Satellite photos of the wrecked Russian airfield in the Saki district of occupied Crimea show extensive damage to Russian warplanes at the base and hint at expanded Ukrainian offensive capabilities.
The images, released Thursday by private imaging company Planet Labs, showed what appeared to be precision strikes on buildings at the base, and the charred ruins of at least eight warplanes.
Russian authorities insist that the dozen explosions seen at the base Tuesday were the result of stored ammunition catching fire, and have denied reports that any aircraft were damaged.
Ukrainian authorities, meanwhile, have not officially claimed responsibility for the attack.
A senior Ukrainian military official told the New York Times Tuesday that the explosions were in fact part of a counterattack.
The official, who was not identified in the report, said Ukrainian partisan fighters were involved in the strike, but would not comment as to whether regular Ukrainian military units were involved as well.
The official likewise would not comment on what kind of weapon was used against the base, except to say that “a device exclusively of Ukrainian manufacture was used” — a telling caveat given US reluctance to arm Ukraine with weapons that can reach deep into Russian territory.
Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak was coy when asked about the attack Thursday.
“Officially, we are not confirming or denying anything; there are numerous scenarios for what might have happened … bearing in mind that there were several epicenters of explosions at exactly the same time,” Podolyak told Reuters.
Western analysts took the apparent Ukrainian strike as a sign that Kyiv might have new weapons on hand.
The Saki airfield is well beyond the range of the rockets the US has acknowledged sending to Kyiv for use in the American-made HIMARS launcher — but within the range of more advanced rockets that are also compatible with the system.
It is also possible that Ukraine used some of its Ukrainian-built anti-ship missiles to strike a land-based target.
Regardless of the method used, the attack on Crimea is widely seen to mark a new phase in the conflict — and a possible indication that a long-expected Ukrainian counterattack is about to begin.
With Post wires