Russia Accuses Ukraine’s Western Allies of Helping Attack Its Black Sea Fleet Headquarters

 This satellite photo provide by Planet Labs PBC on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 shows damage to a headquarters building for the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. The building was struck in a missile attack launched by the Ukrainian military. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite photo provide by Planet Labs PBC on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 shows damage to a headquarters building for the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. The building was struck in a missile attack launched by the Ukrainian military. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
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Russia Accuses Ukraine’s Western Allies of Helping Attack Its Black Sea Fleet Headquarters

 This satellite photo provide by Planet Labs PBC on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 shows damage to a headquarters building for the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. The building was struck in a missile attack launched by the Ukrainian military. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
This satellite photo provide by Planet Labs PBC on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023 shows damage to a headquarters building for the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea. The building was struck in a missile attack launched by the Ukrainian military. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Russia on Wednesday accused Ukraine’s Western allies of helping plan and conduct last week’s missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet’s headquarters on the annexed Crimean Peninsula.

“There is no doubt that the attack had been planned in advance using Western intelligence means, NATO satellite assets and reconnaissance planes and was implemented upon the advice of American and British security agencies and in close coordination with them,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a briefing.

Moscow has repeatedly claimed that the US and its NATO allies have effectively become involved in the conflict by supplying weapons to Ukraine and providing it with intelligence information and helping plan attacks on Russian facilities.

Unconfirmed news reports said Storm Shadow missiles provided to Ukraine by the UK and France were used in the attack on the headquarters.

The UK Ministry of Defense didn't immediately respond to requests for comment on Zakharova's remarks or reports that Storm Shadow missiles were used in the strike.

The accusation came as new video reported to show that the fleet’s commander, Adm. Viktor Sokolov, was still alive despite Ukraine’s claims — without providing supporting evidence — that he was among 34 officers killed in Friday’s strike on the port city of Sevastopol.

The Crimean Peninsula, which Russia illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2014, has been a frequent target since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Crimea has served as the key hub supporting the invasion and has increasingly come under fire by Ukraine.

Ukraine said the strike that put a large hole in the main building of the headquarters had wounded 105 people, though those claims couldn't independently be verified.

Russia initially said one serviceman was killed but quickly retracted that statement and said the person was missing.

Moscow has provided no updates on any casualties.

The Kremlin didn’t comment on Sokolov’s status, but the Defense Ministry on Tuesday released a video showing him among other senior officers attending a video conference with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. Sokolov didn’t speak in the clip.

When asked about Sokolov on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that he took part in the call with Shoigu but refrained from further comment.

Russian state television stations on Wednesday showed Sokolov speaking to journalists in Sevastopol after handing awards to a Black Sea Fleet soccer team. Sokolov was asked to say a few words to residents after the latest developments — an apparent reference to the Ukrainian claim that he was killed with scores of other officers in the missile strike on the fleet’s headquarters.

“What happened to us? Nothing happened to us,” Sokolov responded. “Life goes on. The Black Sea Fleet confidently and successfully carries out the tasks assigned to it by the command. Surface forces, submarine forces, naval aviation, and coastal troops are successfully completing tasks.”

Ukraine’s Special Operation Forces posted a statement Tuesday saying its sources claimed that Sokolov was among the dead, many of whom hadn’t yet been identified. It said it was trying to verify the claim after the video surfaced.

Zakharova's statements follow comments made Tuesday by Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, who said the arrival of American-made Abrams tanks in Ukraine and a US promise to supply an unspecified number of long-range ATACMS missiles would push NATO closer to a direct conflict with Russia.



Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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Biden Battles COVID and Democrats as Crisis Grows

President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
President Joe Biden walks down the steps of Air Force One at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Wednesday, July 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Joe Biden holed up at his beach house Thursday, battling both a bout of COVID and calls by senior allies for him to abandon his 2024 reelection bid.

While rival Donald Trump prepared for his star turn at the Republican National Convention, the 81-year-old US president found himself in both personal and political isolation.

The top Democrats in Congress, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, both reportedly met with Biden in recent days to warn that his candidacy threatens his party's prospects in November's election.

Influential former House speaker Nancy Pelosi added to his woes by privately telling Biden he cannot win and could harm Democrats' chances of recapturing the lower chamber, CNN reported.

Several party figures were meanwhile quoted anonymously by the Axios news outlet as saying that they believed the pressure would persuade Biden to drop out as soon as this weekend.

Biden has insisted he is not backing down, adamant that he is the candidate who beat Trump before and will do it again this year. Pressed about reports that Biden might be softening to the idea of leaving the race, his deputy campaign manager Quentin Fulks said Thursday: “He is not wavering on anything.”

"He's staying in the race," Fulks told a press conference on the sidelines of the Republican convention in Milwaukee.

"Our campaign is not working through any scenarios where President Biden is not the top of the ticket -- he is and will be the Democratic nominee."

California Senator Alex Padilla said Biden was "not skipping a beat."

"I know having spoken to him personally he's committed to the campaign," he added.

Using mountains of data showing Biden’s standing could wipe out the ranks of Democrats in Congress, frank conversations in public and private, and now, the president’s own time off the campaign trail after testing positive for COVID-19, many Democrats see an opportunity to encourage a reassessment.

Biden told reporters on Wednesday that he was "doing well."

His COVID diagnosis however came at the worst possible time for his campaign, forcing him to cut short a trip to Las Vegas and isolate at his holiday home in Rehoboth, Delaware.

The split-screen with Trump could not have been more stark, with Trump set to formally accept the Republican nomination in Milwaukee.

US networks showed images of frail looking Biden gingerly descending the steps of Air Force One in Delaware, in a week when Trump is lauded by supporters each night at a packed party convention.

Former president Trump, who at 78 is just three years younger than Biden, is riding a wave of support from his party after surviving an assassination attempt on Saturday that left him with a bandaged ear.

The United States could now be approaching the climax of an extraordinary three weeks in politics, which started when Biden gave a disastrous performance during a televised debate with Trump.

Biden blamed jet lag and a cold, but the fact that America's commander-in-chief has now fallen ill for a second time just as fears grow about his fitness for the job has merely intensified the panic in Democratic ranks.