By Hugo Bachega in Kyiv and James Gregory in London
Ukraine has carried out a “massive” drone attack on the Black Sea Fleet in the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, damaging one warship, Russia says.
Nine drones were used, a top official said. Ukraine has not commented.
Without providing evidence, Russia accused British troops of being involved in Saturday’s attack – and in blowing up gas pipelines last month.
In its response, the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Russia was “peddling false claims of an epic scale”.
Russia said the ships targeted in Saturday’s attack were involved in the internationally-brokered deal to allow grain exports from Ukrainian ports and hours later announced that it was suspending its participation in it.
The attack comes as Ukrainian troops successfully retake territory occupied by Russian troops since they launched their invasion on 24 February.
Russia has replied by launching large-scale attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, particularly on the country’s energy grid.
Crimea was annexed by Russia from Ukraine in 2014 and is extremely symbolic for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In recent weeks, several attacks have hit the peninsula, where the Russian army has built up a large presence.
Sevastopol is the largest city in the region and home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet.
Mikhail Razvozhaev, the Russian-installed governor of the city, said Russia’s navy had repelled the latest attack – the “most massive” on the city since February.
He said that all unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) had been shot down and no “civilian infrastructure” had been damaged.
At least one vessel sustained minor damage, the Russian ministry of defence said.
“In the course of repelling a terrorist attack on the outer roadstead of Sevastopol, the use of naval weapons and naval aviation of the Black Sea Fleet destroyed four marine unmanned vehicles, three more devices were destroyed on the internal roadstead,” a statement from the ministry read.
The Ukrainian government rarely comments on claims made by Russian authorities in Crimea, although senior officials often celebrate incidents in the peninsula.
Ukraine has pledged to retake all areas that are currently occupied by Russia, including Crimea, which served as a crucial staging area for President Putin’s forces during the invasion of Ukraine.
The Russian defense ministry also claimed that British navy experts had assisted Ukrainian forces in preparing for the attack on Saturday morning without offering any proof.
The same unit was also allegedly “involved in plotting, organizing, and carrying out the terrorist attack in the Baltic Sea on September 26, this year, to blow up the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 gas pipelines,” according to the report.
The Russian Ministry of Defense is turning to epic-scale fabrications in order to distract from their disastrous handling of the illegal invasion of Ukraine, the MoD responded.
This made-up narrative reveals more about internal conflicts within the Russian government than it does about the west.
Russia has allegedly been waging a disinformation campaign in recent days, according to US and Ukrainian officials, by making unfounded claims that Kyiv is getting ready to use a radioactive dirty bomb or even biological mosquitoes.
Additionally, Russia has asserted that the ships that were attacked on Saturday morning were tasked with protecting the “grain corridor” as part of a global effort to export agricultural goods from Ukrainian ports.
The deal, which was mediated by the UN and Turkey, allowed Ukraine to resume grain exports to the Black Sea, which had been halted when Russia invaded the nation. The UN secretary general personally negotiated it, and it was hailed as a significant diplomatic triumph that lessened a severe world food crisis.
However, Russia complains that its own exports continue to be constrained and has previously indicated it may not renew the agreement.
In recent days, Kiev has charged Moscow with purposefully slowing down ship traffic, resulting in a line-up of more than 170 vessels.
The cruiser Moskva, which served as the Russian Black Sea Fleet’s flagship, was sunk in April of this year as a result of a previous attack by Ukrainian forces. The 510-crew missile cruiser’s sinking was a significant symbolic and military blow because it had led Russia’s naval assault on Ukraine.
An explosion took place earlier this month on the Crimean bridge, which served as a crucial symbol of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Russian investigators reported that three people died in the explosion.
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