildings were damaged, the ministry said in a statement obtained by the Russian news outlet Kommersant. The explosions were described as a diversion.
Another fire was reported at a power substation, but officials did not indicate whether it was related to the ammunition blasts. “We are in a state of emergency,” said Sergey Aksenov, the Russian leader of the Crimean administration.
Ukraine presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak did not say the country claimed responsibility for the blasts but tweeted: "Crimea of normal country is about the Black Sea, mountains, recreation and tourism, but Crimea occupied by Russians is about warehouses explosions and high risk of death for invaders and thieves.''
Last week, the Russian military blamed a series of explosions at Crimea's Saki airbase on an accidental detonation of munitions there, but the incident appeared to be a Ukrainian attack. Kyiv said the explosions destroyed nine Russian airplanes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has described Crimea as a "sacred place.'' The deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, Dmitry Medvedev, warned last month that attacks on the peninsula could result in a "doomsday, very quick and tough, immediately."
LATEST FROM THE INVASION: Sign up for the Ukraine-Russia crisis email
►U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will meet presidents Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey on Thursday in the western Ukraine city of Lviv. They are expected to discuss grain shipments and a possible fact-finding mission to the Russian-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant,
►German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he believes Sweden and Finland will be able to join NATO "very quickly." Scholz said Turkey, which had balked, appears satisfied and that the other six nations that have not approved the expansion probably would do so soon.
►Swiss chocolate maker Lindt & Sprüngli Group announced it will "exit the Russian market." The company had temporarily suspended operations in March.
►More than 1,350 bodies of Ukrainian civilians killed by Russian occupiers have been found in the Kyiv region, regional Police Chief Andrii Niebytov said.
►The Russian Federal Security Service accused Ukraine of blowing up power transmission towers three times this month near a nuclear plant in the western Russia city of Kursk.
USA TODAY ON TELEGRAM: Join our Russia-Ukraine war channel to receive updates
Russia sees 'no need' to use nuclear weapons to reach goals in Ukraine
Russia doesn't need to rely on nuclear weapons to achieve its objectives in Ukraine, said Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, contending that his country's battlefield progress has dispelled the notion that the West can supply Ukraine with "superweapons" capable of radically altering the war's outcome.
"From a military point of view, there is no need to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine to achieve the set goals," Shoigu said. "Claims that chemical weapons could be used in Ukraine are also absurd."
Shoigu, speaking at the the 10th Moscow Conference on International Security, said the West's best weaponry is being "ground down in battles" and has had no major effect on the fighting.
In reality, premier U.S. weapons such as the HIMARS missile system have been effective at destroying Russian ammunition depots and command centers and disrupting its supply lines, American and Ukrainian officials have said. But the Biden administration has not sent Ukraine the longer-range weaponry that could strike Russian targets from hundreds of miles away.
Russia also benefiting from deal freeing Ukrainian ships to carry grain
The deal that allowed Ukrainian cargo ships to depart from Black Sea ports with thousands of tons of grain promised to bring some hunger relief to countries in Africa and the Middle East.
And indeed, more than 15 vessels carrying nearly half a million tons of agricultural products have departed from Ukraine since an agreement July 22 lifted a Russian blockade that had been in place since the start of the war. On Tuesday, a U.N.-chartered ship loaded with Ukrainian grain set out for the hunger-stricken Horn of Africa.
But Ukraine and the countries receiving its shipments are not the only ones benefiting. Russia is reaping rewards as well.
A less-publicized feature of the accord brokered by the U.N. and Turkey assures Russia that its food and fertilizer won’t face sanctions as other industries have, safeguarding one of the pillars of its economy and helping ease concerns from insurers and banks.
Russia is the world’s biggest exporter of wheat, accounting for almost a fifth of global shipments, and the country is expected to have one of its best crop seasons ever this year. Agriculture accounts for about 4% of Russia’s gross domestic product and provides 5-6 million jobs a year.
Russia's Black Sea fleet falters
Russia's Black Sea fleet is "struggling to exercise effective sea control," the British Defense Ministry said in an assessment released Tuesday. The fleet continues to use long-range cruise missiles to support ground offensives but has been less effective because of the loss of its flagship – the now-sunken Moskva – a significant portion of its naval aviation combat jets and control of Snake Island, the assessment says.
The losses undermine Russia’s overall invasion strategy, in part because the amphibious threat to the crucial Ukraine port of Odesa has now been largely neutralized, the assessment says: "This means Ukraine can divert resources to press Russian ground forces elsewhere."
Russian killings in Bucha 'a crime against humanity,' former UN chief says
Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the world Tuesday to honor civilians who were killed when Russian ground forces tried to invade Ukraine's capital and eventually retreated from the area surrounding Kyiv. Ban, a former South Korean diplomat who was secretary-general from 2007 to 2016, visited Bucha, a city northwest of the Ukrainian capital where hundreds of civilians were found dead after the Russian withdrawal in late March.
“It’s hard to express my feelings. It’s a horrendous atrocity. It’s a crime against humanity,” Ban told The Associated Press after visiting the Church of St. Andrew the Apostle. He said those responsible should be held accountable.
Putin ready, willing to arm the world
Russian President Vladimir Putin offered his allies “the most advanced types of weapons,” vowing to expand military cooperation with countries across Latin America, Asia and Africa. Putin, speaking at an arms show, applauded his military's actions in Ukraine while also touting the key role Russian arms exports play in the development of a “multipolar word,” the term used by the Kremlin to describe its efforts to offset what it perceives as U.S. global domination.
“We are ready to offer our allies and partners the most advanced types of weapons: from firearms, armor and artillery to warplanes and drones,” Putin said.
Despite the Russian leader’s claims of advanced weapons, experts have said the Russian military is performing much worse than expected in the Ukrainian invasion, and the U.K. Defense Ministry recently said it’s highly likely that Russia is deploying “unreliable and unpredictable” Soviet-era mines.
Mercenaries' building bombed after online photo reveals address
A photo posted online by a pro-Kremlin journalist appears to have led to the destruction of a building that housed mercenaries fighting for Russia.
Serhiy Haidai, governor of the Russian-controlled Luhansk province in the eastern Donbas region, said by Telegram on Monday that a Ukrainian strike "hit an enemy headquarters, which was pointed out by a representative of the Russian mass media.” He said the number of fatalities was still unknown.
The building hit Sunday in the town of Popasna served as a base of operations for the Wagner Group, a private military company linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Haidai said.
Days before the strike, Russian journalist Sergey Sreda had posted a photo of himself alongside four heavily armed men in combat gear, most likely Wagner mercenaries. On the top left of the photo, a sign with the address of the building can be clearly seen. Sreda later took down the post, but apparently not before the Ukrainians saw it.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ukraine live updates: Russia blames sabotage for explosions in Crimea