Ukraine says nine Russian warplanes destroyed in Crimea explosions

Russia denied that any planes were damaged in Tuesday’s blast – or that an attack took place.

Ukrainian officials did not stop to publicly claim responsibility for the explosions, while mocking Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker could have set fire to and detonated ammunition at Saki Air Force Base.

A satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Saki Air Base following an explosion there Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, on the Crimean Peninsula, the Black Sea peninsula occupied by Russia and annexed in March 2014.  Ukraine said on Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly series of explosions at an air base in Crimea that appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack, signifying a significant escalation in the war.  (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
A satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the Saki Air Base after an August 10 explosion. (AP)
A satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Saki Air Base following an explosion there Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, on the Crimean Peninsula, the Black Sea peninsula occupied by Russia and annexed in March 2014.  Ukraine said on Wednesday that nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in a deadly series of explosions at an air base in Crimea that appeared to be the result of a Ukrainian attack, signifying a significant escalation in the war.  (Planet Labs PBC via AP)
Ukraine claims nine Russian warplanes were destroyed in the deadly series of explosions. (AP)

Analysts also said the explanation is incorrect and that the Ukrainians could have used anti-ship missiles to attack the base.

If Ukrainian troops were indeed responsible for the blast, it would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site in the Crimean peninsula, taken by the Kremlin from Ukraine in 2014.

Russian warplanes have used Saki to attack areas in southern Ukraine.

Crimea has enormous strategic and symbolic significance for both sides.

The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognize Crimea as part of Russia has been one of the key preconditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians out of the peninsula and all other occupied territories.

Tourists urge to visit Ukraine despite cultural losses

Hours after the blast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy promised again to do just that.

“This Russian war against Ukraine and against all of Europe started with Crimea and must end with Crimea – its liberation,” he said in his overnight speech.

The explosions, which killed one person and injured 14, caused tourists to flee in panic as plumes of smoke rose over the nearby shoreline.

Video showed shattered windows and holes in the masonry of some buildings.

A tourist, Natalia Lipovaya, said that “the earth was gone from under my feet” after the powerful blast.

“I was so scared,” she said.

Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalls hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window.

“Everything started to fall, collapse,” he said.

Crimea regional leader Sergei Aksyonov said some 250 residents were moved to temporary housing after dozens of apartment buildings were damaged.

But Russian authorities tried to downplay Wednesday’s explosions, saying all hotels and beaches were untouched on the peninsula, which is a popular tourist destination for many Russians.

A Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, cryptically said the blasts were either caused by Ukrainian-made long-range weapons or the work of Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea.

Smoke rising from Saky beach after explosions were heard from the direction of a Russian military airbase near Novofedorivka, Crimea, Tuesday, Aug. 9, 2022. The explosion of ammunition sparked a fire at a military airbase in Russia annexed Tuesday on the Crimea, but no casualties or damage to stationed warplanes, Russia's defense ministry said.  (UGC via AP)
Smoke rising from a beach can be seen after explosions were heard from the direction of a nearby Russian military airbase. (AP)

A Ukrainian MP, Oleksandr Zavitnevich, said the airport had been rendered useless.

He reported on Facebook that fighter jets, tactical reconnaissance aircraft and military transport aircraft were housed there.

“Officially Kiev has not said anything about it, but unofficially the military recognizes that it was a Ukrainian attack,” Ukrainian military analyst Oleh Zhdanov said.

The base is at least 200 kilometers from the nearest Ukrainian position.

Zhdanov suggested that Ukrainian forces could have hit it off with Ukrainian or Western-supplied anti-ship missiles that have the necessary range.

The Washington-based Institute for the Study of War said it could not independently determine what caused the explosions, but noted that simultaneous detonations at two locations at the base likely preclude an accidental fire, but not sabotage or a missile attack.

But it added: “The Kremlin has little reason to accuse Ukraine of carrying out attacks that caused the damage, as such attacks would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of Russian air defense systems.”

During the war, the Kremlin has reported numerous fires and explosions on Russian territory near the Ukrainian border, with some blamed for Ukrainian attacks.

Ukrainian authorities have mostly kept quiet about the incidents, preferring to leave the world guessing.

In other developments, Russian troops shelled areas across Ukraine on Tuesday night, including the central Dnipropetrovsk region, where 13 people were killed, according to the region’s governor Valentyn Reznichenko.

Reznichenko said the Russians fired on the town of Marganets and a nearby village.

Dozens of residential buildings, two schools and several administrative buildings were damaged.

“It was a terrible night,” Reznichenko said.

“It is very difficult to retrieve bodies from under rubble. We are faced with a vicious enemy who daily engages in terror against our cities and towns.”

Two residents of the village of Staryi Saltiv in the northeast Kharkiv region were killed in Russian shelling on Wednesday, police said.

In the southeast of the country, Moscow forces continued to shell the city of Nikopol across the Dnieper River from the Russian-occupied Zaporizhzhya power plant, Europe’s largest nuclear power plant.

Ukraine and Russia have accused each other of shelling, fueling international fears of catastrophe.

On Wednesday, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven industrialized democracies demanded that Russia immediately return full control of the factory to Ukraine.

They said they were “deeply concerned” about the risk of a nuclear accident with far-reaching consequences.

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