It’s the kind of rhetoric that leaves little doubt that Ukraine is behind the attacks, military observers told NBC News.
“You’re not going to have all these explosions in Crimea by accident,” said Phillips O’Brien, professor of strategic studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “These are vital military facilities that are being hit very effectively, and they show signs of preparation.”
The explosions could be the work of Ukrainian special forces on the ground, local saboteur units, long-range weapons or a mix of all three, O’Brien said.
Kyiv hasn’t officially taken responsibility “to try and keep Russia off balance and uncertain about where the next attack may come and what Ukraine is capable of doing,” said Neil Melvin, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, a London-based think tank.
In the military sense, the explosions are reducing the flow of ammunition to Russian troops in Ukraine’s south and forcing the Russians to do more to defend Crimea, according to O’Brien.
They are likely to leave Russian commanders increasingly concerned with the apparent deterioration in security across Crimea, Britain’s Defense Ministry wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
But there is also an important psychological factor at play, O’Brien added.
“To show that indeed Crimea is not safe and not under strong Russian control, that is a very powerful political statement,” O’Brien said. “It reinforces the fact that Crimea is part of Ukraine.”
The new explosions in Crimea come as Ukraine has been building toward a counterattack in its south, large chunks of which have been occupied by Russia since the early days of the invasion.
The attacks on Russian positions in Crimea are “likely part of a coherent Ukrainian counter-offensive to regain control of the west bank of the Dnipro River,” according to the latest assessment by the Institute for the Study of War, a U.S.-based military think tank.
Podolyak, Zelenskyy’s adviser, told the Guardian on Tuesday that Ukraine is engaged in a counteroffensive aimed at creating “chaos” within Russian forces by striking their supply lines and military infrastructure deep into occupied territories.
For Melvin, the explosions in Crimea are part of the first phase of the long-anticipated Ukrainian counterattack and what military analysts call “shaping the battle” ahead of the main offensive — trying to reduce Russia’s ability to resist that attack, including by targeting Moscow’s air power in Crimea.
But striking Russian positions there could also signal a change in the scope of Ukraine’s war effort, Melvin said.
Until last week, the feeling was that any fight back would be focused on retaking territory lost since the invasion earlier this year. “But what they have shown actually is that they are not going to accept that territories taken before the war began are part of Russia,” Melvin said.
“Crimea is clearly now not off limits,” he added. “Now it looks like the whole territory of Ukraine is really within the goal of the Kyiv leadership.”
Matteo Moschella and Sara Mhaidli contributed.