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Russia has emptied out a Crimea base of weaponry, with officials worried Ukraine could target the region in a possible counteroffensive

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov in November 2016.Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Crimean leader Sergei Aksyonov in November 2016.

Mikhail Klimentyev/Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

  • Satellite photos obtained by CNN show that Russia has emptied out a military base in Crimea.
  • Ukraine is planning a counteroffensive, and the head of the region indicated it could be a target.
  • Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, and Ukraine says one of its goals is to get it back.

Russia has taken weaponry and equipment out of a military base in Crimea, according to satellite images obtained by CNN, as a Russian official warns that Ukraine may be gearing up to try to take back the region.

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, claiming it as part of Russia in a move that has not been recognized internationally.

CNN compared satellite images of the base taken on January 21, February 11, and March 27 by the EU’s Sentinel 2 satellite and by Maxar Technologies.

The January image of the base, located close to the village of Medvedivka and near the border with Kherson, shows a lot of Russian equipment at the site, while the February image shows “dozens of armoured vehicles, including tanks and artillery pieces,” CNN reported.

But in the March image, much of that weaponry is gone.

It is not clear why Russia would move the equipment, but a local official warned that Ukraine appears poised to target the region when it launches its expected counteroffensive.

Sergei Aksyonov, the Russia-appointed governor of Crimea, said earlier this month that Russia was building defensive structures in and around Crimea, indicating that Russia expects a Ukrainian attack.

He said that they “had to prepare for any scenario,” per CNN’s translation.

The governor of Crimea’s largest city said earlier this week that Ukrainian drones had targeted Russia’s main naval base there.

And Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly stated that he wants to take Crimea back.

ukraine crimea russia mapThe location of Crimea compared to Russia and Ukraine.

Thomson Reuters

Ukraine has been gearing up for a long-awaited counteroffensive, including by getting more advanced training and weapons from its allies.

But it isn’t clear when it will begin.

Crimea has a strategic military importance: Russia uses it to support its troops in Ukraine’s south, and it is home to multiple military bases and airports, as well as Russia’s Black Sea Fleet.

The region also served as a launchpad for Russia when it began its invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

And it has symbolic value: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has called it a “holy land” for his country.

Insider’s John Halitwagner reported in January that Crimea could become the next big battlefield, and one that could decide the outcome of the war.

Read the original article on Business Insider