The head of pro-Russian forces in the Crimean Peninsula says Ukrainian government troops have struck oil drilling platforms in the Black Sea, amid Russia’s months-long military offensive in the former Soviet republic.
Sergei Askyonov said in a post on his Telegram account on Monday that the Ukrainian forces had launched missile attacks on drilling platforms of Chernomorneftegaz energy company in the Black Sea and off the coast of Crimea, which rejoined Russia in a 2014 referendum.
"This morning the enemy struck the drilling platforms of Chernomorneftegaz...I am in touch with colleagues from the Defense Ministry and the FSB. We are working to rescue people," Aksyonov wrote in the post, referring to the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
Aksyonov told state television that 109 workers had been on the oil rig platforms at the time of the attack and that 21 of them were evacuated, adding that search-and-rescue efforts were ongoing for the missing workers.
Mikhail Sheremet, a lawmaker in Russia's lower-house State Duma, warned that Moscow would respond with "retaliatory strikes" on Ukrainian "decision-making centers" following the missile attack.
The strike is the first reported Ukrainian attack against offshore energy infrastructure in Crimea since the start of Moscow's military offensive in late February.
Russian officials have expressed concern over Ukrainian military figures saying they would like to target Crimean infrastructure - such as the Kerch bridge linking Crimea to Russia - as part of a Ukrainian counter-offensive in the south.
Relations between Ukraine and Russia took a hit in 2014, when the then-Ukrainian territory of Crimea voted in a referendum to fall under Russian sovereignty. The US and the European Union (EU) backed Kiev and refused to recognize the referendum results, later imposing sanctions on Moscow.
Furthermore, Ukraine, as well as the EU and the US, claimed that Russia had a hand in a conflict that erupted in the Donbass region of Ukraine between government forces and ethnic Russians in 2014. The West imposed sanctions on Russia after accusing it of interfering in the conflict. Moscow denies that allegation.
In February, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a military operation in Ukraine aimed at “demilitarizing” Donbas. Announcing the operation, Putin said the mission was aimed at “defending people who for eight years were suffering persecution and genocide by the Kiev regime.”
Russia accuses G20 members of politicizing health talks
Separately on Monday, Russia accused some members of the Group of 20 major economies of politicizing a meeting on global health after Moscow was criticized for the poor healthcare system in Ukraine following the February operation.
"We are asking our colleagues not to politicize G20 health platform and stay within our mandate and discuss healthcare," Russian Health Ministry official Oleg Salagay told a G20 health ministers' meeting in the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta.
Representatives of the United States, Britain, Australia and Canada urged Russia at the meeting to end its protracted military operation in Ukraine.
Andrea Palm, deputy secretary of the US Department of Health and Human Services, said the Russia-Ukraine conflict was "directly at odds with the goals of G20 healthcare and our goal of promoting global health.”
"Far from promoting global health, Russia has disrupted health services, destroyed health facilities, and continue to strike buildings where innocent civilians including children are sheltering," Palm claimed.
Russia has vehemently denied targeting civilians and medical facilities in Ukraine.