Kyiv – Satellite pictures released on Thursday showed devastation at a Russian air base in Crimea, hit in an attack that suggested Ukraine may have obtained new long-range strike capability with potential to change the course of the war.
Pictures released by independent satellite firm Planet Labs showed three near-identical craters where buildings at Russia’s Saki air base had been struck with apparent precision.
The base, on the southwest coast of Crimea, had suffered extensive fire damage with the burnt-out husks of at least eight destroyed warplanes clearly visible.
Russia denied aircraft were damaged and said explosions seen on Tuesday at the base were accidental.
Ukraine has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack or said exactly how it was carried out.
“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,” Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak told Reuters in a message.
Western military experts said the scale of the damage and the apparent precision of the strike suggested a powerful new capability with potentially important implications.
Russia, which seized and annexed Crimea eight years ago, uses the peninsula as the base for its Black Sea fleet and as the main supply route for its invasion forces occupying southern Ukraine, where Kyiv is planning a counter-offensive in coming weeks.
The Institute for the Study of War think tank said Ukrainian officials were framing the Crimea strike as “the start of Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the south, suggesting that the Ukrainian military expects intense fighting in August and September that could decide the outcome of the next phase of the war”.
Exactly how the attack was carried out remains a mystery.
Some Ukrainian officials have been quoted suggesting it may have been sabotage by infiltrators.
But the near identical impact craters and simultaneous explosions appear to indicate it was hit by a volley of weapons capable of evading Russian defences.
The base is well beyond the range of advanced rockets that Western countries acknowledge sending to Ukraine so far, though within range of more powerful versions Kyiv has sought.
Ukraine also has anti-ship missiles, which could theoretically be used to hit targets on land.