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Ukraine air force claims up to a dozen Russian jets destroyed in Crimea raid | Crimea

Ukraine’s air force said it believed that up to a dozen Russian aircraft were destroyed on the ground following Tuesday’s dramatic explosions at the Saky airbase in Crimea, which killed one, wounded 13 and damaged dozens of nearby houses.

Political sources in Ukraine indicated the country had carried out the attack – but no public claim of responsibility was made by Kyiv of a dramatic incident that one expert believed may have been the product of a daring raid rather than a missile strike.

Yuriy Ignat, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian air force, told national television that from studying video footage of the incident, it was clear “the aircraft weapons depot was hit”. He added: “And if additionally a dozen planes are destroyed there, it will be a real small victory.”

The country’s air force also said on its Facebook page that “nine invader planes” had been destroyed in a short posting, although it did not specify in that message where or how it believed they had been eliminated.

The claims could not be verified but the Saky airbase is home to Su-30M fighters, Su-24 bombers and the Il-76 transporter, used regularly to launch missile strikes into Ukraine and patrol the Black Sea and surrounding area.

Ukraine’s public coyness about the attack is partly designed to preserve some ambiguity about the means used, sources said, prompting broad speculation as to how Kyiv was able to strike so deep behind Russian lines, in one of the first attacks on Crimean soil since the Russian invasion began in February.

Justin Bronk, an aviation analyst with the Rusi thinktank, said, having studied social media videos of the incident, he could see no evidence of incoming missiles and that he was “almost certain” there were “secondary explosions” of ammunition stores or fuel bunkers, which were stored on or near the airstrip.

That led him to conclude that “the most likely current theory for me is that Ukrainian special forces carried out the attack by infiltrating close enough to the base to launch and guide in small UAVs [drones] or loitering munitions, to hit either parked aircraft or fuel trucks/storage.”

Other remarks and videos suggest the damage caused was considerable. Sergey Aksyonov, the Russian-appointed head of occupied Crimea, said that 13 had been wounded, 252 people had been rehoused and 62 apartment blocks had been damaged. A day earlier he had said one person had been killed.

A social media video, geolocated to a car park near the base, showed several cars burnt out or damaged with their windows blown out, apparently from the ferocity of the blasts. Another very brief film circulated showed a destroyed jet on the tarmac, although it could not be verified.

British defence secretary Ben Wallace told the BBC the UK was still trying establish facts on the airbase explosions, but added that he believed it was unlikely western weapons were involved. The airbase, he argued, was a legitimate target for Ukraine’s armed forces.

Ukrainian officials have also privately briefed that the attack was carried out with homegrown weapons. One political source said that Kyiv is keen to avoid using only US made weapons to strike in the rear, because it is otherwise feared that it could prompt a narrative – that the US is effectively fighting a proxy war – for the Russians to exploit.

On Tuesday, speculation had centred around whether the airbase had been struck by long range missiles, such as Ukraine’s home manufactured Neptune anti-ship missiles, modified to attack ground targets, from the area around Odesa, about 165 miles away.

But there have been other hints that the attack could have been a daring raid, targeting munitions or fuel. Mikhail Polodyak, a key adviser to Ukraine’s president Voldoymyr Zelenskiy, speculated in a TV interview on Tuesday along those lines, in which he also denied Ukrainian responsibility for the attack.

“Could it be someone from the partisan movement that is gaining momentum? Of course, because the people who lived in the occupation [of Crimea] understand that the time of the occupation is ending and you need to show your position,” the adviser told the Dozhd TV channel.

The attack on the airbase has been a major morale boost for Kyiv, which is seeking to demonstrate it can mount a counter-offensive in the south of the country and retake the occupied city of Kherson before autumn sets in.

Overnight president Zelenskiy referred to Crimea, although he did not mention the attack on the airbase directly. “There will be no stable and lasting peace in many countries on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea as long as Russia is able to use our peninsula as its military base,” the president warned.

Earlier on Wednesday, Ukraine said 13 people were killed in overnight shelling near Nikopol, across the river Dnipro from the Russian held Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant at Enerhodar. Ukraine said the attackers were hiding on the site of the power plant, so preventing them from being counterattacked.

G7 foreign ministers warned in a joint statement that Russia risked “the safety and security” of the site and called on Moscow to allow safety inspectors to immediately visit from the International Atomic Energy Agency – and to hand back the nuclear plant back to Ukraine.

Russia, in turn, said that it had requested that the issue be discussed by the UN security council on Thursday, after what it said were, “strikes by Kyiv” on the facility, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe.

Petro Kotin, the president of Energoatom, the Ukrainian company that owns the plant, said that Russia was trying to switch the plant over to supply Crimea with electricity, instead of Ukraine, which he described as risky.

“To do this, you must first damage the power lines of the plant connected to the Ukrainian energy system,” the energy boss said. “At the moment, the plant is operating with only one production line, which is an extremely dangerous way of working.”

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