Ukraine issued a warning about a frontline nuclear power station where it said it believed Moscow was planning a “large-scale provocation” as justification to decouple the plant from the Ukrainian power grid and connect it to Russia’s.
Continuing the mutual blame game, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine’s shelling of the Zaporizhzhia complex, risked a nuclear catastrophe.
In Crimea explosions were reported near an air base in Belbek, on the southwest coast near Sevastopol, headquarters of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.
On the opposite end of the peninsula, the sky was also lit up at Kerch near a huge bridge to Russia, with what Moscow said was fire from its air defenses.
Inside Russia, two villages were evacuated after explosions at an ammunition dump in Belgorod Province, near the Ukrainian border but more than 100 km (60 miles) from territory controlled by Ukrainian forces.
Closer to the front, Kyiv also announced a number of strikes overnight behind Russian lines in southern Kherson Province, including at a bridge at the Kakhovska Dam, one of the last routes for Russia to supply thousands of troops on the west bank of the Dnipro River.
Kyiv has been coy about its role, withholding official comment on incidents in Crimea or inside Russia while hinting that it is behind them using long-range weapons or sabotage.
Russian officials reported no one was hurt in the latest explosions in Crimea and Belgorod. They said they had shot down drones in Belbek and Kerch, and confirmed that they had ordered the evacuation of two villages in Belgorod.
Video showing huge flames and smoke, purportedly at the Russian base in Belbek, was posted on Twitter by former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt.
“It certainly looks bad—or good—dependent on the perspective,” he wrote. Reuters could not confirm the authenticity of the video.
Ukraine hopes its apparent new-found ability to hit Russian targets behind the front line can turn the tide in the conflict, disrupting supply lines Moscow needs to support its occupation.
Since last month, Ukraine has been fielding advanced rockets supplied by the West to strike behind Russian lines. The overnight explosions in Crimea and Belgorod were beyond the range of ammunition Western countries have acknowledged sending so far.
Ukraine’s nuclear power operator said on Friday it suspected Moscow was planning to switch over the Zaporizhzhia plant to Russia’s power grid, a complex operation that Kyiv claims could cause a disaster.
The power station is held by Russian troops on the bank of a reservoir. Ukrainian forces control the opposite bank.
Moscow has rejected international calls to demilitarise the plant and Putin on Friday said that Kyiv was shelling it in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron, according to Kremlin’s readout of the call.
It said Putin warned of a “danger of a large-scale catastrophe that could lead to radiation contamination of vast territories.”
Kyiv denies this and says Russia is using the plant as a shield for forces to fire at Ukrainian-held cities. Reuters cannot independently verify the military situation at the plant.
Macron’s office said Putin agreed to a mission by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to Zaporizhia.
An IAEA spokesman said it was in active consultations with all parties to send its mission “as soon as possible.”
By Tom Balmforth and Max Hunder