Crimea: Zelensky pledges to make region 'part of the European Union'
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Ukrainian daily Kyiv Post reports Moscow’s manpower crisis will worsen, pointing to the mass resignation of 200 members of the Russian Federation’s 810th Guards Naval Infantry Brigade at the end of July. According to the same publication, the elite outfit based in Sevastopol, Crimea, was “gutted” by “brutal” house-to-house fighting in the city of Mariupol in southern Ukraine.
It claims 300 infantrymen were killed while hundreds more were seriously injured. Kyiv claims at least 45,000 Russian troops have been killed in the war, though British and American estimates put the number at 20,000 to 30,000.
Kyiv Post cites an intercepted phone conversation made on August 10 in which a Russian soldier described the slaughter, saying: “They f***** our position to pieces. Again lots of wounded… Only half of us survived. One in every two of us was wounded.”
It has not been possible to independently verify the reported intercept.
The same publication, citing Ukrainian intelligence spokesman Vadym Skibidsky, said Russian commanders had tried to form a temporary battalion made up of the survivors of Mariupol as well as rear area personnel to send to the frontline, but the move led to a mass resignation – in spite of the threat of treason charges.
Russia’s 810th Brigade of the Black Sea Fleet was one unit of the Soviet Navy’s Marine Corps.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Black Sea Fleet’s assets were divided between Russia and Ukraine with the 810th Marine Brigade downsized, according to the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies.
Units of the Black Sea Fleets 810th Marine Brigade took part in a blockade of Ukrainian military bases in 2014 in a bid to prevent Ukraine from putting up resistance during Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The brigade has been guarding the border between Crimea and Ukraine ever since.
Russian military bases in Crimea have been rocked by explosions in recent weeks.
A new commander of the Black Sea Fleet was installed earlier this month, according to RIA news agency, in what was described at the time as one of the most prominent sackings of a military official in the six months since Russia invaded its neighbour on February 24.
State-owned RIA cited sources as saying new chief Viktor Sokolov was introduced to members of the fleet’s military council in the port of Sevastopol.
One source said it was normal the appointment was not publicly announced at a time when Russia was conducting what it calls its “special military operation” in Ukraine.
The Black Sea Fleet has a revered history in Russia, but it has suffered several highly public humiliations in the course of Vladimir Putin’s war.
In April, Ukraine struck its lead warship, the Moskva, with Neptune missiles, causing it to catch fire and sink.
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Its Saki air base in southwest Crimea, near the fleet’s headquarters at Sevastopol, was devastated earlier this month by a series of explosions which destroyed eight warplanes, according to satellite imagery.
A Western official said blasts at the base put more than half of the Russian Black Sea fleet’s naval aviation combat jets out of use.
Blasts also rocked an ammunition depot at a military base in the north of the peninsula. Russia called it an act of sabotage while Ukraine only hinted it was responsible.
Russia’s FSB security service said this month it had detained six members of what it called an Islamist terrorist cell in Crimea, though it did not say if they were suspected of involvement in the explosions.
The Black Sea Fleet is larger than Ukraine’s navy and is a source of national pride dating back to its foundation under Empress Catherine the Great in 1783.
Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and has extensively fortified since then, provides the main supply route for Russian invasion forces occupying southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is carrying out a counter-offensive.
The fleet has blockaded Ukraine’s ports since the start of the war, trapping vital grain exports which are only now starting to move again under an agreement brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.
Ukraine’s blistering attacks on what Moscow saw as a secure rear stronghold have served as a morale-boosting coup for Kyiv.
The previous commander, Osipov, 49, had been in charge since May 2019, according to his official biography on Russia’s defence ministry website.
His replacement, Sokolov, 60, had extensive experience in commanding minesweeping vessels and units in the 1980s and 1990s.
He then rose through a series of posts in the Pacific and Northern Fleets, serving as deputy commander for the latter.
Since 2020 he has headed a prestigious military academy.
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