A massive fire at an oil depot in Russian-occupied Crimea has caused a great deal of “anxiety” in Russia’s military, a Ukrainian official has claimed.
Remind me, what happened on Saturday?
Russian officials claimed the huge fire was the result of a “drone strike” in Sevastopol, home to Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, which produced the stunning images of clouds of smoke rising high into the sky as fuel reserves burned.
The Kremlin said nothing about the attack and Russian-installed officials in the port city sought to play down the incident, amid rising security fears on the peninsula.
Was it a Ukrainian strike?
Kyiv has not directly admitted responsibility for the attack but Natalia Humeniuk, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s southern command, said on Sunday evening that the massive blaze destroyed 10 oil tanks with a capacity of some 40,000 tons.
She made it clear the strike on the facility was part of preparations for Ukraine’s up-coming counteroffensive.
“The fact that the enemy’s logistics are undermined... this work is preparatory for the broad, full-scale offensive, which everyone expects,” she told national television on Sunday.
“Therefore, the enemy feels that his resources are undermined and begins to maneuver.”
She said such moves are causing “anxiety” in Russia’s military command.
Is she right?
Obviously, Russia has not admitted to feeling any anxiety, but a number of developments point towards such a conclusion and there are major internal changes afoot as well as a dour assessment of the current situation from Yevgeny Prigozhin, the head of Russian mercenary group Wagner.
What changes is the Russian military making?
The Russian army on Sunday replaced its highest ranking general in charge of logistics ahead of an expected counteroffensive by Kyiv.
The announcement followed days of rumors about the sacking of Colonel General Mikhail Mizintsev, under British sanctions for his role in the siege of the Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which Russian troops captured a year ago.
In a statement, the Russian defense ministry said Alexei Kuzmenkov – a former official from the National Guard – had replaced Mizintsev.
“Kuzmenkov was appointed to the position of deputy defense minister of the Russian Federation, responsible for the logistical support of the Armed Forces,” the ministry said.
The statement did not say why Mizintsev was replaced after just seven months on the job but the Kremlin’s offensive in Ukraine has revealed major logistical problems in the Russian army, which became especially visible during a chaotic mobilization drive last year.
What has Prigozhin said?
The head of Russian mercenary group Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, warned Sunday that a Ukrainian counteroffensive could turn into a "tragedy" for Russia and complained that his fighters lacked ammunition.
For months Wagner has spearheaded the Russian attack on Bakhmut, the eastern Ukrainian town at the epicenter of fighting. Prigozhin is an ally of President Vladimir Putin, but as head of the private military group has been involved in a power struggle with Russia’s defense ministry.
“We (Wagner) have only 10-15 percent of the shells that we need,” he said, blaming the leadership of the Russian army.
He spoke in an interview to Russian pro-Kremlin war correspondent Semyon Pegov. Prigozhin said he expected a Ukrainian counterattack in mid-May. “This counteroffensive could become a tragedy for our country,” he said.
Do we know when Ukraine’s counteroffensive will begin?
The actual date is a closely guarded secret but Ukraine said recently that it was finalizing preparations for a long-expected counteroffensive.
Ukraine’s Defense Minister, Oleksiy Reznikov, announced on Friday, April 28, that the country is prepared for a counteroffensive, pending necessary weather conditions and final decisions from the military command.
“Preparations are coming to an end, and in addition to weapons and equipment, our military personnel still need to be trained on their usage,” Reznikov stated, speaking at a press conference.
He further noted that the country has received “very modern systems, especially in the area of armored vehicles,” including Leopard 2 and Challenger tanks, with Leopard 1 arriving later.
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