Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late on Wednesday that Moscow’s mounting losses must convince his leadership to “get out of the war,” with satellite images showing at least eight downed warplanes after an explosion at a Russian air base in Crimea.
Images released Wednesday by satellite imaging company Planet Labs show at least three blast craters near the runway at Saki Air Base, on the western Black Sea coast of Russian-held Crimea. The debris was damaged by explosions in Russia on Tuesday, which a senior Ukrainian military official said were the result of an attack by Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists.
But with images showing a costly and serious blow to the Russian military, Mr Zelensky referred to the episode for the first time in his nightly speech and put the number of Russian warplanes lost at nine.
“In just one day, the occupiers lost 10 fighter jets: nine in Crimea and another towards Zaporizhia,” he said on Wednesday night.
The New York Times reviewed satellite images of Saki Air Base, collected by Planet Lab hours before and a day after the explosions. Pictures show at least eight destroyed aircraft, both Su-24s and Su-30s, parked on the tarmac west of the base. Each plane costs millions of dollars.
In addition, two buildings near the plane were destroyed, and damage and large burn marks were seen elsewhere on the military base.
Other parts of the base appeared intact, including several helicopters and a large ammunition depot.
A senior Ukrainian official said the blast was a partisan-assisted attack, but was not more specific, and the Ukrainian military has not publicly acknowledged any involvement. Military analysts say Ukraine does not have missiles that can reach the base from territory it controls, more than 100 miles away, and Ukrainian planes are unlikely to penetrate that far into Russian-controlled airspace.
Russia’s Defense Ministry downplayed the extent of the damage, saying there were no casualties and no equipment was destroyed in the munitions explosion.
But eyewitness reports of multiple explosions at the base — and videos and photographs posted on social media showing plumes of smoke billowing from the scene and what appeared to be a jet’s nose cone — contradict the Kremlin’s narrative.
Yuri Podoliaka, a prominent pro-Russian military blogger known for posting daily updates from the front lines, called the blasts “an act of reckless sabotage.”
“What did the commanders of this military unit think?” He posted Post a video. “I have a lot of questions for the commanders of these air force regiments – how can you keep such munitions?”
Officials said at least one person was killed and more than a dozen injured. Crimea’s Kremlin-installed leader, Sergei Aksyonov, said on Wednesday that at least 62 apartment buildings and 20 commercial structures had been damaged. He declared a state of emergency and raised the terror threat level on the peninsula.
Since seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia has heavily militarized it and used it as an important jumping-off point for military operations since launching a massive invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Still, the attack on the airbase suggests that Ukrainian forces are capable of guerrilla operations there.
Christoph Koetl And Ivan Nechepurenko Contributed to the report.