Russia’s forces in annexed Crimean are “on alert” and residents have been told to “remain calm” after reports of a drone attack on the peninsula.
So, what’s going on and why is it important?
Kremlin-installed authorities in Crimea – whose reports always need to be taken with a pinch of salt – said the area was targeted by a drone attack on Tuesday.
“Our air defense forces are working right now,” said Mikhail Razvozhayev, governor of the Sevastopol administrative region in Crimea.
He added that two drones had “already been shot down” and that no civilian infrastructure had been damaged.
What has Ukraine said about the alleged attack?
Nothing so far, but taking back Crimea, illegally annexed by Russia in 2014, is the ultimate prize for Ukraine in the ongoing conflict. Crimea has been the site of numerous long-range attacks in recent months widely believed to have been carried out by Ukrainian forces.
To date, there have been several explosions at or near Russian military installations in the region, including a coordinated drone attack on a key Russian naval port at Sevastopol and a highly-audacious bombing of the rail and road bridge that connects the Crimean peninsula to the Russian mainland, both carried out in October.
Why is Crimea so important?
The peninsula is highly valued by Ukraine and Russia, both strategically and symbolically.
Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 after nationwide pro-democracy demonstrations that led to the ousting of Ukraine’s Kremlin-friendly president Viktor Yanukovych. The land-grab has been one of the crowning achievements of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rule.
Losing it would be a potentially fatal blow to Putin’s authority and one Ukraine is keen to inflict.
Strategically, Crimea hosts several important Russian military bases and is home to the country’s Black Sea Fleet. It was also used as a launching pad for its February full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Can Ukraine take Crimea back?
While it’s always difficult to make concrete predictions about the war, both sides are preparing for just this very outcome.
In recent months, Ukrainian forces have been pushing a counter-offensive in the south towards Crimea and earlier this month reclaimed Kherson, the capital of the region bordering the annexed peninsula.
Ukraine also announced on Tuesday Nov. 22 that it had recaptured almost the entire region of Mykolaiv on an isolated peninsula off the Black Sea, where fighting is ongoing.
“We are restoring full control over the region. We have three settlements left on the Kinburn Split to officially no longer be a region at war,” said Governor of Mykolaiv region Vitaly Kim on social media.
The southern split jutting into the Black Sea is divided in two: in the west, as part of the Mykolaiv region and to the east as part of the Kherson region. Controlling it opens up more options for Ukraine to attack Russian forces as it slowly moves towards Crimea.
Meanwhile, Russia isn’t taking any chances. Last week, Moscow’s appointed head of the territory, Sergei Aksyonov, said authorities were strengthening positions on the peninsula.
“Fortification work is being carried out… with the aim of guaranteeing the security of all Crimeans,” he said.