Satellite pictures released on Thursday, August 11th, by independent satellite firm Planet Labs have confirmed serious damage to Russia’s Saki air base on the southwest coast of Crimea, including the destruction of nine war planes.
The images showed three near-identical craters where buildings had been struck with apparent precision and warplanes burnt to skeletons, Reuters reports.
Russia has denied aircraft were damaged in blasts that occurred on Tuesday, August 6th, and blamed the explosions on an accident.
Analysts consulted by various media say that the damage in the photos is evidence of use of precision long range weaponry, but Ukraine has coyly neither accepted nor denied responsibility for the explosions.
Euronews reports that a Ukrainian presidential adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, cryptically explained that the blasts were either caused by Ukrainian-made long-range weapons or they were the work of Ukrainian guerrillas operating in Crimea.
Reuters reports that Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak said in a message: “officially, we are not confirming or denying anything; there are numerous scenarios for what might have happened … bearing in mind that there were several epicentres of explosions at exactly the same time.”
Politico reports that it spoke to Ukrainian military officials who remained anonymous, as they were not authorised to speak to the media, but who strongly implied Ukrainian responsibility. One official said that it could be considered the start of Ukraine’s planned counter offensive from the south. Another official told the news outlet that the airfield blasts were a message to Russia that they “are safe nowhere,” adding “let them know how it feels,” in reference to the fear and uncertainty caused in Ukraine by Russian airstrikes.
Ukraine mocked Russia’s claim that the explosions were accidental on social media.
The Ministry of Defence posted a video of a mock public service announcement for tourists on its Twitter feed on August 11th.
Using footage from the blasts that had emerged on social media, it shows tourists fleeing the beach as black smoke and flames billow behind them on the horizon and reminds viewers that there are many other beach destinations where they can vacation.
“Unless they want an unpleasantly hot summer break, we advise our valued Russian guests not to visit Ukrainian Crimea,” the Tweet reads. “Because no amount of sunscreen will protect them from the hazardous effects of smoking in unauthorised areas.”
“The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine would like to remind everyone that the presence of occupying troops on the territory of Ukrainian Crimea is not compatible with the high tourist season,” a Tweet the day before had also read.
On August 9th, the day of the explosions, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky made Crimea the centre of his daily address.
“Today, there is a lot of attention to the topic of Crimea. And rightly so. Because Crimea is Ukrainian, and we will never give it up,” he said. “We will not forget that the Russian war against Ukraine began with the occupation of Crimea.”
Crimea is strategically and symbolically important for both Russia and Ukraine. If Ukraine is ultimately responsible for the hit, then it marks the country’s first known attack on the peninsula and a possible blow to Russian morale.
Bridget Ryder is Spain-based writer. She has written on politics, environment, and culture for American and international publications. She holds degrees in Spanish and Catholic Studies.