Zelenskyy says ‘we will return’ to Crimea after blasts rock Russian base

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Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy declared Tuesday that the war with Moscow “began with Crimea and must end with Crimea,” after explosions rocked a Russian air base on the peninsula, killing one and injuring others.

“Today, there is a lot of attention on the topic of Crimea. And rightly so. Because Crimea is Ukrainian, and we will never give it up,” Zelenskyy said in a Telegram video. “This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of free Europe began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — with its liberation. Today it is impossible to say when this will happen. But we are constantly adding the necessary components to the formula of liberation of Crimea … I know that we will return to the Ukrainian Crimea.”

But Zelenskyy stopped short of directly addressing the blasts, and Russia has denied they were attacks, instead blaming “violations of fire safety rules” and the accidental detonation of stored ammunition, according to Russian media.

“Only violations of fire safety rules are considered as a key cause of the explosion of several munitions. There are no signs or evidence that it was done deliberately,” Russian news agency TASS cited a source in the defense ministry as saying.

Moscow annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and used it to help launch its full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February. But if Ukraine did strike the base, it would mark an escalation in the war as the first known major attack on a Russian military site in Crimea.

From a strategic perspective, striking jets at an airbase in Crimea would support a significant Ukrainian counter-offensive toward the southern city of Kherson but also begs questions of how Russia will respond. Only last month, former President Dmitry Medvedev made apocalyptic warnings of Russian retaliation if Crimea were attacked. Trying to play down the sense of a big set-back on Tuesday, Russian authorities denied the loss of any planes.

Ukraine’s defense ministry noted sarcastically on Facebook that it could not verify the cause of the explosions, “but once again draws attention to fire safety rules and the ban on smoking in uncertified places.” It added: “We can’t rule out that the occupiers will ‘accidentally’ find some characteristic ‘insignia’, ‘visiting card’ or even ‘DNA’.”

It also wrote on Twitter: “The Ministry of Defense of Ukraine would like to remind everyone that the presence of occupying troops on the territory of Ukrainian Crimea is not compatible with the high tourist season.”