KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia on Wednesday accused Ukraine’s Western allies of helping plan and conduct last week’s missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters in annexed Crimea.
“There is no doubt that the attack had been planned in advance using Western intelligence means, NATO satellite assets and reconnaissance planes and was implemented upon of the advice of American and British security agencies and in close coordination with them,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing.
Moscow has repeatedly claimed that the U.S. and its NATO allies have effectively become involved in the conflict by supplying weapons to Ukraine and providing it with intelligence information and helping plan attacks on Russian facilities.
The accusation came the day after video appeared to show the fleet’s commander, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, was still alive despite Ukraine’s claims — without providing supporting evidence — that he was among 34 officers killed in Friday’s strike on the port city of Sevastopol.
The Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been a frequent target since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine 20 months ago. Crimea has served as the key hub supporting the invasion and has increasingly come under fire by Ukraine.
Ukraine said the strike that put a large hole in the main building of the headquarters had wounded 105 people, though those claims could not independently be verified.
Russia initially said one serviceman was killed but quickly retracted that statement and said the person was missing.
Moscow has provided no further updates and has not commented directly on Sokolov’s status. The Ministry of Defense, however, posted video Tuesday showing Sokolov among other senior officers attending a video conference with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Sokolov did not speak in the clip shown.
Ukraine’s Special Operation Forces posted a statement Tuesday saying its sources claimed Sokolov was among the dead, many of whom had not yet been identified. It said it was trying to verify the claim after the video surfaced.
Sokolov was shown speaking to journalists about the Black Fleet’s operations in a video posted on a news channel linked to the Russian Defense Ministry. It wasn’t clear when the video was recorded. The video didn’t contain any mention of the Ukrainian attack on fleet headquarters.
Zakharova’s statements follow comments made Tuesday by Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, who said the arrival American-made Abrams tanks in Ukraine and a U.S. promise to supply an unspecified number of long-range ATACMS missiles would push NATO closer to a direct conflict with Russia.
Associated Press journalist Brian Melley in London contributed to this report. ___
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