Russia shakes up Black Sea Fleet command after series of hits in Crimea – state agency

LONDON, Aug 17 (Reuters) – Russia’s Black Sea Fleet based in annexed Crimea has installed a new commander, the RIA news agency quoted sources as saying on Wednesday, after Russian military bases on the peninsula were rocked by explosions over the past nine days.

If confirmed, the removal of former commander Igor Osipov would mark the most significant removal of a military official in the nearly six months since Russia invaded Ukraine, during which it was suffered heavy losses in men and material.

State-owned RIA quoted the sources as saying the new chief, Viktor Sokolov, was introduced to members of the fleet’s military council in the port of Sevastopol.

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A source said it was “normal” that the appointment had not been publicly announced at a time when Russia was carrying out what it calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

The Black Sea Fleet, which has a revered history in Russia, suffered several very public humiliations during the war launched by President Vladimir Putin on February 24.

In April, Ukraine hit its main warship, the Moskva, with Neptune missiles, causing it to catch fire and sink. Read more

Last week, its Saki air base in southwestern Crimea, near the fleet headquarters in Sevastopol, was devastated by a series of explosions that destroyed eight fighter jets, satellite images show. .

Then on Tuesday, explosions rocked an ammunition depot at a military base in the north of the peninsula. Russia called it an act of sabotage and Ukraine hinted that it was responsible. Read more

On Wednesday, Russia’s FSB security service said it had arrested six members of what it called an Islamist terror cell in Crimea, but it did not say whether they were suspected of involvement in the blasts.

PROUD OF HISTORY

The Black Sea Fleet is much larger than the Ukrainian Navy and is a source of national pride dating back to its founding under Empress Catherine the Great in 1783.

Crimea, which Russia seized from Ukraine in 2014 and has since largely fortified, is the main supply route for Russian invasion forces occupying southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counterattack. -offensive in the coming weeks.

The fleet has blockaded Ukrainian ports since the war began in February, trapping vital grain exports, which are only now beginning to move again under a deal brokered by Turkey and the United Nations.

The fact that Ukraine was apparently able to launch destructive attacks on what Moscow considered a secure rear bastion served as a coup to boost Kyiv’s morale.

The former commander, Osipov, 49, had been in command since May 2019, according to his official biography on the Defense Ministry website.

His replacement, Sokolov, 60, had extensive experience commanding ships and minesweeping units in the 1980s and 1990s, then rose through the ranks in the Pacific and Northern Fleets, serving as deputy commander of the latter. Since 2020, he has headed a prestigious military academy.

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Reuters reporting; Editing by David Holmes and Alex Richardson

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