An estimated eight warplanes and several buildings were destroyed in a Russian airbase in Crimea.
Russia downplayed the blasts on Tuesday, but satellite images show extensive damage.
Ukraine has not officially claimed responsibility, but has hinted that it was behind the attack.
Satellite images show devastation at a Russian airfield in occupied Crimea in the aftermath of an attack Tuesday when as many as 13 warplanes were wrecked.
The specifics of the attack remain unclear — Ukraine has avoided explicitly taking responsibility, though its air force on Thursday did post a jubilant image of the destroyed planes.
Russia has maintained that the damage was due to an accident and didn’t destroy anything significant, a claim contradicted by imagery from several sources.
As well as the aircraft, at least three buildings appeared destroyed at the Saki naval airbase in Crimea, the peninsula which Russian seized from Ukraine in 2014.
Satellite images from Planet Labs give a before-and-after picture of Saki — the left image is dated to Tuesday, while the right image shows the base the following day.
The losses appear to be a mixture of Su-30 and Su-24 jets, both of which have been used for decades by Russia’s air force. The Su-24 is meant for precise attacks on ground targets, which the Su-30 is a fighter, meant to engage other planes.
Commenting on the images, Elliot Higgins, founder of open-source intelligence group Bellingcat, noted the “very large craters, many destroyed aircraft, and destroyed buildings.”
“From what I can tell a lot of planes and ammo got blown up in one area causing a fire that spread throughout the base, although the only damage from that fire which is visible is lots of burnt grass,” he said.
“I can’t think of a time Russia has lost this many air assets in one day in recent memory, and they have to be deeply concerned about Ukraine’s ability to do similar strikes elsewhere,” he wrote.
Estimates of the losses vary on the basis of the imagery. Open-source analyst Oliver Alexander tweeted this estimate:
Oryx, a project that documents Russian military losses, gave a lower estimate of at least nine planes destroyed.
On-the-ground footage from the scene, verified by The New York Times, shows the charred remains of one Su-24:
Ukraine has not formally claimed it as an attack, with its defense ministry saying on Tuesday it couldn’t “determine the cause of the explosion,” The Times reported.
However, an anonymous official told The Washington Post that Ukrainian special forces were responsible.
Asked by Politico if the blasts could be considered part of a Ukrainian counter-offensive in Crimea, an anonymous official said: “You can say this is it.”
On Wednesday, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the he aimed to ultimately retake Crimea, the first tranche of Ukrainian territory seized by Russia, eight years before the mass invasion of 2022.
Without mentioning the Saki airfield, Zelenskyy said: “Crimea is Ukrainian and we will never give it up,” the BBC reported.
“We will not forget that the Russian war against Ukraine began with the occupation of Crimea,” he said, per the BBC. “This Russian war … began with Crimea and must end with Crimea — with its liberation.”
Meanwhile, Russia has not pointed the finger at Ukraine, attributing the blasts only to an “explosion” during which “several aviation munitions detonated.”
Washington DC-based military think tank the Institute for the Study of War said that this was likely because Russia is not prepared to admit that its defenses failed badly enough to allow Ukraine to pull off such an attack.
“The Kremlin has little incentive to accuse Ukraine of conducting strikes that caused the damage since such strikes would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems,” the institute wrote.
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