KYIV - Russian President Vladimir Putin accused Washington on Tuesday of drawing out the war in Ukraine, as explosions rocked a Russian military facility on the Kremlin-controlled peninsula of Crimea. The first UN-chartered vessel laden with grain meanwhile left Ukraine for Africa following a hallmark deal brokered by Turkey and the UN to relieve a global food crisis.

“The situation in Ukraine shows that the US is trying to prolong this conflict,” Putin said, addressing the opening ceremony of a security conference in Moscow.

Washington is “using the people of Ukraine as cannon fodder”, he said, lashing out at the United States for supplying weapons to Kyiv.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February, anticipating little military resistance and hoping for a lightning takeover that would topple the government in Kyiv within hours.

But after failing to capture the capital, Russia’s military instead has become entrenched in a protracted bout of attrition with the sprawling front line in the east and south. The United States has provided key economic and military backing to Kyiv, in particular supplying Ukraine with long-range, precision artillery that has allowed it to strike Russian supply facilities deep inside Moscow-controlled territory. Huge fireballs erupted at the site in Crimea early on Tuesday where ammunition was temporarily being stored and clouds of black smoke billowed into the air, images posted on social media showed.

Russia says Crimea arms depot blasts act

of ‘sabotage’

Russia’s defence ministry said Tuesday that a fire that set off explosions at a munitions depot in Moscow-annexed Crimea was caused by an act of “sabotage”. “On the morning of August 16, as a result of an act of sabotage, a military storage facility near the village of Dzhankoi was damaged,” the ministry said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.  “Damage was caused to a number of civilian facilities, including power lines, a power plant, a railway track as well as a number of residential buildings. There were no serious injuries,” it added.

In an earlier statement, the ministry said a fire erupted around 6:15 am local time (0315 GMT) at a temporary military storage site near the village of Mayskoye in the Dzhankoi district, causing ammunition to detonate.