Ukraine war: Crimea airbase badly damaged, satellite images show

Ukraine war: Crimea airbase badly damaged, satellite images show

New pictures show extensive damage to buildings and warplanes after explosions hit the Russian base.

Science & Tech

Satellite images appear to show major damage and a number of destroyed Russian warplanes at a Crimea airbase following explosions there this week.

The Saky base in the west of Russian-ruled Crimea was rocked by a string of blasts on Tuesday, killing one person.

The base's runways appear intact, but at least eight aircraft seem damaged or destroyed with several craters visible.

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Ukraine has not claimed responsibility - but this new evidence suggests the possibility of a targeted attack.

The images, from the US-based Planet Labs, show large areas of scorched earth left from fires that erupted.

Most of the damaged or destroyed aircraft are in a specific area of the base where a large number of planes were parked out in the open - away from the cover of hangars.

Two types of fighter jets, including Su-24Ms, have been damaged by explosions. In the area of concentrated destruction, three buildings appear to have taken direct hits from munitions.

William Alberque, from defence think-tank IISS, has told the BBC that these buildings may have been used to temporarily store weapons, and would have been targeted for maximum impact on the fighter jets parked nearby.

The base's runway, and permanent weapons storage sites located further away from the planes, seem untouched.

Mr Alberque says cluster munitions were likely used, but Ukraine doesn't have the kind of missiles needed to carry out this kind of attack. If Ukraine is responsible, he suggests they used repurposed S-300 missiles, typically for surface-to-air attacks, or anti-ship Neptune missiles.

The before and after images from Planet Labs, which monitors hundreds of satellite feeds over Ukraine, are the first independent confirmation that the base may have been damaged. Until now, details about the extent of the explosions' impact have been scarce.

But how the base was damaged, or by what, is still unconfirmed.

Russia insists that the explosions were caused by ammunition exploding in a store because of fire safety rules being flouted.

Ukraine has not claimed responsibility - and its defence minister suggested that careless Russian soldiers could be to blame.

"I think that Russian military guys in this airbase ruined their very simply known rule: don't smoke in dangerous places," said Oleksiy Reznikov. "That's it."

Ukraine's air force said about a dozen Russian warplanes were destroyed, although Russia denied that any aircraft had been damaged. These new images suggest that is not true.