Powerful explosions rocked an air base in Russian-occupied Crimea on Tuesday, leaving at least one person dead and several others injured, according to authorities.
Russia's defence ministry said that munitions blew up at the Saki base but insisted the installation had not been shelled.
"Several munitions intended for aviation exploded in a depot located on the territory of the Saki military airfield, near the locality of Novofiodorovka," the statement said, quoted by Russian news agencies.
The social networks were abuzz with speculation that it was hit by Ukrainian-fired long-range missiles, while Mykhailo Podolyak, adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the series of explosions could have been the work of Partisan saboteurs.
Partisan saboteurs, similar to their Belarus Railroad Partisan counterparts, are a reference to the World War II-era self-organised antifascist resistance fighters.
Military experts also speculated that the attack could have been carried out with yet unidentified hypersonic missiles or surface-to-surface rockets launched from a US-made ATACMS.
It is unclear whether the Ukrainian army owns any ATACMS launchers or appropriate ammunition, with the two countries still believed to be negotiating their acquisition.
'Violation of fire safety requirements'
Videos posted on social networks showed sunbathers fleeing a nearby beach as huge clouds of smoke from the explosions rose over the horizon.
Russia’s state news agency Tass quoted an unidentified ministry source as saying the explosions’ primary cause appeared to be a “violation of fire safety requirements.” The ministry said no warplanes were damaged.
Ukraine’s Defence Ministry said sarcastically on Facebook: “The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine cannot establish the cause of the fire, but once again recalls the rules of fire safety and the prohibition of smoking in unspecified places.”
During the war, Russia has reported numerous fires and explosions at munitions storage sites on its territory near the Ukrainian border, blaming some of them on Ukrainian strikes. Ukrainian authorities have mostly remained mum about the incidents.
If Ukrainian forces were, in fact, responsible for the blasts at the air base, it would mark the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which the Kremlin annexed in 2014.
Russian warplanes have used the Saki base to strike areas in Ukraine’s south on short notice.
A smaller explosion last month at the headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port of Sevastopol was blamed on Ukrainian saboteurs using a makeshift drone.
Crimea’s Moscow-installed head Sergei Aksyonov said ambulances and medical helicopters were sent to the Saki air base and the area was sealed off within a radius of five kilometres.
Officials in Moscow have long warned Ukraine that any attack on Crimea would trigger massive retaliation, including strikes on “decision-making centres” in Kyiv.