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Damage at Air Base in Crimea Worse Than Russia Claimed, Satellite Images Show – New York Times

Explosions at a base in Crimea destroyed at least eight Russian jets, satellite photos indicate. Christoph Koettl contributed reporting from New York.


Russian authorities had previously portrayed the blast as minor, but the satellite images show three major craters and at least eight destroyed warplanes. Local officials listed dozens of damaged buildings and declared a state of emergency.


Satellite photos taken after a series of explosions on Tuesday at a Russian air base in Crimea appear to show at least eight wrecked warplanes, indicating an expensive and serious blow to the Russian military in contradiction to the Kremlin’s account.


Russian authorities said munitions stored at the site — the Saki Air Base, on Crimea’s western Black Sea coast — had exploded, and denied that any aircraft had been destroyed. But pictures released by Planet Labs, a satellite imaging company, appear to show at least three blast craters in areas where planes were parked near the runways, leaving blackened debris.


A senior Ukrainian official has said the blasts were an attack carried out with the help of partisans, but was not more specific, and the Ukrainian military has not publicly acknowledged any involvement. Military analysts have said Ukraine does not have missiles that can reach the base from territory it controls, well over 100 miles away, and that Ukrainian jets would have been unlikely to penetrate that far into Russian-controlled airspace.


President Volodymr Zelensky saluted the attack in his nightly address on Wednesday, saying, “In just one day, the occupiers lost 10 combat aircraft: nine in Crimea and one more in the direction of Zaporizhzhia.”


The New York Times has reviewed satellite imagery of the Saki Air Base, collected by Planet Labs hours before and a day after the explosions. The pictures show what appear to be three large craters and at least eight destroyed aircraft, both Su-24 and Su-30 warplanes, all parked on the air base’s western tarmac. The planes cost tens of millions of dollars each.


In addition, two buildings near the aircraft appear to have been completely destroyed, with possible shock wave damage and large burn marks observable elsewhere at the military base. Other parts of the air base appeared intact, including several helicopters and a large ammunition depot.


Witnesses reported multiple explosions at the Saki base. Videos and photos posted to social media showed plumes of smoke rising from the scene, and what appeared to be the nose cone of a jet.


Officials said at least one person was killed and more than a dozen wounded. Sergei Aksyonov, the Kremlin-installed leader of Crimea, said on Wednesday that at least 62 apartment buildings and 20 commercial structures had been damaged. He declared a state of emergency and raised the terrorism threat level on the peninsula.


Ukraine has used special operations forces and local partisans to attack other targets in Russian-held areas, according to Ukrainian officials. In his address on Wednesday, Mr. Zelensky called on all Ukrainians to help spy on Russia and its supporters.


“If you have any important information about the enemy, please report it in a safe way to our intelligence services, our military,” he urged them. “If you know those who help the occupiers or justify aggression, please report this as well.”


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Damage at Air Base in Crimea Worse Than Russia Claimed, Satellite Images Show – New York T
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A satellite image taken on Wednesday shows significant damage at Saki Air Base, a key Russian military site in Crimea. Russia seized the peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Credit...Planet Labs


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