At least eight Russian warplanes appear to have been damaged or destroyed in a recent attack on the Saki airbase in Crimea, according to recently released satellite images.
Kiev said on Wednesday that nine Russian planes were destroyed on the ground after Tuesday’s incident Dramatic explosion at Saki AirbaseIn which Russia said one person was killed, 14 were injured and dozens of nearby houses were damaged.
Kiev has so far officially denied responsibility for the attack, with an adviser to President Volodymyr Zelensky suggesting that partisans may have been involved.
Russia has tried to play down the attack by denying any aircraft were damaged in the explosions and denying that “several aviation munitions exploded” in a storage area at the facility.
However, satellite photos showing several fighter jets flying over the military base in Novofedorivka are new evidence suggesting a targeted attack.
Images from US-based Planet Labs show large areas of scorched earth and damaged runways, including the charred remains of military aircraft.
Images taken by a private satellite operator at 8am on August 9 – about four hours before the attack – and around 4.40pm on August 10, showed at least eight aircraft parked outside were damaged or destroyed.
The before-and-after images are the first independent confirmation of damage to the base, raising questions about how a location more than 100 miles (160 km) from the frontline could have been attacked.
Elliott Higgins, founder and director of the open source investigative website BellingCat, said “I can’t think of Russia losing so many air assets in one day in recent memory”. A series of tweets on thursday.
Higgins also noted: “I could make out three craters at the site used for storage, so they were probably targeted and everything that was stored was destroyed when it went up.”
“One way to interpret those craters is as a precision strike by a long-range munition,” he said, adding that the craters appeared to be “about 20-25 meters wide … meaning a very large munition”.
“One thing that stands out is that there are no results that seem to miss, so either they used very accurate weapons or they’re very lucky.”
The British Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, told the BBC that the UK was still trying to establish the facts about the airbase explosions, but he believed it was unlikely that Western weapons were involved. The airbase was a legitimate target for Ukraine’s armed forces.
Political sources in Ukraine The country said it carried out the attack – but Kiev has not publicly claimed responsibility.
The Saki airbase is home to Su-30M fighter jets, Su-24 bombers and Il-76 transporters, which are regularly used to launch missile strikes against Ukraine and patrol the Black Sea and the surrounding area.
Crimea is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine but was annexed by Moscow in 2014. It has great strategic and symbolic significance for both sides. Kremlin demands that Ukraine ratify Crimea Its main condition is to end the fighting as part of Russia, while Ukraine pledges to expel the Russians from the peninsula and all other occupied territories.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Oleksiy Arestovich cryptically said the explosions were caused by either Ukrainian-made long-range weapons or the work of Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea.
Oleh Zhdanov, a Ukrainian military analyst, said: “Official Kiev has kept quiet about it, but unofficially the military has admitted it was a Ukrainian strike.”
Ukraine’s public indifference to the attack is partly designed to preserve some ambiguity about the means used, the sources said, amid widespread speculation about how Kyiv was able to strike so deep behind Russian lines in one of Russia’s first attacks on Crimean soil. The offensive began in February.
Justin Bronk, an aviation analyst at a Russian think tank, said that after studying social media videos of the incident, he saw no evidence of incoming missiles and was “almost certain” that there was a “secondary explosion” of ammunition or fuel. Bunkers that were stored on or near airstrips.
This led him to conclude that “the most likely current theory for me is that Ukrainian special forces launched the attack by infiltrating enough of the bottom to launch and guide small UAVs. [drones] or rolling munitions to hit parked aircraft or fuel trucks/storage”.
The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it could not independently determine what caused the explosions but noted that the two simultaneous explosions at the base could not be ruled out as an accidental fire but not sabotage or a missile attack.
But it added: “There is little incentive for the Kremlin to accuse Ukraine of carrying out strikes that caused damage because such strikes would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.