With satellite images showing at least eight fighter jets destroyed after explosions at a Russian airbase in Crimea, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said late Wednesday that Moscow’s mounting losses should persuade its leaders to “find a way out of the war.” “.
Images released by Planet Labs, a satellite imaging company, appeared on Wednesday to show at least three blast craters in areas where planes were parked near the runways of Saki Air Base on the west coast of the sea. Black from Russian-occupied Crimea, leaving blackened debris. Russia has played down the damage caused by Tuesday’s explosions, which a senior Ukrainian military official said was the result of an attack by Ukrainian forces and partisan fighters.
But with the footage pointing to a costly and serious blow to the Russian military, Mr Zelensky alluded to the episode for the first time in his evening speech, and he put the number of warplanes at nine. Russians lost.
“In a single day, the occupiers lost 10 combat aircraft: nine in Crimea and one more in the direction of Zaporizhzhia,” he said on Wednesday evening.
The New York Times reviewed satellite images of Saki Air Force Base, collected by Planet Labs hours before and a day after the explosions. Footage shows at least eight destroyed aircraft, Su-24 and Su-30 fighter jets, all parked on the base’s west tarmac. Planes cost tens of millions of dollars each.
Additionally, two buildings near the aircraft appear to have been 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 dump.
A senior Ukrainian official said the blasts were an attack carried out with the help of partisans, but was no more specific, and the Ukrainian military has not publicly acknowledged any involvement. Military analysts said Ukraine does not have missiles capable of reaching the base from territory it controls, more than 100 miles away, and Ukrainian planes are unlikely to penetrate that far. in airspace controlled by Russia.
The Russian Defense Ministry played down the extent of the damage, saying an ammunition explosion caused no casualties and no equipment was destroyed.
But witness reports of multiple explosions at the base – and videos and photographs posted to social media showing plumes of smoke rising from the scene and what appeared to be the nose cone of a plane at reaction – pierced the Kremlin narrative.
Yury Podolyaka, a prominent pro-Russian military blogger known for posting daily updates from the front lines, called the explosions “an act of sabotage coupled with negligence”.
“What did the commanders of this military unit think about?” he posed in a video post. “I have a lot of questions for the commanders of this air force regiment – how can you keep ammunition like this?”
Officials said at least one person was killed and more than a dozen injured. Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-installed leader of Crimea, said Wednesday that at least 62 apartment buildings and 20 commercial structures were damaged. He declared a state of emergency and raised the level of terrorist threat on the peninsula.
Since taking Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, Russia has heavily militarized it and used it as a vital staging point for military operations since its wider invasion of Ukraine on February 24. Even so, the attack on the air base suggests that Ukrainian forces can carry out guerrilla operations there.
Christoph Koettl and Ivan Nechepurenko contributed report.